The Blame Game, Personal Responsibility and the Reality of Risk

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Forever in the history of human society- at least since the Fall- pestilence and contagion have been a constant fear and ever present danger.  Few things are more frightening than an unseen enemy that causes illness and death, especially when some are left unscathed and others die, without providing any understanding why one is afflicted and not the other.

There are a number of communicable diseases that are truly frightening and have high degrees of lethality, such as Ebola, that spread like wildfire, are almost always lethal, and have no known cure. These are diseases for which the most drastic containment measures must be taken because of their severity and potential for lethality.  Thankfully these diseases are generally rare and occur in very isolated outbreaks. Ultimately a disease that is too effective at killing its hosts becomes self-limiting and will hopefully remain both isolated and rare.

There are communicable diseases that can kill given the perfect storm of circumstances.  There are the communicable diseases that are a perennial scourge such as the common cold and the various influenza viruses that seem to elude containment or prevention (despite the barrage of yearly flu vaccines, thousands die from flu every year.)

The reality of communicable disease is that the battle against harmful microbes is an ongoing and often losing battle. A handful of deadly diseases have been eradicated due to vaccines, but new variants on old themes keep bubbling up before a vaccine can be created (think flu vaccines.)  The viruses that cause the common cold keep chugging right along despite the efforts of science to either fashion a vaccine or some other cure for it.  This isn’t to say that the fight to save lives from infectious disease is futile, but to realize that infectious disease will always be part of our reality.

I am not a microbiologist but I do know the common denominator of human life on this earth: no one gets out alive. Everyone is going to die of something.

Most of the verified COVID deaths have been in nursing homes.  Sadly most people in nursing homes have numerous health issues to begin with and are of advanced age.  Many in nursing homes ultimately die from pneumonia or other respiratory issues, which is why what may be a cold or flu that lasts a week or two for a healthy person in their thirties can be lethal for someone in their eighties with a laundry list of health conditions.

Enter the politicization of communicable disease.

It’s disturbing that people have the notion that the government- any government- has the power to protect us from ever getting a disease.  It’s even more disturbing that people on both sides of the political fence are playing the blame game, as if microbes are conservative or liberal.  The common denominator is that personal health is somewhat a matter of personal responsibility, but the spread and the effect of communicable disease is largely open to the uncertainty of chance (i.e. the genetic lottery, physical perils, microbes currently circulating in a particular area, and so on.)

Life has inherent risks.  It’s possible to slip and fall and die in the shower. Should we forbid bathing?  It’s possible to die in a car crash. Should we ban driving?  Should we continue to go on overprotecting our children and making them so risk averse that they come to believe the world owes them a pain-free and completely shielded existence?

Statistically speaking, here are few odds of dying with the causes: Drowning in a Bathtub: 1 in 685,000 (.0023%). Fatally Slipping during a Shower: 1 in 812,232. (.0028%) Being Struck by Lightning: 1 in 576,000 (.0019%). – source: Google Search

In 2019, an estimated 38,800 people lost their lives to car crashes – a 2% decline from 2018 (39,404 deaths) and a 4% decline from 2017 (40,231 deaths). About 4.4 million people were injured seriously enough to require medical attention in crashes last year – also a 2% decrease over 2018 figures. – source: National Safety Council  (this translates to one in 7,732, assuming the population of the US is 300 million)

The odds don’t care if you are a flaming Marxist or the staunchest Bircher. Death (other than maybe the Clinton hits) is generally not political.

Realistically the odds of dying from COVID vary greatly based on the age and health of the victim, but averaged out (numbers from Google Search as of 7-15-20) one’s likelihood of death by COVID is .0045% A little higher than death by lightning strike, but still a lot lower than death by car accident. Most of us still take to the freeways in cars and don’t think too much of the risk inherent in that though.

I am not a statistician by trade, but age is by far the biggest determining factor regarding who dies from COVID.  If you add in other co-morbidities such as diabetes, heart disease, breathing disorders, or obesity, then the mortality rate skyrockets.  Like pneumonia, COVID generally seems to be a “tipping point” disease.  If someone is already on the threshold of death’s door from age or chronic illness, COVID can definitely be the factor that kicks that person through death’s door.

I don’t mean to sound callous but as a society and a culture we like to believe that we are invincible and will never die.  It is gauche to mention death or <gasp> plan for it, but the hard, cold reality is that everyone is going to die of something. When we become fear stricken over a disease that a.) is going to run its course regardless of all the hysteria, masking and social distancing, b.) is going to kill some people, just as every day someone’s loved ones get killed in car accidents, and c.) shutting down the country and destroying people’s lives has done nothing but compounded the damage.

Perhaps a better choice is to live with the realization that yes, we are all going to die of something. It’s one thing to take reasonable precautions against physical danger and against contagions, but quite another to confine one’s self to a box and fail to live.