Coronavirus: A Lifesaver In Colorado?

The results are in from China — coronavirus likely saved more human lives than it took (see link).

The results are in from China — coronavirus likely saved more human lives than it took (see link).

The air pollution maps of China (see link) have been shared around the world showing a startling clearing of China’s air especially around the massive population and industrial center of Bejing. The biggest air pollution killer — nitrous dioxide — a common pollutant from industrial activity and diesel engines used in transportation showed profound decreases as China shut down factories and stopped driving.

A couple weeks later, the same air pollution maps appeared around northern Italy and the city of Milan — again, startling decreases in poisonous and deadly air pollution (see link).

Air pollution in China kills around one million people per year, and kills around 48,000 per year in France (see link).

So far in China, coronavirus has killed 3,245 people, and in Italy, 3,405. Globally, coronavirus has killed 9,829 people as of this writing (see link).

This “life-saving” capacity of coronavirus led one prominent researcher to state:

“Strangely enough, I think the death toll of the coronavirus at the end of the day might be positive [on balance], if you consider the deaths from atmospheric pollution,” said Hugo Observatory Director François Gemenne (see link).

Here in the Denver, Colorado area, air pollution mostly caused by transportation and industrial activity — including oil and gas drilling — is ranked in the Top Ten Worst in the U.S. (see link), and it leads to severe health issues beyond respiratory problems. In January of 2020, Westword reported (see link):

“Beyond respiratory issues, air pollution also causes other health problems. These include heart disease — the number-one cause of death in Colorado — cancer and strokes. We’re even learning that bad air quality can contribute to neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.”

In Colorado, the top six causes of death are cancer, heart disease, accidents (mostly car accidents), respiratory disease, stroke, and alzheimer’s disease (see link).

Consider other normal, and deadly, human activity that coronavirus has now partially shut down in Colorado due to the global economic slowdown and given Governor Polis’ executive orders (see link) — fossil fuel production, driving causing automobile accidents, food-borne diseases from dining in restaurants, water pollution caused by urban runoff, and the list goes on.

What’s more — people appear to be getting outside more and getting more exercise (see link).

Put simply, coronavirus has forced a policy of “shelter in place” that may be a significant human lifesaver in Colorado completely unrelated to the virus itself.

We are all hoping and praying that this pandemic is contained and eradicated as soon as possible with the smallest human and economic suffering. As of this writing, it’s still early in this pandemic and we don’t know the outcome, but it’s getting worse every day.

In addition, as we look to the future, we must ask: what, exactly, is the virus we should be saving ourselves from?

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Gary Wockner, PhD, is an environmental activist in Colorado. Twitter here