Daily, the major newspapers of the United States and various Internet platforms carry information about the number of people who have been hospitalized with Covid complications. Invariably, the text accompanying the charts will highlight the fact that the larger number of hospitalizations are elderly patients.
While this is appropriate that we know that our elderly family members, friends, neighbors, etc. may be at risk and we may want to ensure they maintain their health, there is information missing that I believe needs to be included. What about all the other factors that result in hospitalization?
What information would be useful? We know that older individuals probably are taking a number of medications and may have several illnesses. That is a given and it also means their immune system is probably not functioning as it once did when those individuals were younger.
However, it is not a simple matter of medications and illnesses that may result in hospitalizations. Jamming everything into one number, i.e. hospitalizations, fails to recognize all of the other factors that come to play.
Considering that many elderly may be living alone, depending on relatives or neighbors, or may have a visiting aide or nurse or some other healthcare professional visiting intermittently, you can quickly see one factor; the ability to access resources in the community. In addition, how many of the elderly are aware of the gravity of the current situation? We’re getting conflicting information from health officials who are bickering regarding whether or not people should wear masks, where they should wear them and if we can consider going back to the office.
I live in a large complex where we recently had a water main break which resulted in E. coli getting into our drinking water. The six affected towns and our complex sent out emails and posted notices on their websites to alert individuals of this dangerous situation and indicated all water for drinking or washing dishes had to be boiled first. Does every elderly person have access to a computer and Internet? Come to think of it, suppose the power goes down?
Being on somewhat meager incomes, many people have had to cut themselves off from a variety of services. If they had Internet access, it may have proven too much of a burden and they may have canceled it. If they don’t have a computer and don’t have Internet access and don’t have a cell phone, how did they get the information? In our buildings, notices were posted in English on the main entrance, but suppose someone doesn’t read English?
Do people realize how large swarths of the United States are deficient in Internet access? Twenty-one million people still don’t have access. Go to poverty pockets and see how many don’t have an Internet connection. Where do the elderly live? Not usually in luxury condominiums.
The information that was sent out over the Internet in our area was only in English, and we live in an area that is multicultural where people speak several languages, prominent ones being English, Korean, Chinese, and Spanish. I did not see one notice that was in Chinese or Korean, or even Spanish.
Years ago, there was a book that attempted to put a fresh face on the world of statistics. It was “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: The Manipulation of Public Opinion in America.” I know it has been updated since its original 1976 publication, but the facts remain, statistics say whatever you want them to say. Statistics can be twisted or fail to tell the whole truth, and they shouldn’t be accepted at face value (or as we say, “face validity”).
Next time you see the covid hospitalization stats and they say the greater number are elderly, stop and think: How many could have been prevented from being hospitalized if they had been given the information and help they needed?