Although company-reported data on the potency of a prospective coronavirus vaccine provided rare glimmers of hope, the rampaging coronavirus pandemic triggered clangorous coast-to-coast health alarms: Infections are skyrocketing. So, too, are hospitalizations. And, yes, deaths are spiking, as well. Records are falling each day.
Covid-19 is raging unchecked among the American people, with a season of travel and festivities with friends and families bearing down on the country.
Will travelers heading across the country or around the block to Thanksgiving feasts or December religious celebrations also ensure that public health forecasters’ glum models turn into lethal reality? Will the 1,000 daily deaths occurring now double to 2,000 by mid-January and will the U.S. coronavirus death toll hit 440,000 by March?
Will an already overstressed U.S. health system, taxed with repeated surges of coronavirus cases, not just wobble but collapse in hard-hit parts of the country? As the Atlantic Magazine reported:
“In the imminent future, patients will start to die because there simply aren’t enough people to care for them. Doctors and nurses will burn out. The most precious resource the U.S. health-care system has in the struggle against Covid-19 isn’t some miracle drug. It’s the expertise of its health-care workers—and they are exhausted.”
ProPublica, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative site, reported this under the headline, “The Enraging Deja Vu of a Third Coronavirus Wave:”
“Health care workers don’t need patronizing praise. They need resources, federal support, and for us to stay healthy and out of their hospitals. In many cases, none of that is happening.”
Chicago issued a stay-at-home advisory and imposed limits on the number of people who may gather. New Mexico and Oregon issued their own coronavirus-related restrictions, as New York warned parents that public schools would close imminently to in-person teaching. Virginia and Maryland put in place tougher public health measures as cases in the regions increased to new highs.
President Trump, who had all but vanished since his failed re-election bid, made brief remarks on Friday the 13th, asserting without evidence that the nation soon will see a coronavirus vaccine in use and that his administration will not pursue stringent public health restrictions that he has termed a “lockdown.” He took no questions and attention at his news conference dwelt still on Trump’s unhappiness on the election defeat that he has declined to accept.
Pfizer’s positive vaccine claims
Pfizer, a maker of one vaccine, had provided a cause for cheer when it disclosed by news release a smidge of company data showing its product is strongly effective against the disease. The data from a large and Stage 3 clinical trial of the vaccine has not been fully released, nor has it been independently vetted. U.S. officials have seen some of the information and expressed optimism that Operation Warp Speed soon will produce a vaccine or several that could help battle the coronavirus.
Still, none of the makers have formally submitted enough data to independent reviewers and federal regulators, so that the federal government might grant emergency permission for their use.
Questions persist about the walloping campaign that would be required to get enough increasingly skeptical people vaccinated, so coronavirus infections and deaths finally might be better controlled. The Pfizer vaccine, for example, requires two doses. It apparently gives patients unusually sore arms and a day or so of symptoms akin to a bad drinking hangover. It requires complex logistics, because it must be kept at sub-freezing temperatures during shipping. Health workers may be in line to get the vaccine first if it wins emergency approval. The vulnerable elderly and communities hard hit by the coronavirus would be next up.
That all may be down the road, even a bit. For now, officials are stepping up their cautions to beg Americans to take their own actions to protect themselves from infection, arguing that it will be best to stay healthy and be ready for the protection a vaccine may offer soon.
Holidays with abundant risks
Officials have urged families to rethink holiday plans. Young people, especially collegians returning home from school, may need to get tests on campus where they may be more available and then be prepared to quarantine in their houses. This may be a holiday season where older aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas join festivities online and not in person. Festivities may need to be small, with guests wearing masks and keeping distant and outdoors. Multiple households should not intermingle, officials say. West Coast authorities have discouraged travel, even locally, and urged members of the public to stay home as much as they can. Those entering California and Oregon have been urged to self-quarantine for two weeks. Other states have put out similar advisories about visitors.
Research is building about the risks with indoor exposure to the coronavirus, notably at restaurants, gyms, and other crowded, closed sites.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention apparently has eluded the controlling thumb of the White House and the agency is boosting its evidence-based advisories, including with new information about face coverings. They protect both the wearer and those surrounding, the agency now says, urging their required use.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also their struggles to access and afford safe, efficient, and excellent health care. This has become an ordeal due to the soaring cost, complexity, and uncertainty of treatments and prescription medications, too many of which turn out to be dangerous drugs.
National needs soaring with infections and deaths
The pandemic has only laid bare further the fragility of our health care system, already the world’s most expensive and with some of the poorest outcomes among western industrialized nations. We need to focus now and, in the days ahead, on how we can not only support the system we have now but to make it better for the future. We have learned, in painful fashion, that we need to crush fearmongering, misinformation, and attacks on medical science by anti-science political partisans. We know all too well how we lack and are in desperate need of a comprehensive, national plan to battle Covid-19 with robust testing, isolating the infected, tracing their contacts, and supporting communities pounded by the disease and its related economic damages.
We also need smart, evidence-respecting leaders to bring out the best in highly trained experts, not to brow beat them and make them cower over presenting scientific findings. President-elect Biden has implored the incumbent sulking in the White House to put his personal grievances aside, and, for the sake of the nation, to trust science, his best experts, and to attack the pandemic with the full force of a global superpower.
With the current worrisome pace of infection, hospitalization, and death due to the coronavirus, that ought to be an inarguable course. History would admonish a commander-in-chief who left his troops in mid-battle to a slaughter. Lifetime ignominy would haunt any medical team that walked off in a huff and failed to provide all due to care to the sick and dying in a sprawling emergency.
How will Trump be remembered forever — and will his full and final record be shaped by the specter looming over the last days of his term? Where, by the way, is Vice President Pence and the White House coronavirus task force?
We know dozens of Trump’s men and women may be felled by their own reckless exposure and infection by the coronavirus. We know that scores of duty-bound Secret Service personnel have been exposed and infected while protecting the White House crew. But let’s not forget that a passel of people swore oaths to honor, serve, and protect the American people — right up to Inauguration Day. We and they have a lot of work to do to not only defeat the coronavirus but to put the country in a far better place, asap.