+
Is the 'cure worse than the disease?' Health stats from the Great Depression show it's not.
Photo by Sonder Quest on Unsplash

We've been "locked down" for nearly two months, and people are are understandably tired of it. Millions of Americans are out of work, which means many have also lost their employer-provided health insurance. Our economy has slowed to a crawl, businesses are shuttered, and everyone is worried about the sustainability of it all.

"We can't let the cure be worse than the disease," people say. The president himself has repeated this line, the implication being that the impact of the lockdowns will be worse than the impact of the virus. Just today in his press briefing the president mentioned suicides and drug overdoses as tragic consequences of the lockdowns, stating that more Americans could die of those causes than the virus if we fall into an extended economic depression.



Is that true, though? While no one can predict the future, death statistics and economic history in the U.S. do not support that idea at all. Not even close.

Let's start with suicides. During the two worst years of the Great Depression, 20,000 Americans per year took their own lives. That's tragic—but it's nowhere near the number of Americans that have died of COVID-19 just in the past month.

Screenshot via Worldometers

Of course, the U.S. population has nearly tripled since the Great Depression, so we can't compare that number directly. But even if we triple those Great Depression suicides to 60,000 a year to account for population change, that's still not as many Americans as have died of COVID-19 in just the past 5 weeks.

Using a different calculation, there was a 25% increase in suicides during the Great Depression. With ~48,000 suicides in the U.S. in 2018, a 25% increase would also put the annual number at 60,000. No suicide number is a good number, of course. But by no math in the universe is an extra 12,000 deaths per year anywhere near the 80,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19 in the past two months.

Our COVID-19 deaths have averaged around 2000 per day for weeks while under lockdown. At no time in our history, through bad economic depressions and horrific world wars, has 2000 Americans died of suicide per day. Even if our suicide numbers tripled—a 12 times greater increase than during the worst years of the Great Depression—that would still be less than 400 people dying of suicide per day. A terrible number, but not nearly as terrible as 2000 per day.

What about drug overdoses? Well, that's a little trickier to gauge. I've not seen any statistics about drug overdoses during the Great Depression, and we already had an opioid crisis flourishing before the pandemic hit. I imagine it's probably harder for people to get the drugs to feed an addiction right now, so I'm not convinced that there would be an enormous increase in drug overdoses. But for the sake of argument, let's say drug overdoses doubled. Highly unlikely, but let's go with it.

In 2018, the last year for which we have statistics, 184 people per day died of drug overdose. If we double that, we're talking around 370 people per day—still less than one-fourth the number of Americans dying of COVID-19 per day in the past month.

Even added together, those extreme suicide and drug overdose scenarios don't add up to our current COVID-19 situation. And once again—those numbers are with lockdowns in place.

What about starvation, though? Surely millions would die of starvation or malnutrition in a tanked economy, right? Well, no—for a couple of reasons.

1) The reality is if anyone starves to death in the U.S., a country that has the ability to produce more than enough food to feed our population, that's a mismanagement of resources, not an inevitable outcome of an economic crash.

2) Americans didn't die of starvation in large numbers during the Great Depression.

In fact—are you ready for a rather mind-blowing statistic—the overall health of Americans didn't decline during the Great Depression at all. It improved.

People lived years longer during the Depression. Life expectancy rose. Mortality rates dropped in every category (except suicide) across practically every demographic.

In fact, this pattern shows up consistently during economic booms and recessions. More people die—and die at younger ages—during economic booms. Vice versa during recessions. Counterintuitive? Yes. But that's what the data shows. (Here's the 2009 study that shows these trends during the Great Depression.)

We could debate the reasons for this, but it doesn't really matter. The point is, if the "cure" is a lockdown that results in an economic depression and the "disease" is the virus spreading unchecked, we have no evidence that the cure is or could be worse than the disease, at least not in terms of death counts.

Now clearly, there are huge problems with a tanked economy. Mental health issues increase. Life is hard. People struggle and suffer and we certainly should not minimize that. BUT...

