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Coronavirus

Should We Shrug at COVID? These Numbers Say No

Why have our leaders surrendered us to rising deaths and widespread deteriorating health?

Andrew Nikiforuk 8 Sep 2022TheTyee.ca

Tyee contributing editor Andrew Nikiforuk is an award-winning journalist whose books and articles focus on epidemics, the energy industry, nature and more.

In case you were in denial that denial itself is a powerful part of the human condition, the pandemic has given us more proof.

A biological transformative event, which may have killed nearly 20 million people by revised estimates and has burdened millions more with chronic illness, continues to burn through the world’s population.

Yet, although the authorities know that masking, ventilation, air filtration and isolating when sick can dampen this fire and protect the public health, they have inexplicably abandoned these tools.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, for instance, even banished an inadequate five-day protocol for isolating while sick and infectious. How’s that for “laissez-faire epidemiology”?

The chief medical officer made this bad decision at a time when, as the epidemiologist Larry Brilliant recently explained in Wired magazine, the BA.5 variant has vastly increased its viral reach “by being able to infect people who’ve had three doses of the vaccine or people who had COVID a month ago.”

For the record an Omicron infection lasts on average seven days and viral shedding may continue more than 10 days even among mild cases. But it seems neither Ontario’s chief medical officer nor the U.S. Centers for Disease Control can digest this math.

Having surrendered all other public health options, the authorities now count on vaccines, whose effectiveness in the face of immune busting variants is steadily waning, to serve as our absolute defense against the disease. Expecting vaccines, already one step behind an evolving virus, to end the pandemic makes about as much sense as expecting bitcoin to end poverty in El Salvador.

Minimizing the presence of a viral thrombotic fever (and more on that in a minute) in our daily lives has led to predictable consequences. The pandemic is now delivering alarming numbers on deteriorating health.

So no, the pandemic is not over. Nor is our response remotely coherent. But the virus is sending us a clear message: denial is expensive and lethal. Abandoning precautions such as ventilation and filtration in schools and masking in public spaces comes with destabilizing health and economic costs.

In this digital age some people’s eyes glaze over at words fashioned into argument. Some find the stark reality of numbers more compelling. And so I give you numbers.

14,317 dead Canadians. This year so far

COVID has killed more than 14,317 Canadians since December 2021, a month dominated by the first Omicron wave. Or 24,230 if you include estimates of underreporting of COVID deaths — a chronic problem.

By the end of the year the number of dead will likely surpass the totals of the two previous years. Total Canadian COVID deaths calculated solely by year look like this: 13,791 in 2022 up till Sept. 5; 14,711 in 2021 and 15,606 in 2020.

Five times the flu death rate

Daily deaths from COVID (500 in the last two weeks) remain five times higher than average Canadian flu mortality.

One out of 402 hospitalized since December

Tara Moriarty, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Toronto, with associates, publishes an important COVID hazard index as a public health service. In August, Moriarty told us that more than half of Canada’s 190,585 COVID hospitalizations during the pandemic to date have occurred since last December.

Incredibly, one in every 402 people living in Canada has been hospitalized with a variant of Omicron since December 2021.

National hospitalizations for COVID, which occupy seven per cent of hospital beds, remain four times higher than they were last November in Quebec which still keeps good statistics.

A ‘several fold’ rise in hospitalized children and elders

David Fisman, a stellar Ontario epidemiologist who raised the alarm on airborne transmission, has another number to add to this list:

2,839 Germans dead in July. The same time in 2020, just 136

In Germany, where all precautions were abandoned earlier this year, the death toll from COVID is setting new records. In July 2020 COVID killed 136 citizens. The next year it dispatched 274 people. This July it killed 2,839.

The Robert Koch Institute explained the worsening situation: “In the fifth wave, despite the mostly comparatively mild course of the disease, there was an increase in deaths due to the high number of infections.”

615 Ontarians dead in July and August. Way up over 2020

Summers were supposed to offer reprieves from COVID, experts used to tell us. In Ontario, summers have gotten deadlier year by year just as in Germany. In July and August 2020 the disease killed 139 people in the province. This year when authorities told people to vax and relax, COVID killed 615 Ontarians.

Three years lopped off US life expectancy

In the United States, where the virus removes 500 people from the roster of pension plans every day, life expectancy has fallen from 79 years in 2019 to 76 years in 2021.

The losses in life expectancy are even greater among Native Americans. The pandemic, which many Americans contend is some kind of conspiracy, accounts for most of the decline.

Four million US workers sidelined indefinitely

A leading U.S. think tank calculates that long COVID has removed approximately four million Americans from the workforce.

Across the Atlantic the numbers also speak of eroding health. A new Swiss study reports that the health of its population had deteriorated significantly since all COVID precautions were removed.

In 2020, 22 per cent of those surveyed complained of unsatisfactory health at the beginning of the pandemic.

In the third year of the pandemic, despite the advent of life-saving vaccines, that figure rose to 35 per cent. Infections from variants and lack of precautions “has apparently left its mark,” said the report.

A Geneva University Hospitals study partly explained how the pandemic has left this ruinous mark. It found that nearly 40 per cent of infected individuals (all outpatients) had post-COVID symptoms at seven months, which disappeared in half of them between seven and 15 months. However symptoms became chronic in nearly 20 percent of the infected individuals leading to a deadly spiral.

Predictors of worsening symptoms included cognitive impairment, a poorer quality of life and the increasing use of more health-care resources.

