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300K have died of COVID-19, but experts think the pandemic will cause long-term death rates to rise

Stethoscope
Posted at 11:15 AM, Dec 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-18 12:15:04-05

The approval of the first COVID-19 vaccines comes amid a critical point in the pandemic.

The U.S. has recorded two straight weeks of record high hospitalizations. On Thursday, the country surpassed 17 million total cases of COVID-19 and December is now the deadliest month since the start of the pandemic.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Lewis, a retired U.S. Army colonel, worries that Americans may become desensitized to the staggering death totals.

"It's the 'boy who cried wolf' kind of thing," Lewis said.

Lewis recognizes the severity of the virus but is worried about the broader implications of the pandemic.

He's worried about the future of children who are attending school virtually and haven't seen their friends for months, the damage to small businesses and their employees who have been affected by stay-at-home orders and the damage to people's physical health due to a drop in routine medical care.

Lewis says the number of new prescriptions for conditions like heart disease and diabetes have dropped and that the country is seeing more new cases of advanced cancers.

"(The pandemic will) make actual death rates go up in the long term, the two- to five-year kinda kind of thing," Lewis said.

Lewis is advocating for people to re-evaluate their physical and mental health as the pandemic drags on.

"We've got to figure out how to break that cycle of stress, and that's a very personal thing you've got to figure out how to take responsibility for yourself," he said.

Lewis wants people to focus on healthy lifestyles:m Eating right, exercising and limiting a daily intake of virus-related information. He says Americans should live cautiously but not in fear and recommends not forgoing medical or psychological attention.

He adds that stress can harm a person's immune system — the very thing everyone needs for protection against COVID-19 and other diseases.