On Sept. 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an updated report on the “provisional death counts for Coronavirus disease 2019.” The report indicated that 94 percent of the total 170,566 COVID-19 deaths were as a result of “comorbid factors.” Essentially, the report further confirms the theories that the coronavirus hits those who have preexisting conditions the hardest. While, at first, this report doesn’t seem like anything particularly groundbreaking, the public response had been less than ideal. The sheer amount of Instagram comments, TikTok videos and hearsay I’ve encountered where I’m hearing people say “only six percent of people have actually died from COVID,” has been really, for lack of a better term, saddening. Even the president retweeted an article suggesting that the “actual” amount of coronavirus related deaths was significantly lower than our current data. It seems that, even in the face of the most researched science or with hundreds of thousands dead, people still don’t believe that the coronavirus is a real threat.
The phrases preexisting conditions and immunocompromised may sound distant and foreign to many, but they are a very real part of daily life for many Americans. As of last year, nearly 54 million, or 27 percent, of Americans under 65 have some form of preexisting condition. There’s also nearly 10 million Americans who live with a compromised immune system. Being immunocompromised doesn’t have to mean you live in a hospital room, constantly monitored. Your neighbor who has diabetes is immunocompromised. Your relative battling cancer is immunocompromised. That friend of a friend who received a kidney transplant is immunocompromised. The same thing goes for those around you who have a preexisting condition. Having high blood pressure, asthma or even dealing with depression and anxiety can make you more susceptible to contracting COVID-19, and we now know that the chances of surviving the virus are lessened as well.
I think part of my frustration stems from the fact that we’ve seen similar data in regards to other diseases. Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), a condition that can develop as a result of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), has operated in a similar way. Those who live with AIDS don’t technically die from the disease itself, but rather other so-called “opportunistic infections,” diseases that a person with a fully functioning immune system may not acquire. So why now are we simply pretending that the other 94 percent of those who died simply dropped dead for no other reason? I think, deep down, we have some pretty good ideas why. Is it because it’s an election year and we have politicized a public health crisis rather than treating the issue with kindness and empathy? Is because we, as a culture, focus too much on our individualism and “personal rights” rather than making sacrifices for the good of those around us? It is because the rates of death a result of COVID-19 are higher for several minority groups? The answer to all of those questions, and the issues we face as a whole, is yes.
That 94 percent of those who died still matter. Their lives still meant something, who they were and those they touched during their time here shouldn’t be negated because they were less than perfectly healthy. Whatever illness they may have been dealing with would not have killed them when it did if not for COVID-19. By this logic, the lives of myself, my partner, my best friend, my mother and so many others wouldn’t mean anything. Flu season is approaching alongside this pandemic and I ask that every time you break social distancing guidelines or refuse to wear a mask, you look in the mirror and imagine someone close to you. Picture someone who may be dealing with asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, epilepsy or any other chronic illness. Picture them in that mirror and say, “your life is negligible.” No one is saying you can’t be upset or unhappy at everything that’s going on right now. It sucks, honestly and truly. But every now and then, remember that we’re all equal and that this is all to save as many lives as possible, no matter who they are or what they’re facing.
Elizabeth Short is a senior majoring in English and is the Opinions editor.