Phyllis Beveridge Nissila and Greg Beveridge
UPDATE 2/26/21 Where the essay has an embedded “three dots to the left” (if your view does) of the text underneath “The Long Division” section, click on the dots for the full text which explains the analysis quoted. I was just alerted to this change not of my doing.
My brother Greg and I were discussing the recent landmark number of deaths in the United States due to COVID-19: 500,000.
Tragic, each one.
And add to that another several hundred-thousand people still grieving the loss of their loved ones and in need of our comfort, prayers, and support.
Not to mention WOWZA! ONE-HALF MILLION DEATHS is a frightening number!
I mean that’s a HUGE amount of people, most of them elderly and many not even able to see their loved ones in their final days due to the risk of contagion that has necessitated myriad and varying rules and regs in nursing homes and assisted living facilities–and everywhere else!
But there’s much more to the misery of this virus than just the disease and the fatalities.
It’s a multi-pronged enemy, as it were, invading not only biological but also economic, political, and social environments.
COVID-19 is a crippler and a killer in many contexts from which there seems nowhere to run, nowhere to hide (cue Martha and the Vandellas) especially when one accesses most news venues where the COVID seems on the top of the bill, above the fold, and, where it concerns computers, popping up all over the screen. Not to mention the ubiquitous iGadgets lasering our focus on the latest fear and dread, small screen version.
So we got us a situation, as they say, that’s for sure.
Unprecedented, too, when even statistically, the recovery rates per age, health condition, etc., are in the 90th to 99th percentiles.
It’s so invasive on both micro and macro levels, prompting ramifications never dreamed of even when the plagues stalked Europe, it almost seems like a sci-fi plot, or the kind of set-up that births brilliant satires in the minds of people like George Orwell and Aldous Huxley to entertain the masses and, more importantly, get us to think–however, not just those sitting in cozy reading nooks or viewing from comfy couches, popcorn in hand, but also you, me, them, they, her, him–everybody…
…e v e r y w h e r e.
But this time for real.
Greg and I agree this multi-faceted misery is unprecedented even in our generation marked by the A-bomb scare in the fifties, the Vietnam War and riots in the sixties, the international crises in the subsequent decades plus 9/11 and continuous warfare throughout all.
Here’s a short list.
- the politics
- the controversies
- the questionable science
- the conflicting advice
- the lockdowns
- the loss of thousands of small businesses
- the loss of education
- the loss of trust in the “news” full of politics, questionable science, controversies, and conflicting advice
And as a result of all the fear, dread, and misery, we even have a new subset of Americans called “Karens” (usually female, but one supposes there are also “Larry’s,” “Curly’s,” and “Mo’s” ) who seem to look for opportunities to perhaps express their own stress by harassing people who are NOT six feet apart, NOT wearing a mask, or perhaps just outside enjoying themselves and their families, eating a hot dog and chips at a picnic table somewhere warm and pretty when, suddenly the Karen or Curly appears and chastises the happy family for either or both COVID mortal sins.
I think it’s a given that this COVID-19 is another (viral) critter altogether.
Comes with a LOT of baggage.
THE COMPARISON (NOT)
Now when Greg and I were kids, in the years when the Really Big Fear wasn’t a virus but something new on the scene for blowing everything up as in an atom bomb that could melt your eyeballs, there wasn’t all this hullabaloo, just a simple (strictly theoretical) solution for us kids: dive under our school desks until the “all clear” came over the intercom and Sister John of the Dungeon (I think that was her name; seems like it was) told us “free time” was up and get back to work!
Concerning kid viruses, especially chicken pox, however, our moms would host “chicken pox parties” (do NOT tell Karen or Curly) so we’d all get the pox–and the immunity–and get back to our regular business of annoying our siblings or, if at school during an A-bomb drill, picking off all the forbidden-gum wads we stuck underneath our desks until the “all clear” when we had to get back to reading. writing and/or arithmetic (there were no “counseling corners” and Teddy Trauma Bears, or such like, back then).
