The coronavirus is just about as bad as feared

Revisionist historians are hard at work.

The history they’re attempting isn’t exactly ancient history. It dates back about, oh, six weeks ago.

Anxious to see social distancing restrictions lifted and the country’s economic engine restarted, these folks claim that the Covid-19 outbreak isn’t nearly as bad as anyone predicted. They accuse the media of creating a panic, and politicians of over-reacting, and say it’s time to reopen the nation.

As proof that things aren’t really that bad, they cite the extreme projections from the early days of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. — such as 2.1 million dead Americans — and say, “See? It was just a media-induced panic!”

In reality, of course, no one ever took those extreme projections very seriously, and you can use Google to pull up a mountain of evidence to prove it. Most American health care experts were far more cautious about making wild projections, and it was always admitted that those exaggerated death tolls were worst-case scenarios.

Meanwhile, 4,591 Americans died of coronavirus in the past 24 hours.

That’s 4,591 dead in a 24-hour period, despite the social-distancing measures that are in place — restrictions so draconian that they have fire-bombed the U.S. economy.

I would challenge anyone who says “it was a media-induced panic” to attempt to wrap their minds around the idea of 4,591 dead in a 24-hour period.

What’s playing out right now in the U.S. is exactly what organizations like the CDC and the WHO warned about. It’s exactly what the politicians warned about. And it’s exactly what the media reported might happen.

Because it’s turned political — doesn’t it always? — few people can see the coronavirus forest for the Republican trees and the Democrat bushes. Everyone is more worried about whether President Trump is going to be re-elected in November or whether the Democrat governors are right in their fight against Trump or whether the stay-at-home orders and non-essential business closures are constitutional to realize that the pandemic we feared is happening right before our very eyes.

So let’s say it again, a little more loudly for those in the back: 4,591 dead in one day.

For perspective, there were 2,996 people killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — 53 percent fewer than died of coronavirus in a single day.

For perspective, there were 407,000 Americans who died in the nearly four years of bloody combat of World War II. That was an average of 2,072 American lives lost every single day. More than double that amount died in a single day from Covid-19.

If anyone can take that number and shrug, saying it’s not that bad and we panicked because the threat was blown out of proportion, they’re either living in an alternative reality to the one I’m trapped in, or they’re so helplessly engulfed by the politics of the virus outbreak and response to it that there’s no arguing facts with them.

Imagine if we didn’t have severe social distancing measures in place.

Kids are not in school, which is the single greatest way that seasonal flu — and other illness — spreads each year. Ask any doctor and they’ll tell you: things like strep and gastroenteritis and pink-eye and flu start to pick up in August of each year, as soon as classes resume after summer break. And it’s nearly constant until the spring semester ends and the next summer break begins.

While kids are out of school, Americans are not congregating anywhere else, either — except for Walmart and the Home Depot. Churches are closed, for the most part. There are no ballgames. No concerts. No restaurant dining rooms open. No crowded beaches.

It begs the question: How much greater than 4,591 would the single-day death toll be? Obviously, far greater than 4,591. You can use your own imagination to derive a figure to plug in.

There are those who will argue that the country should be re-opened — should have never shut down to begin with — despite the number of dead, because no amount of lives lost is worth the damage being done to the economy and the trampling of constitutional rights.

If you want to make that argument, have at it.

But let’s not pretend that the reaction was over-blown because of over-zealous politicians or because the news media over-hyped it.

What we’re seeing in the U.S. at the moment isn’t the worst-case scenario. But it absolutely rises to the level that alarm bells were being rung about as far back as late January and early February.

From the beginning, those who have sought to downplay the coronavirus threat have compared it to seasonal flu.

I know because I was one of those folks, in the beginning.

Incredibly, some people are still rowing that boat.

As of today, there have been more than 37,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. The first American fatality occurred on February 29.

That was 48 days ago. In just 48 days, one day shy of seven weeks, more than 37,000 Americans have died — despite the draconian measures in place.

