Is COVID Being Overhyped?

In the age of vaccines, should we stop worrying about the pandemic?

Despite having a national television show, Chris Hayes takes to Twitter to muse, “Something profoundly jarring about the scale of death of Covid and how it overwhelms everything else that are also horrible crises. I think we’ve basically (and somewhat understandably) turned our minds off to it, because it’s too large for sustained contemplation.”

Surprisingly to me, Kevin Drum pushes back, declaring, “Not very many people die of COVID-19 these days.”

At the risk of being irritatingly contrarian, I’ve long thought this was wrong. We focus a lot on huge numbers—50 million cases! 800,00 people dead!—but the truth is that these are relatively small numbers.

The total US death rate from COVID-19 is a little over 0.2%. But that’s cumulative. During the first year of the pandemic, the annualized death rate was about 0.15%. Over the next nine months, with vaccines available, the death rate declined to 0.1%. If you’re under 65 it goes down further to 0.035%. That’s about one in 3,000. And if you’re vaccinated it goes down to nearly zero.

So, look, I’m under 65 and triple-vaccinated. (That is, I’ve had two shots plus a booster of Moderna.) I’ve been at a point for quite some time now where I live more-or-less as I did pre-pandemic, with the exceptions, like masking, imposed on my be law or social obligation.

But, surely, even 1in 3000 people dying from something that nobody was dying of two years ago is a cause for significant concern?

Here’s my point: I suspect that part of the public anxiety over COVID is due to the gigantic mismatch between rhetoric and reality. We are told loudly and often about how bad the COVID pandemic is. We have mask mandates, vaccination mandates, travel restrictions, business shutdowns, deep cleanings, remote schools, and constant reminders of how many people have died. And yet, the reality today is that most of us have only the tiniest sliver of a chance of dying from COVID-19.

So, the peak of most of these things was pre-vaccine. Cross- and intra-country comparisons make it pretty clear that the death rate is higher, all other things equal, in places that didn’t have these measures in place. And, to the extent that being vaccinated drops a one in 3000 risk of death to “nearly zero,” mandating that measure seems more than sensible.

This is rather like claiming the Y2K fears were vastly overblown because the disasters didn’t come to pass while ignoring the incredible efforts that went into averting said disasters or wondering why we require airbags, seatbelts, crumple zones, and speed limits when fewer people are dying in car crashes than ever.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the deaths of the elderly don’t matter. I’m not saying that COVID-19 is no big deal. I’m not ignoring long COVID. I’m just pointing out that for the vast majority of people, the risk of dying from COVID-19 is minuscule but they’re being kept in a constant state of terror regardless.

So, here, we’re more-or-less in agreement. There’s an inordinate amount of pandemic theater going on. It’s absurd, for example, to wear masks while walking into a restaurant only to sit there for 90 minutes, maskless, while dining. But part of the reason public health officials continue to fearmonger is that a huge chunk of the population won’t get vaccinated and a smaller chunk (mostly young children) can’t.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, COVID-19, Health
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. charon says:

    In the USA in a normal year, 2,800,000 people (roughly) die from all causes.

    700,000 deaths from COVID in a year would be a 25% increase, seems significant to me. (Excess deaths would be greater, as the pandemic is interfering with addressing other health issues).

    Plus, that 700,000 does not include delayed increases in morbidity and mortality from “long COVID” etc., considering the long term damage some are experiencing to pancreas, kidneys etc. that also is significant.

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  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Considering the fact that ICUs are once again becoming jam packed with (largely unvaccinated) covid patients, no, it isn’t being “overhyped”.

    Especially if you are a person in need of an ICU bed for a heart attack, a car accident, a gall stone, or any other reason.

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  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    You know where it ends, yo, it usually depends on where you start
    — Everlast

    As @Charon illustrates, it depends on how you measure, what you measure and where you measure from. If this was 1665 we’d all be laughing at Covid, because say what you will about slowly strangling to death with a tube down your throat in an ICU, it’s still better than the black plague. Or smallpox. In fact, as a way to die it’s bad, but there are worse ways and a reminder: we do all have to die.

    In the early stages a high degree of, well not panic, but extreme concern, was justified. It moved fast, it killed slow, and that was about all we knew. Then we realized it was mostly killing the olds, so a degree of calm was introduced. There’s nothing wrong with the view that my life, at age 67, it was not as precious as the life of a child. A big reason why we did not all breathe a sigh of relief was that the hospitals were being overwhelmed. One tends not to react calmly when bodies are being stored in freezer trucks outside of emergency rooms.

    But now we’ve normalized, even fetishized anti-Covid measures that are absurd. Like James, I am loaded up with all the Moderna they can jab into me. I’m elderly and not in a hurry to die, but realistically I’m in more danger from the effects of overeating and drinking and lack of exercise than I am from Covid. Not to mention that a significant percentage of the air in Los Angeles is not strictly air and yet I just keep inhaling it.

    For the vaccinated to continue to worry is silly. It really is. I mean, sure, I could get a breakthrough case, but I could also get hit by a fucking EV creeping up silently behind me as I walk the dog. Mask wearing on a plane? Sure, why not. But James’s example of wearing a mask into a restaurant then gobbling steak unmasked for an hour is on-point.

