In late March Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick was criticized for saying that as a 70-year-old man at high risk for complications from Covid-19, he’d be willing to risk his own death in exchange for reopening the economy. He claims many other senior citizens think the same way. The criticism was severe and not just ideological, though conservatives have seized on his remarks as part of their inspiration for a more accelerated reopening.
What Dan Patrick said was disturbing, especially since he spoke those words a month ago, when any reopening would have led to way more deaths than there has been. But his idea is not new. “Make room for others, as others have made room for you,” Montaigne wrote half a millennium ago, a line echoed in 1994 by the late surgeon and bioethicist of “How We Die,” Sherwin Nuland: “We die so that the world may continue to live.”
Not voluntarily, you say? Not true. We hardly think twice about sending young people who’ve not yet reached the prime of their lives to die at war, always under the banner that they’re dying to protect their country, whether they really are or not (and in most wars, they’re not: it’s sheer waste.) Dan Patrick was not saying anything too different. He was flipping the tables, with older people taking on the mission, with ends at least more noble or defined than the death of an 18 year old in places as ghostly as the purpose. He sees the economic collapse as an existential threat to the United States no different than a major war. Looking at the unemployment numbers, at the cratering in the price for oil, at the elimination of entire segments of the economy, he’s not wrong. The novel coronavirus is damaging the economy more than any conflict in the past century and at this rate may exceed the damage of the Great Depression.
The coronavirus is not going away, and its deadliness is no longer in dispute and nowhere near comparable to such things as the seasonal flu, as even President Trump acknowledged soberly on Monday. “More than 2 million” Americans would have died had there not been a shut-down, he said. And “we’re still going to lose between 50 and 60” thousand, “with our guard up.” Trump’s own words. Conversely, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations, whose models have been used across the country to measure Covid-19’s peak impact on hospitals, estimates that deaths would have been kept to 6,000 by August, instead of the 67,000 currently projected, had stay-at-home measures been imposed in the United States just two weeks earlier than they were.
So shelter-in-place rules work. And with the coronavirus untamed, any reopening means an increase in the number of people who will die. There’s no way around it. But there’s no way around the other reality, either. Close to 30 million Americans are now out of work. Immense economic hardship causes suicide, domestic violence, untreated health crises like heart attacks and strokes that have nothing to do with Covid-19. A prolonged economic crisis on the scale of a great depression will tally up its own body count, and may damage the country’s fabric in ways we cannot imagine.
Dangling out of its historical or ethical context Dan Patrick’s idea is shocking. But the question it raises is the heart of the matter: it’s not whether we are willing to accept a certain amount of deaths as the country is reopened, it’s how many deaths are we prepared to accept. The question may seem taken from a Shirley Jackson story. But that calculus is applied in society all the time: we would not have 38,000 deaths on our roads every year if we banned driving, but no one would accept a ban on driving. Same thing with the 36,000 annual gun deaths, which would be eliminated without guns anywhere, or, for that matter, the 80,000 deaths from diabetes or 140,000 lung cancer deaths, which could be significantly reduced with a ban on sugar and tobacco. No one would accept a ban on either.
The comparison to a communicable disease is not exact. The risk of unknowingly catching a deadly virus is far higher in an uncontrolled environment than risk of death from behavior or illnesses that in part result from personal choice, though fatality’s luck of the draw is not minor in those. (The four deaths on State Road 100 last weekend were caused by a driver crossing the center line. His three victims had no chance.) But you get the point. No one would accept 2 million dead from the virus, but we did accept roughly 34,000 deaths from the seasonal flu in 2018-19, even though that comparison is flawed, too: no social distancing has ever been considered necessary for the seasonal flu. Clearly, there’s a balance, a fatality rate we may not say is acceptable, but a fatality rate we accommodate in many ways, because we recognize that as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan put it, “there’s no such thing as zero risk in the world in which we’re living.” The ethical challenge is in finding that balance.
Radical calls for continued lock-downs or immediate reopenings aren’t helping. Framing the debate in ideological terms would be worse: we’d have two camps fighting each other instead of maintaining a unified front against an opportunistic virus. The months and possibly years ahead call for plans to live with the virus while accepting a measure of risk, as in any war. But they also call for minimizing risk to the extent possible, especially when the risk is disproportionately borne by the elderly and the sick. We’re learning enough by now to know that once that’s put in place, the realistic, acceptable risk may end up being far lower than feared. Ingenuity does not depend on a vaccine.
