Putting SLO County coronavirus cases in perspective

August 7, 2020

Gordon Mullin

OPINION by GORDON MULLIN

Yes, all COVID-19 deaths matter. As well, all deaths matter.

I was thinking about this recently and wondering about death. At 73, it’s often a topic my aging brain brings up. And how can one not in these times? The relentless counting of COVID deaths and new cases is in the Tribune daily. Every day. Discussions on mask protocols, social distancing, the hopes of a vaccine, ICU usage rates, restrictions, closures, openings and a plethora of related stories dominate every news source, every news cycle.

How many contracted the virus yesterday? Through what means? What are the age groupings? We are awash with stories and statistics and they have displaced much of normal considerations from our consciousness and conversations.

And I don’t mind saying, this never-ending assault on my consciousness has changed me. Frankly, I’m fixated. How many times last week did you have a conversation with a stranger in the market or even a friend that did not involve comments on the situation created by COVID? Me? None.

So, I wondered if I had lost all perspective? Can I set this aspect of my life in some other setting to give it clearer context? Is there something missing? Well, yes, I think there is.

There is one other notable number seemingly absent from our conversations and our news and that is the number of deaths in the city or county or state and nation from other causes.

Is it not reasonable to ask how many in our county died from causes other than COVID, say, cancer? Can I compare the two? Should I?

So I asked myself, given that we had our first county COVID case in mid-March and our first death in April, we’re up to 16 now, how many people died in the county during this period of causes other than COVID? What portion of our county wide population died from, as we call it, natural causes? As it turns out, quite a few.

Here’s some statistics for your consideration- all numbers from the SLO County Health Department. In 2019, we had 2,525 deaths. Not an unusual number. In fact in each of the three prior years we had more deaths. The most recent stats from the Health Department puts our total death count through June 2020 at 1,440. So, let’s call it an average of 240 deaths per month in SLO County so far this year.

Let’s start counting in April, when we discovered the first COVID death, a gentleman over 80 with contributing health problems. From then, assuming the death rate from other factors hasn’t changed substantially, there have been 720 deaths from April till June 30th and extrapolating till the end of July, 960 deaths in SLO county- April 1 till July 31. That makes COVID deaths 1.7% of the deaths in our county during that time period.

Now let’s compare. On average, there are 50 or so deaths from Influenza/Pneumonia per year or 1.9%. This year till June 2020- 2.7% Diabetes, in the mid 50’s to 60 deaths per year so around 2% so far in 2020. Suicide, also in the mid 50’s, so another 2%.

To me, one of the surprising numbers is accidents. Over the last 10 years we averaged 138 deaths per year making it roughly 5% of all deaths.

Note these are conservative numbers. The county statistics give only the top 10 causes of death with ‘other’ causes coming in about 25%. Remember, often folks die with multiple ailments. And suicide, which we know is currently rising among the young and the isolated, often is attributed to other categories like accidents, to protect families.

The rest of the top 10 deaths in SLO county numbers are caused by the normal suspects- heart disease, cancer, stroke and respiratory disease. Alzheimers, a fate both my parents died with, is around 5%.

I became interested in these other causes of deaths because I think that we do ourselves no favor by obsessing on the relatively small numbers of deaths from COVID when the odds are much higher, in the long run, that something else is going to put us in the grave.

Further, several of these more frequent causes of our demise, can and should be publicly discussed for they can be mitigated by different public policies and individual actions yet have been driven from the news cycles and our public and political consideration by our fixation on COVID.

For example, in many parts of America, flu and pneumonia, being similar to COVID in causing deaths in normal times, appears to be dropping off due to the precautions mandated by our current situation. Why did we not earlier institute similar precautions for these diseases? Diabetes is often exacerbated by overeating- i.e. obesity. Why take away our children’s educational opportunities to save their lives when we don’t force them to eat less?

I bring this all up not because I have answers to these questions. Far from it. But I personally am more comfortable knowing that the odds of my demise by COVID are small. The blaring news of COVID masks (pun intended) the larger situation leading many to believe that all efforts, including the enormous outpouring of funds from governments at all levels, will protect us from death.