    Unfortunately, being a nation that’s at least 40% idiot, we have to make everything performative. Look at me wearing a mask like a good boy! Look at me refusing to wear a mask like a rebel!

    The reason this is still dragging on is to a small degree the fault of over-reacting maskers, but to a far, far larger degree it’s the fault of the needle-phobic. If people just got the fucking shots this would be over.

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  4. MarkedMan says:

    FWIW, the only causes of death that surpass COVID are Cancer and Heart disease and depending on the time period you pick (I.e.during a spike) COVID blows them out of the water too. And this despite the incredible efforts. (The link thingy is not working. Here are the stats just prior to COVID https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm )

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  5. JohnMcC says:

    I suppose I’d be one of the crowd that could be called ‘alarmist’. I’m not terrified but GOSH! from what I’ve seen of HIV patient’s deaths from infections (before the anti-virals)…

    Trust me. You do not want to die from infection unless there is lots of sedation involved.

    So I’ve been hectoring family members (all R-party) about the low vax numbers in Red America for quite a while. And about hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin and stupid denialists and… well, made quite a scene pretty often. And I bet appearing like a panic-stricken chicken-hearted lib.

    But to me, it appears completely rational to wear a good mask properly in businesses and stay out of crowds and keep vaccines up to date. I’m 76 and I live in Florida, just for 2 completely rational reasons to have a smidgen of fear.

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  6. Michael Cain says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Considering the fact that ICUs are once again becoming jam packed with (largely unvaccinated) covid patients, no, it isn’t being “overhyped”.

    This. Covid is breaking our health care system, at least with respect to caring for the seriously ill. Not just because ICUs are currently jammed, but because a generation of ICU-trained personnel are giving up.

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  7. JohnMcC says:

    It’s worth thinking of the standard we use to compare casualty rates to. We all grew up in the shadow of Hiroshima. Complete annihilation. Bad standard to use for disease.

    We’ve surpassed the ‘Spanish Flu’ toll of 1918. We’ve surpassed the death toll in all the wars we’ve fought in the last 100 years. We’ve surpassed the butcher’s bill that was the Civil War figures.

    The ‘Black Plague’ of the 14th Century took about 25-33% of most populations we can count with some accuracy. At that level of death, society ceases to function. People wander off like shell-shocked soldiers.

    We’re somewhere in between ‘all-the-dead-in-100yrs-of-wars’ and ‘society-ceases-to-function’.

    So it seems reasonable to have some fear tucked away in there somewhere, eh?

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  8. Mikey says:

    This is rather like claiming the Y2K fears were vastly overblown because the disasters didn’t come to pass while ignoring the incredible efforts that went into averting said disasters

    I can’t remember who said this at the start of the COVID pandemic but it was something like “if you do it right it looks like an overreaction.”

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  9. Slugger says:

    Everything is overhyped. People who have modest disagreements excoriate each other. Politicians from the other party are characterized as satanic spawn. Murder rates are going up. We all need to chill out a little. Remember when “cool” was in? We may need to watch West Side Story. “Got a rocket in your pocket/Keep cool, boy.”
    Objectively, death rates from Covid are in the same ballpark as cancer deaths. Our response has had successes and failures. We need to have dispassionate analysis in order to do better, but I fear that our political climate where everything is the best/worst ever won’t allow this. Can an American leader admit to even the slightest bit of bad policy?
    Keep cool.

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  10. Robert in SF says:

    This is rather like claiming the Y2K fears were vastly overblown because the disasters didn’t come to pass while ignoring the incredible efforts that went into averting said disasters or wondering why we require airbags, seatbelts, crumple zones, and speed limits when fewer people are dying in car crashes than ever.

    This reminds me of an adage familar to those in IT: “We are having so many computer issues, why do we even pay IT?!” vs “We aren’t having any computer issues, why do we even need IT?!”….

    The same parallel can be applied to any preventive issues, car maintenance, police patrols, etc…. Casual/armchair analysts see a low death rate and think it’s just a failure of COVID to be deadly, and miss the forest for the trees.

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  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I’m just pointing out that for the vast majority of people, the risk of dying from COVID-19 is minuscule but they’re being kept in a constant state of terror regardless.

    While completely ignoring the associated costs of treating covid.

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  12. Jay L Gischer says:

    Here’s my personal restaurant protocol. We don masks at the car. We walk in with them on, and this helps if we were to cough while passing by crowds of people, or the highest-traffic area. Once seated, we keep them on until the drinks have come and we have ordered. We put them back on to leave. Yeah, it’s not perfect, but it tilts the odds a little bit. Walking in and out puts us near a lot more people, and into the highest traveled area, and probably close to the ventilation uptake. So we do what we can. It tilts the odds.

    I agree with you more than Drum on this, though. Covid isn’t that lethal, but it is more contagious than anything we’ve ever known, and it can be lethal (rhinovirus not so much). Yeah, maybe 1 person in 200 will die, but one person can spread it to 200 in an hour or so. So that’s a person dead. That isn’t happening because of what we are doing. And despite our best efforts, it’s still killing people faster than car accidents.

