U.S. Saw Fewer Suicide Deaths in 2020 but More Drug Overdose Deaths

“Last year saw 44,834 Americans kill themselves, according to provisional data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS). That’s down from 47,511 in 2019, 48,344 in 2018, 47,173 in 2017, and 44,965 in 2016.

We do not know from the data in question whether the number of attempted suicides changed at all last year.”

“The leading U.S. cause of death last year remained heart disease, with 690,882 heart disease deaths last year. This number has been slowly but steadily ticking up over the past five years, from 633,842 heart disease deaths in 2015.

The second leading cause of death remained cancer, with slightly fewer cancer deaths last year than in 2017–2019. The provisional data list 598,932 cancer deaths last year.”

“In other news related to COVID-19 and mortality: New estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest the virus is deadlier than previous estimates let on.

“According to the ‘best estimate’ in the most recent version of the CDC’s COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios, 9 percent of people 65 or older who are infected by the COVID-19 virus die from the disease,” notes Reason’s Jacob Sullum.”

Birx rightly said most US Covid-19 deaths were preventable. But she won’t acknowledge her complicity.

““I look at it this way: The first time, we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge,” Birx told CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta. “All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”

In sum, Birx suggested that thousands of American deaths were all but unavoidable as a result of the initial surge of the coronavirus in February and March of last year. But she said better adherence to public health guidelines — including mask-wearing and social distancing — could’ve saved the lives of many of the 450,000 people (and counting) in the US who have died since then.”

“While Birx’s suggestion that as many as 100,000 deaths were too difficult to prevent is arguable — a better-prepared federal government could have limited spread and saved lives by building out a testing infrastructure much more quickly than the one overseen by Trump”

Argentina becomes the first large Latin American country to legalize abortion

“According to the BBC, a minimum of 350,000 illegal abortions occur annually in Argentina, a figure that some activist groups feel is undercounting the real number. Illegal abortions can lead to health complications and even death for the people who experience them — the World Health Organization estimates that up to 13.2 percent of maternal deaths worldwide can be attributed to unsafe abortions.

Argentina has seen adherence to Catholicism decline in recent years, according to a study from the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET). The Buenos Aires Times reports that in 2019, 62.9 percent of the population identified as Catholic, a 13.6 percentage point drop since 2008. Simultaneously, while evangelicals gained new adherents, the share of people identifying with no religion grew the most, reaching nearly 20 percent of the population.”

“While Argentina is still a largely Catholic country, this decline could explain why Pope Francis’s comments opposing legalizing abortion did not have an overwhelming effect on the outcome of this vote. Francis, who was born and worked in Argentina for much of his life, has referred to abortion as being part of a “throwaway culture” and has rooted his opposition to the medical procedure as being based in science, according to Crux, a Catholic online newspaper.

According to France 24, Catholics weren’t alone in opposing the measure; they joined forces with the country’s growing evangelical wing to mobilize against abortion. They will likely fight to overturn this measure, especially as this change exposes Argentina’s religious fault lines.

But the victorious activists are the abortion rights feminists who have spent years fighting for abortion legalization.”

“Argentina became the biggest country in Latin America to legalize elective abortion”

Jail Deaths Are a National Disgrace

“More than 7,500 Americans died in jail during the last decade, and two-thirds of them were never convicted of a crime. Those are the stunning topline numbers from an investigation that Reuters published in October.

Anyone who has paid attention to the issue has known for a long time that jail deaths from neglect and occasional malevolence are a nationwide problem—especially when jails become the de facto solution to mental health and drug addiction crises. Last summer, for example, Reason reported on the story of 46-year-old Holly Barlow-Austin, who suffered from medical neglect for months at a Texarkana, Texas, jail before being transferred to a hospital and eventually dying of sepsis due to fungus, cryptococcal meningitis, HIV/AIDS, and accelerated hypertension.”

“Of the 7,571 jail deaths Reuters identified, most were due to illness. But “more than 2,000 took their own lives amid mental breakdowns, including some 1,500 awaiting trial or indictment,” it reported. “A growing number—more than 1 in 10 last year—died from the acute effects of drugs and alcohol. Nearly 300 died after languishing behind bars, unconvicted, for a year or more.””

“We can’t solve a problem we can’t see or measure. The Justice Department needs to release the full data it collects on jail deaths, while states and counties must hold law enforcement leadership accountable for the lives under their lock and key.”

How the US’s Covid-19 death toll compares to that of other wealthy countries

“Despite Covid-19 surges in Europe, the United States of America’s extraordinary death toll remains among the worst in the developed world.

As of January 9, 2021, nearly 373,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the US, with a death rate of more than 1.1 per 1,000 people, according to Our World in Data.

