September 7, 2020

Third leading cause

I hope you had a nice and socially distanced Labor Day weekend. We all deserve some rest to gear up for the coming months. It is not going to be easy. This is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. Many in public health are concerned that behavior over the holiday weekend is going to increase the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and in a few weeks we will have more COVID-19 cases, meaning more deaths to come. Sobering.

But the data I read that alarmed me is the large increase in number of deaths projected by IHME (the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation) from roughly 310,000 that had been predicted by Dec. 1st to 410,500 deaths by January 1. More than double the 190,000 deaths we have now. A shocking increase to me. They give a range from 286,000 to 610,000 depending on if people wear masks and follow distancing guidelines. The more restrictions ease over the next few months and the more people congregate and don’t wear masks, the higher the projections. COVID-19 is already the third leading cause of death in the United States, after only 8 months in the US.

The projections are for the big increases later this fall, mostly in November and December, due to the weather changes with more indoor gatherings. The more mitigation we do with our behavior and choices, the lower the numbers. It is good to see that the states that have had big outbreaks, like Florida and Texas, have been able to contain infections better. As people realize the pandemic is real, they start masking up and following distancing guidelines with restaurants and bars closing again. The data shows these efforts help. I can only hope that more people will start helping and not resisting as much.

The uptick in infections may make it difficult for people to feel safe to vote. If possible, voting absentee, or early, or by mail would be best. Plus, this new data makes me recommend getting to your dentist or your doctor, and addressing any other things you have been putting off. Now is best time, since the numbers of infections are low with less chance of exposure, especially compared to later.

But none of us are really prepared for this new upsurge. We as a nation have had a tough time. Lots of analysis going around of why we have failed so badly in our approach, from Time magazine to Nature to Bill Moyers’ On Democracy project and more. Much of it goes back to early gaps in surveillance and a weak and unsupported public health system.

It is easy to get discouraged and let down your guard or get really depressed, understandably so. These are not easy times. The next 5-6 months will be challenging, but there are ways to stay safe and avoid infections. We know what works. This article in the New York Times is worth a read and has good ideas. I really like this Risk Calculator from National Geographic to help with decision making. It is a mathematical model, of course, and can help with deciding what is safe and what isn’t. It helps to find out your numbers from your local or state health department or this data tracker may help.

We can’t do much to change what is happening systemically (except vote) but we can effect what is happening with each of us at the individual level to stay safe. We have been doing it so far. Let’s help each other through these next few months. I do believe a vaccine is coming and we will come out the other side, but not before this next surge.

Wash your hands, cover your nose, keep safe six, outdoors if possible or in a well ventilated room. Hang in there. Next year, I will be at the Woodland Park Old Time picnic and horseshoe throw on Labor Day. Hope to see you there.

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.