    The worry though, is that what we are doing isn’t really sustainable. Humans are not meant for this much social isolation. Mask wearing, to me, is the easy part.

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  13. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Jay L Gischer: One more thing about restaurants. What I’m doing is more about keeping myself from spreading it, should I have it, than protecting myself. Wearing a mask is a visible sign of “I give a crap about you, and I’ll do my part to keep you safe”. You can call this theater, and it sort of is, but the message is one I endorse. The message is something we need, because we are all running a deficit on social contact and meaningful interactions.

    Seriously, I strongly advocate for taking just a few moments to say something appreciative and supportive of strangers you run across. We all need it, so be the person you need to have in your life. Pay it forward.

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  14. Modulo Myself says:

    Drum is just a specific type of rigid who can’t handle society. The world reacted to Covid in reasonable ways, and this prevented a huge number of deaths. This reaction shut down everything. Regardless of mandates or forced closings, people stopped their normal lives dead in their tracks. Right now, if you have gotten your shots, you should be pretty chill about things that matter. Put your mask on inside a grocery store, show your vax passport at a restaurant or bar, and go on with your life. But before that, why bother going inside a restaurant? What’s the gain? What’s the loss? But a person with a specific type of rigidity interpreted this normal reaction as terror or as an imposition on their lives, rather than as adaptation, and then they proceed to attempt to outthink reality with a bunch of what ifs that never work.

    I believe with belief systems like Drum’s are spreading in the same way that religious fundamentalism spread in the 70s in Islam and Christianity. It’s a global thing. From the beginnings of Covid, there just legions of people (let’s be clear–mostly middle-aged men with
    lots of free time on their hands) who had ‘ideas’ about better ways to deal with Covid. Until the vaccinations came, there were not any. But that didn’t matter. People who can’t handle society are going to keep on spreading, like a virus.

    4
  15. Skookum says:

    1. Kevin Drum doesn’t acknowledge the number of people who are permanently disabled by COVID.
    2. The dead are predominantly old, thus the loss is not perceived as devastating to families or society.
    3. Would like to hear the parallels between how society reacted to the 1918 Flu and the 2020 COVID. It may be simply human nature to become numb for emotional survival.

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  16. Modulo Myself says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    Covid is pretty lethal, relatively. 57,000 people died in NYC from Covid, and most of them died within the beginning of the spread when no measures were being taken. All of the feeble nonsense about other ways to deal with Covid does not matter. Had extreme measures not been taken, the number of dead would be much much higher.

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  17. Jen says:

    I’d ask my ER nurse neighbor this question, but she isn’t home right now, as she’s busy working back-to-back extended shifts and making room for the assistance of the NH National Guard.

    We are at the highest level of hospitalizations since the pandemic started here, and WaPo carried an article yesterday saying that nearly a million people are affected by long-covid symptoms to the point that they cannot work.

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  18. grumpy realist says:

    I think the other reason a lot of us are freaking out about COVID-19 is because its effects are so random. We have oldies who sail through an infection with nothing more than a little sniffle, and athletes in their 20s who catch it and die within 2 weeks.

    But yeah, it’s not the Black Plague (which killed off 1/4 to 1/3 of the population.)

    5
  19. gVOR08 says:

    What’s the point to talking about COVID? So people can take appropriate measures. On the one hand, something like 30% of the eligible population is still not fully vaccinated. On the other hand, messaging to the unvaccinated seems to have become counterproductive, only hardening their descent down the rabbit hole.

    1
  20. Andy says:

    But part of the reason public health officials continue to fearmonger is that a huge chunk of the population won’t get vaccinated and a smaller chunk (mostly young children) can’t.

    That reminds me of the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

    I’m a science guy. I’m a good governance guy. I’m a guy who really prioritizes effectiveness. I’m triple-vaxed too. My youngest kid just got his second shot yesterday – my older kids are scheduled to get boosters this week. My sister with dementia (I’m her legal guardian) is triple-vaxed.

    But the public health community has lost me. When one of them gets on TV and starts talking about people needing to mask for holiday parties or opine about the possibility of mask mandates, I just roll my eyes. They’ve lost their credibility with me after almost two years of noble lies, moving goalposts, and supporting covid-safety theater.

    And I’m done with the fearmongering too. We have vaccines and therapeutics available for anyone who wants them. Those who don’t can roll the dice and suffer the consequences. It’s clear at this point that the dumb messaging from the public health community isn’t going to convince them. And the neo-authoritarians who want the government to use coercion are not convincing anyone either – rather all that does is generate a reaction.

    We’ve known since at least mid-2020 that Covid was going to be an endemic disease. At some point, we’ve got to exit crisis mode and treat it as the long-term problem it is and will be. And IMO, we are well past that point.

