We may all be in this COVID-19 crisis together, but it’s time to admit your date of birth has a lot to do with what your odds are of getting through it alive. In short: It is not fair to ask the entire country to operate as though everyone lives in New York City, takes the subway everywhere, and works in an intensive care unit. It is also not fair to ask every American to pretend that we are all senior citizens.
You can be forgiven for thinking “everybody needs to be equally afraid of this deadly virus” if all you do is follow the news. Oh, you may sense it is worse for older people, but the bet here is you have no clue how stark the numbers are.
We already know geography counts. On Monday, May 25, New York had 30 percent of the total deaths. The top five states accounted for just shy of 60 percent of the total. Adding in the next five states takes you above 75 percent. Some people are getting the clue that we now know enough to not have every location in the United States operate under restrictions that define New York City. Forty states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico combine for just 24 percent of the overall deaths.
We also know that thinking of surges is not justified by the data. Infections and deaths in a given region are not spread out evenly. Instead, when there is a spike in a given state, almost without exception it has been at a nursing home, prison, or meat processing facility, or some other single location.
Now, back to considerations of age. According to the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for the period of February 1 through May 20, if you are under the age of 35, you are in the group that accounts for .7 percent of the deaths. If you are under the age of 45, you are part of an age cohort involving 2.4 percent of the deaths. Anyone younger than 55 is in the group accounting for 7 percent of the deaths. Ninety-three percent of the deaths are among people older than 55. If you are younger than 65, you still are in a group involving under 20 percent of the total. Eighty percent of those dying are older than 65. Fifty-nine percent of the deaths come from those older than 75. Nearly one-third (32 percent) are from those older than 85. In other words, more than four times as many people older than 85 have died than those under 55.
Highlighting deaths from segments of the population that account for small percentages of the overall death toll is simply misleading. Every death is unfortunate for that individual and their loved ones. At the same time, it seems fair to say an American nowhere near being a senior thinking there may be differences in risk based on age, but not that much, is an American who is not being driven by the science and the data.
By all means, let’s continue to practice mitigation by wearing masks in public, social distancing, good personal hygiene, etc. That is simple common sense. Absolutely, we need to be vigilant in monitoring and attending to communities with an abundance of older Americans, especially nursing homes and assisted -iving facilities.
This is all being written by an individual older than 65, with a mother who turns 93 this week. I will continue to be smart about things, limiting my risks, but I am more than ready to see my country cautiously and carefully ease away from the severe restrictions we accepted at the outset.
My motto has become: There is more to life than not dying from COVID-19. Let’s get started living again.