The data from New Hampshire show 70 percent of the 206 Granite Staters who’ve been hospitalized due to COVID-19 are 60 years old or older. More than 90 percent of the state’s fatalities are in that age bracket as well.
Given those facts, wouldn’t it make sense to keep those vulnerable, older residents under lockdown while letting the rest of the Granite State get back to work? “Absolutely,” says Gov. Chris Sununu.
“The question really is, as we go forward, is there an opportunity to segregate that part of the population with stay-at-home orders and create a different dynamic that might work for the younger or healthier population, versus the older population and those with other health issues that might exacerbate the COVID problem and ultimately the mortality rate? The answer is, ‘absolutely,’” Sununu said.
“We are looking at that, and we’re looking at all the data that would surround that,” Sununu said, adding that it’s not as easy as it might seem.
“It’s not as simple as, ‘Well, just go do it’ because you really need to look at the data and figure out, not just how to do it, but how to manage it. How to create accountability around [a segregated population plan]. And those are all things that we’re considering.”
The idea that coronavirus has a vastly disproportionate impact on older and less-than-healthy Americans isn’t controversial. Given that the 60+ set are just 15 percent of the population, but 90 percent of the fatalities, there’s an overwhelming correlation between age and outcome. And then there are the other comorbidities like obesity and respiratory illness.
On Tuesday, the CDC released a study of nearly 1,500 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in California. They found an astonishing 90 percent suffered from a comorbidity: Obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. Of the patients aged 18 to 49, sixty percent were obese.
What is controversial, however, is Sununu’s “segregated populations” approach. The Washington Post’s Megan McArdle argues that it’s not even possible to “quarantine the vulnerable.”
“Some 24 percent of adults between the ages of 55 and 64, and 21 percent of those over age 65, live in a multigenerational household. So, of course, do millions of younger immunocompromised or otherwise medically vulnerable adults and children,” McArdle reports.
True. But that problem will exist after communities reopen no matter what. So unless the plan is to keep everyone in lockdown for 18 months until there’s a vaccine, the vast majority of these COVID vulnerable Americans are going to be exposed to the virus eventually.
That’s one aspect of the lockdown a troubling number of Granite Staters don’t seem to grasp: The lockdown didn’t “kill” the coronavirus. Until there’s a vaccine, the virus is still going to be present, infecting people and sending them to the hospital, just like before the lockdown. The net number of infections/hospitalizations/deaths from coronavirus over the next year hasn’t been reduced. It’s just been spread out, preventing our healthcare system from being overwhelmed.
Once the infamous “curve” had been flattened enough to keep the hospitalization rate below the capacity of New Hampshire ICUs and available ventilators, the lockdown’s work here was done.
Which is why segregated stay-at-home orders for vulnerable populations make just as much sense as the lockdown itself. Some elderly and vulnerable people will still be infected by family members and the general movement of infected people going to work, church, etc. But the rate will be slowed and the impact manageable.
The reluctance to embrace segregated stay-at-home orders is evident in the media’s efforts to promote the “coronavirus can kill anyone” narrative by highlighting every high-profile case, like Broadway star Nick Cordero losing his leg due to complications from the virus. Those stories are true, of course. But anecdotes are no match for math.
This reluctance may also be behind the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services’ refusal to release demographic information about COVID-19 hospitalizations and fatalities. They refuse to release data on the number of hospitalized patients with comorbidities. The same with fatalities. Only their sex, their county of residence and whether or not they are over 60 is made public. No information about other factors like obesity, diseases that compromise the immune system, etc. Nor any specific age data, such as how many patients are elderly (80 and older). If those numbers match the data from other states, they would make the case for targeted stay-at-home orders in New Hampshire even stronger.
Gov. Sununu continues to get high marks for his handling of the coronavirus crisis in New Hampshire. He’s been helped by the ham-fisted attacks from Democrats, dragging him into court to fight over spending emergency federal funds.
Embracing a segregated stay-at-home strategy that helps get Granite Staters back to work while actively protecting the most vulnerable residents is the sort of middle-way strategy that has kept Sununu sitting pretty in the polls throughout this crisis.