    8
  21. gVOR08 says:

    @Modulo Myself: Drum does make a bit of a fetish of being hyper-rational. Generally a good thing. And in the linked post, Drum himself said he’s not sure what to make of this. That said, I pretty much agree with your comment. But,

    But a person with a specific type of rigidity interpreted this normal reaction as terror or as an imposition on their lives, rather than as adaptation, and then they proceed to attempt to outthink reality with a bunch of what ifs that never work.

    is way too passive. I would never have thought pretending a public health crisis wasn’t serious, or even real, would work politically. But TFG intuited, correctly, that with the GOP base he could do exactly that. FOX “News” and my beloved governor DeUseless saw it working and latched on. Now conservative politicians, and conservative media, around the world do it. Yes, many people saw shutdowns and masks as some sort of big government imposition and don’t see numbers in newspapers as real. Conservative media mountain makers do need a molehill to start with. That doesn’t excuse them for making the mountain.

    Elsewhere this morning, in his NYT newsletter, Jamelle Bouie forwarded a challenge. We can all see dark doomsday scenarios for the future of the country. Can we come up with brighter scenarios? All I can come up with is Rupert Murdoch dies soon and his spawn, Lachlan, turns out to be a failson who quickly destroys FOX.

    1
  22. Sleeping Dog says:

    For the vaccinated, Covid has become a smaller danger. The risk of catching the virus is reduced, the acuity is lessened and the chance of death is lower. In part, it is becoming the disease of the unvaccinated. They have made their choice and they should assume the risk, including financial.

    The rest of us can evaluate the risk as we choose and proceed accordingly.

    5
  23. MarkedMan says:

    @Slugger:

    Objectively, death rates from Covid are in the same ballpark as cancer deaths.

    Yes, but only because of all the efforts we’ve taken. 1300 people a day are dying right now. Conservative math would put that at 3200/day if we didn’t have the vaccines. And if you throw in all the masking, the precautions in schools and public spaces, etc, that number could easily be 4000/day or more. That would be equal to half of all “normal” deaths in a year, dwarfing any other individual cause of death.

    Could we, as a people and as a nation, deal with a 50% higher death rate, year after year? Sure. It would be terrible but we had that kind of death rate or higher in the past before, say, the invention of antibiotics, or the development of modern sewage systems. But it seems like for every 1 person that dies of COVID, 12-15 develop long COVID. A significant minority of those are of working age and end up dropping out of the workforce and also require additional medical infrastructure and massive amounts of care from family members. Could we survive as a society without them? It’s estimated there are 4 million people today who have seemingly disappeared from the workforce. Could we continue that year after year?

    5
  24. Dude Kembro says:

    It’s being properly-hyped. Millions have died worldwide in under two years, millions more dealing with long term side effects. Medical systems are still strained.

    *Most* people are reasonable about COVID, taking in stride rational precautions like vaxxing and masking. 84% of adults are at least one-dosed vaxxed. The divisive, overly-negative media discourse ignores the reasonable to amplify the angriest, meanest voices.

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  25. Not the IT Dept. says:

    No.

    Next question?

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  26. Stormy Dragon says:

    So, the peak of most of these things was pre-vaccine.

    No, most of these peaks were last winter. Things are already spiking for this winter. Using my own state (Penn sylvania) as an example:

    COVID-19 Data for Pennsylvania

    You can see our currently level (11,575 cases per day) is almost back at the peak from last winter (12,794 cases per day) and will probably be beyond it in another week or two. The counties with the lowest vaccination rates are already past their previous peaks.

    This Drum article is a poster child for what even “responsible” Republicans are now: if he acknowledges the problem, he’ll have to do something about it, so he just blatantly lies so he can pretend the problem doesn’t exist.

    4
  27. Modulo Myself says:

    Yes, many people saw shutdowns and masks as some sort of big government imposition and don’t see numbers in newspapers as real.

    In my experience, everything happened way more organically. Masks were worn regardless of mandates. In the first few months, the shut-downs which went through cities happened because people put the brakes on their lives. Trump understood, I think, that the much of the culture war is fought against actual thinking and changing. That’s why school boards across the country ended up reaching out to Critical Race Theory or whatever you want to call it. There was no plot. No action taken. School boards were told they had racial issues and they tried to do something about it.

    So with Covid he just hit the culture war button. People who don’t have ideas or theories (even flawed) or experience have the culture war. There were no alternatives being presented regarding Covid. It was just state vs state, city vs city and in the end, Florida ended up with more deaths than New York and all of them way past the beginning.

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  28. gVOR08 says:

    Just for perspective: I’m doing this top of the head, but IIRC at the beginning of this game the Imperial College COVID model predicted that if we did nothing hospitals would be overwhelmed and we’d see two million dead in the U.S. And the endgame was herd immunity after those high casualties or a vaccine. We didn’t do much, but we did do something. We just barely kept hospitals functioning, with local exceptions, we’re approaching 800,000 dead, and thanks to the vaccines, we’re approaching being able to accept COVID as endemic, once we’re past this hopefully last winter round of jammed ICUs and ERs.

    My point is that the experts had a pretty good handle on this from the get-go. And the response of the medical and drug organizations has been outstanding. Our failures have been purely political. Think where we’d be if we’d had an actual, for real, president, and I’d had a real governor, when this broke out. Instead we have Republicans, backed by the conservative echo chamber, who saw it only as a political problem.