That means re-imagined accommodations at work, at school and in public places, including mandatory masks in certain areas, normalizing working away from the office (as long as the work gets done, geography is irrelevant), a more hybrid approach to education, where it doesn’t have to be all virtual or all in person. It means an unprecedented investment in public health, starting with massive testing for the virus and its antibodies and a far more elaborate contact-tracing system tied to phone apps and real-time, public dashboards. It means easily identifying those who have recovered and developed immunity, and who could be working in high-risk jobs. It means a long sabbatical for normalcy.
All of us of any age volunteering for that sort of sacrifice, rather than sacrificing elderly lives–or any lives–will get us much closer to that common goal of not just flattened but conquered curves. With those assurances, the din of extremism just may have a little less appeal, living life again a little more so, and trading any life so the rest of us may live would be relegated to the unacceptable.
Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here. A version of this piece aired on WNZF.
sheltered in place says
As I have understood it, shelter in place has been a requirement to “flatten the curve” so our hospitals are not overwhelmed. Over time, the virus will find us anyway and cause just as many deaths From what I can see, the virus isn’t going anywhere unless we create a vaccine. Only that will save those of us who would die.
There is nothing wrong with opening the economy for healthy people. Only people with certain charactistics are dying from this.
2- People who abuse drugs or alcohol
3- obese people
4-people who are taking prescription drugs every day.
If you do not fall into this group covid-19 is no different then a cold to you
Well according to these 4 characteristics , just the alcohol abuse will kill over half the US population and take out hundreds of politicians and media heads.
Name (required) says
I’m a fat smoker who drinks and takes prescription drugs. Daily. I survived covid19 with ease. Are you the new surgeon general or something?? Typical know-it-all “locals.” Gtfoh… lol
Please cite your sources.
Edith Campins says
Are you a doctor? Just what medical qualifications do you have to make such a statement? How do you explain the youg, healthy people that have died from it? Your is the kind of uninformed comment that adds nothing to the dialogue. Do you have any actual facts on the 54,000 americans that have already died from the virus to support your statement?
I am thinking that the relatively manageable challenges raised by this terrible virus pandemic are just the “training wheels” for dealing with the truly daunting future for human beings on an ever warming planet.
“IF” we had intelligent, educated, leaders who were visionaries instead of greedy, short sighted, power hungry capitalists, we could possibly use this tragic situation as an opportunity to create the foundation for a BETTER future for ALL human beings. Unfortunately, although I have lived my entire life as a faithful optimist, the light at the end of the tunnel is fading.
We, as a culture, are now much too “divided”, “entitled”, “uneducated”, “jaded” and “immoral” to marshall the joint fortitude needed to rescue ourselves from the “spiral down” of our evolutionary quagmire, and quite possibly the eventual annihilation of our planet. I am so very sorry!
A. Lein says
Well, our ancient alien creators are about to return and wipe civilization OUT , again. Heck, maybe this virus was spread out on purpose to keep the ancient aliens from coming back. You know, they don’t do well with viruses !!!
Has nothing to do with “intelligent, educated, leaders”, it has more to do with intelligent, educated, citizens who can think and act on their won. Its called common sense, logic. A leader doesn’t tell you each day how to manage your home, your daily activities your budget. IF they can’t think for themselves the country and state are already ruined. The quagmire in this country and this country is a lot people just don’t care.
Ummmm, we’ve had 2 deaths in 2020. You do realize a week or so ago, that 4 people died in a car collision on FL 100 on a Friday evening. We’re all going to die of something someday, this seems to be no deadlier than any other risk in life. You can either die trying & living your life to it’s fullest or you can quarantine yourself and live a coward’s life and die that way too. Chances are you’ll be homeless long before that, and they won’t give a damn anymore than they ever have about the homeless.
To Sherry I agree with a lot of what you said. Us humans spent centuries getting to the point we’re at today and we are still enabling it and always will. Our children and grandchildren and beyond will be paying even more dearly than we are. Who will they have to thank for it? Parents, leaders, clergy, republicans, democrats, wall street money grubbers and society in general, and I don’t envy today’s generation growing up.
Sheila Mellody says
2 deaths in 2020? Where do you live? And, given your “we are all gonna die someday” philosophy of life…could you please at least acknowledge that your individual views might JUST KILL another human? Maybe the dad or mom of young kids? Maybe a treasured parent? You are NOT living a coward’s life by quarantining!!!! AAAACK! By thinking only of your RIGHT TO LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST. NO MATTER WHAT IT MAY COST OTHERS.
Doc W says
Parents for generations have taught their children the central importance of health……..”if you do not have your health, it doesn’t matter how much money you have.”
