Is It Safe Out There?

I am getting a lot of questions about how to get back to a normal life. Patients are asking me if its safe for their children to return to school. Others ask if it’s safe to return to church or work or shop or go on a vacation. Some patients are asking me to write a letters saying that it is “unsafe” for them to work because they have a medical condition.

These questions are difficult to answer. In fact, they are almost impossible to answer because because everybody has different ideas about safety. Safety is subjective. Only you can ultimately decide what is safe. The best I can do is inform people about risk and offer my advise.

Marketing Fear

One piece of advice I often give is to stop watching the news so much. For the last six months the mainstream media has been carpet-bombing us with non-stop messaging of fear. It seems like all we hear about are COVID deaths, COVID cases, flattening curves, opening too soon, overwhelmed hospitals, second waves, shut downs, social distancing and masks, masks, masks.

Constant fear coupled with universal germophobic solutions have carried the day. It is time to get a level-headed perspective. The best way to make good decisions is to look at the facts and assess your own risk so you can take reasonable actions to prevent getting sick and help others.

Risk

We need to recognize that dying of COVID is pretty rare. On August 1, Worldometer reported that over the last six months there have been almost 158,000 deaths in the USA from COVID. This means that 99.95% of the 330,000,000 Americans have not died of Coronavirus.

If you catch COVID, your chance of dying is very low. The CDC now estimates that the overall infection fatality ratio is about 0.65%. Yes, this is much worse than the typical influenza (0.1%), but those are still good odds. COVID is more deadly for the elderly. Those over 65 have about a 1.3% risk of death and the risk for those over 75 is higher than that. But the risk of death for healthy people under 65 is low between 0.05 to 0.2%. The risk of death in those under 50 without chronic medical conditions is less than 0.05 and the risk to school-age children and young adults is as close to zero as you can get.

The GA DPH website has good information, so I go there a lot. You can download the spread sheet of all deaths and do your own analysis. In Georgia, there have so far been 3,826 COVID deaths among our 10,600,000 residents. Half of those who died were over the age of 76 and two thirds were over 70. Only sixteen percent (16%) of all deaths were under the age of 60 and a significant majority of them had other chronic medical conditions. There were five deaths under the age of 22.

Closer to home, Bartow County has a population of over 100,000 people and 59 of them have unfortunately died of COVID. Half of those deaths were in people over 80. Only 10 of the 59 deaths were under the age of 70 and all but one of them had other chronic medical conditions. The youngest was 52.

Advice

I think healthy people under 60 can safely get back to a reasonably normal life. Their risk of dying is very low, on par with the risk of dying during Flu season.

Normal Life

I’m assuming we “flattened the curve” already, so a very reasonable way forward is for lots of young people to catch COVID and get over it. Their collective immunity to COVID is what will eventually slow the spread. These young people should be very cautious about getting near those who are over 65 or who have medical problems.

I think students can safely get back to school and college and lead a normal social life without masks. They are safe. But they should also be very cautious and socially distance themselves from those who are vulnerable and at risk.

People who have chronic medical conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and kidney disease are at a much higher risk of dying, especially if they are over 60. All people over 70 are high risk. If you are one of these people, you should still strictly follow social-distancing rules. You should stay away from sick people and crowds as much as possible. Avoid (for now) the young people I described above. I know it is a very lonely and difficult time, but be patient and hang in there. This will end.

The best way to make your own rational and logical decisions about how you will get back to normal is to look at the data yourself. Some of the sites I use are Worldometer, Our World in Data, GA DPH and the CDC.

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