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  • Last modified 142 days ago (April 29, 2020)

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A pandemic of finger-pointing

What next? That’s the question hanging over us like droplets of an infected sneeze. And it’s particularly problematic in areas such ours, which have not seen new COVID-19 cases in more than a week.

Are we lucky? Has social distancing worked? Has COVID-19 not yet arrived? Or are we suffering more than we need to, merely because the epicenter of COVID-19 in the U.S. and globally is occurring in the epicenter of media influencers — New York City.

To some, the questions we face are a bit like the question of whether campers should continue tapping two sticks together to keep bears away. We’ve seen no bears. But if we stop, will they suddenly show up?

Unfortunately, questions like these seem embroiled more in politics than in provable medical facts. Part of the reason is that there just aren’t that many provable facts about COVID-19, and what facts exist aren’t always illuminating.

We know stay-at-home orders are killing our economy, but are they saving our lives?

We’re being denied normal opportunities to earn a living, to worship as we see fit, and — despite valiant efforts — to properly educate students as they prepare for future classes and future jobs.

Businesses, the clergy, and educators all have adapted as best as they can, and their efforts in many cases have been truly heroic. But what they’re doing isn’t the same, and only the most wide-eyed member of a nary-should-a-negative-word-be-heard cult even attempt to say otherwise.

So what are the facts?

At least for now, COVID-19 appears to be less a world problem or even an American problem than it is a New York problem.

Since the start of February, 28.5% of all deaths in New York City have been attributed to COVID-19. In other counties within the New York metropolitan area, 15.1% of all deaths have been attributed to COVID-19.

Among all other counties in the U.S. with at least 10 COVID-19 deaths, the highest percentage of deaths attributable to the disease since Feb. 1 is much lower — 11.6% — in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, the county seat of which, Metairie, is part of metropolitan New Orleans.

The parish ranks 16th on the list of counties with the greatest portion of deaths attributable to COVID-19. Nearby Orleans Parish, home of New Orleans, ranks 20th.

If you’re thinking this means the disease is confined to cities, you’d be wrong. Other most-impacted counties outside metropolitan New York are Weld County, Colorado, the county seat of which is Greeley. It ranks 18th and is the last county in which at least 10% of deaths have been attributed to COVID-19.

Next up are Dougherty County (Albany), Georgia; Coconino County (Flagstaff), Arizona; Franklin County (Greenfield), Massachusetts; King County (Seattle), Washington; Hampden County (Springfield), Massachusetts; and Montgomery County (Norristown), Pennsylvania, where the percentage of deaths attributable to COVID-19 is 6.6%.

Many major metropolitan areas rank relatively low on the list. Los Angeles County ranks 122nd, with 1.4% of deaths attributed to COVID-19. Cook County (Chicago) ranks 125th and St. Louis County ranks 127th, both also with 1.4%.

Harris County, Texas, home to the nation’s fourth largest city, Houston, ranks 166th, with just 0.5% of deaths attributable to COVID-19.

Maricopa County, Arizona, home to the fifth largest city, Phoenix, ranks 161st, at 0.6%. Bexar County, Texas, home to the seventh largest city, San Antonio, is 167th, at 0.4%.

The sixth largest city, Philadelphia, which is its own county, is the outlier. Located near the New York metro area, it ranks 50th with 5.0% of deaths blamed on COVID-19.

If you think this disease that kills the elderly more often than the young, you’re also wrong. While it’s true that older people are more likely to be hospitalized with it, death rates by age group have few statistically significant differences.

What is true is that African Americans and Hispanics are much more likely to die of COVID-19 than are whites and Asian-Americans. Exactly why is a question still being studied by health experts.

Meanwhile, the entire issue has become politicized beyond belief. Opponents of President Donald Trump have been quick to point out some of his more colorful statements and his supposed responsibility for delaying testing. Yet the same lack of sufficient testing that has plagued the U.S. also has plagued Canada, presided over by a young prime minister whose views are about as similar to Trump’s as are Senator Bernie Sanders’s.

Susan Wagle, president of the Kansas Senate and a candidate for U.S. Senate, has been attempting to make political hay out of Governor Laura Kelly’s efforts to shut down large religious gathering that actually have been linked to spread of the virus in the Kansas City area.

Wagle apparently is trying to out-do opponent and former Secretary of State Kris Kobach in appealing to the ultra right wing of the Republican Party with his campaign photos of gun-toting family members in a camouflaged Jeep.

We certainly don’t agree with every policy Democrat Kelly has enacted in every area, nor do we agree with every policy Republican Trump has enacted in every area.

But the apparent glee with which Wagle slings mud at Kelly and with which TV comedians and other self-styled intellectuals sling mud at Trump is wholly inappropriate in a time of crisis.

We may not like our leaders — nationally, in the state, even locally. But in times of crisis, we need to stand behind them.

Accusing Kelly of infringing on religious freedom or blaming Trump for current employment would be just as ridiculous as blaming New York Mayor Bill de Blasio or Governor Andrew Cuomo for the excessive nature with which COVID-19 has struck their city and state.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified April 29, 2020

 

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