Americans now face the greatest threat to our lives and lifestyle since World War II in the Covid-19 virus. Consider these sobering facts: During the war years from 1941-1945, America lost approximately 291,000 soldiers in combat. The death rate per year was 72,750 brave souls. We surpassed that yearly casualty number in a mere three months of Covid-19. Estimates suggest deaths of another 90,000 by September. We will match half the casualties of WWII in only six months’ time.
When German bombers were over Britain, it was clearly prudent to “shelter in place.” But it is hard to imagine Winston Churchill or Franklin Roosevelt admonishing Brits or Americans to continue to cower in bunkers while awaiting the next assault.
We are now confronting an enemy that is threatening our lives and our way of life. And now it is time to repeat that call to action. Imagine Churchill, as the bombs rained down on Britain nightly, telling his countrymen to shelter in their bunkers, that a miracle bomb would be ready in 12-18 months’ time. Imagine him saying, “Keep calm and carry on” until then. Of course, the opposite happened. Rather than wait, accepting their seemingly preordained fate, Americans and the British rolled up their sleeves in response to Churchill’s call to action: “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.”
Why not wait for a vaccine, our current Manhattan Project? I am not an anti-vaccine proponent; but a little perspective is needed here. First, the Covid-19 virus has mutated once. Our Covid-19 virus is the European version, which mutated from the Chinese version. If reports from Singapore and Hong Kong are correct, antibodies may not protect against reinfection, possibly because it has mutated again. But that is conjecture. Instead, examine the effectiveness of the flu vaccine from the 2018-19 flu season from the CDC. The overall effectiveness of that vaccine was 44%; it was 56% ineffective. In the population of 65 years and older, the same at-risk group for Covid-19, its effectiveness fell to 16%–fully 84% of our at-risk population were left unprotected. Based on flu vaccine data, people most in need of a Covid-19 vaccine may suffer the same fate.
Our President tells us we must be warriors, yet as we “open up” we are sending our warriors out to battle unprotected. Our most at risk are those with certain pre-existing conditions: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity. The most vulnerable communities are disproportionally made up of minorities and people over 65. These populations are at the highest risk of suffering one or more of those co-morbidities, and as restrictions loosen, we are sending them to the front lines untrained for the dangers they will face. The enemy is killing us relentlessly, and the next wave is due to strike later this year.
While we await a vaccine, I would like to suggest a more viable and effective wartime strategy— because, we, more than any Western country, despite the best health care system in the world—are the sickest and least healthy. Is it any wonder then, that we lead the world in Covid-19 deaths? Testing alone is not the answer to our problem; what is needed is an aggressive reversal of our population’s underlying diseases. And that starts with a public health policy that gives people access to foods that will support their health and immunity.
I suggest we draw inspiration from the wartime rationing programs put into practice in the US as well as Britain, Holland, Norway, Denmark in the last World War. During that time, incidence of the chronic diseases that today qualify as underlying conditions for COVID complications–diabetes, obesity, hypertension and heart disease–dramatically decreased, as did deaths from them. In the U.S., backyard “Victory Gardens” accounted for 40% of the food we consumed during the war years. That means we were eating nourishing whole foods, rather than ultra-processed foods, now so common in our diet.
The WWII rationing program kept people fed and it kept them healthy. It gave people access to food and prevented food scarcity. Likewise, victory gardens gave citizens the tools to nourish themselves and their families. Starting today, we could call on all municipalities to convert vacant lots as well as closed parks and greenspaces to community gardens and offer a plot to anyone willing to work the soil. Water, seeds, and fertilizer could be provided. Whatever you grow, you keep and eat. Anything extra, you donate to a neighbor in need, or barter for other food items.
In addition, new studies show that those who are currently deficient in certain vitamins and minerals disproportionately suffer and die from Covid-19. Four published studies show vitamin D status to correlate with severity and death from Covid-19; the same for selenium levels. Why is this so important? Multiple studies show communities of color suffer disproportionately from these deficiencies, including in Brooklyn, NY, one of the epicenters of deaths from Covid-19. Starting immediately, we should make 5,000 I.U.’s of vitamin D3, vitamin C chewable tablets, and a ration of Brazil nuts (a source of selenium) available for free to all Americans. As America opens up and social restrictions loosen, we need to send our troops into battle armed.
To that end, it is worth considering: Is the American way of life compatible with social distancing? Do we foresee empty stores, theaters, restaurants, bars, airplanes, and subways for the next year? Who among us believes that our economy can survive with that model? Certainly not Warren Buffett. Yet we are told that this is the new normal, and that when the next wave of the virus hits, we will once again retreat to our homes and close down what remains of our businesses. Or, worse, we will die untrained and unarmed. That is not the American way of life.
President Trump was right about this: Americans are warriors. Let’s train and equip ourselves to take back our way of life.