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home : opinion : e-opinion November 29, 2020

11/1/2020 8:55:00 PM
Another Friend Has Died From COVID

Wayne Howard
News Journalist


A former student of mine--and a friend from years ago--passed Sunday due to complications related to COVID-19.  In September, he had shared a post on Facebook (we were Facebook friends) calling the virus a hoax.  Too many people have died.  It's time we recognize this public health emergency for what it is.

There are those who still believe the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax, a political ploy, a Chinese plot, or some other conspiracy theory. The truth is that it's a public health crisis, not just for our country but for the world.

Worldwide, over 46 million people are now known to have had the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus which first appeared in China in November of last year. 1.2 million people have died, and while 33.6 million have recovered; 11.8 million active cases still exist, and over 85 thousand of those are said to be in serious or critical condition. Worldwide, about 3% of those known to have contracted the disease have died.

In the US, over 229 thousand have died. Over nine million people have been infected. The number of new cases reported in a day set a record Friday with over 99 thousand. There have been over a half million new cases reported in the last seven days.

In North Carolina, 2,057 new cases were reported Sunday. 4,383 North Carolinians have now died from the virus. A dozen US states have reported over 16 thousand new cases in the past seven days:

Texas 42,525
Illinois 33,753
Wisconsin 32,731
California 29,195
Florida 25,692
Michigan 21,794
Ohio 19,891
Indiana 18,904
Tennessee 16,585
Minnesota 16,354
North Carolina 16,343
Missouri 16,040

It isn't just the US that is seeing many more cases. Europe is also experiencing a resurgence of the virus. In the months of March, April and May, Europe as a whole reported between 35,000 and 38,000 COVID-19 cases every day. Most European countries imposed restrictions on gatherings and required people to wear masks. For most of June, July, and August, Europe reported less than 20,000 cases a day. But as those countries reopened their businesses and reduced some restrictions, there was a dramatic rise in cases. People started traveling extensively, began involving themselves in group activities and not social distancing, and the result was inevitable.

In Germany, where hospitalizations from the virus have doubled in the last ten days, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that restaurants and bars will have to close their doors to patrons starting Monday. Professional sports teams will play to empty stadiums, while theaters, gyms and cosmetic studios will have to close. Supermarkets, most other stores, schools and day care centers will remain open, but there will be new restrictions on the number of people who can gather. The government will provide financial assistance to closed businesses.

President Emmanuel Macron, who had already extended the curfew in Paris to all night, imposed another nationwide lockdown. Most work sites including factories, farms and construction will remain operative but retail businesses will have to close. Macron said the government will provide financial assistance to affected businesses. Restrictions on nursing home visits and funerals will not be as strict as in the Spring. The lockdown will be in effect at least through December 1st.

Other European countries are also imposing new restrictions. Portugal has made wearing a mask compulsory even outdoors when social distancing cannot be maintained. The Czech Republic imposed a nationwide curfew. Stores, schools and restaurants were required to close and masks were made mandatory in all public places. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new national lockdown, closing all non-essential businesses. People were ordered to stay at home except for essential purposes, including education, medical visits, or to shop for groceries. Schools will remain open. Pubs, bars and restaurants won't be able to have customers dine with them--they can offer takeout and delivery.

So...does this mean the whole world is in peril? No. It means that if we don't take some kind of action to curb this disease, it's going to kill a lot of us.

But what about Sweden? some may ask. Sweden chose not to implement any significant restrictions on its population. It never closed schools or businesses. It essentially used children in a 'herd immunity' experiment and willingly sacrificed its elderly to the experiment. Many of the elderly Swedes who died from the disease were never hospitalized. Sweden's deaths per million is lower than that of the US (587 compared to 714), but they've come nowhere close to achieving herd immunity (where enough people have had the disease and developed antibodies that the spread diminishes). Herd immunity requires up to 75% of the population to have been infected. Sweden has had less than 15%. More Swedes have been sick and died than was necessary--and with no good result.

