The cable-news coronavirus chyron counters note the number that die, but nothing about the people we lose.
They tend to be really old and already quite sick. Men outnumber women in cases and fatalities. In the United States, the tri-state area — New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut — has suffered about half of all losses.
God and government may believe we are all created equal. Coronavirus cruelly dissents.
An Italian study released in mid-March showed that 99 percent of the country’s coronavirus deaths suffered from another serious medical condition, including high blood pressure (three-fourths), heart disease (one-third), diabetes (one-third), and atrial fibrillation (one-quarter). The study pegged the average age of coronavirus fatalities in Italy at 79.5.
The Lancet released a study of a sample of coronavirus deaths heavily weighted toward Asian cases. The authors found that infected people in their 80s look at a death rate 260 times that of infected people in their 20s, and infected people in their 70s endure a death rate 143 times that of infected people in their 20s.
In the United States, the numbers do not differ much from those in countries that already experienced the worst of this wave. The egalitarianism that Americans pay homage to clashes with this illness.
Those 70 and older compose just 14 percent of documented coronavirus cases in Massachusetts. They constitute 84 percent of coronavirus deaths.
In Washington, people 80 or above make up 54 percent of all coronavirus deaths. People 60 to 79 constitute another 39 percent. People under the age of 60 composed just 7 percent of all coronavirus deaths in the Evergreen State. In other words, a fifth of Washington’s population suffers about 19 out of every 20 coronavirus deaths in the state.
New Jersey reports that senior citizens account for 77 percent of all coronavirus deaths in the Garden State. Less than 1 percent of deaths occurred in persons under the age of 30.
Strangely, medical professionals advocate closing down schools, businesses, gyms, bars, and so many other places that 79-year-old male retirees suffering from high blood pressure and heart disease generally do not frequent. Worse still, they do not rethink the way they coop up the most vulnerable among us in cramped care facilities that, as anyone who visits one on a regular basis can attest, recirculate stale air and seem averse to sunshine and cracking open a window, any window.
Given coronavirus’s refusal to play by the rules set by the people who set the rules, why not reject cookie-cutter ukases that shutter the very places (Mighty Mick’s Gym, The Admiral Benbow Inn, Sweet Valley Junior High) where the typical coronavirus fatality age group (those over 70) does not frequent and rethink the practice of shoving the old and disabled into congested quarters?
Doing this requires the acknowledgment, made aloud, that this disease — like most diseases — follows the laws of Charles Darwin rather than the wishes of Mother Teresa. This is easier said than done. We hate generalization, discrimination, and survival-of-the-fittest elitism. Germs hold no such scruples. Like all predators, they achieve greatest success against the weak. We need to admit this and act accordingly.
We also need to acknowledge that when individuals cede their judgment over to the government, bad things happen. Apart from the example of China, which continues to lie about coronavirus cases and punish journalists who contest official claims, one sees federal officials go from ridiculing the idea of the public wearing surgical masks or face coverings to encouraging it. The World Health Organization called coronavirus 30 times deadlier than the flu. Dr. Anthony Fauci described it as 10 times deadlier. A study by the Lancet now says it kills at about six times the rate of the flu. What’s true? Someone — perhaps everyone — passes off guesses, educated and otherwise, for science. We demand certainty because we imagine certainty as science. It’s not.
Trust individuals with their own health. Trust strangers in government with your health? No thanks.
Somewhere between criminalizing the activity described in Fats Domino’s second-highest charting song and allowing Roy Rogers to remove salad-bar sneeze guards exists a happy medium that appropriately balances rights and duties. We have not yet discovered that place. But that place surely recognizes that all places need not respond to the coronavirus the same way (Auckland isn’t Oakland), that time of year may matter as it does with flu (warmer weather may mean loosening restrictions), and that, yes, people should also assess risk based on their age and health. One size never fits all, and panic is not a policy.
Separate the vulnerable because they are valuable. Let the healthy emerge from hibernation because they are valuable, too.