It won’t.

Yes, I understand that not taking measures to contain COVID would, by definition, mean that more people would have gotten sick and some portion of those would have died- from COVID. True.

But what happened to the discussion around, say, the deaths caused by diabetes due to obesity?  Why no discussion?

For me, these numbers from our county Department of Health, oddly, give me some degree of comfort.  I am less overwhelmed by COVID news. I don’t have to assume the sky is falling because it’s not.

Finally, as a suggestion to our County’s Health Department. When you give us the number of our citizens who have died from COVID to date, this year, please also give us the total of folks who have died from other causes. Give us that context. Don’t just add to emotional turmoil. Give us a yardstick to measure the overall risk. That’s your job too. Isn’t it?

Again, for me, this view of our world makes more sense; gives me more comfort; eases my mind and soul.

I hope it does yours as well.


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charles805

So, it’s possible that we can actually end up with fewer deaths this year than the average. The accidental deaths should be less since less people are driving and working. But, I wonder if a socially distant community is actually exacerbating the problem.


Less people are active, more people are depressed, everyone is anxious- All three are known to affect disease health and immunity. What if its our fear and paranoia is making things worse? They say your underlying health problems that will kill you, COVID-19 just signs the death certificate. Does that include social health?


Ani

If everyone would just follow the advice of the CDC and other health professionals our numbers would go down. This isn’t a partisan issue.


SloCalDinosaur

The average age of death from COVID-19 in SLO County is a WHOPPING 82 years old and 80 nationally. To put that in perspective US life expectancy is 78.


1st = 80s – “This person was a North County resident in their 80s who had underlying health conditions.”


https://keyt.com/health/2020/04/04/san-luis-obispo-county-announces-first-coronavirus-death/


2nd = 94 – “The 94-year-old patient was hospitalized with severe COVID-19 illness for about two weeks. “We extend our sincere condolences to the patient’s loved ones, and out of respect for their privacy, we will not release any more details about the patient,” said County Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein.”

https://www.ksby.com/news/coronavirus/slo-county-reports-2nd-covid-19-related-death


3rd = 61 – Health officials say the person was 61-years-old, had significant underlying health conditions, and was living in a long-term care facility.

https://www.ksby.com/news/coronavirus/third-slo-county-resident-dies-after-testing-positive-for-covid-19


4th = 52 – Health officials say the patient was 52-years-old, had significant underlying health conditions, and was living in a long-term care facility that recently experienced an outbreak of coronavirus.

https://www.ksby.com/news/coronavirus/fourth-slo-county-resident-dies-after-testing-positive-for-covid-19


5th = 70s – According to the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department, the individual was in their 70’s and had multiple underlying health conditions.

The patient passed away at home and the cause of transmission was community spread, health officials said in a press release.

https://www.ksby.com/news/local-news/5th-covid-19-related-death-reported-in-san-luis-obispo-county


6th = 90s – The sixth person to die from COVID-19 complications was a person in their 90s who lived in a nursing facility.

https://keyt.com/health/coronavirus/2020/07/14/slo-county-reports-sixth-coronavirus-related-death/


7th = 80s – Health officials say the individual was in their 80s and lived at a North County nursing home with a COVID-19 outbreak. The resident reportedly had multiple chronic health conditions and was not hospitalized.

https://www.ksby.com/news/coronavirus/slo-co-reports-death-of-7th-resident-with-covid-19


8th = 80s – The individual was vulnerable to serious COVID-19 illness because they were in their 80s with underlying health conditions. The patient had been hospitalized for three days following discharge from a long-term care facility that recently had an outbreak.

https://pasoroblesdailynews.com/county-reports-eighth-death-due-to-covid-19-the-same-day-as-largest-increase-in-cases/112258/


9th = 70s – According to a news release sent to KSBY on Sunday, the individual was vulnerable as they were in their 70s with underlying health conditions.

https://www.ksby.com/news/local-news/san-luis-obispo-county-reports-9th-covid-19-death-sunday


