Health care workers at St. Francis Hospital who are on the front lines caring for patients with COVID-19. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

If writers like David Holahan want to blame President Donald Trump for the coronavirus death toll, it would only be fair to blame other politicians like Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, and Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut as well. The death toll per capita in both these states is well above the national average. Rather than placing blame on politicians, it would be much more productive to look at the facts that show that the U.S. health care system has done a very good job.

Francis DeStefano

The population of the country is about 328 million. As of May 12, more than 9 million of us have been tested. Practically all of the tests have been done on people with symptoms, but only about 1.35 million (14%) have tested positive. The other 86% had some other reason for their symptoms. Of those who have tested positive 81,796 have died, a death rate of about 6%. On the other side of the coin, 94% of those who tested positive, over 1.26 million people, have survived the infection so far.

But wait a minute.

Scientific researchers tell us that the number of those testing positive must be multiplied to include those who had or have symptoms, ranging from negligible to severe, but have not reported them.  I have seen estimates that suggest that the number of positive cases must be multiplied by anywhere from 3 to 100 times the number of confirmed cases. Recent evidence from New York indicates that the actual multiplier is about 22.

In that case the number of people infected by the virus would be about 29.6 million (1,348,000 x 22). The number of actual deaths (81,796) represents less than one tenth of one percent of those potentially infected but uncounted. Looking at it another way, over 29 million people, 99.7 percent of those infected, have so far survived.

The U.S. health care systems seems to be doing a remarkably good job. As noted above, the number of those who have died (81,796) divided by the number of reported cases (1,330,000 is about 6%. In the United Kingdom, the rate is about 15% (32,141/224,000), and in Italy the rate is about 14% (30,739/220,000).

Nevertheless, although the increase in the number of deaths is slowing, 81,796 still beats what we have experienced during normal winter flu seasons. Perhaps the virus is more virulent than others, but there could be other factors involved.

In 2017, a total of 2,813,503 resident deaths were registered in the United States—69,255 more deaths than in 2016. From 2016 to 2017, the age-adjusted death rate for the total population increased 0.4%,

I was born in 1939 and am technically not a baby boomer, but I have been a witness to the phenomenon for most of my life. Despite the natural tendency of humans to complain, the baby boomers have been the longest lived, the most prosperous, and the most fortunate generation in the history of the world. But now that the eldest of them are 75, the number of deaths in this country must inevitably increase over the next few years.

Great advances in technology, nutrition, and medicine have kept us alive so that the life expectancy in this country has reached an average of 78.6 years, much higher than it was back in 1945.

Nevertheless, as the saying goes, “everybody dies.” In 2017, 647,000 died of heart disease, and 600,000 died of cancer, the two greatest killers.  Chronic lower respiratory tract disease caused about 160,000 deaths while strokes claimed another 146,000. Alzheimer’s, another malady of the elderly, claimed about 120,000 lives, and diabetes was responsible for 84,000. Finally, 57,000 died of flu and pneumonia.

In the current crisis, the elderly, especially those with other problems like hypertension, diabetes, and dementia, have been particularly vulnerable. For some reason, our immune systems overreact to the virus and cause inflammation and eventually pneumonia.  Thus, the reason for the ventilators.

In Connecticut, it has been reported that more than 50% of the victims have been elderly residents of nursing homes. In my own town of Fairfield, 423 people have tested positive for the virus, and 72 have died. Of the 72, 86% were residents of nursing homes. I am not blaming nursing homes, hospitals, or the people who serve in the health care system in this country. The very great majority of their patients have survived.

Francis P. DeStefano, Ph.D., of Fairfield, is a writer, lecturer, historian and retired financial planner.

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