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  29. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    At my last check, I live in a county that almost exactly mirrors national trends in vaccination, so I would recommend the following:
    1. Don’t be in a “state of terror” about Covid-19 or the variants, but…

    2. Remember that statistically (may be better in some specific venues and areas but worse in others) only about every other person is vaccinated.

    This is what I remind students when I’m in the classrooms and masks are starting to slip or whatever. I think it works a little better than our expectation is that you will wear…

    2
  30. Michael Reynolds says:

    At this point the vast majority of fatal cases are effectively suicides, the moral equivalent of three pack a day smokers, heroin addicts or people who eat Taco Bell. Compassion, sure. Treatment, of course. But there is a limit to how much energy we have to expend to stop people killing themselves. If you’re 75 and don’t like the jab you’ve made a choice and you are no longer my problem.

    The crisis is past, we are now in the daily grind. Covid will kill off more old people, more stupid people, and more stupid old people. Let’s increase ICU capacity and take off the masks.

    3
  31. de stijl says:

    @Mikey:

    I spent most of 1999 assiduously verifying that systems under my direct control stored dates as date/time rather than as integers. That took all of about 45 minutes.

    Nevertheless, I spent most of 1999 relaying and demonstrating that state of fact over and over and over.

    It was a wasted year for IT folks. Nothing else happened. It was incredibly boring. But I did get to go home at 5 pm regularly which I appreciated.

    I was on the overnight New Years Eve / Day team. Everything worked. We drank beer and champagne.

    Q1 2000 every project in the world got green-lit. Pent up demand.

    1
  32. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    Granted, we updated to the latest proven current version of software and DBMS we used which was pretty useful. Infrastructure is good.

    1999 was the year I dotted t’s and crossed i’s.

  33. Stormy Dragon says:

    @de stijl:

    I spent 1999 frantically making changes to 20 year old mainframes of the “if this system fails, it’s going to kill people and/or cause millions of dollars of damages” sort. Just because Y2K was a non-event on the systems you worked with doesn’t mean it wasn’t a big deal for other systems.

    8
  34. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    If you’re 75 and don’t like the jab you’ve made a choice and you are no longer my problem.

    If you get in a car accident, but all the hospitals in your area are full of unjabbed 75 year olds or closing because the nurses all got burnt out and quit, it can very quickly become your problem again.

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  35. de stijl says:

    In regards to the post a day or so back about the poll that showed that left leaning kids did not want to associate with or date right leaning kids…

    I choose to not be in the same room unmasked with someone who is a Covid denier, or a pooh-pooher, or someone who refuses to mask up properly.

    Those actions and beliefs are options you can pursue, but I am not obligated to be there for it. I opt out of that.

    If you want to throw hygiene out the window and throw several hundred years of science under you bus, so be it.

    But I don’t have to be in the same room as your sketchy unvaccinated exhalations. I won’t. Yeah, that is something I want no part of. And I am not sorry at all.

    The relationships lost were not worth having frankly. Demonstrated anti-community selfishness is not a trait I want to be around. People making things worse on purpose – yeah, fuck off with that.

    4
  36. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Let’s increase ICU capacity and take off the masks.

    We don’t have the workers to increase ICU capacity. Probably don’t have the equipment either, but the workers are the big problem.

    Also, a lot of people just look better with masks.

    And, finally, long covid. We just can’t afford to have that many people disabled.

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  37. de stijl says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Very true!

    Actual remediation was necessary in a lot of back-end systems. It was not just hype.

    Back-end systems that my little pocket depended upon frankly. We received feeds from them nightly. New rows, new updated columns.

    Point well taken. Interdependency. My zone of control was compliant; not all were pre 1999.

    2
  38. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Yes, which is why I wrote: Let’s increase ICU capacity and take off the masks.

  39. Michael Reynolds says:

    You know how every time we decide to have a war the first question sensible people ask is, what’s the endgame? You know, how will we know when we’ve won?

    So, for the war on Covid when do we declare victory? When Covid goes away? So, never? Or when everyone has their shots? Also, never. Or when the case load drops below a certain point? And what would that point be? What is the acceptable daily case load?

    We have highly effective shots available for free to everyone, and with treatment, essentially no one who is vaxxed is dying. We won! Or as much of the war as we are ever going to win. Now we’re edging into Covid cos-play. I have no taste for performative virtue.

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  40. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    We’ve known since at least mid-2020 that Covid was going to be an endemic disease. At some point, we’ve got to exit crisis mode and treat it as the long-term problem it is and will be. And IMO, we are well past that point.

    Ok, so how do we exit crisis mode without creating a larger crisis? We would need to increase available hospital space, train more doctors and nurses, figure out what to do with the long-covid folks…

    I suppose we could just stop intubating people and let them die in a less resource-impactful manner, and that could help the ICU situation. As hospitals start getting overwhelmed and we shift to crisis-levels of care, this has already started happening, so we might be ok with that as a more general response.

    Long-covid folks can be turned out onto the streets with the rest of the disabled.

    We still need more respiratory therapists, for those who haven’t lost their health insurance and/or can afford health insurance premiums, along with their copays and deductibles. I guess we can just have long waiting lists for appointments and let the free market take care of it, as some stop accepting insurance and just set their rates really high so those who can afford it get the care they need quickly while most don’t.

