Millions will die this year, and not just from coronavirus

Illustrated by Lily Xu

*All of this information is only accurate based on information until April 8, 2020.*

SARS-CoV-2, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, has affected over 2.6 million people worldwide. Most current evidence suggests that the virus was transmitted from bats to pangolins and eventually to humans. The medium of transmission was most likely bodily fluid contact at wet markets, places where live animals are slaughtered and sold for their meat. 

Over the last few months, thousands of businesses and social institutions closed their doors. Students were evicted from their homes on college campuses, and non-essential workers were forced to return home. Slowly the price of human connection rose exponentially; as we sat back on our porches and watched from 6 feet away, we witnessed catastrophe settle in. 

Coronavirus is more than just a simple flu. The R0 value, which denotes the number of people who can contract the virus from a single infected person, is 1.3 for the flu, but approximately 2-3 for coronavirus. (1) Of the 7 types of coronavirus, 3 can cause fatal respiratory infections and mainly target infants, the elderly and those who are immunocompromised. (2) The current death count worldwide has surpassed 1.8 million people and is projected to rise. 

Scientists worldwide are working hard to find a vaccine for the disease, but the collateral damage will be left for us to clean for years to come. The coronavirus has plagued the economy, led to declined nationwide mental stability, contributed to an increase in domestic violence cases and illuminated the destructive long-term effects of inequality in minority populations. 

Social-distancing remains the most effective form of prevention for an airborne virus, but in the long-term, it can prove traumatic. Extended periods of time without human contact outside direct family can lead to clinical depression and heightened anxiety. Those with prior mental health conditions risk damaging the hard work they’ve put in to reach a certain level of mental stability because they can no longer maintain contact with in-person psychiatrists or crisis counselors. Many relied on the companionship of others for external validation of insecurities and others can no longer afford the medication they need. The Washington Post reported that more than a staggering “17 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past four weeks.” (3). Without job security and the health benefits that come with it, many are struggling with unprecedented amounts of stress that just exacerbate mental health concerns. Even for those who never struggled with any form of mental health prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the added uncertainty and inability to create a lasting plan can cause self-doubt and increase paranoia. 

Healthcare workers are not immune to depression or anxiety either. Due to a shortage of ventilators and personal protective equipment, many are being forced to face the decision of whose lives they want to save, and whose they must let go. The emotional trauma of juggling human lives is far from trivial. Time magazine reports that, “among 1,257 healthcare workers working with COVID-19 patients in China, 50.4 percent reported symptoms of depression, 44.6 percent symptoms of anxiety, 34 percent insomnia and 71.5 percent reported distress.” (4) 

Domestic violence rates have increased to a frightening degree. Those that previously had external outlets for their anger and emotions are now turning to those that they see daily instead. According to the National Public Radio, “In South Africa, authorities said there were nearly 90,000 reports of violence against women in the first week of a lockdown.(5) There has also been a 75 percent increase in the Google searches for methods to escape at-home violence. Forbes Magazine reported that “In the U.S, since March 16, 2020, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has received 2,345 calls in which COVID-19 was cited as a condition of abuse.” (6) Unfortunately, though domestic violence shelters are needed most right now, most are having to shut their doors or reduce the number of people they can house for health safety reasons. The shelter-in-place rules created to these keep families safe are ironically causing the problems in the first place. 

Moreover, patients with chronic conditions or in need of consistent cancer therapy are suffering from delays in treatment and medical procedures such as surgical removal of tumors and echocardiograms. (7) Even after the number of coronavirus patients decreases, hospitals will still be replete with patients who had medical injuries, but could not get treatment due to hospital overload at the time.

Minority groups are also experiencing worsened outcomes from COVID-19. For them, the issue isn’t about a delay in medical care; it’s about the access to medical care in the first place. All the deaths in St. Louis due to coronavirus have been in the African American population. (8) Those living in the housing projects are coerced into living in small spaces, which exacerbates the potential for the spread of coronavirus. A lack of access to testing has also made it harder to track who could be carrying the virus and infecting others without knowing it. Overall, this has led to an increased mistrust in the healthcare system. In fact, in New York City, “roughly 40 million black Americans [are] deciding minute by minute whether to put their faith in government and the medical community during the coronavirus pandemic.” (9) This could mean that even after the pandemic, they will refrain from going to hospitals even when they need to due to a learned helplessness. 

In some ways, COVID-19 was simply the flashlight that illuminated the problems that society failed to pay full attention to before. Unprecedented challenges can lead to rifts or increased unity. Fortunately, being afraid just means that we still have something to lose.

Written by: Jessika Baral
Edited by: Anhthi Luong
Illustrated by: Lily Xu

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