While there are nations with higher death rates, this still puts the US in the top 20 percent for deaths among the world’s developed countries, with more than twice the death rate of the median developed country.”

“As a result of Covid-19 surges in Europe, the US does look relatively better, compared to other developed nations, than in September. Back then, the US had seven times the death toll as the median developed country. That gap has shrunk massively — to two times.

That’s not because the US has done better but because Europe has done much worse. After managing to largely suppress the coronavirus over the spring and summer of 2020, Europe eased up over the late summer and fall, and saw huge surges as a result.”

“there are some countries that have managed the pandemic well. That includes some European nations like Denmark, Estonia, Cyprus, Finland, Norway, and Iceland. But the biggest success stories are Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan — which have broadly adopted more aggressive government measures against the coronavirus than America.”

“So why did the US fail so badly? A lot of this comes down to President Donald Trump. He pushed the country to reopen far too early and quickly, calling on states to “LIBERATE” their economies. He abdicated federal leadership and instead forced states, cities, and private entities to pick up the slack on a host of issues, particularly testing and, recently, vaccines. He downplayed the need for masks, outright mocking people, such as President-elect Joe Biden, for wearing them. The list goes on and on.

In comparison, other leaders around the world have taken Covid-19 more seriously — embracing social distancing, testing and tracing, masking, and, when necessary, more extreme measures like lockdowns. Even with the recent surge of the coronavirus, many countries across Europe have reacted quickly and aggressively by imposing lockdowns, slowing the spread of the virus. The US, by comparison, has by and large remained open, with some states still not requiring masks.

Clearly, not everything has gone perfectly in Europe and other parts of the world. A lot of people and places have screwed up their response to the coronavirus, showing that it’s no easy challenge.

But when the numbers are added up, the US remains an extraordinary failure in its handling of Covid-19.”

What people get wrong about herd immunity, explained by epidemiologists

““Herd immunity is the only way we’re going to move to a post-pandemic world,” says Bill Hanage, an epidemiology researcher at Harvard. “The problem is, how do you get to it?”

Typically, the term herd immunity is thought of in the context of vaccination campaigns against contagious viruses like measles. The concept helps public health officials think through the math of how many people in a population need to be vaccinated to prevent outbreaks.

With Covid-19, since we don’t yet have a vaccine, the discussion has centered on herd immunity through natural infection, which comes with a terrible cost. Confusing matters, too, is the persistent and erroneous wishful thinking by some who say herd immunity has already been reached, or will be reached sooner than scientists are saying.”

“Hypothetically, yes, there are situations under which herd immunity to Covid-19 could be achieved. Manaus, Brazil, an Amazonian city of around 2 million people, experienced one of the most severe Covid-19 outbreaks in the world. At the peak in the spring and early summer, the city’s hospitals were completely full, the New York Times reported.

During this period, there were four times as many deaths as normal for that point in the year. But then, over the summer, the outbreak sharply died down. Researchers now estimate between 44 percent and 66 percent of the city’s population was infected with the virus, which means it’s possible herd immunity has been achieved there. (This research has yet to be peer-reviewed.)

But that’s much higher than 22 percent, and the cost of this herd immunity was immense: Between 1 in 500 and 1 in 800 residents died there, the researchers estimate.”

“the oft-cited example of Sweden, which has pursued a laxer social distancing strategy than its European peers (partially with the goal of building up herd immunity in younger people, while protecting older residents and trying to keep hospitals from exceeding capacity), has paid a price, too: a much higher death rate than fellow Scandinavian countries.”

“Regardless of the exact figure, as a country, the US is nowhere near reaching this threshold. In New York City, which experienced the worst coronavirus outbreak in the US, around 20 percent of residents got infected and 23,000-plus people died. Overall, a new Lancet study — which drew its data from a sample of dialysis patients — suggests that fewer than 10 percent of people nationwide have been exposed to the virus. That means we have a long, sick, and deadly way to go if the US is going to reach herd immunity through natural infection.

So far, there have been more than 200,000 deaths in the United States, with relatively few infections. There’s so much more potential for death if the virus spreads to true herd immunity levels. ”

“The herd immunity threshold can be lower than estimated. But hypothetically, the threshold could be higher as well. It’s also the case that the herd immunity threshold can change over time. Remember the simple math of how herd immunity calculated: The threshold is dependent on the contagiousness of the virus.

Well, the contagiousness of the virus isn’t a fixed biological constant. It’s the result of the biology of the virus interacting with human biology, with our environments, with our society. As seasons change, as our behavior changes, so can the transmissibility of the virus. The herd immunity threshold is not one fixed target.”

