By Dr David Laing Dawson
I watch the panic, the drama, the anger, the boasting (no matter the subject or the dismal news, someone in the USA manages to boast about the USA) on CNN, then switch to the calmer, more nuanced and thoughtful news on CBC. The difference between our two countries is growing. But we are all in this together and COVID-19 does appear to be more deadly than regular flu and more contagious.
Then for perspective I look for those statistics that are now at everybody’s fingertips:
In the USA 100 people are killed by gunfire per day. 300 in total are shot per day and most of those require treatment in Emergency wards and surgical units.
2.3 million people per year attend/are brought to emergency wards for serious injury from car accidents. 36,000 die in car accidents per year in the USA. That means about 200,000 people are being brought to emergency wards with serious injuries from car accidents per month. Canadian stats on this are better: about 2000 killed and 10,000 seriously injured (250,000 total injuries) in traffic accidents per year, with a solid downward trend over the past 20 years.
In China car accident fatalities are over 65,000 per year. As of this day Covid-19 has caused 3,261 deaths in China. Their peak in active cases was reached in mid February.
The news from Italy is especially depressing with close to 1000 people per million infected with COVID-19, a death rate currently at 9%, many health care workers infected, and with still at least two weeks to go on the uphill side of their trajectory.
Now for COVID- 19 in the USA: As of this date there are 27,630 active cases in the USA with 700 listed as serious or critical. These numbers will be on a steep uphill trajectory for the next 2 to 6 weeks before leveling off and then dropping, or on a lower but longer curve if containment measures are moderately successful.
The difference in perception, attention, and anxiety, I suppose, comes from the fact that COVID-19 is new and invisible, we are all tracking it, and we have no control over its behaviour, while we all imagine (the operative word here) that we have control over the damage that guns and vehicles might cost ourselves, and seasonal influenza and measles have been with us a long time.
The world death toll from Covid – 19 is still a long way off that of measles, while the other types of flu in Canada infect about 40,000 people per year with a death rate between 500 and 1500 per year. So far Covid-19 accounts for 1385 cases and 20 deaths in Canada.
Now, my optimistic silver linings:
1. The action taken to “flatten the curve” of covid-19 means dramatically less traffic on the roads and, presumably, fewer car accidents.
2. Self-isolating, social distancing and bar closures should decrease gun violence.
3. These in turn will free up the emergency and ICU resources needed to deal with Covid-19 in the US and Canada (apart from equipment shortages).
4. The lessons from Covid-19 may be learned, and in future the countries of the world, in concert, may be much better prepared for the next pandemic.
5. The USA may learn first hand the advantages of a universal health care system.
6. This may put a serious dent in the dangerous beliefs and rhetoric of the anti-vaxxers.
7. Which in turn may make it easier to turn back the resurgence of measles and polio and the continuing presence of many other infectious illnesses and their consequences.
8. We are are all getting lessons in biology, ecology, epidemiology, the smallness and fragility of our planet, and of our interdependence.
9. Perhaps we will learn to save during the good times in anticipation of some bad times to come.
10. Perhaps this event will change our perspectives and behaviours with respect to international relationships, our own needs and consumption, our use and abuse of the internet, how our well being and “economy” is measured……
10. Perhaps after defeating COVID-19 we can turn our attention seriously to global warming. Although we really should have done that when our economies were strong and before tanking and heading into a long recession, our RRSPs and RIFFs decimated, travel options suddenly limited, oil suddenly cheap, borders closed, jobs lost……
Nope, didn’t work, I’m still depressed. But at least our boxers are happy to have us home.