According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 438 Coloradans died from COVID between June 14 and September 26. Heartbreaking as that is, it is not the most catastrophic thing happening in Colorado. The worse tragedy is that in the same time period, at least 1,038 Coloradans have died from Colorado’s reaction to COVID.
That bears repeating: deaths from our reaction to COVID are outpacing COVID deaths by more than two to one.
Colorado is literally killing itself.
Regarding the source of my claim, the CDC compiles data concerning excess deaths happening across the country. “Excess deaths” are deaths above the CDC’s estimate of the number of deaths that are expected for a particular week. For example, CDC data shows that for the week of June 27, the average expected number of deaths for Colorado is 730. Yet in Colorado, we saw 885 deaths, or 155 “excess deaths.” That week, there were 23 COVID deaths, meaning there were 132 excess non-COVID fatalities.
The graph below displays CDC weekly sums for COVID deaths and excess deaths in Colorado through September 26 (the last week for which CDC data is available). The graph clearly shows Colorado was hit hard by COVID in the spring, but it also shows how since June 20, non-COVID excess deaths have exceeded COVID deaths.
The causes of the excess deaths include isolation, fear and despair.
As to isolation, the CDC data shows that over 200 of the non-COVID excess deaths are among Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers, likely in long term care facilities where visits are restricted and they are denied physical contact with visitors. These patients benefit greatly from stimulation and without it, they can deteriorate quickly. Recently, residents at a nursing facility in Greeley, CO, protested their isolation. The protest included one resident holding up a sign saying, “I’d rather die of COVID than loneliness.”
Deaths from fear can be seen in the more than 300 excess non-COVID deaths from circulatory disease such as heart attacks and strokes exposed by the CDC data. Patients delaying ER visits or staying home instead of seeking help is leading to disastrous consequences. The constant drumbeat in Colorado from our health officials and Governor Polis regarding escalating cases and a potential COVID resurgence if we don’t hide from each other and cover our faces creates an atmosphere of danger. Any excursion under such conditions, especially one to where the sick congregate such as an emergency room, may be seen as perilous.
Deaths from cancer are also exceeding expected levels. This is particularly worrisome since it may indicate a trend that is difficult to reverse. Convincing people that it’s safe to go to an ER may have immediate beneficial effects for heart attack and stroke victims, but missed cancer diagnoses may have negative effects for years to come.
Then there is despair. Suicides are increasing in Colorado at alarming rates. Denver officials are seeing significant increases in fatal overdoses.
Tragically, the excess deaths skew toward the young. Since the start of the pandemic, Colorado has seen just under 100 deaths with COVID among people younger than 50, while the CDC data shows over 600 excess deaths of people under 45. This points to over 500 needless deaths of people under 45 due to the reaction to COVID. These are young lives sacrificed at the altar of panic. When President Trump spoke of not fearing the virus, this is why. Fear kills.
And deaths are not the whole story. The quality of life for 5.8 million Coloradans has been severely diminished. There will be no going back and making up for missed proms and graduations. There will be no making up for the loneliness we forced onto seniors and single people. When you tear a several-month hole in someone’s life, the damage can be incalculable: that last chance to have a baby or the small window to hold a newborn grandchild.
This story isn’t unique to Colorado either. Across the U.S. between March 8 and August 22, there have been 68,234 excess non-COVID deaths. COVID is nature in one of its most brutal forms. Our reaction to COVID is mankind in one of our most irrational forms.
None of these non-COVID deaths ever seem to enter into the equation for Governor Polis. It doesn’t matter if people protest that they would rather die of COVID than loneliness, COVID deaths have become a special class of death to be avoided at all cost for political reasons.
Colorado’s COVID-19 modeling group, for all of its faux sophistication, doesn’t take into account a single non-COVID factor. The 45 year old father hesitating to go to the ER when he feels chest pain just doesn’t matter. What does matter to Jon Samet, head of the modeling group, is how COVID collides with “the sustained legacy of structural racism and the core economic inequities of our country.” Such a group is wholly incapable of acting independently from Governor Polis.
Another facet of Colorado’s modelers is how undeniably wrong they are. Their latest model shows a scenario where a 5% reduction in social distancing results in Colorado hospitalizations doubling within a couple of weeks, and reaching 4 times our April peak in a few months. But it’s hard to imagine this happening when other states have been far more open than Colorado and have not experienced such hospitalization levels. For example, Florida has been much more open than Colorado and their peak hospitalization rate was half of what Colorado’s modelers predict will happen if Colorado opens up by just 5%.
Colorado needs to return to normal. There isn’t a place in the world that is seeing the 12,480 deaths per million worst-case-scenario of Colorado’s modelers. We know who is vulnerable to COVID and those are the people we need to protect. Everyone else should carry on and we can begin to reverse the alarming trend that is killing Coloradans at a far greater pace than COVID. In doing so, we can save lives and increase the quality of life of millions of Coloradans.
Karl Dierenbach is an engineer-turned-attorney living outside Denver. He is a contributor to the book, “UNMASKED 2020: Colorado’s Radical Left Turn and a Warning to America.” He is also a member of RationalGround.com, a group dedicated to gathering, analyzing, and disseminating information on COVID-19. Follow him on Twitter, @Dierenbach.