“Once you hit the herd immunity threshold, it doesn’t mean the pandemic is over. After the threshold is reached, “all it means is that on average, each infection causes less than one ongoing infection,” Hanage says. “That’s of limited use if you’ve already got a million people infected.” If each infection causes, on average, 0.8 new infections, the epidemic will slow. But 0.8 isn’t zero. If a million people are infected at the time herd immunity is hit, per Hanage’s example, those already infected people may infect 800,000 more.”

““I think it’s impossible to think that you can have infections only among younger people, and not let them spread to other groups with populations that might be more vulnerable,“ Tedijanto says. People just don’t separately themselves so neatly into risk groups like that.

“We can try and insulate” older people, Hanage says. “We can do a very good job of insulating them. But the fact is, the larger the amount of infection outside them, the higher the chance that something’s going to get into them.””

Drug overdoses were increasing before Covid-19. The pandemic made things worse.

“Even before the pandemic, there were signs that the drug overdose crisis was worsening. Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found drug overdose deaths hit 72,000 in 2019, up almost 5 percent from nearly 69,000 in 2018. A preliminary study from researchers at Stanford, UCLA, and the Los Angeles LGBT Center found that fentanyl, a synthetic opioid more potent and dangerous than heroin, has started to spread to illegal drug markets in the West — a trend that will likely cause more overdoses.”

“The demands of social distancing have worsened social isolation, possibly leading more people to use drugs to cope. Social services and addiction treatment programs — many of which already lacked funding and rigor — have fallen to the side as the economic collapse has crushed public and private revenues, and social distancing has forced some places to close.
Meanwhile, the actions that different levels of government have taken to shore up the gaps caused by the pandemic simply haven’t been enough. As experts told me, telemedicine — while certainly helpful for many and better than nothing — simply can’t make up for being able to pick up new syringes or naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote, at the local needle exchange program.

The result: As America sees more than 166,000 Covid-19 deaths (and rising), it’s also suffering tens of thousands of drug overdose deaths due to a decades-old crisis now likely worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.”

America is failing Black moms during the pandemic

“Black women are disproportionately impacted, dying in childbirth at three to four times the rate of white women.”

“Many factors contribute to overall maternal mortality in the US, from underlying conditions like diabetes to a lack of adequate health insurance. All of these disproportionately impact Black women — Black Americans, for example, are 60 percent more likely than whites to be diagnosed with diabetes. And 11.5 percent of Black Americans were uninsured as of 2018, compared with just 7.5 percent of whites.”

“For Black women, “even when we get prenatal care,” Crear-Perry explained, “even when we are normal weight and not obese, even when we have no underlying medical conditions, we are still more likely to die in childbirth than our white counterparts.” In New York City, for example, a 2016 study found that Black patients with a college education were more likely to have pregnancy or childbirth complications than white patients who hadn’t graduated from high school.”

“Part of the issue is that providers treat Black patients differently from white ones. Black women and other women of color often aren’t listened to when they express pain or discomfort, Jamila Taylor, director of health care reform at the Century Foundation, told Vox.
Racist beliefs about people’s bodies and their ability to experience pain are shockingly widespread: Half of the white medical students and residents surveyed in one 2016 study, for example, believed at least one myth about racial differences in pain perception, such as the idea that Black people’s nerve endings are less sensitive than white people’s. The more myths someone believed, the more likely that person was to underestimate a Black patient’s pain.”

“Advocates have long been calling for greater access to non-hospital births, whether at a birthing center or at home, as a way to combat the discrimination Black patients and other patients of color can face in hospital settings. “Other countries that have better outcomes than we do create a system and a network of birth centers and home births that allow for people to make choices based upon their needs,” Crear-Perry said.”

Daily COVID-19 Deaths in the U.S. Have Fallen Dramatically Since April

“The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths, which peaked at 2,210 on April 18, had fallen to 605 as of yesterday—a 73 percent drop. The downward trend has continued for more than a month since mid-May, when the impact of post-lockdown infections should have started to show up in fatality figures. In Texas, for example, the seven-day average fell from 58 on April 30, when the statewide lockdown was lifted, to 20 on June 13 before climbing to 30 as of yesterday.

Some states, including Texas, have seen notable increases in confirmed cases and hospitalizations since late May. Those increases, which cannot be fully explained by expanded virus testing, may be related to Memorial Day gatherings and the mass protests against police brutality triggered by George Floyd’s death. The spike in cases that states such as Texas have seen can be expected to result in more deaths during the next couple of weeks than otherwise would have occurred. But if epidemiologists are correct in thinking that superspreading events on and after Memorial Day explain recent surges in infections—which makes senses given the timing—the resulting rise in daily deaths should be temporary.”