Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Will You Die From the Corona Virus? Probably Not.

People are worried about dying from this virus, which is understandable, given all the media hype.  But the survival rate is about 97% - and that's assuming you catch it, first.

A reader writes that the "lockdown" should continue for another month, "just to be on the safe side" before we let things get back to our new normal.   It is an interesting argument, but one based on fear, which is never an emotion to be trusted.  He is afraid of dying from this virus, which is understandable, as the media has touted it as being toxic as the plague, even though it really isn't. This isn't to say it isn't deadly, only that the odds of dying from it are not very high for most people.

The Spanish flu, for example, had a much higher mortality rate, and oddly enough, was fatal to younger people in their prime.  Like the HIV virus, it caused the immune system to over-react, which lead to fatal pneumonia.  This virus is far less deadly, and targets mostly the old and infirm.

The mortality rate of this virus depends on your age and health, for the most part.  The older and more infirm you are, the greater the odds of dying from it.  Notice I said, "odds" because we are talking about probability and distribution curves here.  Nothing is certain, but you can figure out probabilities.  The media, who all went to the S.I. "Si" Newhouse School of Urinalism at Syracuse University, learned only how to "punch up a story with quotes!" and never took a course in probability and statistics there. So they routinely confuse causation with correlation, and don't understand how a bell curve (no relation) distribution works.

Yes, in any statistical system, there will be outliers.  The media harps on these - writing articles about a 30-year-old who dies from the virus, with the headline, "It isn't just old people!" - in order to shame and damn those who point out the truth of the matter.  Of course, what is not mentioned was the 30-year-old in question was a chronic vape addict.  But that's not relevant, right?

Similarly, there are articles about 95-year-olds and 101-year-olds who have recovered from the virus, sometimes after being in intensive care.  The message there is the same, oddly enough - that this virus doesn't discriminate based on age, when in fact, it does.

The Corona Virus has hit the elderly very hard, and no, some story about a 30-year-old dying from this doesn't change that fact.

But overall, the average mortality survive-ability rate seems to be hovering around 95-98% depending on which country you are talking about.   Mortality rates, of course, are based on reported data, which is always suspect, and both "sides" of this debate point to that as "proof" that the virus is more deadly than we think, or that it is overblown.   I think neither are correct.   And let's just toss out spurious stories based on Facebook reports of funeral urns being shipped, or supposed "CIA agents in China" who are reporting higher death rates than the official count.

Other articles just speculate.  "The infection rate could be much higher!" one opines, "as not many people are being tested - only those showing symptoms!"   And there is a nugget of truth in that - many people may have already had this virus (including me) and not known it.   The actual death rate could be lower than reported.

Not to be deterred, the "end of the world" faction puts up articles that the number of dead from the virus is vastly under-reported.  In addition to the really "out there" funeral urn count stories are speculation that people "found dead in the home" or homeless people "found dead on the streets" may have in fact, died from the virus.  This could also be true, but then again, considering the previous argument, it sort of is a wash - maybe there are unreported deaths, but then again, there are probably 100 times as many unreported infections.

The underlying problem is that ordinary citizens in the United States are very insulated from death, and most people, if asked, would probably speculate that the death rate in the United States is maybe a few thousand people a year.  No, really, people are that dumb.  So they think a "dead body found in the home" is some unusual event (because the TeeVee crime shows portray it as such) when in fact, a "D.B." call is quite common.  People get old, they die, and their relatives call the police and fire department for help.   Such was the fate of Mark's mother when he was 14-years-old.   A surprising number of people die in the home.

Or the motorhome, as we saw on Pine Island very recently.  Or in our little campground here on the island, where the local mortician has to do a "removal" two or three times a season.

So the odds given seem pretty much in the ballpark, and odds are, if you die this year, it will be  from one of a number of other causes.   From the CDC:

Leading Causes of Death

Data are for the U.S.
Number of deaths for leading causes of death
  • Heart disease: 647,457
  • Cancer: 599,108
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 169,936
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 160,201
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 146,383
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 121,404
  • Diabetes: 83,564
  • Influenza and pneumonia: 55,672
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 50,633
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 47,173
Interesting little chart, no?  Note that "Influenza and pneumonia" annually kill twice as many people as the Corona Virus has so far in the United States.   Of course, this statistic for 2020 will change, as "pneumonia" is the actual cause of death from the Corona Virus.  In fact, the Corona Virus is a cold virus which makes it virulent (easier to catch) but has a far higher death rate.   But every year, during cold and flu season, about 50K people kick the bucket because they are old, infirm, and can't survive the flu.   Every year, when I get it, it is harder and harder to bounce back.  A 24-hour "bug"when I was 25, is now a week-long lay-in-bed feel-like-crap experience.

