Making Covid Choices: Can Our Thinking Evolve?

Dear Family,

The lockdowns began with clear intentions: “flatten the curve” for six weeks or so, reduce stress on medical facilities while they ramp up facilities and staff, and learn more about the virus. Six weeks passed and we accomplished those goals…yet nearly a year later, lockdowns remain in place with no clear roadmap ever stated, just a growing assumption that We Will Do This Until We’re All Vaccinated.

This feels SO fundamentally wrong.

As far as I can tell, the Democrat’s response is: Develop a Vaccine and Speak Condescendingly-we-mean-carefully to convince those Scared-of-Pharma Hillbillies to take it…while the Republican response is: Problem? What Problem?

How exactly did it become rational to make decisions about our health based on political affiliation?

My frustration is that there are MANY other possibilities besides denial and vaccination when contemplating the clusterfuck before us. (And no, I am not saying that indefinite quarantine or vaccination is Wrong. I am saying that it’s wrong to use it as a public health strategy, or to make a blanket prescription for all persons.)

I - along with many people in this country - are not in a high risk group. Pundits everywhere assure us that mass Vaccination will alleviate the responsibility that comes along with this position, but this completely ignores a whole lot of the picture.

Viruses and humans have been coevolving since home sapiens began. They are literally part of us. (See this super interesting article, slightly relevant, concerning the evolution of the mammalian placenta…possibly due to a virus: https://whyy.org/segments/the-placenta-went-viral-and-protomammals-were-born/ ) Yes, Covid is new, and yes, covid is different, and yes, covid is contagious - but so have been many, many other viruses we encountered along the way, even within the past century.

We are very lucky that Covid is not more fatal. Really, it could be so, so, so much worse! We will likely never know the true Case Fatality Rate of Covid during this pandemic, but when researchers sit down to sift through the available data and do some math, estimates can look something like this: “…Inferred infection fatality rate estimates [vary] from 0.00% to 1.63%… Corrected values also [vary] considerably (0.00–1.54%).” https://www.who.int/bulletin/online_first/BLT.20.265892.pdf (For reference, in 2003 the SARS CFR was 11%; Ebola CFRs have ranged between 25-90%. The CFR of the influenza epidemic of 1957-‘59 was approximately 0.67%.)

But that’s terrible! you might say. 1.6% equals hundreds of thousands of deaths!! And why should we care that it could be so much worse?!

Because, if you are in charge of mandating these lockdowns, which (apart from leaning perilously close to totalitarianism) can now be shown to have huge and measurable ill effects, you MUST do a risk benefit analysis. Most people who were struggling (financially and otherwise) before the lockdowns are much worse off than they were before. People who live alone are now much more isolated; people suffering from all sorts of chronic illnesses are now more unwell; and pretty much every single person in this country and possibly the entire world has had small-to-hugely impactful amounts of stress and isolation boosted into their lives as a result of lockdowns.

Remember back when we thought that a reactionary approach like this would never be tolerated outside of a totalitarian regime like China?

Were the lockdowns worth it? Should we keep on using them as our blunt tool of choice? If Covid deaths go down but deaths from suicide and starvation etc. etc. etc. go up….how do we define A Reasonable Balance? https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/virus-linked-hunger-tied-to-10000-child-deaths-each-month/2020/07/27/84d349ca-d059-11ea-826b-cc394d824e35_story.html and https://www.bbc.com/news/health-54616688 plus a zillion other articles that you can find with a quick google search.

If we had a public healthcare system in this country, presumably someone would be tasked with answering these and many other questions. Instead, politicians have spent the better part of a year jockeying for Lockdowns vs. Denial and We The People have - as usual - suffered for it.

In this country we have privatized healthcare to a degree that giant corporations - who care very little about you and me being healthy, and care quite a lot that they make a shit ton of money - guide most of the policy about these kinds of things. Why did the corporations choose to funnel almost all of the billions of dollars of our tax money into vaccine research rather than Covid treatments? As for getting answers to this and other questions, there’s no one we can ask. I and many other people much more learned than myself have spent this year having thoughtful and interesting conversations in our tiny echo chambers, while being told to more or less stay home, hang tight, and Await Vaccination.

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I have been trying to wrap my brain around this for nearly a year, and STILL: It just doesn’t seem like good policy to say, Well, we have no functioning healthcare system and we don’t know how to protect people in nursing homes since so many are staffed with underpaid and/or illegal workers with few benefits or paid sick leave, and lots of people are staggeringly unhealthy to begin with, so EVERY SINGLE PERSON should make it their top priority, above EVERY other risk facing them in this risky world today, to indefinitely and with zero additional support pretty much put their lives on hold and try not to catch a very contagious virus.

