Herman Cain's death is a cautionary tale for anyone with COVID-19 risk factors

Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, former Republican presidential candidate, and icon of conservative values has died a month after being hospitalized with COVID-19.

Cain went to the hospital with serious symptoms on July 1st, after testing positive for coronavirus two days before. Thought it's impossible to determine where he contracted the virus, it's notable that he had attended President Trump's Tulsa rally on June 20, where he was photographed in close proximity with others in a crowded seating area where no one was wearing a mask. Others who attended the rally also tested positive, including some of Trump's own campaign team.

Any death from any disease is tragic. But it would be foolish and short-sighted to simply express sadness that Mr. Cain died from COVID-19 without also acknowledging that his death from the virus was likely avoidable. While many people who were actively trying to avoid getting infected have unfortunately still contracted the virus, Cain had been going about business as usual, attending crowded rallies and doing "a lot of traveling" around the time he caught the virus, according to his familly.



We've been told by public health experts since the beginning of the pandemic that older people and people with certain health conditions are at a much higher risk than others of dying from the disease and therefore need to take extra precautions. Cain was 74 years old—well into the age group at high risk. He was also a stage 4 colon cancer survivor. Though he has been cancer free for many years, he still may have been at a higher risk of suffering complications from the virus as a cancer survivor. As the American Cancer Society website states:

"Some cancer patients might be at increased risk of serious illness from an infection because their immune systems can be weakened by cancer and its treatments. Most people who were treated for cancer in the past (especially if it was years ago) are likely to have normal immune function, but each person is different. It's important that all cancer patients and survivors, whether currently in treatment or not, talk with a doctor who understands their situation and medical history."

We also know that Black Americans are many times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white Americans. While much of the reason for that is likely due to socioeconomic disparities, statistically speaking, being a Black man in the U.S. put Cain at even greater risk from the virus.

Cain's age, health history, and race were three risk factors that we know of for sure. Anyone with that many risk factors should absolutely be taking public health recommendations to socially distance, avoid crowds, and wear a mask when in public seriously.

Denial that the virus can and does kill people literally kills people. Following partisan narratives that the virus is a hoax, or that numbers are skewed, or that masks don't work or aren't necessary can literally kill people.

Some will call that fearmongering, but it's not fearmongering to simply state these known facts about public health. Some may call it disrespectful to use Cain's death as a cautionary tale, but it's not disrespectful to point out that a person who flaunted their refusal to follow health recommendations has died of the very thing those health recommendations are in place to avoid. It's truly a tragic irony. No one should take pleasure in it, but no one should deny it either. We're knee deep in a pandemic—a reality that far too many people are unwilling to fully internalize. It may be a slower emergency than we're used to, but it's an emergency nonetheless.

I hope Cain's loved ones are receiving the support they need to help them deal with his passing. And I hope everyone who has risk factors for COVID-19 sees his death as a warning sign to take coronavirus seriously and follow the guidance of public health officials whose entire job is to protect the public from exactly this scenario. Rest in peace, Mr. Cain.


Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less