As the Covid-19 pandemic slams the United States — with infections exceeding 100,000 and deaths spiking beyond 2,000 — the battle with the viral outbreak underscores the axiom that a crisis brings out true character, good and bad.
Our highest praise continues to go out to first responders and medical personnel who have demonstrated huge courage and resolve in treating the sick and dying, despite too few resources still and at giant risk to themselves.
Institutions have stepped up to provide valuable information and services, including:
- Reliable Covid-19 data and information from Johns Hopkins;
- Helpful online forums on coping with the coronavirus pandemic by the Harvard H.T. Chan School of Public Health;
- Informative pandemic guidance from the World Health Organization and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The nation also has come to appreciate in a big way the previously unsung but vital roles that poorly paid, hard-working people play in groceries, delivery operations, restaurants and food services. The public knows more than ever, and has become grateful, for the sweat and labor that toils to grow crops, ship and stock goods, and provide necessary services — whether as cashiers, yard maintenance, warehouse stockers, or domestic help.
But even as jobless claims set records and the economy has plummeted, a troop of bad actors can’t seem to help themselves in their cluelessness, the consequences of which may need to be reckoned with, later. What were these people thinking?
Outrage stops a Big Pharma ploy to exploit federal rulemaking
Remdesivir is an experimental anti-viral medication that may be useful in treating Covid-19, but Gilead, its maker, infuriated critics by asking the federal Food and Drug Administration to grant it a special status for the new drug. The company claimed that an FDA “orphan” designation would clear potential blocks to faster testing of remdesivir, particularly with youngsters. But, wait: The special status not only would expedite potential approval of the drug’s use, it also would give Gilead a “seven-year monopoly on sales [and] tax credits,” the New York Times reported. The newspaper and other media quoted critics who said these big benefits shouldn’t be granted to a maker whose product exploited expensive U.S. research and may end up difficult to get and with a high price. Further, the “orphan” status, the critics emphasized, is supposed to be reserved for medications targeted at treating rare diseases — for which Covid-19 plainly does not qualify. FDA officials already had told Gilead and other Big Pharma firms that, if they have products that may be valuable in fighting the pandemic, the agency will seek to help get them to the public safely and quickly. Gilead backed down and withdrew its FDA request.
Authorities investigating offers of virus tests to wealthy in ‘concierge care’
Public health officials have made clear that one of the giant lapses in the national effort to fight the coronavirus lies in the dismal lack of available tests to determine who may have been infected. That hasn’t, of course, been a problem for the rich and influential, especially for patients in so-called concierge care. In this form of medical practice, the affluent pay what can be steep monthly or annual fees, guaranteeing themselves of fast, highly personalized access to doctors. Including some MDs who now are under investigation, for example, by California licensing authorities because they promised and gave coronavirus tests to patients, on request and without demonstrated necessity. That became an outrage as even doctors and nurses in hospitals at the frontline of pandemic care, as well as fire fighters, paramedics, and police have struggled to get Covid-19 tests.
Pharmacists fire back at MDs, dentists for drug stockpiling as a med turns lethal
The officials who regulate pharmacists and pharmacies have begun to investigate prescriptions written by doctors and dentists across the country for big amounts of anti-malarial drugs promoted by President Trump for use against Covid-19. Medical scientists have hurried to issue cautions, loudly and often, that the evidence is slim to nonexistent that the anti-malarial medications, combined with an anti-viral drug, are an effective coronavirus therapy. But some practitioners aren’t waiting and may be stockpiling the drugs — a behavior that pharmacists don’t want to be part of and have complained about to their regulators. The unfounded promotion of the medications has hade lethal consequence: An elderly Arizona man died, and his wife was sickened when they dosed themselves with a fish tank chemical, hoping to safeguard themselves from Covid-19. The aquarium chemical has a similar-sounding name to the anti-malarial and is sort of related. But it is poisonous to humans. Panic-consumption of false nostrums, by the way, has become deadly on a larger scale in Iran, where authorities have told people to stop drinking toxic methanol. The federal Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission have cracked down on peddlers of dubious virus-related products.
