IDEAS: Fear of COVID ‘grossly overestimate,’ guest columnist says

This guest opinion column by Danielle Fredette, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Cedarville University, appeared on the Ideas and Voices page Thursday, Oct. 29. A column by Kurt Fleagle, an internal medicine physician in Kettering, appeared the same day. Dr. Fleagle’s column and others on the subject are linked below.

It is easy to be frightened by the what-if’s of COVID-19, but it is a mistake to allow fear to keep us from the relationships and activities that give our lives meaning.

The health risks from COVID-19 are not great enough to offset the health risks from living in fear and isolation. An honest look at the data in context has helped me and my family to, cautiously but confidently, return to living the life we love. I hope it can help you too.

A recent Franklin Templeton–Gallup survey compared public perception of long term health risks due to COVID to actual mortality statistics.

The results were shocking. People under 65 grossly overestimate their own risk of death: “for people aged 18-24, the share of those worried about serious health consequences is 400 times higher than the share of total COVID deaths; for those age 25-34 it is 90 times higher.”

In reality, for most people, your chance of death from COVID-19 is comparable to your chance of dying in a car accident.

Stanford University’s John Ioannidis found that the daily risk of dying from COVID-19 during the spring for people under 65 was the same as the risk of dying in a car crash when driving 13-668 miles per day, varying per location.

For those of us under 65, the risk of dying from COVID-19 is somewhere between the risk of having a short daily commute and the risk of being a truck driver.

Recognize also that Dr. Ioannidis' analysis was done using data from the height of the pandemic.

Since Ohio’s peak of deaths in April, the risk of death from COVID-19 has decreased as the pandemic has run its course in many places.The point is this: even though driving poses a significant risk of death, we accept the risk and get in our cars every day.

Though people under 65 rarely die from COVID-19, the government and media further manipulate us with stories of young people who developed a related chronic illness. While tragic, this phenomenon is neither novel nor unique, and the data is obscure enough that I have not yet been able to ascertain its statistical likelihood.

Covid-19 poses a significantly higher risk to the elderly and infirm, but those same populations die each year from influenza and other common illnesses with fatality rates similar to COVID-19.

The risk of death from any cause in any given year of a person’s life increases predictably with age, and COVID-19 is not the dominant source of mortality risk, even for the elderly.

You weren’t blamed as a grandma-killer when you celebrated with your family last Christmas, nor in 2018 when the flu overwhelmed many hospitals. Risks posed by COVID-19 are significant, but not “novel.” We’ve always been reasonably cautious around vulnerable people, but the fear, blame, and suffering imposed on us now in an attempt to “save lives” from COVID-19 is irrational and destructive.

Tragically, mortality statistics show many excess deaths (deaths above what is expected) this year, but they cannot all be attributed to COVID-19.

Instead, there is evidence that people are dying more than normal from suicide, overdose, Alzheimer’s, untreated heart attacks, and other untreated medical conditions.

This is all because of lockdowns, business closures, and isolation as our society continues to ignore the data and avoid confronting the horrible consequences of an unnecessarily strong response to COVID-19 and a too-narrow approach to public health.

Each of us, at some point in our lives, must come to grips with our own mortality, and the impermanence of the people we love most.

It is a difficult thing, but it is also inevitable, whether you live through a pandemic or not. It takes maturity to acknowledge the multiple sources of risk, and to move forward in full consciousness, with courage, responsibility and hope.

It is natural to feel afraid of death, but COVID-19 has only added one more unlikely possibility to a long list of deadly dangers. All of us will someday meet our end, almost certainly by some ordinary means other than COVID-19. Do not allow the fear of death to keep you from living.

COVID-19 introduces new risks to our health, but these risks are no greater than numerous everyday risks we all accept.

Danielle Fredette is an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Cedarville University. Amanda Brindley is an Ohio freelance writer. Guest columns are submitted or requested fact-based opinion pieces typically of 300 to 450 words.