So why isn't the flu considered as serious or a "pandemic"?  Well, as I noted before, the term "pandemic" doesn't refer to the deadliness of a disease, only how fast it spreads, and even then, WHO has very vague guidelines as to what a pandemic is.   We don't consider the flu or cold an epidemic or pandemic because it recurs every year during cold and flu season.   The method of transmission, and how rapidly it is transmitted, is about the same as this Corona Virus, which is exactly the problem - is it the cold virus on steroids.

This virus is as virulent as the cold or flu, which kills many elderly people every year.  It is, however, far more deadly to the elderly.

Mark was raised in a nursing home his parents ran.  He became familiar with death at an early age.  Talk to anyone who works at a nursing home and you will hear the old saw about how old people tend to kick the bucket after major holidays or events in their lives - Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, a birthday, or anniversary. The theory touted by nursing home workers is that old people will themselves to stay alive through these events, and once they are over, allow themselves to shuffle off the mortal coil.

Maybe that is true - the human brain is more powerful than we think.  But I think another explanation is more likely.  At these special events, the adult children of the elderly come to visit, and bring along the snot-nosed (literally) grandchildren, who are just back from germ-ridden elementary school.   "Give Grandma a hug!" they say, and little Timmy blows a wad of booger right in Grandma's face.  And it is usually Grandmas, too, as men tend to die off earlier.

So, a week after "the special event" Grandma gets sick, and being old and infirm, a simple cold or flu morphs to pneumonia, and she dies. "How sweet!" the nursing home workers say, "She stayed alive just long enough to see her 95th birthday!"

Of course, the alternative is to never let people visit the elderly in nursing homes, but that might not work, either.  The low-wage "caregivers" who have to be in intimate contact with the residents (changing adult diapers, sponge baths, etc.) have children at home who bring home viruses from school during cold and flu season.   And being low-wage workers, they can't afford to call in sick, so they show up at the nursing home "with a little cold" and all hell breaks loose.

People act shocked that this current virus is tearing through nursing homes - alarmist articles are being written (are there any other kind these days?) acting as though this is unexpected or novel.   If steps were taken earlier (that pesky time machine, again!) it is possible that more lives of the elderly could have been saved, if they eliminated outside visits and had staff wear masks.  But Monday-morning quarterbacking really accomplishes nothing.

If you are fairly young (under 70) and in fairly good health (don't have a heart condition, COPD, etc.) your odds of dying from this virus are pretty low - on the order of 3% or less, based on current reported statistics.   Your odds of being hospitalized from this are also fairly low.  The vast majority of healthy people will experience nothing more than a mild cold or flu - and many may not even know they have it - or had it.

But that's if you get the virus.  You have to get it, first.   And while it is a far easier virus to catch than, say, HIV, you do have to come into contact with people who have the virus, and then somehow transfer it to you.   If they sneeze into your face, cough a lougie into your mouth, you probably will get it.  If they blow their nose in their hands and then touch a doorknob - and then you touch it and then rub your eyes, you may catch it.  And that is exactly how people caught it in the last few months.

But today, people are wearing masks and standing far enough apart to minimize the sneeze-in-your-face issue.  Stores are proactive about cleaning surfaces, people are washing hands more, wearing gloves, and not rubbing their eyes or face - or trying not to.

Are these 100% effective ways of preventing transmission of the virus?  Hell no. But they are partially effective at least and better than doing nothing.   And actually, if you limit your contact with other people and practice "safe socializing" the odds of getting the virus will be pretty low, and the odds of dying from it are pretty low - and thus the odds of you dying from this virus are also pretty low.

Again, 20,000 people sounds like a scary number, until you look at the CDC numbers above and realize that 2.8 million people die every year in the USA and we have a population of 330 million.   I am not implying that these are struck-by-lighting or big-lottery-win or shark-attack odds, only that they are far from 50/50 - far, far from that.

But then there are other factors - we can't just keep the economy in deep freeze forever.  Eventually people run out of money, food, and patience.   People will eventually start to lose their minds and in fact, already are.   At some point, the world has to go back to "new normal" - the only legitimate debate is when.