What’s up with these folks from Bluegrass State?
On Capitol Hill, at least two politicians — both from Kenutcky — have outraged colleagues and the nation with displays of virus-related folly. Rand Paul, a physician and U.S. senator (shown, left), told health officials that he should be tested because he has a high profile, meets extensively with the public, and has lung issues related to his highly publicized assault by a neighbor. He also thought he might have had contact with an individual testing positive. While Paul awaited his results, however, he moved freely around Capitol Hill, notably working out in the Senate’s private gym and swimming pool. He tested positive and has self-quarantined — but not before he forced other senators out of action and got a public opinion pummeling. He insists that he deserves praise for acting with caution in the first place. The congressional scorn for him moved on fast, shifting to his Kentucky colleague, Rep. Thomas Massie. He insisted on invoking House rules on meeting quorum before a vote on a $2-trillion virus relief package, negotiated by the House leaders, the Senate, and the White House. Massie knew the bill, desperately needed, would pass. But his recalcitrance forced House members, many of whom are older and had left Washington, D.C., to shelter at home, to return to D.C. and meet in the House chamber for a vote on the coronavirus bill. Taxpayers, by the way, footed the bill for the congressional travel that even angered one of Massie’s biggest allies — the president.
Putting the young at risk with brazen theory that defies deadly realities
Here we go, back to the Bluegrass State, again. There, public health officials have denounced a circulating theory, calling for “Covid-19 parties” for the young. The idea, propounded by individuals including a dermatologist who no longer holds a medical license, argues that kids may experience lesser episodes of the disease, and getting numbers of them may help boost the so-called herd immunity. Though some extreme parents previously have put their youngsters at risk by having “parties” for contagions like measles, horrified public health officials note that Covid-19 already has shown it sickens and kills not only older people with underlying health issues but also the young. Meantime, the New Yorker magazine has posted a heartening read on affirming conduct by the young, specifically how a geeky teen started early and created what has become a heavily viewed and respected web site with Covid-19 statistics.
Crowds in public spaces don’t get the ‘stay at home’ orders
While commentators rightly excoriated youths who partied through the pandemic on Florida beaches during spring break, authorities across the country have struggled to get the public to maintain social distance and keep from collecting in crushing crowds at popular spots. Cherry blossom enthusiasts, for example, had to be rousted from viewing areas in Washington, D.C., while officials in Los Angeles have shut renowned beaches and famous outdoor parks. In Chicago, the legendary public areas fronting Lake Michigan have become a no-go zone. Yes, mayors and governors have advised, it is fine to escape the house with neighborhood strolls. But coronavirus shutdowns, which have spread nationwide, aren’t a fun holiday and the virus cannot be contained if, for example, crowds gather to watch pick-up basketball games and muscle men flexing on Venice Beach. By the way, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis earned himself more “Huh?” reactions when he told visitors flying into the Sunshine State to self-quarantine for days after their arrival. But he told reporters he wouldn’t want similar restrictions for those who drive down I-95 from, say, hard-hit New Jersey or New York. He since has said that those from high-infection areas should stay away from Florida for now, and he has ordered officials to set up check-points on major roads to stop and discourage travelers from hard-hit areas from driving into the state.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the benefits they can reap by staying healthy and out of the troubled U.S. health care system. Besides its problems with infections acquired in hospitals, nursing homes, and other medical care giving facilities, it also has major challenges with medical error and misdiagnoses. That said, at this difficult moment, we need to support doctors, hospitals, and public health officials as they marshal science, evidence, and facts to battle the menace of Covid-19. Stay calm, limit your contacts with others, listen to and heed medical and scientific experts as they — and we — try to protect ourselves, as well as others in our community and country.