OWN VOICE. ~ InPerspective by Gregg Dieguez —
… slowly…. We’re finally finding out just how many people REALLY died from COVID-19. Political factors have led to cover-ups in New York, mis-reporting in Florida, and mis-classifications in Alabama, Texas and elsewhere. But it’s a lot harder to hide actual bodies, and now we have a better count of them.
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We’re probably going to have a million U.S. dead from COVID-19 by the end of this year. That’s just my estimate, but 95% of that total comes from the respected Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), which has produced forecasts for over a year. And they’ve always been low. In recent weeks, their forecast has begun to include a count of “Excess Deaths”, which are deaths above the normal mortality rate. As we know from the profits life insurance companies have made, death rates are very predictable, and there’s an entire discipline of Actuaries who sharpen those numbers to a very profitable point. While the CDC has been slow to catch up on Excess Deaths, a new IHME paper now underpins the COVID death estimates, and it includes 331,246 extra deaths above the official reports from March, 2020 to early May, 2021.
Worldwide, the IHME estimate is that COVID-19 deaths will be DOUBLE official estimates, and you can look to India, Russia, and China for the major culprits. [There’s a table of country excess deaths in the study linked above, for the curious.] But back to the U.S.: today, their forecast is 948,859 COVID-19 deaths by September 1, 2021. And then there’s the rest of the year, and something just as disturbing from John M. Barry, the foremost historian of the Last Pandemic (1918-20):
In March 1919, another variant sparked a third wave much less deadly than the second wave but more lethal than seasonal influenza. First wave illness protected against the second wave, but neither first nor second wave infection protected against the third wave variant.” 
Going forward, the concern is that if enough un-vaccinated people keep catching and carrying COVID-19, a more deadly variant will elude the protection of our current vaccines. This seems to be a major factor in India today. Of course, our public health depends upon our public’s behavior: getting vaccinated, staying masked in crowded indoor situations (OOPS, never mind if you’re vaccinated), screening and isolating people at risk.
How have we done so far? As shown in the chart << at left, we’ve done much better than had we done nothing and let the virus rage through the population. Assuming a Case Fatality Rate of 1.7%[*], that would have been almost 5.7 million COVID-19 deaths. There is considerable uncertainty in that estimate since our overwhelmed health care system led to 331,246 extra deaths from people unable or unwilling to access health care while hospitals were clogged with COVID patients. Then consider: how many more would have died with a case load SIX (6) times higher? However, people’s natural caution, combined with sporadic shutdowns and public health measures, have kept us from the worst “herd immunity” outcomes. By getting our herd immunity from the vaccines, we are going to save millions of lives. But we have done much worse than intelligent countries since the start of the Pandemic, countries WITHOUT vaccines, but with competent leadership.
South Korea was right in the path of the Pandemic, with extensive travel and business with China. Yet their reported death rate is only 2% of the U.S. Had we acted as quickly, as the former world leader in Pandemic response and medical science SHOULD have, we could only have had 12,309 deaths. And South Korea is far from the only example of countries who handled the Virus better than we did. If you have lost someone in this Pandemic, my sincere condolences, but please remember that this did not have to happen the way it did – and act to ensure it doesn’t recur.
And we’re not quite done, as Barry also warns: “hubris is not our friend. India’s desperate situation is largely a result of a government thinking it had triumphed over the virus and ignoring scientific advice by reopening fully too soon without widespread vaccination.” Which certainly applied here in Florida, Arizona, and the Dakotas, among other states staying open too long or reopening too soon. COVID cases and deaths are INCREASING worldwide (chart below). “This is not over by any means,” said Ali Mokdad, Chief Strategy Officer for Population Health at the University of Washington. “The longer this drags on, the more likely it is that we will see new variants. Then there is a need for a new vaccine or a booster vaccine, and we start all over again.” So please get vaccinated, remember that it’s only 90-95% protective, and act like it. We’re all in this together.
And that last thought is the tough one, because as Barry points out from the Last Pandemic, there could be a “Rebound Effect” from variants created either here, or – more likely – in other countries. So, we’re not safe until everyone has been vaccinated. Yes, it will be expensive to inoculate the world. Yes, you could argue China should be paying for it. But while we’re haggling over who should do what for whom, the virus is evolving, and it doesn’t care about anything except its survival.
There is an excellent analysis in Bloomberg about COVID Resilience by country, and the ones to worry about are the poorer countries. There is a race between vaccinations and virus variants which we ALL need to be concerned about. And we will have tough decisions to make about international travel and prioritizing where to send surplus vaccine doses. I can see proof of vaccination as essential for travel, as it has been internationally for a century. And we have to kill COVID-19 off before it does even more damage – just as we invested in defeating Ebola in Africa. Did I mention?, we’re all in this together.
 Don’t Celebrate Yet…
The 1918 pandemic tells us that we can’t celebrate the end of covid yet – John M. Barry, Washington Post May 10, 2021
[*] What’s the COVID-19 Death Rate?
As of today (5/13/21), it’s 1.78% in the U.S., but that’s with both cases (33,625,922) and deaths (598,539) being understated – as this article describes – plus trillions of dollars and countless hours of burnout by our health care workers, and recently, vaccines, trying to prevent those deaths. The death rate could have been much higher, if we had truly done Nothing.
Mr. Dieguez is a native San Franciscan, longtime San Mateo County resident, and semi-retired entrepreneur who causes occasional controversy on the Coastside. He is a member of the MCC, but his opinions here are his own, and not those of the Council. In 2003 he co-founded MIT’s Clean Tech Program here in NorCal, which became MIT’s largest alumni speaker program. He lives in Montara. He loves a productive dialog in search of shared understanding.