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Age has been used both to identify the impact of and shape the response to COVID-19. We have long heard that those who are 65+ are at greater risk; the CDC reports that people in this age group account for 8 of 10 deaths. As frightening as these numbers are, they do not translate into 8 of 10 elders dying, or even 8 of 10 of those infected.
An official in Cairo, Illinois dispatched a message to his counterparts in Washington, DC. He warned, the “country below is in the hands of a howling mob.” Locals not yet touched by the disease went into lockdown. In the absence of permanent public health officials or institutions, coalitions of citizens and elected officials living in uninfected areas took up arms to impose “shotgun” quarantines to fend off outsiders.
Perhaps the most poignant image of the coronavirus pandemic captures desperate family members, with tears streaming down their faces, their noses pressed against hospital doors, barred from entry to visit their loved ones. But families are not just tragic icons at life’s end; they are often its choreographers. A large national survey that predated the pandemic found that 70 percent of Americans over age 60 who required medical decisions during the final days of their lives lacked the capacity to make them.