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COVID News Round-up: Suicides, Increasing Deaths, Duty to Die, and Dolly Parton
There's some good news -- at the end
From the title itself, you must know some unhappy stuff is coming. But don’t worry — I end with some happy stuff (that’s Dolly Parton)
Japanese suicide rates on the rise
The numbers, in both cases, are about 2,000. 2,153 suicides in October. 2,087 COVID deaths in Japan (so far).
In Japan, government statistics show suicide claimed more lives in October than Covid-19 has over the entire year to date. The monthly number of Japanese suicides rose to 2,153 in October, according to Japan’s National Police Agency. As of Friday, Japan’s total Covid-19 toll was 2,087, the health ministry said.
Japan is one of the few major economies to disclose timely suicide data — the most recent national data for the US, for example, is from 2018. The Japanese data could give other countries insights into the impact of pandemic measures on mental health, and which groups are the most vulnerable.
There is nothing special about the U.S. data — it’s that our data for cause of death is complete only for 2018. This is usual for the U.S.
Japan does up-to-date tracking for suicide, as opposed to other causes of death, because it has a pretty high suicide rate.
According to this WHO document, which had suicide rates as of 2016, Japan had overall suicide rate of 18.5 per 100K in 2016, 2nd highest among Western Pacific countries (South Korea higher at 26.9).
U.S. had rate of 15.3.
Overall world was 10.6.
Last plug for fundraiser
From that second post:
Those are deaths from 2014, with the categorization of the type of death. Men die from non-natural causes far more often than women, especially with regards to violent deaths.
November is over, but my Movember fundraiser is not yet over: please donate to support men’s health. One of the big areas the Movember Foundation supports is men’s mental health.
Just from 2014:
I have reason to believe this will be much worse in 2020.
Suicide rates increased before COVID
From back in August: CDC: Suicide rate spikes in rural U.S. amid nationwide increase
Aug. 19 (UPI) — At increasing rates, Americans who live in rural areas are more likely to commit suicide than those who reside in cities, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
From 2000 to 2018, suicide rates in rural areas in the United States increased 48%, while in cities they grew by 34% over the same period, the agency data showed.
Both increases are very bad.
And yes, these are rates adjusted for age, sex, etc.
Compared to urban areas, researchers found that rural suicide rates are about 40% higher for men and 25% higher for women.
But the rise in suicide rates — in rural areas and overall — appears to coincide with an increase in the numbers of teens and young adults with mental health disorders, according to the American Psychological Association.
I’ve looked at suicide rates before, and the highest rates are among old men. Not teens and young adults.
Suicide is a top cause of death for teens and young adults because very few things are killing them at those ages. The increase in suicide rates has actually been driven mostly by men and women age 45-64. The increase has been worse for women… because women’s suicide rates are about one-third that of men, they’ve got more room to grow, as it were.
NY Post: US experiencing disturbing rise of suicide attempts, study finds – again, that’s before this year.
Block Club Chicago: The Brutality Of 2020 On Full Display At County Morgue, Which Is Having Its Deadliest Year Ever — homicides and opioid overdoses have boosted the numbers, not only COVID deaths
Joanne Jacobs: A ‘perfect storm of toxic stress’
Duty to Die: Continuing a Theme
This has a semi-tenuous connection to COVID, in that the following comes from a reader after my rant about Zeke Emanuel being on Biden’s COVID team.
But I’ve heard this kind of attitude all this year, in response to most COVID deaths being of old people: “They would have died anyway!”
Well, we all die, eventually. Just because they’re old doesn’t mean they were about to die this year. Indeed, using current Social Security mortality, people have to be 113 years old to have a life expectancy of less than 1. At age 85, the life expectancy is 6 – 7 years, depending on sex.
But back to the story sent to me, from 1984: Lamm: we all have a ‘duty to die’
Yeah, this is something that not only sticks in my craw, but cannot be dislodged via any surgical instruments one can bring to bear.
A pro-life organization wants Gov. Richard D. Lamm to resign because he said seriously ill elderly people should die. But Lamm rejects the idea, saying he was not being ‘brutal.’
Lamm sparked the furor earlier this week when, criticizing the high costs of health care, he said terminally ill elderly citizens ‘have a duty to die and get out of the way.’
Back in 1984, the oldest Baby Boomers were 38 years old, at the age my own father ultimately died (of a heart attack). The Boomers at the peak birth year, about 1957, were only 27 years old.
Ex-Governor Lamm is not a Boomer, having been born in 1935, but he wasn’t that old in 1984. Going to the Wikipedia article on Lamm:
In 1984, his outspoken statements in support of physician-assisted suicide generated controversy, specifically over his use of the phrase “we have a duty to die.” Lamm later explained that he “was essentially raising a general statement about the human condition, not beating up on the elderly,” and that the exact phrasing in the speech was “We’ve got a duty to die and get out of the way with all of our machines and artificial hearts and everything else like that and let the other society, our kids, build a reasonable life.“His dire predictions for the future of social security and health care (“duty to die”) earned him the nickname “Governor Gloom”. His views were satirized by noted folk singer Tom Paxton in January 1985.
