The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear (of COVID-19) Itself

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA) publish a wide variety of data about COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. It is easy to get overwhelmed by all the numbers, yet the data is woefully incomplete. Perhaps the greatest deficiency is that we have no ability to track what is happening with medical conditions that are not COVID-related.

That’s a huge issue because as Tomislav Mihaljevic and Gianrico Garrugia, CEOs of the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinice, point out in a New York Times  column, as many people may die from the fear of COVID-19 as from the virus itself. Writes respectively:

More than 100,000 Americans have died from Covid-19. Beyond those deaths are other casualties of the pandemic — Americans seriously ill with other ailments who avoided care because they feared contracting the coronavirus at hospitals and clinics.

The toll from their deaths may be close to the toll from Covid-19. The trends are clear and concerning. Government orders to shelter in place and health care leaders’ decisions to defer nonessential care successfully prevented the spread of the virus. But these policies — complicated by the loss of employer-provided health insurance as people lost their jobs — have had the unintended effect of delaying care for some of our sickest patients.

The authors report a 45% increase in new cancer diagnoses across the country, a 38% increase in heart attacks, and a 30% increase in strokes. Reports to emergency rooms have declined 40%, but patients who do come are sicker by 20%. Non-COVID deaths have declined inside hospitals but have increased outside of hospitals. “These statistics demonstrate that people with cancer are missing necessary screenings, and those with heart attack or stroke symptoms are staying home during the precious window of time when the damage is reversible.”

Mihaljevic and Garrugia don’t even address the mental health issues that may be exacerbated by job losses and stay-at-home orders.

Here in Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam unnecessarily prolonged the shut-down of elective procedures in Virginia hospitals, but he did belatedly reverse the emergency order. We’ll never know how many unnecessary deaths resulted. But the damage is far from over. Media-driven hysteria — fueled by the particular sets of statistics that state agencies have chosen to report daily — have created an atmosphere in which people continue to make choices that adversely affect their health.

The Governor and the media need to make it clear now that the epidemic is in abeyance that people put themselves at risk by refusing to seek medical treatment. The danger from undiagnosed illnesses could well outweigh the danger of the coronavirus.

To drive home the message, it would be helpful for the VDH and VHHA to report the kinds of data that the Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic CEOs refer to.  If those two institutions managed to gather the data, surely Virginia hospitals can as well.

Will we ever see the data? I doubt it. First, there likely would be issues relating to defining exactly which metrics can and should be captured, how much it would cost to collect them, and whether the cost is justified. Then there’s the fact that the Northam administration has zero political motivation to publish the data because it would prompt people to further question the wisdom of the Governor’s emergency decrees. The last thing he would want people to know is that more lives were lost as a result of his diktats than were saved.

In the meantime, it would be helpful if Virginia’s media acknowledged their culpability in feeding the hysteria. I will confess that I contributed in small measure to the panic. Spurred by the coverage of the epidemic in Italy, I initially bought into the forecasts of overwhelmed hospitals and hundreds of thousands of U.S. deaths. I criticized the Northam administration for not acting aggressively or competently enough. I highlighted the number of confirmed cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. But I have always emphasized the unintended consequences of the shutdown, and I did break away from the group think more quickly than most.  It’s never too late to do the right thing.

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13 responses to “The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear (of COVID-19) Itself”

  1. djrippert Avatar

    The public health establishment lost its last shred of credibility with the recent protests. The same so-called scientists who insisted that “science” dictates that anti-lockdown protests and church gatherings risked the health and lives of millions turned a bind eye toward the George Floyd protests. Obviously, there was no consistent application of “science” regardless or the relative merits of the different protests. The so-called scientists replaced science with their value system.

    What is to say that the same replacement of science with the political agendas of scientists is not also happening with global climate change?

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      As you’ve probably seen, Jim, our HOA just punted on opening the pool and fitness center, because of the staff they’d need to enforce compliance with the complex requirements. Yes, the lack or regular exercise has been my biggest challenge these weeks. Now its getting way too hot for some outdoor things.

      1. I was thinking about doing a blog post on that!

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          The HOAs are playing possum to avoid confrontations.