For one thing, lockdowns just aren’t working, no matter how I try to define that word.

Also, lockdowns are not fair. The shutdowns have padded the pockets of most Americans who have investments. The Corporate Sector is our third - and some might say most powerful - political party, and they don’t care who won the American elections: their profits get increasingly large as the middle class is increasingly squeezed and ill. Handouts for these corporations have grown during Every Single Administration since Jimmy Carter, and it remains to be seen if Biden has guts enough to buck this trend.

“The real looting in America is the Walton family becoming $63 billion richer during a pandemic, while paying wages so low that 14,541 of their workers in 9 states need food stamps — all subsidized by U.S. taxpayers. Yes. The Walton family is the real welfare queen in America.

“An estimated 5.7 million Medicaid enrollees and 4.7 million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients who worked full-time for 50 or more weeks in 2018 earned wages so low that they qualified for these federal benefits.” https://childrenshealthdefense.org/defender/report-details-how-taxpayers-subsidize-cruel-low-wages-paid-by-corporate-giants/

Meanwhile, lockdowns have protected predominantly young, predominantly wealthy, predominantly white persons who can work from home. Lockdowns as a strategy have NOT protected nursing home residents and at-risk populations nearly enough. Lockdowns have DEFINITELY not protected so-called essential workers - cashiers and clerks and drivers and janitors and many others - who are still mostly underpaid and can’t possibly work from home. And while I know lots of people love their masks, I still have not found any compelling studies to show that mask-wearing does anything more than “social distancing” would do on its own.

Even if you were to do the mental gymnastics required to imagine a world in which Covid could be “contained,” there will be another Covid type virus someday, and another, and another. Viruses evolve. We evolve. And while lockdown-for-a-year-till-we-vaccinate is certainly helpful for Pfizer and Moderna et al’s bottom lines, do we really want to set this precedent?

What I still believe we need to talk about, and should have been discussing for many years prior to this Situation (but better late than never), is: How Will We CoExist with This and Other Viruses Going Forward?

I am aware that for many, coexistence involves a vaccine. But there are many for whom a fast-tracked vaccine that in the end is not even certain to prevent viral transmission (among many other potential concerns) is not a favored approach. How many arms’ race vaccines are we prepared to sponsor as our coevolution continues? The average child in the USA already receives more than 60 doses of various vaccines before they reach adulthood.

(By the way, before you - if you are the editor of the New York Times - happen to publish any more nauseatingly condescending articles concerning the Amazing Miraculousness and Total Complete Safety of these new vaccines…please read this entire article: “Listening: The Key to Understanding Why Some Are Hesitant to Accept That All Vaccines Are ‘Safe’” https://childrenshealthdefense.org/defender/listening-key-understanding-vaccine-hesitancy/ )

But this is what feels like the elephant in the middle of the discussion:

In the industrialized world, the same people are mostly dying from Covid who are most at risk of dying from one of so VERY many epidemics of modern chronic disease (more on this below).

Similarly, the same issues plaguing most people in non-industrialized nations also put their citizens at risk of dying from infectious diseases, including Covid: lack of access to clean water, good food, and clean air. Once again, these issues have been a problem since well before Covid, and one could argue that vaccine development (especially as per the Gates’ strategy, which prioritizes vaccines over basic human necessities) is making matters in “third world” countries generally worse. https://www.politico.eu/article/bill-gates-who-most-powerful-doctor/

There will always be a few Perfectly Healthy people who die from Covid even though they have zero risk factors, eat extremely clean food and breathe clean air and drink clean water and meditate daily and exercise. But is it fair to lock down societies, cause a huge amount of suffering and death, drive an already-broken economic system toward an even more dangerously-steep divide between rich and poor…in order to possibly save some lives?? How many lives is it worth?

It’s been almost a year of lockdowns, and it’s time for those in charge to start answering these questions…and then report back to We The People.

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People will die from this virus, are dying from this virus, and most who die from it have at least one or two significant “preexisting” health problems - but the thing that we keep forgetting amidst the insane media hype is that Most People Who Get Covid Will Get Better. Even most elderly people! Even most people with comorbidities.