Some countries have done much better at limiting the spread of the virus. Sweden's neighbors--Norway (52 deaths per million), Finland (65) and Denmark (125) imposed restrictions early. Blame the Chinese for the virus if you wish, but they took quick and decisive action when the outbreak began. They've had less than five thousand deaths (if you choose not to believe their figures, so be it, but that's what they report) and only three deaths per million population. Hong Kong reports only 14 deaths per million, Taiwan .4 (that's point-four), Vietnam .3, Japan 14 and South Korea 9.

Australia recorded no new daily coronavirus community infections on Sunday for the first time in nearly five months, paving the way for further easing of restrictions.

The Australian government took the pandemic seriously from the beginning and, unlike in the United States, government officials listened to the advice of public health experts. The vast majority of the public complied with social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines--unlike the US, where masks are seen by some as an attack on individual liberty.

Australia first tackled the virus with a ban on travelers from high-risk areas in February. Australia's borders were closed to non-citizens on March 19th, and later that month, movie theaters, bars, and schools were closed and social distancing rules imposed. Testing was made widely available, and the restrictions included penalties for non-compliance. The state of
Victoria, which had been one of the country's significant 'hot spots' for the virus, ended most of its lockdown restrictions – some of the world's toughest just last week. Earlier attempts at reopening had met with increased numbers of new cases, so lockdowns were reimposed. Internal borders between states were at one point closed to travel except with a special permit for the first time since the 1918 flu pandemic.

There are now less than 200 active cases of coronavirus across Australia, which has recorded just 27,595 cases and 907 deaths since the pandemic began. Australia's deaths per million population is just 35--compared to 712 in the US.

Authorities are now turning their focus to reuniting families split by virus measures, pledging to reopen all internal borders and bring thousands of citizens stranded overseas back home before Christmas.

Australia is just one of the nations that has made restrictions and especially wearing of facial coverings a priority and who have reduced their numbers of new cases and deaths as a result. Greece imposed some of the tightest restrictions in Europe when the pandemic began. Their deaths per million is
61. In Germany, which imposed stiffer restrictions than most and has recently reimposed some as new cases increased, the deaths per million is 126. In countries where mask-wearing has been almost universal, the number of cases and deaths has not increased as it has in others where many have refused. As already noted, in Hong Kong, the deaths per million is only 5; Japan's deaths per million is 14. In the United Kingdom, where many--like in the US--have refused to wear masks, the deaths per million is 687.

The Lincolnton City Council, which held a special meeting last Friday (Oct. 23rd) has asked for citizen input and open dialogue regarding current COVID-19 precautions and restrictions at their meeting Thursday evening (Nov. 5th, 7 PM) at City Hall. The NC Dept. of Health & Human Resources sent a letter to city and county leaders in 36 North Carolina counties asking them to consider local ordinances or other means to help slow the spread of the disease. Those 36 were chosen because in the two weeks before the letter was sent, they had all had 300 or more new confirmed cases.

What the Council doesn't need on Thursday is politically motivated arguments. Some will likely claim that masks don't work--they do; the evidence from multiple studies including one by the SCDHEC is overwhelming. Some will want to protest the restrictions imposed by Governor Cooper's executive orders. The Council has no power to change those; they can pass additional restrictions if they choose, but that is unlikely. What they need from the public, business leaders and others, is positive input--an answer to the question: "What would you have us (the City) do to help curb this pandemic in our area?"

The truth is, we know what works. The masks are the best thing we have until a vaccine is approved and provided to the population. The so-called 3Ws (3Ms for Hispanics) do, when universally practiced, help to keep from spreading the virus. We do not believe the Council will, nor should they, pass any kind of additional restrictions. It is, however, unfortunate that some--including businesses who have received grants and loans from the City--aren't doing much of anything to help. It's unfortunate that for some, what they believe are their rights mean more to them than the lives of others.

I've reported, based on discussions among very knowledgeable doctors and others who work in medicine, that with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays coming and the likelihood that people will gather without appropriate caution, we will have a lot more cases of the disease in the coming months than we've already had. Many celebrated Halloween as usual--without wearing protective masks, partying in close proximity, etc. There is a significant reason to believe that some of them have now been infected with the virus. We'll know in a week or two when cases start showing up.

Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday elections, this pandemic isn't going to end right away. I do believe that it will--especially if a vaccine is developed--begin to diminish by late Winter.

For now, the masks, the social distancing, etc. are all we have. Let's use them. I lost another friend from years ago to this disease on Sunday. PLEASE--do your part to help save lives.



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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, November 2, 2020
Article comment by: Kimberly Austin

First I would like to say that I am deeply sorry for your loss and thank you for continuing to report on the pandemic, providing local, state, national and European figures, despite opposition and criticism.
What you wrote in an earlier article is the stone cold truth, despite any conspiracy theories or actual causes, it is here for us to deal with. I believe we must deal with it in a logical, medically proven way, and have no qualms at all about wearing a mask, even if it only protects someone else.
Since you seem to be one of the most informed people regarding the pandemic in our area and beyond, I would like to ask your opinion on the Middle Eastern figures. They are REMARKABLY low compared to the US and Europe. Do you think these are accurate figures? Or, perhaps, they simply feel it is "none of our business", and are putting out figures they feel will provide positive PR for them? Also, what about China, and South America? Any figures from there?
I understand that some news may cause panic, speculation and possibly cause more fear based action to run rampant, but I was just wondering what you are hearing about other parts of the world as well.
As you said, it's ours to deal with now, no matter the cause. It is my hope that this will be over by Spring, or at least well on it's way to being over. In the meantime, I am just wondering why in the world people won't wear masks? And why they try to demonize those who do?
Take Care and God Bless,
Kimberly Austin
RESPONSE FROM WAYNE HOWARD ---- Thank you for the compliment on our reporting. We have tried to provide accurate information from reliable sources. You asked about the Middle East. While they do not have the same proliferation of news outlets that we do, they have some that are fairly good at reporting on most things, especially when political matters are not involved. Al Jazeera rivals any US network or news organization for its reporting. Iran was probably hit the hardest of any Middle Eastern country. They have had nearly 36 thousand deaths, 424 per million population. Iraq has had 272deaths per million, Israel 279, Saudi Arabia 155. These figures come from the WHO, and I think they are likelyclose to accurate. There is certainly reason to doubt the Chinese figures. China has a reputation of spinning the news to its benefit, and admitting more deaths would not look good. Latin America has been hard hit. Brazil has had more cases than any country except the US and India. They've had 751 deaths per million. Chile has had 746 deaths per million. Peru has had 1,042 deaths per million, the most deaths per million population of any country in the world. Mexico, whose leftist leader had in common with our President in that he didn't take the virus as seriously as he should have, has had 710. I have no medical degree--but I have one in history and I have studied pandemics extensively since this one began. Based on what happened with the 1918 flu pandemic, I said months ago that this one would last from 12-18 months, the worst of it about a year. That epidemic ended without any vaccine being created (the first flu vaccine didn't come along until the 1940s and it wasn't widely available until the 1960s) and there were no other big medical break-throughs. Some of the same things we have been doing now--wearing masks, avoiding crowds, etc.--helped to slow the spread of the flu and eventually the epidemic subsided. I listened in (I was not a participant) on a conference call (one of several to all parts of the country) a few weeks ago in which top medical leaders urged hospitals and other health care providers to ready themselves by getting the supplies now instead of waiting for what they believe will be a terrible winter. They expect, based on multiple factors including the expectation of holiday gatherings without proper cautions, that the very worst months of this pandemic will be December and January. I hope they are wrong; I hope those who insist it will be over after the election are right, but the data doesn't support a quick ending. With or without a vaccine, I believe this epidemic will end by late Winter or early Spring and a year or two down the road, it will be just a very bad memory. Some have accused me of 'fear-mongering.' I AM indeed trying to make people fearful of this virus, but only so they will do the things that might save their lives and the lives of others. Thank you again for reading the Lincoln Herald.




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