For the first time since 2007, preliminary data from the National Safety Council show that as many as 42,060 people are estimated to have died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020. That marks an 8% increase over 2019 in a year where people drove significantly less frequently because of the pandemic. The preliminary estimated rate of death on the roads last year spiked 24% over the previous 12-month period, despite miles driven dropping 13%. The increase in the rate of death is the highest estimated year-over-year jump that NSC has calculated since 1924 – 96 years. It underscores the nation’s persistent failure to prioritize safety on the roads, which became emptier but far more deadly.
Most businesses in Texas had been allowed to operate at 75 percent of capacity since mid-October, when Abbott also allowed bars to reopen. It was implausible that removing the cap would have much of an impact on virus transmission, even in businesses that were frequently hitting the 75 percent limit.
While Abbott said Texans would no longer be legally required to cover their faces in public, he urged them to keep doing so, and many businesses continued to require masks. At the stores I visit in Dallas, there has been no noticeable change in policy or in customer compliance.
Conversely, face mask mandates and occupancy limits did not prevent COVID-19 surges in states such as Michigan, where the seven-day average of newly confirmed infections has risen more than fivefold since March 1; Maine, which has seen a nearly threefold increase; and Minnesota, where that number has more than doubled. Cases also rose during that period, although less dramatically, in other states with relatively strict COVID-19 rules, including Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
Florida, a state often criticized as lax, also has seen a significant increase in daily new cases: 34 percent since mid-March. But Florida, despite its relatively old population, still has a per capita COVID-19 death rate only a bit higher than California’s, even though the latter state’s restrictions have been much more sweeping and prolonged.
Those developments are infuriating, and also enlightening as to how the system of the world functions these days, but the main event remains the race between new strains and vaccinations.
In America the race is plausibly close. Cases are rising, and likely will continue to rise for several more weeks, especially if vaccination rates continue to stagnate. But that acceleration should start soon, and at an additional 3% protection per week that grows and compounds, the vaccinations won’t take that long to turn the tide even if they don’t accelerate much.
In Europe the race is not so close. Vaccinations are running far slower, with no short term hope for things to get much better. The recent own goals only made a bad situation worse, and in many European countries things are looking quite bad. Lockdowns are once again the order of the day in many places, most notably Germany, and yet the situation is getting rapidly worse, in some places reaching crisis proportions.
A mix of hard lockdown, vaccinations and testing is necessary to “prevent intensive care units from being overflowed,” the head of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine, Christian Karagiannidis, told the Rheinische Post newspaper.
The number of excess deaths not involving Covid-19 has been especially high in U.S. counties with more low-income households and minority residents, who were disproportionately affected by lockdowns. Nearly 40 percent of workers in low-income households lost their jobs during the spring, triple the rate in high-income households. Minority-owned small businesses suffered more, too. During the spring, when it was estimated that 22 percent of all small businesses closed, 32 percent of Hispanic owners and 41 percent of black owners shut down. Martin Kulldorff, a professor at Harvard Medical School, summarized the impact: “Lockdowns have protected the laptop class of young low-risk journalists, scientists, teachers, politicians and lawyers, while throwing children, the working class and high-risk older people under the bus.”
The deadly impact of lockdowns will grow in future years, due to the lasting economic and educational consequences. The United States will experience more than 1 million excess deaths in the United States during the next two decades as a result of the massive “unemployment shock” last year, according to a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins and Duke, who analyzed the effects of past recessions on mortality. Other researchers, noting how educational levels affect income and life expectancy, have projected that the “learning loss” from school closures will ultimately cost this generation of students more years of life than have been lost by all the victims of the coronavirus.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration has a Wednesday deadline to start turning over documents justifying why it ordered restaurants to limit their operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Attorney Greg Earl, with Myers, Earl and Nelson P.C., represents Geneva-based FoxFire restaurant, which sued the governor last fall.
“FoxFire is continuing this fight because what happens if another strain, that’s what we’ve heard of, another strain from Europe or South Africa hits and the governor decides to put in another 30-day window,” Earl said.
The governor has already issued 12 months of executive orders related to the pandemic. His most recent order issued Feb. 5 expires March 7.