So this is a good time to address the current hype about Long Covid. Which is awful, and debilitating. As is Chronic LYME Disease, Chronic Epstein Barr (“Mono”), “Chronic” strep, and many of the long-term versions of chronic viral/bacterial illnesses that up until now our western medical system has had relatively little interest in acknowledging, let alone eradicating because it involves this inconvenient truth: the variability of different individuals’ immune systems mean that different people will be affected by the same infectious agent…differently.

We are not simple machines. Some people respond to an infection with some sniffles. Others get a powerful autoimmune reaction or severe inflammation in their lungs or heart. Fatalities are so often due to individuals’ baseline levels of health rather than Getting Exposed to Specific Germs.

In other words: Long Covid is a thing, in the same way that Chronic LYME and other chronic long-term infections are a thing, but the Thing is not a New Thing, and the problems driving it are old problems that could use some attention, not just another vaccine.

We are a nation of millions of humans whose bodies, in general, are nearing System Breakdown. It makes sense to address this not only to avoid a bunch of people getting bad cases of Covid!

Quick reminder: here are some of the other epidemics facing us today: autism/ADHD, depression, behavioral disorders, mental health problems, addiction, diabetes, hypoglycemia heart disease, cancer, arthritis, skin problems, digestive issues, thyroid problems, overweight and obesity, reproductive challenges, hormonal imbalances, Kidney problems, hypertension, inflammation, not to mention dozens of strange disorders involving the immune system that are literally just being described in the medical literature as more and more people got diagnosed with strange, so far incurable maladies.

All these modern diseases add up to an incredible number of early deaths and reduced quality of life, and these diseases barely existed a few hundred years ago. Sure, there were odd cases here and there, but nowhere even approaching the levels of illness that exist today.

This isn’t a matter of genetics. Changes to the genome take a LOT longer to express, and while genes can predispose us to developing a certain set of symptoms - “loading the gun” - our modern industrialized lifestyle appears to be “pulling the trigger”. Never before have humans felt this crappy overall, required this much medication and doctors’ expertise to stay alive, and been so able to survive in a weakened state. We humans are very flexible, and good at normalizing the poor health of ourselves and our families to an enormous degree. But while our epidemic of modern diseases is common, it is NOT normal. Rather than blame disease on poor genes, it seems like a very good line of research would be to look at people who are healthy and who have recovered from various diseases, and try to understand why their bodies are working so well…so Normally.

The only problem is, this is not very profitable. Which leads to an uneasy conclusion: the outcome that is best for the financial bottom line of the corporations tasked with protecting our “health” in this country…is the outcome that involves us collectively staying sick.

Which means that once again, we’re effectively on our own, and no amount of billboards encouraging mask-wearing to show that we’re “in it together” is going to whitewash this reality until it actually changes.

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Something that continues to bother me about the lockdowns is the fact that for some reason, somehow, Covid deaths have been deemed more important, more worrisome, somehow more deathy than other deaths, and the media reporting does not often provide any frame of reference.

As of a few days ago, 2.2 million people have died from Covid worldwide, or approximately 6,471 per day.

Each year, 1.35 million people are killed on roadways around the world. This means 3,700 people per day die in crashes involving cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, or pedestrians. (Global Road Safety | CDC.) An additional 20-50 million people worldwide suffer non-fatal injuries from car crashes, often resulting in long-term disabilities. That’s 54,000-137,000 people per day. https://www.asirt.org/safe-travel/road-safety-facts/

I found an infographic concerning causes of death worldwide (150,000 total per day, on average): https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/how-many-people-die-each-day-covid-19-coronavirus/

At the same time, around 385,000 babies are born daily: https://www.theworldcounts.com/stories/how-many-babies-are-born-each-day

Covid is different, people keep saying. Covid deaths are preventable! But so are car accidents, technically. By doing little more than not-driving, your risk is virtually eliminated! If we were really serious about saving lives, we could lockdown, stay home, and so many lives would be saved every year! Or, why not lockdown until such time as cars are made safer? Why not figure out how to protect those who are most likely to risk death in a car? Why not save as many lives as possible?

There are a lot of other health conditions that are putting demands on hospital staff and have for a long time - and so far understaffed hospitals are generally keeping up (although now that we understand the need for more staff and facilities for Covid, don’t you think the corporate owners of these hospitals should have done some hiring over the summer? Maybe this coming week would be a good time.)

More numbers. In the USA:

Covid has caused 452,279 deaths and counting, over the past 11 months.

Meanwhile, cancer is on the rise, last year estimated to have killed 606,520 Americans.

