Tuesday, March 01, 2022

Only 1% Dead

I may be extrapolating out too much from the comments of a few and ascribing their bad reasoning to a larger group, though in diluted amount. Yet when I analyze that reasoning with an eye to replying to it, it does seem to exist in attenuated form in the choice of arguments of many.

I keep coming up against these ideas put forward that Covid is not as bad as the country is making out.

1. I don't know anyone who died from it.

2. The people I know who had it thought it was no worse than a cold, unless they were people who hadn't been taking care of themselves.

3. They used to say that a very low percentage of people were even getting the disease, though that has largely disappeared now that the numbers are up to about a quarter of the country.

4. Of those who get the disease, a ridiculously small percentage actually die.

5. The ones who die are mostly old or very sick anyway.

The statements contain a good deal of truth. They tend to neglect larger context - a single person's experience is not likely to be representative of the whole in a country of 340M; the percentage who died may be low compared to the Black Death, but the baseline was zero.  Before covid, zero people were dying of covid, rather obviously.  These are all new deaths. A million of 'em.

And this is where #5 comes in. Without even getting into long covid or people talking themselves into the idea that it is the vaccines or 5G or the regular flu that are really killing people, we get into real difficulties here. Some people are quite open in speculating that these are folks that were just about dead anyway, so this just pushed them off a little quicker. Except that those "almost dead" people have been replaced by a group of new "almost deads" from covid, who now have increased heart problems, breathing problems, etc. Covid did not skim the top off a static situation that now rebounds to the old death totals we would have had anyway.

How much damage a case of covid does to an individual varies, especially in the short run, but lets make up a measurement that it makes you 1-50% more dead each in the short run, and 1-10% more dead each in the long run. I duly note that the lower percentages are much more common. Many people can't afford to get 50% more dead, and they get completely dead. A few poor souls can't even afford to get 1% more dead, and even some of them die.

The reasoning on #5, though echoed in the other points, is that "Covid mostly killed people who were 99% dead anyway and couldn't take that one last kick." Or 90% dead or whatever.  A high number. But for the rest of us, that thinking goes, getting 1% more dead is temporary anyway and therefore no big deal. We can afford it.

Well it certainly seems that way when you're 20, when you also lift things unsafely play sports you aren't in shape for, leading to old guys with bad backs who wish they hadn't tried to be heroes for pointless reasons when younger. You think you can afford lots of injury. Some injuries you can. Others will follow you until you die.

The risks that young people are looking at seem to be either-or at first glance. You either had that car accident or you didn't.  If you didn't, you aren't any more dead. You either got shot or you didn't.  If you didn't, you aren't any more dead than you were yesterday. You can get in an accident or be shot and survive, and then you might be a little more dead forever. The risk of substance misuse is similar, that you can eventually die prematurely because of a few overdoses cumulatively. some among the young are notorious for not thinking that through clearly. I lived through it.  No problem.  

My thought is a lot of even older people lose this thinking slowly. They are quite confident that the disease will not come for them, because they can afford to be 1% or even 10% more dead for a while, because then it will just be gone. But even when you develop an immunity - and with some illnesses one does - you paid a cost when you got the disease. We focus on the sigh of relief that we can't get chicken pox or measles anymore,neglecting that the disease did damage us some, just at a time when we thought our days and our health were unlimited.


james said...

"more dead for a while" Example:
A friend of the family was in a crash. She survived -- for another dozen years -- with a broken neck.

Anonymous said...

Yup you will have a million dead from this in a short while. I did not think you were that dumb.

Grim said...

“… lets make up a measurement that it makes you 1-50% more dead each in the short run, and 1-10% more dead each in the long run.”

Have you by any chance recently watched The Princess Bride?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Grim - It did occur to me a few times during that post. the meaning in that context was different, but the phrase still worked.

@ Pen Gun - as I have pointed out numerous times and not been answered, Ontario and Quebec have about the same death rates. What is the Canadian brilliance explanation for that? You have made some good on point comments, even if I haven't agreed with all of them, and I relented and thought I would risk not deleting you for a bit. But that sort of unthinking comment, reflecting mere prejudice and overlooking the obvious even when it is pointed out, puts you back on the edge again.

Anonymous said...

You are approaching 3000 deaths per million. Canada at 960 or so is not in the same league. Ontario and Quebec are a bit higher but not by a great deal.

Anonymous said...

The edge! I am the cat that walks by himself, and all places are the same to me. ;)

Jonathan said...

I'd like the old, sick people I know to stay around for as long as possible, to not be hospitalized in covid wards where they get treated like sacks of potatoes, and to be able to die at home when their time comes.

In some sense it's not as bad for a person to die 2 years prematurely at age 88 in 2022, as compared to 60 years prematurely at age 18 in 1920. But that's like saying it's better to have your leg amputated as compared to being eaten by a bear - a non sequitur. Covid is the bad thing we are dealing with today and it is bad enough.

Grim said...


"...the meaning in that context was different, but the phrase still worked."

One of the Stoics had a similar concept -- Seneca I think? -- which is that we wrongly view death as something that happens all at once. In fact, it happens every day. One more part of our life is dead, impossible to recover or to ever live over. Every day another part of our life escapes into death; every day we die a little.

In that sense, a fifty year old man with a life expectancy of seventy-five is 66.7% dead. It is a matter of philosophy, however, what to do about that fact. So too your hypothetical: even if it were true that we are all now 1-10% more dead than we would have been had this thing not gone abroad, that only means we must be all the more considered in how we decide to spend the part we have left.