    What does “exit crisis mode” look like to you? Because with our current infrastructure, it doesn’t look good to me.

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  41. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Yes, which is why I wrote: Let’s increase ICU capacity and take off the masks.

    Cool! How many ward shifts are you signed up for next week?

    @Gustopher:

    We don’t have the workers to increase ICU capacity.

    In fact we’re losing ICU capacity from a worker standpoint, because medical staff are getting sick of being assaulted by the families of COVID19 patients

    9
  42. Gustopher says:

    The media should be giving as much coverage to stacks of dead people, and long-term disabled folks as they are giving to angry right wingers protesting masks and spouting lies.

    If they did that, covid might not seem overhyped. Or people might say “I’m fine with that, I’m done with masks.”

    But right now, I’m mostly seeing uninformed people spouting off half-baked ideas that sound good based on partial information (and in some cases misinformation). It’s stupid.

    7
  43. de stijl says:

    @Gustopher:

    I sometimes wear dentures when I need to. Some things I eat require them.

    Of 32 human teeth a normal person possesses I currently own .25 of one tooth that is under the gum line so not an issue. A useless remnant.

    I am toothless.

    Pre-Covid I had to denture up if I was going somewhere that required vocal interaction. I didn’t have to, but I chose to to preserve social cohesion and standards of acceptability.

    Post-Covid I wear a mask in stores and offices. Unless I need to chew food my stupid fake teeth are entirely superfluous.

    Covid gave me the freedom to not denture up just for social interaction.

    As a person who deals with anxiety and agoraphobia, wearing a mask when you are out and about is a fucking god-sent boon.

    I know it is mental bullshit and a artifact of bad thinking, but being able to go out into public and commercial spaces masked up improved my life considerably.

    5
  44. Scott says:

    Maybe the correct analogy is 9/11 and the follow-on GWOT and all the security theater that went with it. Because of under 3,000 dead and some $4B in building cost, we will have spent past, present, and future some $8T and a whole lot more lives.

    Yet we persist there also after 20 years.

    6
  45. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Stormy, you are right, but what is the solution to those who won’t be responsible and get vaccinated, beyond letting the natural consequences of their behavior?

    Frankly, I’d let those who choose to be unvaccinated die at home. If that is too extreme, and most would believe it is, then they should be financially responsible for the cost of their care and be subject to being kicked out of the ICU to accommodate the accident victim.

    3
  46. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Frankly, I’d let those who choose to be unvaccinated die at home. If that is too extreme, and most would believe it is, then they should be financially responsible for the cost of their care and be subject to being kicked out of the ICU to accommodate the accident victim.

    I agree with this, but unfortunately the same political forces that are driving down vaccinations rates to begin with would also prevent anything like this from ever being implemented.

    2
  47. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    moving goalposts, and supporting covid-safety theater.

    I’m sorry that a novel virus did not yield all of its secrets upon initial contact, forcing the medical community to guess, and then refine those guesses, and keep moving the goal posts. In addition to being deadly and contagious, covid is also rude.

    And what covid safety theater?

    @Scott:

    Maybe the correct analogy is 9/11 and the follow-on GWOT and all the security theater that went with it.

    And perhaps it isn’t the right analogy. 3,000 dead vs 700,000. A single attack vs. an ongoing, constant threat. A threat from outside vs. a threat that’s within. There’s really nothing in common.

    But again with the security theater.

    What is the theater? Masks? Masks are known to provide an additional layer of protection to reduce the spread, and with wide community transmission that’s not theater.

    Masks in restaurants? I’d argue that indoor dining is just stupid right now, unless you really know and trust the ventilation systems. Masks when you’re not seated are kind of besides the point, so that is theater, but the answer isn’t to take off the masks, it’s to not hang out for extended periods with unmasked crowds and poor or spotty ventilation.

    Is there something else you two mean by theater?

    9
  48. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: If you don’t want to wear a mask, stop wearing them. Nobody cares. If you know how to increase ICU capacity–with special emphasis on how we get staff for that kind of a specialty (my understanding is that jobs are not highly sought after)–open a consulting firm and get to work on expanding them.

    5
  49. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    We’re still losing ~1,200 souls everyday, so there’s that. But it’s essentially a Republican disease at this point. We could be done with it. But the GOP has decided to prolong this for political purposes.
    We have vaccines and therapeutics and smart people are relatively safe now.
    Still, please, never forget that hundreds of thousands of Americans have died, needlessly, for the Republican Party.

    3
  50. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    But aren’t they the party of personal responsibility? 😉

    1
  51. de stijl says:

    Disease vectors spiral.

    Patient zero gets gas on her way to the airport. Parks. Goes into the terminal. Boards the plane. Grabs her luggage. Gets a taxi to her gig. Does her stuff. Gets another taxi to the hotel. Potentially infects thousands who infect a thousand more.

    This far in, it is easy to dismiss the unvaccinated as weird freaks. But remember that they are disease vectors.

    Your friend or family member who is immunocompromised by chemotherapy is not wryly amused by the studiously unvaccinated, that person might very well kill them.

    Clogging up ERs and hospitals in general prevents others from access to potentially life saving procedures.

