The naysayers may well be right. We criers of pandemic danger may just be a herd of panicked sheep.
This May, total deaths attributed to Covid-19 topped the 100,000 mark. A shocking number to be sure. However, by comparison to other diseases, it may not be as shocking as we think.
The Centers for Disease Control’s most recent data concerning the leading causes of death in the U.S. is for the year 2018. (See https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm). When compared to that list, the current 100,000 Covid-19 deaths rank at number seven.
Of course, we are only five months into 2020. If we conservatively estimate that the total Covid-19 deaths for the whole of this year will total 150,000, that will still place the pandemic death toll in the U.S. well behind that of 2018 deaths caused by heart attacks, or cancers, or accidents, or lung disease, and just a bit above strokes.
Truth be told, I hope the naysayers are right, and I can soon admit to my foolishness in having insisted on the continual washing and sanitizing of my hands, wearing face masks, physical distancing, and all the rest.
On the other hand, even if Covid-19 ends up being only four or five on the list, all the other top ten, except accidental death, are foreseeable, known, and the result of years long progression. No one can be seriously surprised when an aged, perhaps obese, person riddled with high cholesterol dies of a heart attack or stroke, or emphysemic smoker succumbs to lung cancer.
With Covid-19, however, one is well today, sick tomorrow, and dead next week.
Unlike Covid-19, the other leading causes of death do not suddenly break-out, run rampant, overwhelm hospitals and mortuaries, and require the preparations of mass graves. Neither do the other causes of death arrive unbidden with travelers, pass easily among revelers, and spread exponentially through crowds and close congregants.
In some ways, the comparison is like that between honey bees and rattle snakes.
Relatively few people are bitten by rattle snakes compared to the multitude of those stung by honey bees. However, we generally know when bees are around and can easily avoid their stings. For those few who are highly allergic to bee venom, there is a ready cure—antihistamines. Even for those who cannot afford the outrageous price of self-administered antihistamines, such medicines are carried by paramedics and stocked in hospital emergency rooms.
Although it is not an exact comparison, rattle snake venom is a whole different thing from bee venom. Much like Covid-19, few if any of us are naturally tolerant of snake venom. Yes, there is antivenom if it is available and the victim can be gotten to medical care quickly enough. But that is never a given. Even when treatment is readily available, the course of treatment can be ugly and extremely painful.
Accordingly, I do not walk willy-nilly through tall grass, piles of lava rock, or the woods wearing ankle high canvas shoes and shorts, nor step blindly over fallen trees, nor stick my hands into dark crevices.
Right now, there is no antiviral medication or vaccine for the SARS CoV-2 virus which causes the disease Covid-19. In fact, the only medical help available is to mechanically ventilate a victim’s lungs and pray it keeps them alive long enough that their immune system can fight off the infection.
So, for myself and for you, I continue to do all the sheepish things our best infectious disease experts urge us to do—hand washing and sanitizing, face masks, physical distancing, and all the bothersome rest of it. Perhaps time will prove me to be a fool. I’ll not be bothered if it does.
We are all in this together.
Cadlin Scott is retired, having earned his living punching tunnels through mountains and running exploratory drill rigs. He and his spouse Cindy reside outside of Anderson, CA., on five acres of dry pasture that has owned them for 40 years.