My reader says the end of May.  The Governor of New York State and the Mayor of New York City are already planning on lifting restrictions and letting life get back to "normal".  If the folks at the "epicenter" are already talking about easing restrictions, I think maybe that when will probably be sooner than we think.

Sadly, the media is making a lot of hay about this.  The Conservative media (Fox News et al.) are pushing one agenda, while the liberal media (WashPo, NYT) are pushing another.  In today's Washington Post is an article shaming the governor of South Dakota for not enacting restrictions in that mostly empty State (go sometime, it is beautiful).   A "hot spot" has emerged of 300 infections at a pork processing plant that remained open so we could all eat but is now closed (enjoy ye bacon while ye can).   If only they had enacted social distancing!

But of course, the article fails to mention that these 300 people got the virus from being in the close confines of the factory, not from social interaction at the cantina after work.   But that doesn't fit into the Post's narrative of Republican bad, Democrat good.    I am not saying one or the other is right or wrong, but that is disgusting that the media and politicians have turned this into an opportunity to score political points or enact their political theories, right or left.

Sadly, it seems there is a pattern to this political nonsense.  Republican governors, in mostly rural States, have resisted "lockdown" rules, mostly because they live in empty, rural states.   "Social Distancing" in Montana means staying four miles from your nearest neighbor and that is pretty much situation normal there.   Nevertheless, there is a political narrative from some Republican and Libertarians that "freedom" is more important than public health, and rather than impose arbitrary rules, we should count on people to "do the right thing".

Of course, that sometimes doesn't work out well, as some people (most, actually) are highly irrational and do things like intentionally sneeze on people or lick all the food in the grocery store.   Humanity, what's not to like?

On the Democrat side, there seems to be a disturbing trend toward authoritarianism. "Close the beaches!" they argue, and when the governor re-opens them, as happened here in Georgia, they go ballistic.   But finally - after many angry calls from constituents - they realize their impulse toward strict government control isn't a popular move, and shortly thereafter, they vote to re-open the fishing piers as well.   Turns out, people are pretty responsible when left to their own devices.  Funny thing, that - people don't want to get sick.

But in other "Blue States" the governors are getting a little weird - proclaiming that WalMart can only sell "essential items" and then coming up with a fairly arbitrary list of what they deemed to be (and not to be) essential.    Oddly enough, other States seem to be doing just fine without these restrictions, and I am not sure why Vermont and Michigan (among others) are doing this.

It is odd that these things are falling along political lines, when in fact, they should be falling along more scientific ones.

But getting back to topic, the odds of dying from this virus are probably less than you dying from an accidental death.   This is not to say that the odds are zero, only that they are on par with the multitude of other risks you take every day without thinking about it.

So why are people freaking out?  Simple answer:  Control.  Auto accidents kill 40,000 or so every year, but we feel we are in control of that risk, and to some extent, are.  Drive more carefully, stop at stop signs, wear your seatbelts, and so on and so forth can improve your odds but not eliminate risk entirely.   The wrong-way driver or red-light runner may still take you out - no matter how carefully you drive.

We feel safer in a car than flying in an airplane, even though airplanes are statistically safer.  We have no control over the airplane, so we feel more vulnerable.  And until now, the same is true for this virus - it is invisible to the naked eye, and mysterious and deadly.

There are steps you can take to mitigate risk, just as there are steps you can take to improve your odds behind the wheel of a car.   You can practice "social distancing".   You can wear a mask, perhaps gloves.  You can minimize your trips out of the house and stay at home more.   These are things we are already doing.  Are they 100% effective?  No, no more than "driving carefully" is 100% effective in preventing accidents.   But we make the trade-off every day that we accept a certain level of risk in life, because the alternative is to just lock yourself up in the house - which itself has certain risks.  You might as well just crawl into the grave.

We will get through this, and in fact, already are.  Infection rates are declining and the death rate, while still going up, is leveling off and will decline faster than you think in the coming two weeks.  The doom-and-gloom that is selling newspapers (and making political points) will, in retrospect, look pretty silly by this time next year.

I am certain of this.  You should be too.

Of course, I am an optimist, and one sure way to get hated, damned and shamed in today's ain't-it-awful world is to be happy and have a positive outlook.  But the Russian Internet Research Agency will have none of that!   No doubt they will start a torch-and-pitchfork parade on Facebook and hang me in effigy.

Put a stick in Putin's eye and be happy!  It's good for you, too!

Life is too short to live in fear - and depression.