On that subject, Marcus Aurelius: “Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what's left and live it properly."

Assistant Village Idiot said...

"We die daily. Happy are those who come to life as well." George McDonald

Or "In the midst of life we are in death" Book of Common Prayer "Burial of the Dead"

james said...

"It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me"

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Grim, you have hit this point a few times over the last two years, and I think it is a good one. When we are talking about policy and collective responses for the population, we have to think primarily in terms of preserving life. We are not responsible for souls, only what we can identify and measure here. But the picture changes when we think of ourselves and what is best. Inside our heads we may rate mere preservation of our life much lower when compared to eternity, and be almost careless (or carefree?) about it. We might hold this life lightly.

Anonymous said...

Some zen master: "Be dead, thoroughly dead, and do as you will."

Cranberry said...

We aren't D&D characters. The measure of 1% dead makes no sense. Many athletes aim to work themselves to the edge of their capabilities, knowing that such exertions will make them stronger in the long run (no pun intended), whereas other people might drop dead from just that exertion. So it isn't as if we have a static number of life points that we may choose to fritter away in youth.

I am often struck by the same application of the sort of reasoning though, when someone takes their own life. There's a defensive mechanism that kicks in in other people "well, the family had some hard times," "it wasn't as rosy as it seemed on the outside," "she was always odd," etc. Really, there are many reasons cited to defend themselves from thinking that their own loved ones might be at risk of such actions.

Maybe it's a defensive mechanism. After all, in early hunter-gatherer times, we had to head out hunting again, after the feral boar had killed a fellow hunter. We had to go out to sea, get on the horse, climb that cliff, talk to a stranger. If we didn't do that, we would not have survived. So finding reasons why someone else had bad luck allows life to go on.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Agree with the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs, and have written at some length about those subjects. We whistle past the graveyard, and probably have to.

All sorts of things that happen to you reduce your life expectancy after. I used 1% dead somewhat metaphorically, but it does have real-world measurables. If you overdose three times but survive, your multiple organs are affected, and your chances of living to 90 or even 80 basically evaporated. People who had covid have more heart issues in the following year, and the worse your case, the worse those results.

Cranberry said...

With respect, I think you are assuming facts not yet in evidence about Covid's effects. It is fascinating (but I have a dark, detached nature) to see some of the early studies of Covid's after-effects. The best that I've seen so far (as an amateur) has been the study of US veterans, because it had a massive number of participants, and they could control with a very large data set, i.e., VA health care patients who had not caught Covid.

From memory, not looking it up again, many of the longer-term effects might implicate the immune system. Cardiac events, diabetes, skin ailments, and (again, very interesting) anxiety.

Searching for it, the same researchers have published further studies, which I will read. https://www.research.va.gov/currents/0222-VA-research-spells-out-COVIDs-down-the-road-risks-for-cardiovascular-and-mental-health.cfm

But the article includes this:
Compared to those who did not have COVID, those in the COVID group had a 60 percent higher risk of having any mental health disorder or mental health-related prescriptions. Findings by the type of mental health issue were:
Anxiety: 35 percent higher risk in the COVID-19 group
Depression: 39 percent higher risk
Sleep disorder: 41 percent higher risk
Opioid use: 76 percent higher risk
Opioid use disorders: 34 percent higher risk
Non-opioid substance use disorders: 20 percent higher risk.
The reasons for the increased mental health risks after COVID are not completely clear, the researchers say. Biologic changes may occur in the body that affect the brain, and nonbiologic changes such as social isolation and trauma may also be at play.

It may not be that Covid damages those organ systems, but that the immune system has been primed to cause ongoing damage, so Covid unleashes a cascade of auto-immune responses. I gather that steroids are being used to treat some long Covid cases, which would fit. It is also interesting (but horrifying in the implications) if mental illnesses can be released on a large scale by an infection. It might help explain why (anecdotally) there's an enormous wave of teenagers suddenly having mental health crises.

Then again, it is thought that catching Polio at a young age (basically, as an infant) prevented a serious disease later, which is why it was such a problem in the industrial countries, but not in the developing world.

And, there is an outside chance that isolation from the natural world and other people can cause illness. I know this sounds very hippy, nutty-crunchy, but years of demanding people cover their faces and stay cooped up inside...well, it's never been tried before. If you're ill and exhausted, you aren't going to be going for long walks or fun runs. Anecdotally, a fair number of college children (grandchildren) of friends are struggling. Some have chosen to take terms off, others have chosen to drop out entirely, especially here in the Northeast, where college rules have been draconian.

On balance, it's a dangerous disease, but we can't hide from it forever, and preventative measures carry their own costs. I'd rather run the risk of catching Covid than lose Europe to a nuclear plant meltdown, caused by a war started by a dictator gone stir-crazy. (Just a reference to current events.)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I am thinking that all diseases compromise one in some way, though sometimes, it is so minor that we ignore it. So while I agree that the book is very much out on Covid, anything that knocks you out for a few days or even sends you to the hospital isn't good for you. The life-expectancies may not reduce much for, say, children who got the disease and barely knew it. But it will have some effect on some people, only remaining to see how much. Hopefully mostly temporary.

We saw this with our suicidal patients who survived ODs and cuttings and swallowings, but died young of some seemingly unrelated illness. I said of one that she did not die of any one suicide attempt, she died of all of them cumulatively.