Heart Disease is also increasing, with 655,000 Americans dying from it per year.

In addition, Kidney failure affects almost 750,000 people per year in the United States, disproportionately minority and low-income patients. (Compared to whites: African Americans are 3.5 times more likely to have kidney failure.) (Statistics · The Kidney Project · UCSF)

Diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the United States in 2017 based on the 83,564 death certificates in which diabetes was listed as the underlying cause. In 2017, diabetes was mentioned as a cause of death in a total of 270,702 certificates. Diabetes is likely underreported. (Statistics About Diabetes | ADA - American Diabetes Association)

Consider: “Nearly half (approximately 45%, or 133 million) of all Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease, and the number is growing. Chronic diseases - including, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, respiratory diseases, arthritis, obesity, and oral diseases - can lead to hospitalization, long-term disability, reduced quality of life, and death.”

“…Chronic diseases are responsible for seven out of 10 deaths in the U.S., killing more than 1.7 million Americans each year; and more than 75% of the $2 trillion spent on public and private healthcare in 2005 went toward chronic diseases.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5876976/#sec1-ijerph-15-00431title

More recently, “chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. They are also leading drivers of the nation's $3.5 trillion in annual health care costs.” https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/index.htm

Worldwide: “From a projected total of 58 million deaths from all causes in 2005, it is estimated that chronic diseases will account for 35 million, which is double the number of deaths from all infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria), maternal and perinatal conditions, and nutritional deficiencies combined.” https://www.who.int/chp/chronic_disease_report/overview_en.pdf

If your brain is anything like mine, it’s blurring over right now.

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At the very least, let me know if my logic is sound: the same things that make people more likely to die if they get Covid are ALREADY killing and making life miserable for billions of people per year. From an individual and public health perspective, it seems very important to develop a more nuanced and flexible plan besides simply Waiting for Hungry Corporations to Develop a Vaccine.

Also, these numbers tell me that a really great intervention to lower the Covid death rate in our industrialized nation is not going to come simply or cheaply.

So what should we do? Since my opinions have little sway outside of my immediate family, this is entirely a thought exercise, and obviously not a prescription for anyone. But the number one priority, it would seem to me, is to increase the quality of the foods one eats, the air one breathes, the water one drinks, and the amount of Good Sleep plus Relaxation plus positive social interactions that one has. There are a ton of subjective opinions about what “good quality” actually means for any given person, but it is likely that everyone has at least some ideas of what immediate actions they can take to improve their health and the health of their family. Fascinating articles like this one are relevant to the ongoing discussion concerning Action Steps: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2013/246737/

I wish I had great ideas for overhauling our hulking and bureaucratic Public Health and Service agencies, since I am well aware that better choices concerning food and housing is a luxury that millions in America cannot afford to contemplate.

The most lucid potential public health strategy I have seen concerning Covid comes from a consortium of academics, professionals, and individuals and is outlined in the “Great Barrington Declaration”:

“The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection. 

“Adopting measures to protect the vulnerable should be the central aim of public health responses to COVID-19. By way of example, nursing homes should use staff with acquired immunity and perform frequent PCR testing of other staff and all visitors. Staff rotation should be minimized. Retired people living at home should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their home. When possible, they should meet family members outside rather than inside. A comprehensive and detailed list of measures, including approaches to multi-generational households, can be implemented, and is well within the scope and capability of public health professionals. 

“Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal. Simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone to reduce the herd immunity threshold. Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching. Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home. Restaurants and other businesses should open. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity.”
https://gbdeclaration.org/

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The lockdowns have been like a Manhattan Project aimed at nothing in particular, possibly/probably a net loss for society. I would so love a sea change! Let’s have a Manhattan project aimed at reforming Big Agriculture! Let’s support the amazing women and men who grow our food, and get restorative farming, ecological sustainability, and Good Nourishment at the TOP of the priority list. And while we’re at it, let’s slash the subsidies and tax breaks for those corporations who manufacture poisons/pesticides for profit, and produce the shitty items that pass for “food” on supermarket and institutions’ shelves…to zero. Let’s get rid of huge profits for those who prioritize Sick Care, and focus on Healthcare instead.

Studies show that even after a few weeks off of the Standard American Diet, a patient with diabetes can begin to turn their diagnoses around. Imagine what ten months of similar changes could look like, times hundreds of millions of people!

Let’s start today. Together. Somehow.

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I would love to hear what you’ve been thinking about, relating to all of this and anything else.

Love, Sarabeth