At the moment several political leaders and their followers want to put this age old wisdom on the back burner hoping we can quickly pivot back to our previous lives. Who doesn’t want that? Hope is necessary for sure but hope guided by science would be reassuring to most of us. Maybe that common sense wisdom we all heard from our parents and grandparents provides the central theme for navigating this pandemic.
Our family is using that framework and will follow the advice of the men and women who have spent their lives studying infectious diseases. They are not infallible but they are going to be right more than they are wrong. I pray our elected officials on a local and state level will have the political will and persistence to trust the guidance health officials are providing. The colossal blow our economy has suffered places an unfair burden on their shoulders with people on both sides pitching extreme views. But we see the progress being made by the short term sacrifices so many have provided. We can gradually re-open in small, incremental steps that will eventually lead to long term gain. The economy will recover successfully with a healthy workforce and citizens who feel safe to resume former routines if we stay the course.
Fed Up says
Every life matters, but people, animals, plants, and all living things die. Just to put this in perspective. here are the 2019 Deaths and Mortality Stats:
Heart disease: 647,457
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 169,936
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 160,201
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 146,383
Alzheimer’s disease: 121,404
Influenza and Pneumonia: 55,672
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis: 50,633
Intentional self-harm (suicide): 47,173
So lets ask that question one more time. How Many Deaths Can We Live With?
Let’s add a little more perspective. Even if 2 million people had died for Covid-19, that is less than 1% of the population. 6.6 million people, or 12-13% of the U.S. workforce, no longer have their jobs, and many more are not earning their paycheck. The side-effects of shutting down the country, will have a much greater impact on a much larger portion of the population, than deaths attributed to the virus.
Edith Campins says
I wonder if you would be so nonchalant about the deaths if it was someone close to you.
John F. Pollinger says
Unless it’s a family member, right?
John F. Pollinger says
Nearly every statistic you cite are not contagious.
I completely agree with what “Fed Up” is stating. Our survival everyday is fragil, and every time we leave the house we could potentially die under all kinds of circumstances. BUT, we are not afraid to leave the house, we are not afraid to drive a car, swim, dive, play, and fly to foreign places. To stay home and quarantine in fear of killing someone else if we don’t adhere is completely counterproductive to life. We stay home out of fear, and all we can do to control the situation is being controlled by fear? We can take control by using common sense, by being educated but not blinded and by being proactive and not hiding. Ruining the livelihood of so many families and individuals on one hand does not justify the means to pretend to safe so many people on the other hand. All these models they are throwing at us are speculation. None of these models are proven. Never since the Corona Virus appeared has there been an open discussion about using different approaches and which approach would be most prudent and most effective. From one day to the next, based on one model, one approach, all life ceased to exist in our cities, counties and states. New research is now indicating that the rate of infection is been much higher among the whole population, bringing the death rate down proportionally to the rate of death from the flu season. Except, Corona Virus fear mongering has killed our society.
Nonsense, Flaglerlive. We are confronting it honestly. It is “media”–the mainstream monolith which scripts The Daily Narrative for the US–which refuses to do this, and keeps telling us we’re being dishonest with ourselves. I’ll say it again–that is NONSENSE.
Talking points for all this–in one short month, now, including from this very outlet–now regularly ignore how many people have gotten this sickness and SURVIVE. Talking points for all this regularly ignore the fact that “the numbers” are “going up” because test results are finally being taken and calculated. Talking points for all this regularly contain so much garbage and junk science as to be rendered unreliable.
People who will probably not die from this vastly, vastly outnumber the people who will. We’re all looking out for each other. We’re also considering The Fact that regular daily life cannot come to a complete standstill until there’s a “cure”. We do know actual fact about this illness, and we have identified “at risk” groups. The people most at risk should continue to stay home. The people least at risk need to get back to work, or a year from now, we will have mass homelessness at minimum. Landlords aren’t going to stop eviction notices and banks aren’t going to stop foreclosures because “government”–including our supposed savior, the current President–won’t compel them to do it. We have to figure out a way to work with this, literally, or we’re going to have serious, serious economic problems a year from now, and that same government will not lift a finger for us.
In the meantime, people are going to die. Yes, people die every day. Not easy for me to say–I don’t want to die. But cowering in our homes until we lose our jobs and then lose our houses because we can no longer work IS NOT LIVING. And if this goes on much longer, we’re going to kill a whole lot more from a whole lot more besides COVID-19. If you want this to be about “How many deaths can we live with?” you have to be completely and fully honest about what is most likely to kill the most people. If you think masses of people being thrown into streets across this vast continent we live on–because they could no longer pay for SHELTER–aren’t going to die over it, you better think again.