    Their choice is a societal burden and it costs lives directly and indirectly.

    It is evil. Rolling our eyes and sighing is too little, too late.

    How did our society become this lame?

    4
  52. Gustopher says:

    @de stijl:

    Your friend or family member who is immunocompromised by chemotherapy is not wryly amused by the studiously unvaccinated, that person might very well kill them.

    Fun fact: one of the current theories for the emergence of Omicron is that it was percolating in an immunocompromised AIDS patient — a randomly less deadly case (for that person), with a weaker person slowly building defenses that the virus is slowly mutating to avoid. All faster than normal random mutations, because there’s no need to jump between hosts.

    So your immune compromised friends might be reservoirs for relatively rapid mutations.

    Protecting them protects us.

    3
  53. Gustopher says:

    @de stijl:

    How did our society become this lame?

    A friend of mine would make the case that this is all because of children being told to “be themselves” because “what if you’re an asshole?”

    The claim is that previously, children would try to emulate better people.

    I don’t know how true it is, and it seems like something out of a David Brooks column, except for the harsh language.

    That said, a lot of people should really not be themselves, because they are assholes.

    3
  54. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Gustopher: This.

    I spoke with a Doctor that was a Trumper but wasn’t a cultists. He told me that the way Covid attacked T-Cells in severe cases, he fully expected a glut of immune deficiency disorders in the next 10-20 years. He said he was elbowing people in the initial vax and booster lines out of the way to get his shots.

    1
  55. steve says:

    “Let’s increase ICU capacity”

    Can’t really be done quickly for a sustained effort. Most smaller rural hospitals dont have a real ICU. Any pt sick enough to need real ICU care will get transferred to a larger hospital. In the larger hospitals you can usually expand ICU space for a while. You can have staff work 80-100 hours a week for a while. You cant sustain it. You can make the argument that we have waves that last about 2 months so you only need to expand 2 months at a time. That’s true but you need to do it over and over. People wear out. Caring for covid pts is very personal intensive.

    ICU space is the most expensive in the hospital for pt care. It takes along time to train critical care docs. A long time to train ICU nurses, respiratory therapists etc.

    The expansion of ICU space also means less resources in people and space for the rest of the hospital. And just to get a bit technical, ICU docs and nurses nowadays don’t usually limit their work to the ICU. They are usually part of the rapid response and code teams in the hospital. So in our network our ICUs are full, we are holding pts in the ED all of the time and boarding pts in spaces like the PACU. The ICU teams are trying to help out with urgent care in these spaces while also dealing with full ICUs. Just think of hospitals as large interconnected organisms and an overload in one area affects everything else.

    Steve

    6
  56. de stijl says:

    @Gustopher:

    Being abrasive on purpose is maladaptive. No one wants to mate with you. No one wants to be your friend.

    Principled contrarianism is a human treasure, but assholishness for the sake of it: To intend to belittle and dominate and disrupt is an alien concept to me. I just don’t get it. You can disagree with the crowd and say it out loud without being an asshole.

    Some people are born aggro or are made so quite early in life.

    I was very angry when I was younger. Anger is not bad. We should be angry at certain things. Anger helped me grow and become me. Only anger only always is really bad. All things in moderation.

    I truly felt some catharsis after certain events – performing and intentionally let the brake pedal off for a few minutes was pretty glorious, but I burnt that off fast and quick.

    “What next, asshole?”

    My hatred turned to pity. Holding on to bad thoughts – I decided to not do that. I dislike pricks; I decided to not be one.

    2
  57. Jen says:

    I’ve spent most of the day trying not to be annoyed at the question this post asks, but have failed.

    I have friends who are cancer survivors, a friend with a child who has cerebral palsy, and a number with autoimmune diseases. All of these people are at higher risk for dying even when they do the right thing by getting vaccinated/boosted.

    Asking if this disease is being “overhyped” comes from a position of privilege–that of someone who doesn’t love someone who is at a higher risk of dying.

    I’ve spent the past nearly 2 years pretty damn worried–not for ME, but for those who have less-robust defenses. This is still a pandemic. It won’t be endemic until it’s under control and popping up seasonally in pockets, like the flu.

    It’s really, really irritating to see people blow off the seriousness of this. I no longer care about those who choose to remain unvaccinated, they’ve made their choices. I do care about those who cannot fight this off due to a weakened immune system.

    And to those who criticize the health policy experts for not having the perfect messaging right away: you think you could do better? Really? As a professional communicator, I can say with a fair degree of confidence that you would have failed too. This is HARD.

    11
  58. de stijl says:

    @Jen:

    Go for it.

    This is good and righteous anger.

    700,000 and counting. Each a life snuffed out too quick. Many could have been saved if we acted smarter and less selfishly.

    4
  59. Michael Reynolds says:

    Plenty of snark, no answer to the question of when we know it’s time. For the fully vaccinated masks neither protect you, nor anyone else. It’s kabuki. It’s a show of solidarity and conformity we’re putting on.

    We seem to be down to a single concern: ICU capacity. Right? That’s all that’s hanging up a declaration of victory? OK, give me a metric. At what ICU capacity should we be ready to resume normal business? What’s the magic number?