Three million shifts lost in Australia. This year

An Australian government analysis found that long COVID has cost the economy three million working days this year. Australia’s treasurer Jim Chalmers even admitted that Australia's "labour market has been absolutely smashed by COVID, and long COVID increasingly.”

One out of 13 Americans have long COVID

Data recently collected by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics shows 7.5 per cent of all U.S. adults currently have long COVID symptoms, while 14 per cent of U.S. adults say they’ve had long COVID symptoms at some point in the pandemic. “So while symptoms resolve for some, millions of people continue to feel effects post COVID infection,” concludes scientist William Haseltine.

Their ages tend to be 30 to 50

The majority of people suffering from long COVID are 30 to 50 years old, not old folks but young working people who were previously healthy.

167 per cent higher risk of blood clots

An article in Nature informs that COVID more than doubles the risk of developing a blood clot after acute sickness compared to uninfected peers. Even children with mild cases show evidence of blood vessel damage.

92 per cent of hospitalized patients have trouble shaking COVID

In the Netherlands and Italy 92 per cent of hospitalized COVID patients report at least one persisting symptom — pain, shortness of breath, debilitating fatigue and memory problems — a year after hospitalization.

An Italian study reported the same number: 91.7 percent of hospitalized patients.

Merel Hellemons, a lung specialist, highlights the persistence of the disease: “What is striking is that there is virtually no improvement in the complaints. These are persistent complaints that greatly impact the quality of life and apparently do not respond well to the current treatment offer.”

All of these appalling numbers are the product of ruinous thinking that assumes that COVID is just a “textbook virus” or another cold and flu that our immune systems can readily adapt to over time.

But there is no such thing as a textbook virus without surprising biological and immunological consequences. In fact COVID has confounded all scientific expectations again and again.

Much of what we originally thought about COVID, for example that it is just a flu-like pneumonia, is wrong. Whether mild or severe, a COVID infection is a multifaceted disease that squarely targets the vascular or circulatory system. This system is responsible for ferrying blood through 100,000 kilometres of arteries and capillaries in the human body. When a COVID infection damages vascular tissue such as endothelial cells in the lungs, it often presents as a respiratory disease.

Damage to the vascular system explains why people infected by COVID experience such higher risk of blood clots, as more and more studies are documenting.

But the virus doesn’t stop there. An infection can shrink and age the brain as well as cause microclots. One recent study even found that mild cases of COVID can set off enough inflammation in the brain to impair cognition.

At the same time an infection can deregulate the immune system, allowing the virus to spread, and cause our defense system to go haywire.

So COVID is not a cold but a thrombotic fever that causes clotting problems and can produce extreme immune responses and other remarkable interactions in the body.

Allowing the unfettered transmission of a vascular infection among the population poses a number of problems. It ensures the creation of more immune-escaping and transmissible variants, which has made COVID a “forever virus.”

Such variants guarantee more infections and reinfections in the absence of basic precautions.

And more infections ultimately create the kind of numbers documented in this article: more death, more chronic disability, more health care chaos and more labour shortages.

In other words societies that do not reduce transmission with a combination of masks, ventilation, filtration and booster shots are actively supporting long COVID and the reality of mass disability that it portends.

More chronic and persistent infections mean, as one World Health Organization scientist recently warned, “We need to prepare for large increases in cardiovascular, neurological and mental health disorders in countries affected by the #SARSCoV2 #pandemic.”

What will it be like for those who develop long COVID because our public health officials treated a novel infectious vasculitis as nothing more than a mild common cold?

The U.S. doctor Wes Ely, co-director of the Critical Illness, Brain Dysfunction and Survivorship Center at Vanderbilt University, describes his long COVID patients poignantly: “They demonstrate profound memory deficits and executive dysfunction — problems finishing daily chores and task lists, meeting schedules, controlling emotions, analyzing data and processing information. In other words, they have a hard time living life.”

Our stolen freedoms

So what do all these numbers I’ve gathered say about the state of modern society?

By abandoning low cost and validated precautions we have abetted a continual chain of viral transmission that actively deprives more workers, children and elders of a key freedom: their good health.

About 30 per cent of the population is over 65, immunocompromised or unvaccinated. Current policies insure that these populations will continue to die and fill our hospitals. Meanwhile the rest of the population is now playing Russian roulette with severe outcomes and long COVID due to repeated COVID infections.

Another way to look at these numbers is to conclude that many public health officials have turned their profession upside-down. They are now abetting disease instead of preventing it.

A UN report recently noted a chronic trend among the world’s governing classes. It found that they collectively suffered from “optimism, overestimation and invincibility” leading to policy decisions that repeatedly exacerbated existing vulnerabilities and put ordinary people in harm’s way.

Whether responding to the energy crisis, the pandemic, inequality or climate change, the authorities now routinely embrace policies that court disasters instead of preventing them in complex societies. And that’s where we are heading with this pandemic.

There is only one game to play to with a vascular disease as nasty as COVID, notes Australian physician David Berger, and that is to be smart by doing everything possible to avoid getting the virus in the first place. His summary:

In other words, wear an N95 mask in public indoor settings and schools. Press for filtered air in your workplace or school. Avoid crowds. Be fully vaccinated. Test yourself and when infected isolate for more than five days. The pandemic is not done with us and right now our laissez-faire policies have amplified the threat. Communities that do not actively reduce transmission, are, by default, actively supporting unpredictable viral evolution, waves of infection, long COVID and deteriorating health.

Count how many times you hear that precautionary message this week from our leaders.

I’m betting the number will be close to zero.  [Tyee]

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