I totally agree with you Melissa!
Name (required) says
Judging by the comments here, it’s no wonder suicide is such an epidemic in Flagler county.
Joe A says
This question only matters when politics are involved!
Pissed in PC says
In Italy seniors are regarded as national treasures and have high value. Now in the US seniors are not considered valued members of the family. What happened to respecting our seniors, medically fragile of any age. True the flu kills but there’s a vaccine for that but many can’t or won’t get it, heart disease, car accidents, diabetes, etc. are preventable and attributed to bad life choices. All lives are precious and I don’t know of a single senior that would give their life up for the root of all evil, money. What happened to respect for others, caring for others? I’m sure your parents didn’t raise you that way. If wearing a mask to protect others is just too much for your vanity, your so called freedom then maybe you need need to realign your life’s priorities. Life isn’t all about you or me, me, me and screw the rest of the world. Maybe you need to be with a person who’s going on a ventilator and has to help FaceTime the family to say the final goodbye. Stand there when they take their last breath alone and wishing they had more time to be with their kids or grandkids.
Will you quit going to Disney, Universal, shopping, getting a haircut or other places if they say no mask, no service? I don’t think so.
How many of you that are saying open everything, don’t wear a mask, get the virus and don’t realize you have an underlying condition cause you were too busy living your life and making money end up in the hospital and you’re begging the doctors to keep you alive? How many others did you infect and possibly kill cause you didn’t want to wear a mask? How many will you take from their families?
Money isn’t everything if you don’t have your health. Just till a vaccine becomes available be respectful and considerate. The life you save could be your own.
In the Asian culture, seniors were always highly respected and revered. No longer the case in China. For them it is now population control.
One beneficial observation many people have overlooked that has come from this virus and sheltering in place is the fact that you are no longer reading about mass shootings happening in this country which if my memory serves me correctly were occurring way too frequently. Gee, there are just as many guns in this country now as before so what has changed? Have the guns decided to go on strike? Do they no longer work? Let that sink in!
Mass being the key word. If people aren’t gathering in large groups of course there would be less mass shootings. BTW they’re still occurring.Let that sink in!
Tiny Orange Fingers says
The same people who are saying opening up the economy, people will die anyway are the same who call Dems “baby killer”! You can’t make this s**t up!
Very good article Pierre. We are 180 degrees apart on mos things but on this we are 100% aligned.
Thank you “Tulip”. . . right back to ya! An excellent comment “Pissed in PC”.
It seems to me that the central question is whether our society is capable of moving beyond rampant GREED and entitled “Self Centered” interest to a place of acting in the “Common Good”, and revering those with decades of life’s experience and wisdom. My fear is that our politically “divided” culture, coupled with technologies that further our distance from one another, have broken what once was a treasured bond of true “human connection”. . . and therefore “CARING” for one another.
It’s all to easy to simply load the numbers into a spread sheet from a distance, and then try to splice and dice the factors to calculate the “fatality rate” we are willing to accept. The point is. . . “WE” are human beings, NOT data points! Yes, each of is actually dying from the moment we are born. No one, YET, (research “Singularity”) gets out alive. Conflating the public’s responsibility for deaths from heart disease and automobile accidents with this “highly contagious” virus is simply and ascine FOX talking point! What is horribly MISSING from the calculation is the “VALUE” of each one of our lives during “EACH MOMENT” of our existence. Just how in the world do you quantify and qualify that?
These are MORAL questions that cannot be answered in any satisfactory way by a populace that has, in many respects, thrown away it’s moral compass in favor of being “all in” on capitalism. It all boils down to PROFIT/MONEY to support a “First World” lifestyle. . . EITHER/OR. . . the actual LIVES/HEALTH of the humans for which that lifestyle was created. The “Chicken” or the “Egg”?
I agree with your philosophy that all life is precious and people should be considerate of each other and act for the common god. The problem with this Covid-19 fear mongering is only, that the consideration for each other has nothing to do with Covid 19. It applies at all times with or without Covid. The problem with Covid is the drastic measures that are being taken. People who feel vulnerable take more drastic measures for their own protection than healthier or younger people. But to violate every paragraph in the constitution to accomplish protection of the less healthy and elderly is no lasting solution. Covid-19 being a flu virus will probably be with us now for ever. We can not shut the country down every flu season Covid or not. Vaccines will help some, but are no 100% protection, nor would it be helpful to think they are. The human aspect of this goes much deeper than Covid 19. It has just been government putting it into everyone’s mind. You probably didn’t think of sheltering in place on your own during flu season?