Mass death and mass illness also cause suffering and mental health issues, while also hurting the economy.

I've seen people say we open back up, shoot for herd immunity, and just accept the fact that people will die. But that notion completely ignores the economic impact of having a big chunk of the population too sick to work. As we hear more and more people describe their COVID-19 journeys, it's becoming clear that even infected people who don't have to be hospitalized can still be very ill for weeks.

Let's do some quick herd immunity math. Reaching herd immunity means 70% of the population would have to get the virus. (Some say 60%, some say 80 or 90%—let's go with the middle.) That's 229 million people in the U.S. We don't have a good enough hold on this virus to know how many people have already have it or how many would be asymptomatic, but a current guess for asymptomatic cases is 25% to 50%. Let's go with the higher.

That would mean 114.5 million Americans being symptomatically ill. It's impossible to know how severe each person's case would be, but if even half of those with symptoms got flu-level ill, that would be 56 million people too sick to work for weeks. Some would have lingering health issues afterward to boot. What would that kind of mass illness to do to the economy?

And we haven't even gotten to the people dying yet. We don't have an accurate mortality rate, but let's go with a conservative 0.5% death rate (meaning 99.5% of people who get it, survive it). We're still talking 1,135,000 deaths if we shoot for 70% herd immunity at that death rate. That basically means we'd all know people who died of this disease.

I'm pretty sure mass grieving over a huge death toll in a short period of time isn't great for the economy, either. (Perhaps instead of deciding how much death and illness we're willing to tolerate, we could take this opportunity to fundamentally rethink how our economy works? Just a thought.)

Granted, all of these numbers are based on data that keeps changing as we learn more about the virus and its impact. We don't know enough yet to say anything for sure. We don't even know if people are truly immune yet. We do know the virus is real, and that it's more contagious and more deadly than the flu. Everything else is a best guess.

Essentially, there are no good options before us at the moment that don't involve great losses of one kind or another. But by no historical or statistical measure do we have evidence that the cure worse than the disease—at least with the data we have right now.

Photo courtesy of Girls at Work

True

Girls are bombarded with messages from a very young age telling them that they can’t, that is too big, this is too heavy, those are too much.

Keep ReadingShow less
via Lewis Speaks Sr. / Facebook

This article originally appeared on 02.25.21


Middle school has to be the most insecure time in a person's life. Kids in their early teens are incredibly cruel and will make fun of each other for not having the right shoes, listening to the right music, or having the right hairstyle.

As if the social pressure wasn't enough, a child that age has to deal with the intensely awkward psychological and biological changes of puberty at the same time.

Jason Smith, the principal of Stonybrook Intermediate and Middle School in Warren Township, Indiana, had a young student sent to his office recently, and his ability to understand his feelings made all the difference.

Keep ReadingShow less
All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

True

Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

Science

Op-Ed: We can no longer pass the buck on climate action

Society must be unwavering in pursuit of social and environmental justice.

Photo by Callum Shaw on Unsplash
women holding signs during daytime

Voices from every part of the world have been calling for action on climate change and the rapid loss of nature for decades, but too many in power have ignored this growing chorus. Even today, with the impacts of climate change starkly evident, many leaders contend that now is *not* the time to take measures to halt or reverse climate change. And despite mounting evidence pointing to the market growth potential of green technology adoption, concerns over the cost of saving the planet at the expense of sparing the global economy from short-term pain have become the preferred stalling tactic.


Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

'90s kids share movies that will 'take you back to a better time'

It was a magical time when animals played sports and yet somehow things were just simpler.

YouTube/Upworthy photo illustration

Honey, I shrunk the kid named Matilda while jamming in space!

Everyone knows that '90s movies just hit different. From sports movies to rom-coms to even horror, there was an undeniable innocence, without being overly simplistic or juvenile. They didn’t have nearly the amount of money going into production as they do today, but somehow managed to transport us to magical places.

Movies of the '90s are so iconic that there have been several attempts to reboot beloved titles. Which, let’s face it, tends to be a fool's errand at a cash grab. These movies are so timeless that simply viewing the original is more than fine.

