COVID-19 a Danger to Individuals but Not an Existential Threat to Society

We’ve published variations of this graph in the past, but the perspective never grows old. This data, provided by John Butcher of Cranky’s Blog fame, shows how the COVID-19 virus stacks up against other causes of death in Virginia (using 2017 data, the most recent available). The number is almost as high as it was for the flu and pneumonia.

But… but… but one can argue that if it weren’t for the extreme lockdown measures put into place by Governor Ralph Northam, the COVID-19-related deaths in Virginia would be much higher. That may be true. However that argument takes us into esoteric territory. One could argue that we haven’t “prevented” the COVID-19 deaths so much as displaced them in time. That was precisely the logic behind the “flatten the curve” strategy — to spread out the infections over time to avoid overwhelming the healthcare system.

We have not hollowed out our economy or restricted the number of medical procedures in hospitals to combat other causes of death. We accept deaths from cancer, heart disease, diabetes as part of the human condition. We allocate resources to cure and treat those diseases, but we don’t shut down the economy — and by doing so undermine our ability to support the healthcare system — in order to stamp them out.

As a society, we need to take reasonable precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19. We should ban large gatherings — potential super-spreader events — and we should throw cordons around nursing homes. Employers should adopt stricter hygienic measures than they have employed in the past. And individuals, particularly those at risk, should continue to self-isolate and armor up with face masks and protective gear when they venture into public spaces.

If the media had hyped septicemia (the cause of 1,249 deaths in Virginia in 2017) the same way it has hyped COVID-19, no one would dare set foot in a hospital. Septicemia is entirely preventable through better sanitary practices and epidemiological controls in hospitals. But no one is running around with their hair on fire, publishing daily septicemia body counts, and working the public into a froth of worry about septicemia.

Bacon’s bottom line: Let’s ratchet down the alarmism. COVID-19 presents a real danger to vulnerable individuals but not an existential threat to society. Let everyone, based upon medical condition, life circumstances, and tolerance for risk, undertake protective measures they deem prudent. Let employers take prudent measures to protect their workers. And let commercial establishments do the same.