Take just a few minutes to watch this wonderful Ted Talks presentation. Maybe, just maybe, it will help to sooth some frazzled nerves and help you personally to connect with your true self, and with others as well. You have nothing to lose:
A Concerned Observer says
US Deaths from Vietnam War Compared with Coronavirus.
Casualty Category Number of Records
Declared Dead 1,201
Died Of Wounds 5,299
Killed In Action 40,934
Presumed Dead (Body Remains Recovered) 32
Presumed Dead (Body Remains Not Recovered) 91
Total US Deaths from the Vietnam War 58,220
US Deaths from Coronavirus to date (with no end in sight) 59,266
World Wide Deaths attributed to the Coronavirus (to date) 3,150,478
The earliest U.S. deaths publicly attributed to the virus was on February 26,
when two people died in the Seattle area. The Vietnam War lasted from 1 Nov
1955 (US Advisors only in country at the beginning) to May 1975.
More US citizens died from the Coronavirus in two months than died over almost
20 years of war in Vietnam! Let that sink in when you hear someone complain
about not being able to go to a bar, eat at a restaurant, attend a large professional sporting event
or sit on a beach. With these figures, how can anyone say that the threat of death from this virus is
is being overstated?
Christopher Lemke says
Maybe the point here is that the United States chose to go to war in Vietnam and lost 58,220 lives. The Coronavirus didn’t give us a choice. Those people with underlying conditions have a choice in sequestering them selves, which seems to be a pretty good idea. We are still a free people and have an absolute right to make our own decisions regarding how we live our lives as long as those decisions do no harm or injury.
We have locks on our homes, vehicles, and other valuables to keep a very few bad apples from doing us harm. Yet, we are not required to secure anything. In no way should an entire population be locked down because of a few vulnerable people who logically should themselves separate from life’s daily public activities.
Let’s compare the coronavirus deaths with those from overdoses, traffic accidents, murders…… You get the point. They don’t make headlines because they are not useful as a political weapon. I’m looking forward to another four years of prosperity and common sense.
Thank you for presenting a somewhat balanced view and recognizing that throwing the country into an economic depression by trying to minimize everyone’s exposure to this virus will also cost lives; over the long term this could quite possibly end up being more lives lost than virus itself would take.
Looking at the stats for who has died so far, it’s obvious that some people are far more vulnerable than others. Something on the order of half the deaths so nationwide so far have been nursing home residents, and most have been “senior citizens”. This means we know who’s at high risk and who’s at minimal risk.
It seems to me that the most pragmatic thing to do at this point would be to take aggressive steps to prevent those who are most at risk from being exposed, which is something we clearly haven’t done a very good job of so far, while letting those who are at little risk get back to work and living fairly normal, fulfilling lives.
What seems to be missing here is the “complete” understanding that Covid 19 is already proving to be more lethal than the Flu, and likely more contagious, and there currently is NO vaccine. The difference is that our individual “CONTROL and CHOICE” is currently much more limited with Covid 19, than with many other diseases and circumstances that are unhealthy and possibly fatal.
“I” get my flu vaccine. . . which means “I CHOOSE” to have some measure of resistance and control over something that could be unhealthy and fatal to me. “I” also “CHOOSE” to live a healthy life. “I CHOOSE” not to smoke or eat unhealthy foods. “I CHOOSE” to exercise. “I CHOOSE” to drive safely. These are “MY” rights. . . and, they “DON’T” infringe on “YOUR” rights. Actually, my healthy choices put more money in the “public taxpayers” budget because my medical expenses are so low.
Are you following me here?
OK. . . If “YOU CHOOSE” to endanger human beings in your sphere of living by doing things like “speeding” . . . you are subject to law enforcement because you are putting those around you at higher risk of injury or fatality. “CHOOSING” to endanger others by refusing to “Social Distance”/”Wear a Mask” (as trump does) results in a higher risk to the general public. It DOES infringe on “MY” rights to be reasonably assured that “MY” health and life are NOT “unnecessarily” being put at a higher risk by being in a public setting.
Until a successful vaccine is widely utilized, can we . . . at a minimum. . . please strive to “do no harm” to other human beings?
Palm Coast Citizen says
I feel like some of us love and need older people? They are often the people who volunteer with their knowledge and skills during the day to get the work done that no one can afford and that helps keep our communities thriving! They are the babysitters for young ones, the benefactors of knowledge. And if they keep ending up in the hospital because we opened the economy without smart measures, that means there will be an overwhelming issues for children and younger adults who get sick or have to go to the hospital.
Re-imagining how we do things to work for everyone–that’s a sacrifice I can get behind.