10th = 80s – San Luis Obispo County is reporting that two more county residents who tested positive for COVID-19 have died. Health officials say both were in their 80s and had underlying health conditions. Both also lived at Vineyard Hills Health Center in Templeton, a skilled nursing facility which has had an outbreak of the virus among both residents and staff. Vineyard Hills has had a total of three residents and one former resident all with COVID-19 who have died since the start of the pandemic.

https://www.ksby.com/news/coronavirus/slo-county-reports-two-additional-deaths-of-covid-19-patients


11th = 80s – San Luis Obispo County is reporting that two more county residents who tested positive for COVID-19 have died. Health officials say both were in their 80s and had underlying health conditions. Both also lived at Vineyard Hills Health Center in Templeton, a skilled nursing facility which has had an outbreak of the virus among both residents and staff. Vineyard Hills has had a total of three residents and one former resident all with COVID-19 who have died since the start of the pandemic.

https://www.ksby.com/news/coronavirus/slo-county-reports-two-additional-deaths-of-covid-19-patients


12th = 80s – San Luis Obispo County is reporting that a 12th county resident who tested positive for COVID-19 has died. Health officials say the patient was in their 80s and lived at Vineyard Hills Health Center where there has been an outbreak of COVID-19 among residents and staff.

https://www.ksby.com/news/coronavirus/slo-county-reports-death-of-12th-person-with-covid-19


13th = 80s – Health officials said both individuals were vulnerable to serious COVID-19 complications because they were in their 80s, had underlying health conditions and lived at a congregate living facility that is experiencing an outbreak.

https://www.ksby.com/news/local-news/two-additional-slo-county-patients-die-from-covid-19-thursday-countywide-death-toll-reaches-14


14th = 80s – Health officials said both individuals were vulnerable to serious COVID-19 complications because they were in their 80s, had underlying health conditions and lived at a congregate living facility that is experiencing an outbreak.

https://www.ksby.com/news/local-news/two-additional-slo-county-patients-die-from-covid-19-thursday-countywide-death-toll-reaches-14


15th = 100+ -Health officials say the person was over the age of 100 and lived at a congregate-care facility that is experiencing an outbreak of coronavirus.

https://www.ksby.com/news/coronavirus/slo-county-reports-death-of-15th-resident-with-covid-19


SloCalDinosaur

Also note that every one of these people had an underlying condition and no less than 12 were in nursing homes (and possibly all 15 were in assisted living at some point – it’s hard to be certain from the limited information published by County Health.)


obispan

I didn’t even read the article. I know that Gorden Mullin says don’t wear a mask, it’s a “plan-demic” with the purpose only of defeating Trump, and Covid-19 is just the seasonal flu. Wearing masks and ending the pandemic as in Europe only results in European socialism and we will be as poverty-stricken as Sweden, Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, Germany, and of course, Gordon’s hated Canada.


mazin

And you know this about Gordon how?

BTW, I road travel, quite often, all the way to the eastern side of the Mississippi, and as a nation, we are poverty stricken.


obispan

You do not get satire do you? Canada and northern Europe do not have poverty, at all. And yes, I do know Gordon. He’s a nice guy, just wrong about Covid denial due to watching too much Fox news.


womanwhohasbeenthere

Thanks for the economic update on flyover country. Maybe you should inform the millions of people who are trying their best to get in to this poverty-stricken country to turn back.


mazin

Mature US adults working minimum wage jobs, $7.25-$8.25 hour, with sketchy healthcare, trapped decent folks.

Agree with immigration reform and controlled defended borders.


commonsenseguy

Thanks for your opinion about recognizing other death’s as compared to Covid-19. I pointed that out about a month ago in a virus related story on CCN. I think most would be taken back by the amount of lives lost from March until the present that are non-Covid-19 related in this county. There have been many deaths due to drug use, and suicide during this time. Could they ultimately be also related to Covid-19 because of job loss, and depression? I shouldn’t say that because they might include them as Covid-19 deaths to increase the fear and control they currently have.