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COVID-19 is much more lethal than influenza; we should choose to protect life and health Print
Letters to the editor
Thursday, May. 21, 2020 -- 12:00 AM

To the editor:

A recent letter writer to this newspaper (04/30/20) asked the question, “Do we think that COVID-19 virus is going away soon?” And though I agree with him that it is not, I do disagree with his view that we should have been more concerned about the economy.

I do not know why he and others insist on comparing COVID-19 with influenza (i.e., the flu), almost like if we have one virus, having another one is fine.

The two viruses are not biologically similar. COVID-19 is called a novel virus because it is new. None of us has immunity to it. Influenza, on the other hand, is a seasonal virus that has allowed most Americans to have some immunity because of prior infection or vaccination.

So that difference between infectivity explains the stark difference in death risk. Should we look at the data from the last week in April 2020, the percentage of COVID-19 patients dying in Wisconsin was five percent, in the United States was six percent, and in the world it was seven percent. Compare that to 0.1 percent for influenza and COVID-19 is 50 to 70 times more lethal than influenza.

So what happens if we ignore these statistics and let mother nature run its course? Well, because we do not have immunity to COVID-19, the possibility of becoming infected with this virus approaches 100 percent, unless a treatment is discovered or a vaccine developed. With 325 million Americans, are we comfortable losing five to seven percent of our population, 16 to 22 million people?

The writer expressed frustration that some abortion clinics remained open during the pandemic. Are we to believe that 16 to 22 million people aren’t important simply because they aren’t in the womb?

But there are other features of COVID-19 that are just as concerning as mortality rate. Presently, about 18 percent of all people who contract the illness are seriously ill and require hospitalization. Can our hospital system handle 58,000,000 patients over a relatively short time frame of six to 12 months?

Such a huge influx of sick Americans would literally and figuratively close the door to all other necessary admissions such as heart attack victims, cancer patients, and those with severe trauma from any cause. How would our economy function with 100 percent infected, 18 percent hospitalized, and six percent dying?

So that is why health care officials have emphasized the need to “flatten the curve” and keep the number infected to the lowest amount possible until a cure is found or a vaccine arrives. Indeed, we should celebrate the fact that we have chosen protection of life over the economy, and health over money.

COVID-19 has been a difficult, but good lesson for us. Scientists have warned us for years that a pandemic was coming, and we chose not to listen. With climate change happening, the risk for future pandemics is steadily rising. Have we learned anything from our present experience? I hope so.

Gregory L. Sheehy, MD, Middleton