In its nine-year involvement in the Vietnam War, the U.S. lost 58,000 troops.

We’ve lost 64% that amount of people to the coronavirus in 48 days.

As for the flu comparisons, the CDC estimates that an average of 37,000 Americans died of seasonal flu each year over the past 10 years.

We surpassed that total of coronavirus deaths in 48 days — despite strict social-distancing measures we never take to mitigate the spread of influenza.

One week ago, April 10, there had been 18,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S.

That means in one week, 19,000 Americans have died from Covid-19.

Sure, it’s mostly those who are old, or sick — or, perhaps most accurately, old and sick — who are at risk of dying from coronavirus. But in Tennessee, just to throw out the state I’m most familiar with for obvious reasons, the percentage of confirmed coronavirus cases ending in death for those over the age of 80 is 22%.

That’s nearly 1 in 4 of people my grandparents’ age. Coronavirus might not be a death sentence for those over 80, but it’s the next thing to it.

Even in people in their 70s, the death rate is 9%. That’s nearly 1 in 10.

As for those underlying conditions, keep in mind that there are a lot of chronic illnesses that qualify as “underlying conditions.” It doesn’t necessarily mean you have a foot in the grave — regardless of what Bill O’Reilly has to say about it. In fact, in New York State, the No. 1 comorbidity for coronavirus-related deaths has been high blood pressure — which echoes what we knew from both Italy and China, among other countries who experienced this outbreak before the U.S. Do you want to hazard a guess as to how many Americans over the age of 65 have high blood pressure? Virtually all of them. Among the entire U.S. adult population, 1 in 3 have high blood pressure — and 50% of those with hypertension do not have it under control.

So if you — or your parents or grandparents — have high blood pressure, you are automatically in the high-risk group.

And doctors say you don’t have to be old to be at risk if you have an underlying medical condition. In New York, dozens of people in their 30s with high blood pressure have died from Covid-19.

Not one or two … dozens. As in, 46 (as of Friday).

It’s also true that most people who have coronavirus will experience only mild symptoms (not including those who will be asymptomatic, which infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has speculated could be as many as 50% of those infected). But, in Tennessee, 1 in 10 people diagnosed with coronavirus wind up in the hospital. And, once hospitalized, the outlook dims considerably. In Tennessee, nearly 20% of people hospitalized wind up dying. That’s nearly 1 in 5.

To put that number in perspective: Even during the 2017-2018 flu epidemic, by far the worst flu season in recent history, only 7.5% of those hospitalized because of flu wound up dying. Last year, 6.9% of those hospitalized for flu wound up dying.

No, this is not a severe illness for most young people, or for most otherwise healthy people.

No, most people aren’t going to wind up sick.

No, there aren’t going to be millions of American deaths.

But, then, we’ve known all of that all along.

Fortunately, we aren’t seeing our hospitals overwhelmed the way Italy and Spain did. That’s one dire prediction that hasn’t come to fruition in the U.S, and we can be thankful for it. Did the social distancing efforts help prevent it? I can’t prove it, but I can’t disprove it, either.

For most of the U.S., the coronavirus outbreak isn’t that bad in our hometowns. So it tends to be out-of-sight, out-of-mind, so to speak. Absent an immediate fear that we’re going to be infected, most of us can focus on complaining about the restrictions that are in place in our state, and the economic situation. And that’s what we’re doing.

But there are thousands of Americans dying per day out there.

And if the media had told you back in February that there would be thousands of Americans dying per day in April, you would’ve been alarmed by that, and you would’ve said we need to take action to prevent that from happening.

So don’t tell me the media created a media panic. The media relayed what the health experts were saying would happen … and it’s happening. Right before our very eyes, if we’re willing to look.

Ben Garrett

Ben Garrett is a journalist from East Tennessee. He is publisher of the Independent Herald, a weekly newspaper serving the Big South Fork region of the Cumberland Plateau, with a sideline in website development and digital marketing. He is also an erstwhile blogger.

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