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Friday, April 23, 2021

Almost Eighteen Months In...

 

A colleague of mine experienced  a recent death in his near-extended family.  The person was young and despondent, and unfortunately successfully suicidal.  Regardless of all the factors involved, it is always a tragedy when a young person takes their own life.

We are now nearly 18 months into this life-altering, society-altering event that is impacting people and their societies world wide.  Tragedy is a good word to describe what is happening.  Whether this was an accident of nature, or an accident of science may never get resolved.  But there are some things that are apparent, the first of which is how much harm has been done.  And by harm I do not mean viral.

The rise in suicide rate and overdose deaths has been disturbingly high and both linked to the pandemic (1,2) neither a consequence of being infected by the virus, but rather, as being a victim of the societal consequences that have been created in the attempt to reduce the risk being infected.  In the words of the current day vernacular, the rise in suicides and overdoses seems to be a result of our perpetual challenge to “keep safe” and “flatten the curve” by creating a society of “shut-ins”, closing schools, closing businesses, creating financial damage, closing recreation, closing exercise, and closing social gatherings of spiritual purpose.

There has been much work over the last near eighteen months, much with the goal of making life better, with the best of intent, trying to sustain some sense of normalcy, all while trying very hard to make this virus go away.  There has been hard work of creativity, invention and innovation and monumental personal effort, and some with regulatory force. But despite all that the virus has gone through “waves” coming and going, waxing and waning, regardless of our actions.   

In a science based, learning society, we have to be able to stand back and look at what we have accomplished (or not) and then either go forward or recalibrate.  So far it seems there has been a lot of non-success and very little recalibrating.  There have been meetings (many, many meetings), public health people "public-healthing",  politicians being political, journalists "journalizing", to little avail.  The restrictions and proscriptions escalate.  Science types are creating more and better tests, and more treatments, and more preventions, but to date with little evidence that the virus is going away.

 There has been lots of money spent, many pronouncements and predictions made, all with questionable or little impact.   

It would be difficult to call this any sort of success. 

I would like to think that with all that active human brain power we would have been able to effectively outsmart or out-strategize the virus, especially since the virus has NO brain, NO brain power, NO thinking and NO strategizing.  The virus just is.

But with regret the opposite is true. I don't want to say we are still at Virus 1 - Human Brain Power No score, but it is hard to see in what way we are winning.

Thanks to the epidemiologists in our province our experience over the last 18 months.  We can look our society in three groups of people. 

 

People 30 years or younger
“education group”

People over 30 years but under 70 years  “adult worker group”

People 70 years or older.
“senior and elder group”

In our province

1.7 million

2.8 million

0.67 million

People test positive

43,000

62,000

9,300

Got sick

363

2,200

2,300

Died

2

212

1300 

Percent COVID illness in the province

0.02%
20 per 100,000

0.008%
80 per 100,000

0.343%
343 per 100,000

Percent COVID deaths in their age group

0.0001%
~1 per
1,000,000

0.007%
~100 per 1,000,000

0.194%
~2,000 per
1,000,000

 

These proportions have remained faithful and consistent through the whole of this experience.  And they are essentially the same in every jurisdiction in every country in the world.  The young are largely, near completely unaffected, the adults are marginally affected, and the brunt of illness is carried by our seniors and elders.   Our elder care in nursing homes has been a travesty. 

To put this into perspective, we have, over the last 100 years done much better with far worse; Smallpox, Yellow Fever, Malaria, Tuberculosis, Syphilis, Typhoid, Ebola, Lassa, Zika, Meningitis and Influenza.  Dealing with this virus should not be this hard.    

Maybe it is time to acknowledge that perhaps our approach is part of the problem.  We have over-thought, and over strategized, and at least in my opinion what has been done has made things worse rather than better.   If young people are killing themselves through drugs and other means at a disturbingly high rate, almost at the same rate as the virus (if not higher), then it is time to pull back.

We are smarter than what we are doing now.   If we keep creating harm while trying to find a solution, then what we are doing is not working out.  

Regardless of profession, can we all agree that Hippocrates, near 2500 years ago stated a universal truth: First, Do No Harm.

1.       1.  McIntyre RS, Lee Y. Projected increases in suicide in Canada as a consequence of COVID-19. Psychiatry Res. 2020;290:113104. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113104

2.     2.  https://calgaryherald.com/news/postpandemic/canadas-hidden-crisis-how-covid-19-overshadowed-the-worst-year-on-record-for-overdose-deaths.  Dated March 29,2021.  Visited April 23, 2021

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