We are in this together???

Through it all, I experienced very little discussion of COVID. Not on the TV. Not at the tables. Not from my family. Other than people wearing masks, sporadically with hardly anyone following CDC guidelines, COVID had completely disappeared from our collective psyche, which given the experience of the last six months was welcome. Then right at the end I heard a short conversation and one of the folks mentioned, “We are all in this together”. Quite honestly, I don’t know what instigated the comment, I was too busy singing “Happy Birthday”, eating birthday cake and watching my sister-in-law open her gifts. But this phrase, that has been mentioned a million times and plastered everywhere has finally made me wonder, are we truly in this together?

I know that the original meaning of the message was to encourage everyone to wear masks, social distance, wash your hands and while an inconvenience, we are all going to sacrifice for the benefit of the whole. This is a Great American Tradition. Collective sacrifice for issues that are bigger than ourselves, and in many cases brought about by outside forces. But as we languish through our seventh month, I began to realize, we aren’t all in this together. There are groups in this country suffering disproportionately than others.

Economic Loss

Due to COVID, or more precisely our societal response to COVID, we have seen economic impacts including but not limited to the following:

  • The Federal Deficit for this budget year will be nearly $3.7 TRILLION. Some of that was built into the budget, but a large portion, nearly $3 TRILLION is due to the Federal response to COVID
  • 200K+ businesses of all shapes and sizes have closed, many of them small business costing the owner/proprietors not only their job, but in many cases their savings and possibly even bankruptcy filings
  • While this number has thankfully decreased, 20 MILLION people had lost their jobs
  • Countless others, have taken significant reductions in their pay and/or benefits
  • Even more have depleted their savings in order to make ends meet
  • Thankfully, statistic show that credit card debt has actually decreased primarily due to people cutting their discretionary spending and using a portion of the stimulus to pay down debt

Psychological Loss

We have also seen school closures causing impacts including but not limited to the following:

  • Children lagging in their studies
  • Children becoming depressed due to isolation from the peers or not getting enough nutrition
  • Distance learning making it difficult for parents to balance work and education
  • Children being over-exposed to abusive parents without the care and escape of school
  • Kids not having their athletic outlets which leads to depression and kids getting involved with unproductive, dangerous or nefarious activities

In addition to school closures, society has seen the following:

  • A July study from KFF reported 53% of adults in the United States indicated that their mental health has been negatively impacted, is significantly higher than the 32% reported in March
  • The same July study reported difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%)
  • The above figures are tied directly to job loss, isolation and worry and stress about COVID

Loss of Life

With all of the economic, sociological and psychological impacts, not to be overlooked is the loss of life. At the time of me writing this article nearly 200K people have died with some connection to COVID.

Additionally, we know there are probably a portion of these infected that will be impacted for the rest of their lives due to long-term impact of COVID.

Equal Sharing of the Burden?

This question, “Are we truly in this together”, is what I am most concerned about. Sure, that is easy to say when we are talking about wearing a mask and social distancing and being inconvenienced at the store or not being able to go to your favorite restaurant, but when the rubber hits the road is all of society willing to share the burden when combatting something that is truly impacting all of society. Nearly everyone in the United States, across all age, racial, religious, and socio-economic groups are willing to make sacrifices for the good of the whole. We have seen this far too many times in America to assume otherwise. As it currently stands, I would submit we are not all equally sacrificing while addressing COVID.

So now, back to the original question, Are we all in this together?

The obvious answer would be yes. Everyone is wearing masks. Everyone is social distancing. Everyone is in some form of isolation. Everyone is inconvenienced by business closures. But as mentioned earlier, there are many more burdens than these obvious ones. As evidenced by the statistics, young people and working families have been hit disproportionately hard from an economic and psychological perspective and will bear the costs accrued from all of the measures taken for the rest of their lives.

Retirees have been receiving their Social Security checks and their Medicare coverage. Wealthy individuals, primarily Baby Boomers have experienced minimal economic impact. Their houses are paid for. They have built nest eggs that are well insulated from the ups and downs of the economy. This is especially true considering that despite all of this going on the stock market has remained relatively stable.

