A story in today’s paper underscores why it’s a mistake to focus too much on the fatality rate from COVID-19. Mike Wolf lived. But he didn’t emerge unscathed.
Mike and his wife, Brandi, both got COVID back in May. He was a healthy 39-year-old. She had an underlying health condition that meant she was a high-risk patient.
Saying Brandi shrugged it off is a step too far. She had a fever and difficulty breathing, but recovered reasonably well.
Mike, who on paper should have had the easier time, developed blood clots in his legs and lungs, spent a month in the hospital and 11 days on a ventilator. His heart stopped twice. He still has not been able to return to work.
It has become popular in some circles to say the media overhypes COVID. The claimants point to the death rate, which in Wisconsin has been about 1.4 percent of all cases. When compared to some other diseases that doesn’t sound high. Ebola’s fatality is about 50 percent, depending on various factors, higher with some strains.
But it’s not the whole story.
It’s easy to think about COVID in a life/death manner. Those who live, it’s tempting to think, return to a normal life. That’s not always true. While the exact percentage is still being studied, a substantial portion of those who contract the virus deal with long-lasting, sometimes serious effects. And it’s not always the people you think it would be.
That’s part of why we continue to report on the pandemic. Yes, we understand that people are tired of hearing about it. Frankly, so are we. We’d much rather be able to report on the kinds of things that typically fill the summer and early fall in Wisconsin.
That’s not where we are as a state right now, though. That’s not where we are as a country. Even with the likely arrival of a vaccine late this year or early next year, it will be a while until it is available widely enough to allow for everyone to be vaccinated. The road ahead remains a long one.
Until this pandemic ends, it will continue to be one of the major stories taking place. As long as our lives remain disrupted, there will be stories to write about it. As long as there are stories like Mike’s, we will strive to tell them.
What can you do about it if you’re sick of seeing the coverage? Simple. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Stay home if you’re sick. Resisting those steps out of a misbegotten sense of injury will not change the reality that is this virus. It will not improve the trajectory of Wisconsin’s case load or reduce the number of people infected. It will have, if anything, the opposite effect.
Right now, we’re seeing a rise in cases for several reasons. The return of school is playing a role, as is the fact many schools are being proactive about testing. That’s going to find some cases that would otherwise be missed. Some people who might have never guessed they had COVID are going to get an unwelcome surprise.
What’s troubling is that the percentage of cases coming back positive is rising as well. Wisconsin’s seven day average for the positive case rate is above 13%. Even in the early days of the pandemic, when testing was only available if officials were pretty sure you had COVID, that rate never quite hit 10% statewide. We’ve got to bring that down. Doing so will require almost everyone taking the basic steps we mentioned above.
Most people who are unfortunate enough to get this virus will recover. Most will do so without the potentially life-changing complications that we wrote about with today’s story.
But is “most” something you really want to bet on?