The U.S. presidential debate between Donald J. Trump and Joe Biden produced a great deal of heat but very little light. There was no discussion whatsoever on how our country can better protect our elderly and vulnerable during this pandemic without destroying the economic and social institutions necessary for their care.
In a heartbreaking bit of recent news, The Washington Post documented a COVID surge that few want to discuss – the spike in non-COVID deaths of our nation’s dementia patients. A full 13,200 more dementia patients have died since the pandemic began, as compared to the same period a year ago. I repeat, the cause of death for these individuals was not COVID. One can only ponder, as the article did, what role social distancing rules have had on those with dementia or confined to residential care facilities, who remain largely isolated. My takeaway is that our elderly are literally dying to be hugged, to feel the warmth of human touch, to see smiles, to have meaningful interaction with others, to have their God-given dignity affirmed.
Who’s really at risk?
There is still time to learn lessons taught by the spike in non-COVID deaths of those with dementia, and statistics on who actually is at risk of death from the coronavirus. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data dramatically demonstrates that our elderly live at “ground zero” in the pandemic. The fatality rate for those 70 and older is 5.4%. This rate is a full 10 times higher than for those 50 to 69 years-old (and that group’s rate is 25 times higher than that for those 20 to 49). Seniors living in long-term care facilities, while comprising less than 1% of the U.S. adult population, represent a full 40% of the death count. Those under 50 are at a negligible risk of death from the coronavirus, and young people are statistically more likely to die from homicide than COVID.
Society cannot long embrace the belief that because anyone can be a carrier of a virus, all must be locked-down, quarantined, and isolated when new “surges” in cases inevitably accompany more testing, and the seasonal flight indoors. The dire economic consequences of a reprise of spring 2020 would surely plunge millions more into economic distress, as well as further tear at the social fabric that wraps us together.
In this time of national instability, the presidential debate only added to the chaos and fear. The evident acrimony between the two presidential candidates and major political parties does not foster unity among the American people. Neither do public health measures which require people to distrust and avoid each other for fear of spreading germs.
Why aren’t the presidential candidates and our lawmakers discussing how we can protect our seniors through more frequent testing and monitoring, better protective equipment for caregivers, and creative strategies to end their isolation? Where is the urgency in Congress and in the state houses to make our elders and their quality of life a top priority?
There are now 13,200 more reasons to adjust our nation’s public health strategies.