    This is how we end up in forever wars, you know, not having a clear idea of the objective.

    3
  60. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    For the fully vaccinated masks neither protect you, nor anyone else.

    This is simply wrong. If vaccines were force shields, then yes, but we have enough breakthrough infections that fully vaccinated and boosted people can catch, carry and spread. They are less likely to die, but there is still long-covid and killing other people.

    Also, only about 25% of the eligible population has gotten their booster so far.

    We seem to be down to a single concern: ICU capacity.

    – ICU Capacity
    – The Immunocompromised
    – Long-Covid

    Because if we just shrug and say it’s over, the immunocompromised are fucked, and we are going to have a shitload of people basically disabled with long-covid.

    As far as ICUs — we either need to expand facilities enough to cover covid plus the usual heart attacks, car crashes and the like, or just shove the covid people in wood chippers or something.

    All the problems I point out in my comment to Andy.

    You’re eager for things to go back to normal — if not the old normal, then some new normal — but with 1200 people dying daily, you’re going to have to be more specific about what an acceptable new normal is.

    And that’s 1200/day with the current efforts to control the spread. Every time we have let up on restrictions, it has been met with a wave of death.

    The question isn’t how big to get ICUs, it is how many dead per day is the new normal, how do we care for those disabled by the virus, and what do you want new normal to look like?

    You might want to move to Florida for a bit, if you don’t want to deal with covid restrictions on a daily basis. Vote with your feet. Maybe they got it right — maybe everyone vulnerable is completely fucked and we should just try to let the virus burn itself out. If Florida doesn’t get more waves, and ends up losing the same age-adjusted portion of the population as everyone else, then they just did it faster.

    10
  61. Dude Kembro says:

    @Michael Reynolds: You would want ICU beds at 40% or, ideally, lower.

    We could probably deal with 50% or lower.

    Right now, the nationwide average is ~76% and rising, thanks to COVID’s winter surge. That is not good, as yesterday’s tornados demonstrate. When disaster/war/disease strikes and all your ICU beds are already taken by COVID patients, yikes.

    Since most of those hospitalized with COVID are unvaccinated, where is the groundswell movement to shield from liability hospitals and insurance companies that deny ICU beds and treatment to the unvaccinated? That seems a more politically palatable policy than vaccine mandates, incidentally, and it provides an (ugly) end to the endemic.

    7
  62. Hal_10000 says:

    The reason the pandemic has faded from public consciousness is because the country in two camps:

    1) the vaccinated, who can get close to normal life

    2) the unvaccinated, who have decided that they don’t care if they die or take other people with them.

    It’s sad, but that’s where we are.

    8
  63. Mikey says:

    @Gustopher:

    We don’t have the workers to increase ICU capacity. Probably don’t have the equipment either, but the workers are the big problem.

    This is happening in the UK, no doubt it will happen here (and probably is already). We’re already short-staffed in American ICUs, what happens when our medical professionals suffering from depression and PTSD and the aftermath of the COVID they caught just say “fuck this, I’m out?”


    We won’t go back to Covid wards, say traumatised NHS staff

    Traumatised medical staff are refusing to be redeployed back to Covid wards, limiting hospitals’ ability to respond to a projected surge in patients triggered by the Omicron variant, NHS chief executives have warned.

    Government scientists say there could be between 1,000 and 2,000 daily admissions to hospital within weeks. This will hit the NHS at the worst possible time as the service battles an existing capacity crisis of not enough beds or staff, which is already affecting patient care. There are logjams at every stage of treatment.

  64. Zachriel says:

    @Mikey: I can’t remember who said this at the start of the COVID pandemic but it was something like “if you do it right it looks like an overreaction.”

    That’s the nature of exponential growth. A very small change early in the growth cycle can make a very large difference late in the cycle. Conversely, even a large change late in the cycle will have a much smaller effect.

    In other words, countermeasures only work effectively if they anticipate the curve. If countermeasures, such as mandates, are reactionary, then they are much less effective. That creates a tension between politics and science. Science has foresight, but politics is myopic. People have trouble reacting to something outside their personal experience. (Which is why, having learned the lesson, they will be forever fighting the last war.)

    @Jay L Gischer: The worry though, is that what we are doing isn’t really sustainable. Humans are not meant for this much social isolation.

    And the virus is well-adapted to infect humans who are now social on a global scale.

    @de stijl: Being abrasive on purpose is maladaptive. No one wants to mate with you. No one wants to be your friend.

    That would seemly be contradicted by the prevalence of assholery in all human societies.

    @Michael Reynolds: At this point the vast majority of fatal cases are effectively suicides, the moral equivalent of three pack a day smokers, heroin addicts or people who eat Taco Bell.

    People who are vaccinated, especially the immune compromised, can still get COVID because society is still swimming in contagion.

    2
  65. Monala says:

    @Stormy Dragon: odd, because Drum is a cancer survivor.

  66. Myo says:

    Icu beds are not “full”. The hospitals are at less capacity due to staff shortages so they’ve reduced the number of people they can serve (and the number of beds in total are less). Ask a nurse, they will tell you!