And, speaking of arithmetic, now for what saved a few more of my nerves from unravelling and poked at least a couple of holes through my COVID gloom to allow in some sunshine of common sense and healthy perspective, here comes the following helpful bit of advice because every bit counts.
Sharing with you:
THE OLD-SCHOOL SOLUTION
So back then, whether or not mitigating the danger of a virus or a nuclear weapon the way we did was good science or actually made no sense whatsoever (the A-bomb part), we at least had some kind of consistent plan that didn’t involve all the confusion, contradictions, and conflict that COVID-19 is causing today, all of which do not help but only exacerbate the stress and arguably add to compromised immune systems.
And whether it was some medieval plague, A-bombs, wars or rumors of wars, or now the COVID fallout, the best and most well-maintained immune system wins.
So my brother, a pragmatic sort, suggested the following, simple, long-division solution as one way to re-gather scattered nerves and clear the mind of the dust bunnies of dread. As it were.
I mean, if you strip away the co-miseries–especially Big Politics–there are always real numbers in appropriate contexts to inform and comfort one–but maybe just not on the six o-clock “news”.
THE LONG DIVISION
“Math, even simple math*,” Greg says, “has a way of putting conflicting variables in their proper perspective.”
At least it helped me as I hope it may help you, reader, because a half-million deceased Americans due to any cause, let alone the COVID, is a BIG number to just put out there all by itself with no perspective or context as to how it relates to all 360 million of us.
It just hangs there, you might say, like a rusty, broken sign announcing, NO MORE GAS OR FOOD NEXT 200 MILES. 500,000 DEAD, squeaking back and forth in the wind of some hot, desolate place at the intersection of Existential and Fear, not another soul in sight at the Last Chance Gas and Grub mini-mart and filling station, ragged tumbleweeds ricocheting past helter-skelter, sweeping up the dust as they go, reminding you that you, too, are but dust in the wind…
Greg explained the long division solution like this:
By using long division it is possible to at least settle the question of what the actual percentage is of United States citizens who have died to date of COVID-19. Although a half-million sounds as if it should be a big percentage, it has to be understood in the context of the total number of citizens (360 million).
With both of those numbers, then it becomes a simple process of long division.
By using the steps to solve a long division problem (here’s a refresher, or one can find an app on a computer or smart phone to do the work, if you want. I would need such an app.) the answer is 0.14 percent, only a little more than one-tenth of one percent of the entire population–has died of COVID-19.
Taking a deep breath.
Makes perfect sense.
Although each and every one of those lives lost to COVID-19 is sorely missed and mourned, to the big picture, the statistic in context is not anywhere near what the daily drum beat of all the frightening, distressing, and confusing baggage that comes with the virus makes it seem–while also making it worse–and not only here in the U.S. but globally.
Because my brother enjoys taking deep dives into number problems, he added this additional insight that calms a few more nerves, clears up a little more confusion:
If some 90% (450,000) of deaths from COVID-19 are reliably attributable those over 55 years of age with some two decades of remaining life, and the remaining 10% (50,000) is spread over some six decades prior to the mid-50s, the very unequal distribution becomes more apparent.
In other words, the vast majority of deaths from COVID-19 occur in the 55+ age range while only 10% occur in all other ages ranges. (Here is corroborating data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control.)
Yet persons of every age and status and in every walk of life have been significantly affected by the co-miseries.
Even children, statistically the least to be affected by COVID-19, if at all, are suffering the loss of some of their education and the loss of the social interactions with peers which is so important in the developmental years.
And I think everyone is now aware the suicide rate of teenagers has risen dramatically since all this began.
But at least we have some truth–and some mental relief as well–by this examination of a few, simple statistical facts and, at this point, every bit of relief counts, adds up like each vitamin D3 and zinc pill aid the physical immune system day by day.
So I hope you feel better.
I know I do.
Nothing like statistics in the right context and correctly understood.
With a side of humor to ease the mind (and facial muscles).
*At least while REAL math is still allowed to be taught which is questionable in at least one State.