While Americans have been riveted for days about incremental shifts in election results, other confounding numbers raced ever higher and into worrisome places. Just consider these numbers: 128,000, 9.6 million plus, and 235,000 and more.
“Covid, covid, covid. By the way, on Nov. 4 you won’t hear about it anymore,” President Trump asserted during his closing re-election campaign rallies.
If only. The nation’s coronavirus pandemic is unchecked and showing signs of worsening, bigly, with records shattering on consecutive days for infections diagnosed: 100,000 on Nov. 4, 120,000 on Nov. 5, and 128,000 on Nov. 6.
More than 9.6 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus and the disease has killed at least 235,000, with both numbers likely under reported.
Public health officials recorded 1,000 deaths on each of four consecutive days during the week when tens of millions of voters headed to the polls in person.
The deep partisan divide
The ballot counts that took days to tally also underscored the nation’s wide political divide — and the challenges that leaders must surmount to deal with issues that voters had told pollsters were their priority issues. These included battling the coronavirus pandemic and ensuring that health care is a right not a privilege in the world’s wealthiest nation.
Roughly half the nation, according to the mounting votes, supported in some way the shambolic federal pandemic response, which is leaving the U.S. health care system wobbling as huge swaths of the country experience a fall spike in coronavirus cases. As the Washington Post reported:
“No region of the country is being spared from the onslaught. Twenty states reported record single-day [coronavirus case] increases Thursday, spanning New England, the Midwest, the Great Plains, and the Pacific Northwest. Those witnessing the most dramatic increases over the past week include Maine, Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Illinois joined an undesirable club Friday: the now-five states that have logged more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases in a day. Florida, California, New York, and Texas have also reached that mark. But nowhere looked … bleak[er] than North Dakota, which broke records [Nov. 5] for the number of new infections and fatalities reported in a single day, as well as the number of hospitalized coronavirus patients. Adjusted for its population, North Dakota has reported more coronavirus-related deaths over the past week than has any other state, and its seven-day average for new cases set a record [on Nov. 6].”
The Trump Administration has found itself beset by election concerns and the president in his angry public appearances had not mentioned the pandemic since millions of Americans started voting in person on Nov. 2.
He appeared without a mask in the wee hours of Nov. 4 to make unfounded election claims to his supportive audience in a campaign event conducted in the White House. The audience members were packed in close quarters to hear his remarks, ignoring recommendations about distancing. Few of the people visible wore face coverings. Later, Mark Meadows, the president’s chief of staff, would confirm that Meadows had tested positive for the coronavirus — a disclosure made days after he worked the East Room, massless, during the president’s re-election event there. Other White House aides also have tested positive for Covid-19.
In contrast, President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris appeared in public wearing masks. They made a point of waiting for election results with, among other activities, taking in a coronavirus response briefing. Biden expressed his sympathy for Americans who had lost loved ones to Covid-19 and he pledged to battle the disease with vigor. He is expected to name his own group of respected medical scientists to help battle the coronavirus, including: Vivek Murthy, a former surgeon general; David Kessler, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a Yale University professor. Others expected to advise on the pandemic and health issues, in general, include: Zeke Emanuel, the former Obama administration health adviser; Nicole Lurie, the Obama administration’s assistant health secretary for preparedness and response; Joshua Sharfstein, the former deputy FDA commissioner; and Ron Klain, the former Obama administration “Ebola czar.”
The worsening pandemic, of course, cares not about the politics swirling around the nation. The opportunistic, primal SARS-CoV2 virus attacks human cells with its spikes, breaching cellular walls to hijack microscopic wet works behind them to replicate itself in human tissues. And replicate. And replicate. And replicate.
While needs rise anew, federal inaction
Public health officials have warned for months that the nation needs an aggressive response, with abundant, accurate, and useful testing, as well as the quarantine of those exposed and the isolation of those infected. Health workers need resources, including masks, gloves, gowns, and other personal protective equipment, as well as testing for themselves.
The fall surge, predicted for months now, is demonstrating huge shortfalls in federal Covid-19 action — which has been overtaken and shunted aside by the White House’s re-election focus and the administration’s increasingly seeming adoption of an extreme policy view. It argues that efforts should be made to protect the vulnerable (unsuccessful, so far, witness the terrible toll in nursing homes and long-term care facilities), while the virus should just run its course among the younger and healthier. The theory is that the much hoped-for coronavirus vaccines in development will work and can be scaled up fast to immunize significant numbers of Americans. And shazam, herd immunity — a shared protection achieved when big portions of a population cannot pass on a given infection — will occur.
Experts have warned that millions may die in the interim. But the president and his political partisans have seemed to just shrug at and even surrender to the fall pandemic surge, with Trump downplaying and dismissing the coronavirus and arguing it will magically disappear on its own.
High Court challenge to ACA looms
The pandemic has slammed not just Americans’ health but also their finances, with record joblessness and an economic plunge. Senate Republicans rejected months of efforts by the White House and Democrats to provide further public support to struggling workers and a staggered economy. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raced nominee Amy Coney Barrett into a U.S. Supreme Court seat, post haste and with the most divided vote in history.
Justice Barrett, who already has made clear her opposition to the Obama Administration’s landmark Affordable Care Act, will be on the high court bench when justices are scheduled on Nov. 10 to hear oral arguments in a case brought by Republican state attorneys general and backed by the White House to repeal Obamacare.
In California v. Texas, the affordable health insurance for tens of millions of poorer and middle-class Americans will be at risk. So, too, will be protections that tens of millions of Americans have welcomed against insurers denying them coverage due to pre-existing conditions. The ACA also bars insurers from imposing annual or life-time limits on coverage for those they insure, and it permits parents to keep their children on their policies until age 26.
The ACA, of course, also expanded Medicaid coverage to the poor and working poor in states across the country. It has been less discussed how a Supreme Court rejection of the ACA might impact Medicaid — which has become more crucial than ever to Americans left by the pandemic suddenly unemployed, impoverished, and in desperate need of some form of health coverage.
The fiscally savvy, by the way, also cannot ignore that the pandemic-caused plummet in the economy is affecting the finances of other bulwarks of the nation’s programs for citizens’ well-being, aka Medicare and Social Security.
This all puts the nation at a fraught, major inflection point.
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 skyrocketing cost, complexity, and uncertainty of treatments and prescription medications, too many of which turn out to be dangerous drugs.
The coronavirus, unceasing partisan challenges to the ACA, and stark political divisions have made Americans hyper conscious about safeguarding their own health and the well-being of those they love. We need less partisanship and over heated rhetoric and more reasoned, reasonable, evidence-based health policy.
With the pandemic unchecked, we cannot wait for better and more federal action. And we certainly cannot see further undermining of medical science and U.S. health agencies and their evidence-based expertise, including by reckless and unwarranted attacks on and even possible dismissals of public health leaders like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious diseases experts.
Americans’ challenges have never been greater. And we can rise to them — calmly and together. We have much work to do.