Going back to the 1984 piece:
Lamm said the ‘duty to die’ statement was a quote from a philosopher, and accurately reflected his feelings. He said advances in medical technology can keep people alive indefinitely, driving soaring medical costs even higher.
‘I don’t think I said it brutally, but I think it was reported brutally,’ he said. ‘Medical science has now replaced God as the author of death. Every one of us ought to think through that issue.’
Lamm also appeared on NBC’s ‘Today’ program Thursday morning, and repeated his question, ‘How much high technology medicine can society afford?’
He said people must make a decision on what they want doctors to do should they become comatose.
This is actually pretty reasonable. It’s a good idea to designate someone with medical power of attorney and to let them know your wishes.
‘In my case, I want them to pull the plug,’ he said. ‘The era of natural death is really being replaced by high technology medication where they can really prolong suffering rather than sustain life.’
Don’t assume, though. I know many people (including Stu) who are not going to go gently into the night, and while I don’t necessarily agree, I am absolutely going to follow their wishes, if I’m the person with medical power-of-attorney.
Other Covid stories
The Economist (free): COVID tracker – this keeps getting updated, and provides European info (and U.S.)
The Economist: The Midwest is America’s covid-19 hotspot
Reason: Masks Are a Tool, Not a Panacea
Governing: Faulty Data Systems Are Still Hampering Pandemic Response – it’s more difficult to get good data sets than you think.
Matt Taibbi: Pandemic Villains: Allianz Global Investors
Knowledge at Wharton: What’s Ahead for the U.S. Economy?
Elizabeth Bauer at The Federalist: Biden COVID Advisor: Those Older Than 75 Should Get Vaccines Last – relates (and links) to my piece on Zeke Emanuel, but here’s the deal: I can see prioritizing younger folks for vaccines for all sorts of reasons that would reduce death rates for older folks….but I haven’t gone around saying old people should just die.
The Economist, October 31: Italian towns hit hardest by covid-19 are doing better now
Harvard Business: The COVID Gender Gap: Why Fewer Women Are Dying — I looked at the gender gap in this post, and I noticed the Harvard article didn’t consider that men already die at much higher numbers at all ages… and maybe there’s a relationship there.
Yale: Study Shows Which Restrictions Prevent COVID-19 Fatalities—and Which Appear to Make Things Worse – one thing that made things worse was closing down low-risk businesses, such as clothing stores. People would go and do riskier things instead, like have parties at home.
Harvard Business: COVID Was Supposed to Increase Bankruptcies. Instead, They’ve Gone Down.
The Economist (free to read): Britain becomes the first country to license a fully tested covid-19 vaccine
As for COVID circulating in the U.S. in 2019: Serologic testing of U.S. blood donations to identify SARS-CoV-2-reactive antibodies: December 2019-January 2020
To determine if SARS-CoV-2 reactive antibodies were present in sera prior to the first identified case in the U.S. on January 19, 2020, residual archived samples from 7,389 routine blood donations collected by the American Red Cross from December 13, 2019 to January 17, 2020, from donors resident in nine states (California, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin) were tested at CDC for anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.
Of the 7,389 samples, 106 were reactive by pan Ig. Of these 106 specimens, 90 were available for further testing. Eighty four of 90 had neutralizing activity, 1 had S1 binding activity, and 1 had receptor binding domain / Ace2 blocking activity >50%, suggesting the presence of anti-SARS-CoV-2-reactive antibodies. Donations with reactivity occurred in all nine states.
Which reminds me, I’m still waiting for my antibody test results from my last plasma donation.
Ending with something happy: Dolly Parton helped fund one of the COVID vaccines
As Dolly Parton tells it, her first-ever car accident in October 2013 was minor, but left her bruised and sore enough to seek medical advice at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
That’s where she met Naji Abumrad, a physician and professor of surgery. Abumrad knew next to nothing about the beloved megastar with big, blond hair, but he soon befriended her because he deeply enjoyed their talks about current events and science.
Their bond of nearly seven years received worldwide attention Tuesday after it was revealed that Parton’s $1 million donation to Vanderbilt for coronavirus research, made in honor of Abumrad, partially funded the biotechnology firm Moderna’s experimental vaccine, which a preliminary analysis released this week foundis nearly 95 percent effective at preventing the illness.
Among the agencies and universities listed as funding sources for the Moderna vaccine was “the Dolly Parton COVID-19 Research Fund,” which left some on social media joking about singing the refrain of her hit “Jolene” replaced with the word “vaccine.“The doctor said he was elated over his friend’s contribution to the early stages of a vaccine that eventually received nearly $1 billion in federal funding.
When Parton asked Naji Abumrad toward the beginning of the year about coronavirus, she wanted to learn as much as she could about what was being done to study the virus, the physician said. Abumrad told her about “exciting developments” made on early vaccine research by a team at Vanderbilt led by Mark Denison, a physician and professor of pathology, microbiology and immunology.
Shortly thereafter, with the nation in the first weeks of lockdown, Parton wanted to do her part to help. She announced her seven-figure gift for coronavirus research on April 1, making the donation in honor of Abumrad – “My longtime friend.”
More on Dolly Parton can be found in this article from City Journal: Dolly Parton’s Masterpiece