Are we engaged in a game of Chicken Little while government edicts decide who lives and who dies because we are focused every second of the day and night on COVID-19 modeling?
This is not an essay on COVID-19 denial, far from it. The coronavirus is a serious and deadly threat.
But we’ve allowed borderline COVID-19 mass hysteria in the bureaucracy to cloud serious consequences in other aspects of health and whether others will die due to greater frequency during flattening efforts simply because the only numbers that count anymore in “the new norm” are COVID-19 statistics.
Take the office of San Joaquin County Health Director Dr. Maggie Park, an individual who has to make some very rough decisions every day. Before the pandemic hit her office would issue counts on flu deaths as well as West Nile Virus deaths plus advisories on how some who contract the disease could suffer permanently compromised health.
Such public health alerts which most of us ignored with predictability have evaporated. Obviously the good doctor and her staff are a little overwhelmed these days dealing with public health enemy No. 1.
But what if public health enemies 2 through 99 or even 100 through 999 gain ground during the pandemic flattening strategies that no one can say with any degree of certainty how long they will last or how many times they will have to be re-implemented to the point their combined increased death toll and/or permanent lifelong crippling could approach, match, or exceed that of COVID-19?
Take a look at hospitals throughout the Valley. Patient census is way down. Elective surgeries are non-existent. It has all happened to make room for the anticipated surge of COVID-19 patients.
Then inventory the rest of the health care sector — cancer treatment centers, general physicians that are on the frontline of early detection of diseases such as cancer and heart issues to assure the best outcome, and even dentists.
Patient traffic has either evaporated or trickled down next to nothing in many cases either through fear or edict.
The patients that have been “social distanced” from healthcare providers weren’t pursuing face lifts, tummy tucks, or permanent teeth whitening.
They have serious health needs that aren’t being addressed.
From what we know about COVID-19 that most experts don’t dispute many medical professional-patient interactions are indeed dicey at best given not knowing who has the virus.
There are critical healthcare numbers that are getting buried in COVID-19 hot spots like New York City and Italy. There are numbers that aren’t tracked in places like Stanislaus County in real time but make their way into annual reporting that shows up in a government health document six or so months after the calendar year that is referenced.
There are hospitals in New York City that average 40 acute or near-acute heart attacks a week. Those numbers are down 90 percent to an average of five. Similar drops have been reported elsewhere — Madrid, Milan, Detroit, Boston, and Atlanta, to name a few. It is clear it is essentially a universal trend in COVID-19 hot spots. Whether that is happening locally we don’t know because the only real time tracking these days is the coronavirus.
Heart attacks just don’t simply plunge overnight. And since they are tracking acute or near-acute attacks only it is extremely likely that many people who suffer somewhat less severe attacks are not going to hospitals either to seek care. From what we have been told for years your chance for a better outcome or even to survive a heart attack regardless of the intensity is to get treatment immediately. The same goes for strokes and a host of other health issues.
Hospital cases for other emergency room cases from appendicitis to pregnancy complications have plunged as well in COVID-19 hot spots.
Medical data in Spain seems to point to the fact other deaths are spiking alongside the surge in COVID-19 deaths. The mortality rate appears to have doubled in March in Spain but not all of it can be attributed to the coronavirus.
Dealing with a pandemic does require putting a lot of eggs in one basket. History underscores that course of action. But the reality is we don’t know how things really unfold until we are looking in the rear view mirror to see what ground we covered and how the carnage really stacks up in the overall scheme of things instead of being measured exclusively in real time.
The debate going forward that molds government response and dictates cannot be a one-dimensional approach.
There are serious questions that need to be asked, explored, and examined. Are models by epidemiologists the only ones that should have weight in devising the fate of 330 million Americans? What about models dealing with stroke, heart attacks, depression, anxiety, and such — conditions that people have clearly chosen not to seek out help for due to fear driven into them that the potential of increasing exposure to the COVID-19 isn’t worth the risk of heading to the emergency room?
A lot of people like to dismiss the economic equation by simply saying lives are more important than money.
In reality for most people who aren’t entertaining themselves today by using YouTube to show off their convention center sized living rooms or using Twitter to muse about how difficult it is for their staff to find toilet paper for their homes in South Hampton, Beverly Hills, and West Palm Beach being frozen out of the economy isn’t about money. It is about surviving.
We’re not just talking about being forced to dig a financial hole that may take years to get out of or mere financial ruin. For many it is a matter of keeping a roof over their heads, their families fed and clothed, being able to afford basic health care, and such. The collateral damage can be almost as deadly as the COVID-19 for some as we are already seeing a surge in prescriptions for anti-depressants that should alarm anyone who was paying attention to the death rate from opioids that have been pushing 50,000 a year in this country and was considered a crisis until COVID-19 chatter became all that the media, the government, and the rest of us are focusing on.
Shouldn’t decisions being made by governors going forward also be based on models of economic impacts and how they relate to people being able to stay sheltered, fed and clothed be considered as well as those regarding mental health instead of just obsessing over epidemiologist modeling?
That is not to imply COVID-19 modeling should be dismissed but a lot of decisions are being made in a vacuum of sorts where the only modeling — which is an educated guess on how things may go — is the coronavirus with no parallel modeling being made regarding collateral damage in other areas of health and life.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.