Nearly every sacrifice that has been made has been made by two groups: Children and Working Families.

  • Nearly all of the economic impact hits children and working families. They are predominantly the ones who have lost their income and will bear the burden for the tremendous Federal debt that has been incurred.
  • School closures impact children and parents of children far more than any other group.
  • Mental health surges are impacting many groups due to isolation, but from a macro level, the stress of job loss, income loss, caring for children, isolation from friends, impact working families far more than other group in our country

So now, back to the original question, Are we all in this together?

Again, the obvious answer would yes, but the deeper answer is no. The overall burden related to our reaction to this pandemic has not been balanced. People under the age of 50 will be bearing the consequences of our response for the next 10 or 20 years. Is there a way to bring balance? That would require one of two things: shifting resources consolidated within the wealthy Baby Boomers and retirees to the larger pool through higher taxes and reductions in Social Security and Medicare payouts and/or drastically changing our messaging and response to COVID. So, why is it that our media, our politicians, our non-elected leaders are willing to turn such a blind-eye to the needs of the bedrock of our country, the future of our country.

They are fixated on a rising death toll. They are unwilling to admit they were wrong. They are unwilling to accept the political fallout for taking something away from the single largest voting block in the Untied States, Seniors, even if it would be better for the whole.

Who is impacted by COVID?

At the time of this writing, here are some statistics related to COVID in the United States taken form the official CDC website:

  • Approximately 7M people have been tested positive
  • Approximately 77M have been infected per the CDC statement that there are probably 10 additional infections for each confirmed infection
  • Approximately 203K people have died with COVID identified as a contributing cause
  • Mortality Rates: 2.9% based on confirmed infections and 0.26% based on estimated infections
  • 78.9% of COVID related deaths are in the population >65
  • 0.222% of COVID related deaths are in the population <25
  • Mortality rate of the population >65 is 1.32%
  • Mortality rate of the population <25 is 0.0017%
  • Mortality rate of the population <65 is 0.06% which is in line with the flu

So, while there is a rising death toll, a deeper dive into the statistics shows that this virus disproportionately impacts our older population as compared to everyone else. Additionally, comorbidity, plays significantly into the mortality risk of COVID. What we are finding is that, regardless of age, relatively healthy individuals typically come through this fine without much more than the impact of the flu. Those with significant health issues, as would be expected, are at much higher risk.

At the beginning of the COVID response, models were built and assumptions were made about how the virus would impact society. Those assumptions, based on prior experience with other infectious diseases, drove our response. However, it became very quickly apparent, those models and assumptions were wrong. This virus was not like others. It impacted people in a very different, much more selective way. However, rather than reporting these findings and making decisions accordingly, the media continued to fear-monger and drive an apocalyptic narrative while our leadership, both elected and non-elected, continued to stay on the old path rather than change course to balance addressing the risk of COVID impact (>65 and compromised individuals) with the risk of economic, social, and psychological impact.

Final Thoughts

As someone who is approaching the age of 50, married and raising two children, I am tired of seeing the generations ahead of me pillage our country for decades and then be unwilling to sacrifice for the future generations. It saddens me to see the economic decline caused by the inability to manage our national finances and the debt problems that I have been taught about since I was in elementary school yet our leaders from either party did little to stop. It saddens me to see COVID as just another, in the words of Rahm Emmanuel, opportunity to not be wasted, from a political perspective, again regardless of the political party.

My wife and I were watching Gettysburg last night. It is one of the films my daughter is required to watch in her American History Through Film course in high school. There is a sequence between Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet where Lee states (paraphrased), in order to be a good soldier you need to love the army but in order to be a good General you need to be willing to send some of those you love so dearly to their death. It is very poignant. At some point in time, we need to better instill a love of this country within the citizens and have leaders who are willing to make sacrifices not for political gains but because the decisions make sense. Until we do both of those, we will continue to fragment and pull apart. Perhaps COVID is an opportunity to do just that. So far, however, it is simply driving the divide.