Not sure which movie to start with? You’re in luck—a Reddit user by the name of YouBrokeMyTV asked ’90s kids to share movies that took them “back to a better time,” and because the internet can be a wonderful place, tons of people responded with some beloved classics.

These answers certainly don’t make a definitive list (there are just so, so many gems) but they're a fun glimpse into what made '90s cinema so special. A nostalgic romp through memory lane, if you will.

Enjoy these 14 titles that just might leave you jonesing for a rewatch:

1. "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids"

via GIPHY

A perfect example of how '90s movies were silly, but smart at the same time. And oh so wholesome.

2. "The Sandlot"

via GIPHY

It taught us nothing about baseball, but everything about friendship, rooting for the underdog and (most important) how to make s’mores.

3. "Drop Dead Fred"

via GIPHY

Critics might have run this cult classic through the mud during its inception, but audiences fell in love with the bizarre charm of this story about a mischievous little girl and her anarchist imaginary friend. So take that, snotfaces!

4. "The Goonies"

via GIPHY

Everyone just wanted to set off an epic quest with their friends for pirate treasure after seeing this movie.

5. Tim Burton's "Batman"

via GIPHY

Before the superhero genre was the behemoth it is today, a quirky director and the dude who was best known for playing the creepy demon in "Beetlejuice" breathed new life into comic-book movies. Marvel might be the leader on creating stories with adult themes that are digestible for kids nowadays, but this DC film was the first of its kind. Plus, that soundtrack … forget about it.

6. "Hook"

via GIPHY

Pretty much any '90s film starring Robin Williams was an absolute gem, but this one in particular is timeless. His gift of balancing childlike humor with emotional gravitas lent itself so well to playing the now grown and cynical Peter Pan, who must learn to reclaim his joy (relatable, millennials?). It was a bang-a-rang-er, no question.

7. "Space Jam"

via GIPHY

It had Looney Tunes, it had aliens and it had Michael Jordan. That’s a winning combination.

8. "Matilda"

via GIPHY

I don’t think I’m out of line when I say that this movie helped a lot of kids make their way through difficult childhoods.

9. "The Parent Trap"

via GIPHY

Even '90s reboots were awesome. And how fun it is to see that Lisa Ann Walker—the actress who played Chessy the housekeeper—is not only yet again gracing the screens in NBC’s “Abbott Elementary,” but is also being revered as a style icon on TikTok for her ultra casual looks in the film. We all knew she was onto something with long button downs and shorts.

10. "The Land Before Time"

via GIPHY


No cartoon, not even “The Lion King,” was a better depiction of childhood grief. And yet, despite encapsulating tragedy, director Don Bluth still left viewers hopeful. The subsequent 14 (yes 14) sequels definitely pale in comparison to the original, but "The Land Before Time" continues to stand the test of time nonetheless.

11. "Richie Rich"

via GIPHY

The scene where they play tag on four-wheelers is simply iconic.

12. "Dunston Checks In"

via GIPHY

Man, the '90s were the golden age of animal-centered films. And not just monkeys either—we got sports playing golden retrievers and not one, but two movies starring talking pigs. What a time to be alive. These films were made before CGI had reached the levels it’s at today, and the authentic interactions between humans and creatures reached right through the screen.

13. "George of the Jungle"
george of the jungle, brendan faser

Watch out for the tree!!!

Giphy

Have I seen this movie at least 20 times? Probably. It doesn’t get any better than this in terms of silly action films with bird puppets. It’s crazy to think that this role would eventually lead Brendan Fraser to "The Mummy" franchise, turning him into a household name. Though his career has had some tragic ups and downs, we are all grateful for the glorious comeback he’s been having.

14. Anything involving Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
mary kate and ashley

Yes, they were professional detectives.

Giphy

Whether vacationing in London, Paris or Rome, whether playing magical witches or making a huge billboard so their father could find love … Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen offered zany, whimsical entertainment while wearing fun outfits. Sometimes, that’s all you need.