Many lessons we should take from COVID

Published 6:24 pm Tuesday, April 20, 2021

From the start of the Covid epidemic, I felt like “excess deaths” was the key statistic to follow.

This was especially true since the U.S. Congress decided to pay hospitals an extra 20 percent if a patient had Covid. That never made sense and was sure to cause distortions. There were better ways to reimburse hospitals than favoring a particular disease.

A death is much easier to document than the cause of death. Either a person died or didn’t die. Cause of death can be quite complicated.

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Several months ago the Center for Disease Control issued a report that only six percent of the Covid deaths were caused exclusively by Covid. In 94 percent of the deaths, there were one or several comorbidities involved. Dying “from” Covid was different from dying “with” Covid.

Compounding this confusion is a general misunderstanding of how viruses work. Most people thought of Covid as something you had or didn’t have. As usual, reality is a lot more complex.

At any point in time, the human body contains 30 trillion viruses, including about half of all known species that infect the human body. You are full of dangerous viruses, but your immune system keeps those viruses at bay. We are not even close to fully understanding the complexities of the human immune system.

Once a virus such as Covid becomes widespread in the human population, it is in virtually everybody. Whether you are sick or not depends on your immune system, not whether the virus is in your body. Most people never realized that.

As a result, people became obsessed with not touching anything or breathing vapors or going anywhere so the virus would never enter their system. That was an impossible dream.

A better obsession would have been to stay healthy and keep the immune system as strong as possible.

This was evident in how the Covid PRC test worked. How many people tested positive was determined by the “cycle rate” of the test. At 30 cycles, nobody was infected. At 40 cycles, everybody was infected.

Strangely, the CDC never issued standards for cycle rates for any of the American tests. It was only a few months ago, the CDC even acknowledged this as a major issue.

This confusion caused many people to believe that Covid was a hoax. Early on, I started tracking CDC “excess deaths” and realized Covid was no hoax. More people were dying than normal. Covid was real.

But harsh measures such as lockdowns were a major disruption of society. People panicked. People lost jobs. People were under stress. And stress is one of the worst possible things if you want to keep your immune system strong.

People were afraid to go to the doctor or hospital. Routine tests and procedures were not getting done. It frustrated me that few people seemed to realize that lockdown could kill just like Covid.

It wasn’t that I was insensitive to Covid deaths. It was that I was also sensitive to lockdown deaths. These were just as real and nobody seemed to care or notice.

Early on, several legitimate medical studies indicated that 30 percent of the excess deaths had nothing to do with the virus itself. For every two people being killed by Covid, one person died from the lockdown disruption.

Crime, drug overdoses, mental illnesses, domestic violence and a host of other social ills skyrocketed. In my opinion, these things needed to be factored into our approach to mitigating the effect of the virus.

Last week, the CDC issued their preliminary report on excess deaths for the year 2020. Compared to previous years, there were 15.9 percent more deaths than expected in 2020. Covid was a factor in 11.4 percent of the excess deaths — that’s 70 percent. But 30 percent of the excess deaths were not caused by Covid.

Aside from Covid, 2020 saw a big jump in cancer, heart disease, suicides, accidents and many other historically common deaths.

It is certainly possible that Covid was behind these deaths as well but not properly diagnosed. But it is also possible that major disruption of society can be fatal as well.

If the non-Covid excess deaths killed younger people, the total years lost could easily exceed the total years lost from the Covid virus, which mainly killed the elderly. If so, then the shutdown cure could have been worse than the disease.

Future public policy research will clarify these complex issues.

Our entire cultural, economic and social system is an elaborate, intricate and delicate machine. It can handle just about anything that comes its way, as long as the machine keeps running.
This first became apparent when food workers were ordered back to work. What’s the point of not dying from Covid if you’re going to die from starvation?
In Mississippi, we were willing to try a brief shutdown on the chance that it could nip the virus in the bud. But the two weeks turned into six weeks. The government kept moving the goalposts.
Fortunately, mask wearing became a compromise. It made us all feel like we were doing something and it had a minimally disruptive effect on society. I never thought it made much difference, but I wore mine, even while walking 15 seconds to my restaurant table at which point I would spend the next two hours eating without one.

By the way, Gov. Reeves got much national criticism when he lifted the Mississippi mask mandate, but the statewide Covid stats have been dropping like a rock ever since.

I have a friend who works around the state in different emergency clinics every week. He tells me he has seen Covid cases drop dramatically. Almost all the “daily” deaths being posted by the Department of Mental Health are several months old. Things are really looking up.

From my optimistic perspective, we dodged a huge bullet. This could have been so much worse. The virus started out killing one out of 10 people and ended up killing one out of 500.

Most of the fatalities were the very old. I have taken a lot of heat for pointing this out. Even though death is part of life, each death is painful to someone. But a young death is always more tragic than someone who lived a long full life. Really, we all know this. The virus has killed one out of 580. I am thankful it wasn’t one out of 10.

Some people always look on the bright side. That’s me. No matter how bad it is, I figure it could always have been worse. There were positives: We have made huge advances in vaccines and we have all learned how to work at home.

It will take years of analysis to really understand the epidemic and how best we should have responded from a public policy standpoint. No point in villainizing those with whom you disagree. Jesus warns us against calling people “idiots,” yet I hear this word far too often in public debates.

In my opinion, trying to contain the virus was doomed. It was simply too contagious and had to run its course. Our immune systems turned out to be tougher than some of us thought. For most of us, getting Covid was not much worse than a cold.

God willing, it’s about to be over. This Easter was almost normal — a far cry from last Easter when the churches were completely shut down.

I’m not quite willing to declare victory. This past September, things looked good only to be the calm before the storm.
Deaths and cases have dropped dramatically. Herd immunity has kicked in. Millions are getting vaccinated. The economy is surging. The stock market is at an all time high.

It looks like our great state and nation has weathered yet another storm. Why am I not surprised?

Wyatt Emmerich is president of Emmerich Newspapers and publisher of the Northside Sun.