STERNBERG: Déjà Vu All Over Again

Life in the Time of Covid

Déjà Vu All Over Again

It’s the end of the year and it’s time to reflect where we are regarding many issues. With this column principally about COVID or other viral illnesses, today we will limit ourselves to that. I really regret having to be the Grinch.

The title of today’s column is a very famous statement credited to the great American philosopher Lawrence Peter Berra, who is also credited with many similar statements which appear to be malapropisms until you look carefully at them. “Déjà vu all over again” is one of those statements as it applies to COVID. Things have repeated themselves more than once.

First, anyone who tells you with any certainty that they know what will happen next, has a bridge to sell you. When I look back at this year it looks pretty much the same as the end of 2021 and the end of 2020. We would like to think we are beating the disease, but we aren’t.

At the end of 2020 we thought we had weathered the worst. We had developed testing. Vaccines appeared to be just over the horizon. Treatments were developing for those with the disease. Things were looking up. But 2021 didn’t play out as we wanted and expected, and the pandemic continued.

At the end of 2021 vaccines had been rolled out. Better treatments were being developed. New vaccines were being developed to deal with the new strain. Most people had stopped wearing masks. It was felt that a very high percentage of people had some immunity either from vaccination or exposure to the virus. Things were getting better and we would soon be back to normal death rates from viral illnesses. Things didn’t work out that way.

The past three years have pretty much ended up with miserable numbers related to COVID; positive cases, illnesses, Long COVID, and death. Granted these numbers are not as bad as those in 2020, but they’re not as good as we convinced ourselves they were.

Now at the end of 2022, annualized the current U.S. daily death rate for COVID is about 425. This is about 30 percent higher than the death rate from lung cancer, which is the most common cause of cancer death (breast cancer is more common but has a lower fatality rate). The death rate for COVID is about 55 percent higher than from narcotics. If we had similar death rates for other diseases, especially if some A-list celebrity was a spokesperson or victim of it, there would be a demand for greater research and more treatment for it.

I get it. People are tired of hearing about COVID. They have enthusiastically given up masks and other restrictions. Nobody likes wearing masks. They are wary of vaccines, though they readily accept vaccines for other, less fatal diseases.

The descendants of the viruses that caused the 1918-1920 pandemic of Spanish flu are still with us. We have to deal with them every year and it still causes a large number of American deaths. (It was falsely attributed to Spain, which was one of the first countries to recognize and openly discuss what was going on and thereby was falsely stuck with the ignominy of being thought of as the origin of it. It actually originated in Kansas.)

So, we have the potential for another bad year. The numbers are currently exploding in China and increasing in countries around the world. We are in a better position to minimize the effect but no longer seem to have the national will to do anything. I can only hope that people around me and my family, and you and yours, act responsibly.

Dr. Richard Sternberg is a retired Bassett Hospital orthopedic surgeon.

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