Leaking Roof

COVID-19 Risk of Death 12x – So What?

This is a problem that makes your brain hurt. We face an acute threat with COVID-19. New data from CDC tells us that chronic diseases amplify that risk. In fact, the risk of death is 12 times higher for people who have chronic diseases – diabetes, heart disease, severe obesity, or a host of other conditions. CDC published these data yesterday in the MMWR.

But then comes the practical question. So what am I supposed to do about it?

A Range of Dysfunctional Responses

The hard part of this problem is dealing with two very different problems at once. COVID-19 is an acute, but largely invisible threat – until you get it. Risk is an abstraction that our brains don’t process well. We respond well to immediate danger – if we have a choice to fight or flee. But long-term risk? We’ll think about that tomorrow. The same goes for low-probability risks. Why worry?

Stop Reporting Tweet from Christy HarrisonDon’t want to hear it is the response from the fringe of the HAES® movement. One loud voice promoting this message is Christy Harrison, who says news outlets should stop reporting that obesity is a risk factor for bad outcomes with COVID-19. She took this position early on and has yet to correct it.

Paralysis is another dysfunctional response. Some people are avoiding healthcare right now. That’s the wrong kind of staying at home and it will cost many people their lives. Now, more than ever, we must be taking good care of ourselves. Especially if we have a chronic disease like obesity and any of the other complications that come with it.

Ignoring the problem is perhaps the most dysfunctional response of all. As the evidence mounts that face masks have been crucial for slowing the spread of COVID-19, some people are tossing them aside. Why? Because a politician told them to? Because it’s uncomfortable or uncool? Or is it simple ignorance?

The most puzzling example of this comes from a friend who doesn’t wear a face mask in his public-facing business.  He explained that he “gets it.” People with chronic diseases should be careful. His wife has a serious inflammatory disease and she’s very careful. But one is left to wonder why he – who could easily give her the virus – is not.

A Sensible Response

The sensible response for people who are living with a chronic disease that puts them at risk if they get COVID-19 is actually quite simple. Protect yourself. Keep limiting your unprotected contact with other people. Insist that the people who are close to you exercise the same caution. And take care to keep on caring for your own health. Taking your meds, following up with healthcare providers, a healthy diet, staying active, and getting your sleep – they’re all just as important as they’ve ever been.

It’s not magic, extreme, or new. Rather, it’s simple, sensible self-care – more important now than ever. The best time to fix your roof is before it rains.

Click here for the report in the MMWR, here, here, and here for further perspective.

Leaking Roof, photograph © Tom Parnell / flickr

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June 16, 2020

2 Responses to “COVID-19 Risk of Death 12x – So What?”

  1. June 16, 2020 at 11:01 am, Allen Browne said:

    It’s not easy to find their mention of the disease of obesity in the MMWR report – ? carefully hidden.


    • June 16, 2020 at 1:30 pm, Ted said:

      You’re right, Allen. The risk data is aggregated and severe obesity is buried in the text.