          They COULD – challenge Northam with their own proposed operations and/or ask for waivers… but I wonder if they would get strong support from the folks in the HOA.

          Has the HOA held a meeting to get input from residents?

      2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        The community association pool that my daughter and her family belong to in NoVa has opened–lap swimming only. Sp. it can be done. And, yes, they consulted with lawyers.

    2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      The public health establishment repeatedly warned of the dangers of spreading COVID-19 during the protests. Here is one example:

      1. djrippert Avatar

        But they didn’t urge any action to prevent or mandate proper social distancing in the protests. Protests, you see, are a right. Meanwhile, the same public health establishment was happy to see Jewish funerals broken up and church services shut down. Those, apparently, are not rights.

        Once so-called scientists in the public realm infuse their scientific opinion with their political views their scientific opinions are properly called into question.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          No… that’s disingenuous. We’ve had crowds on beaches, large crowds of protestors against the shutdowns, and very little action taken other than to say it was dangerous… I saw no police arresting all those folks on the beaches and in streets and statehouses … protesting…

          The churches and funerals… not all… it depended on the state and the scientists had no role in any of it… There are no scientists or public health officials embedded in the police to tell them to take action against “violators” and indeed they did not – not only for the BLM protestors, but the protestors against the shutdowns…

          Why not tell the honest truth on this? Large gatherings of people across the spectrum were not arrested.

          This is the kind of rhetoric that inflames and misleads IMHO.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Well.. this is one viewpoint. Other viewpoints are that people are afraid to go to the hospitals for fear of getting COVID19 at the hospital.

    A third viewpoint is the fact that a good number of people say that COVID-19 only kills older and those with health problems AND that because of that – the older and sicker should go hide and stay away cuz the healthy are not afriad of getting COVID-19 or spreading it for that matter.

    Finally, if people REALLY felt that the science was wrong – then why not have all the GOP-led states just drop all restrictions? Why focus on the Dem states at all? Surely all those GOP folks don’t believe the science and are ready to treat it the same way they do Global Warming, right?

    See, if the GOP states actually did it – folks like Jim and DJ could righteously excoriate Northam and point out how Maryland and Georgia and Florida had removed ALL restrictions… and stopped all this social distancing foolishness….

    A whole lot of Blather and not much actual doing…. from the blatherbutts!

    1. MAdams Avatar

      What “science” are you referring. You often repeat that phrase, but I honestly don’t think you know what you’re even trying to say.

      1. djrippert Avatar

        This is a hallmark of Larry’s arguments – the defense of big government under the cloak of “science”. Larry uses his definition of “science” as equivalent to math. To him 2+2 equals 4 is the same as “science proves that lockdowns must stay in force”. Fauci’s veering from masks being irrelevant to being critical doesn’t matter. Science is science! The virus living on metal surfaces for four days requiring extensive wipedowns to contact surfaces not being a primary driver of infection doesn’t matter. Science is science. From asymptomatic carries being Typhoid Marys to asymptomatic carriers not being significant risks doesn’t matter. Science is science.

        Big government liberals are only too happy to trot out any scientist with a half baked theory that sows fear in people’s minds in an effort to justify ever larger government and ever more government intervention in our lives.

        On the good news front I’ve found a scientist who says cold fusion is right around the corner so we can immediately stop all uneconomical solar and wind power projects. You wouldn’t argue with “science” now would you?

        1. MAdams Avatar

          The is a fly in the ointment, they aren’t Liberals. Not even in any sense of the word. That would require them to value liberty, they are merely proponents of the tenants of “Government Knows Best”, and the bigger and more bloated that entity the more it knows.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    No. I’m calling out your argument for being disingenuous about the crowds and enforcement.

    And you’re trying to distract now… from that.

    and parroting more anti-science…

    tell the truth on the crowds DJ… be honest..

    and tell the truth about the science… it’s real and in all 50 states, it underlies their restrictions and actions… despite claims that the science is “wrong”.

    If the science were truly wrong – then why are all the states still having restrictions – even the GOP states? What’s their excuse if the science is wrong?

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