Last week the world took note with appropriate solemnity a terrible historic moment: The first military use of nuclear weapons, with explosions 75 years ago of bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The resulting carnage — which the United States said was needed to end the horrors of World War II, especially by averting a bloody land conquest of Japan — has been seared into the global consciousness ever since, especially with the remarkable writing and reporting of author John Hersey.
The exact toll of the bombings of Hiroshima (a famous site shown above) and Nagasaki has eluded historians and other experts because of multiple factors, including: the scale of destruction, the chaos that ensued, and the uncertainty of the population and infrastructure that existed in the already war-torn cities. Still, by many estimates, tens of thousands died immediately — at least 135,000 in Hiroshima and 64,000 in Nagasaki.
More grim numbers for comparison: In the few months since the Covid-19 pandemic swept the United States, the disease has killed more than 160,000 Americans. The toll keeps rising, so one American dies of the novel coronavirus every 80 seconds or so, and with infections racing past the 5 million mark, experts forecast yet more virus fatalities. Will this country see 300,000 Covid-19 deaths by Dec. 1?
Another data point for consideration: roughly 40% of the U.S. coronavirus deaths have occurred in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, among residents and health workers. That ever-increasing toll as of July’s end: 62,000+.
For those with reckless optimism and the persistent belief that Covid-19 will, magically, disappear or that the infection will become so prevalent and a vaccine will, poof, succeed and work so well that “herd immunity” will occur, the Washington Post has posted an excellent explanatory graphic. Spoiler alert: Experts estimate that 2.95 million Americans might die before the nation reached the group-related protection of herd immunity.
Experts say the toll, both from the nuclear explosions and Covid-19, is under reported. The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was so complete that many residents died not only from the sustained harms of nuclear exposure but also due to disease and privation. With Covid-19, health experts say it may be some time before a full picture can be developed of the disease’s toll, including: patients who were harmed or died because they didn’t seek needed medical care for other conditions due to fears of infection, as well as fatalities that may be linked to coronavirus-related isolation, stress, and economic damage.
States see deaths, infections, data problems all rise
With the federal government pushing off a big, central, and coordinated battle against the coronavirus, states and local agencies have been forced to step in — and the responses not only have been understandably fragmented but wobbly.
California, which acted early and aggressively in attacking the disease, has seen a lethal creep in its metrics, exceeding 10,000 deaths and 500,000 infections. Florida (500,000+ infections and ~8,000 deaths) and Texas (~500,000 infections and ~9,000 deaths), states in which governors have been slower to act on public health officials’ recommendations, are closing fast behind the Golden State.
The crucial tool in dealing with the coronavirus — testing — persists as a national problem (which the Trump Administration denies and has declined to take on at the federal level). Even as millions of Americans get tested, there are still too few tests and the results are coming back far too slowly.
And new signs are emerging of problems in the testing system: California officials say they are racing to fix problems in an overwhelmed and glitchy state data reporting system that may have failed to record a backlog of 300,000 test results. As the coronavirus caseload in the Washington, D.C., area hit 200,000, Virginia hit a new high of daily infections (2,015) and officials also conceded they were experiencing glitches and backlogs in the state’s Covid-19 reporting system.
The one sure thing: uncertainty
Uncertainty has become the watch word for youngsters, parents, teachers, as schools and universities head into the fall — some with in-person classes and many with less-than-perfect distance learning plans.
Researchers continue to delve into crucial and unanswered questions about youngsters and the coronavirus, including how age differences affect kids’ capacity to spread the disease. The young can get infected and some cases can be serious and even deadly. Black and Latino children seem to be a greater risk, notably for hospitalization for the coronavirus. But health officials also have warned about a Covid-19-related inflammatory condition that is a problem for kids. Women are suffering huge stresses and strains due to the pandemic.
As researchers continue their frenzied dash to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, leading public health officials have warned the inoculation will not be a panacea, the coronavirus may be with us for some time, and now is the time to prepare for yet another pandemic ahead.
By the way, details are emerging as to what a prospective vaccine might cost U.S. patients, even as the federal government shovels billions of dollars into acquiring the possible shots. The range might go anywhere from $4 to $37 per dose. Patients might need not one but two doses, and their potential protection from Covid-19, as occurs with other inoculations, will take time to ramp up. The Covid-19 shot also may come with more discomfort as the body builds its protective systems.
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 medical care. This was an ordeal before the pandemic, driven by the skyrocketing cost, complexity, and uncertainty of treatments and prescription medications, too many of which turn out to be dangerous drugs.
We’ve got a haul yet to go before this country better battles the coronavirus. With the federal government MIA in so many ways, and with states and local governments struggling, alas, we’re more on our own than ever, it seems. So, please, keep in touch with your own doctors and medical care givers. If you need treatment, don’t hesitate to discuss how to get your needed care, safely. Please stick around the house if you don’t need to be out and about. Do what you can, too, to communicate with your friends, neighbors, and especially the young folks about our collective responsibility to each other to safeguard our health. Wash those hands, cover those faces, and keep the needed distance.
There will be another day for bars, restaurants, sporting events — and more. We’ll get the nation and the economy back on track only if we respond better to the coronavirus’ death and debilitation. We all want to stay healthy, to thrive again, and to learn important lessons that help put our world in a better place after the pandemic. That is what we have been taught by courageous Japanese survivors of the nuclear bombings, known as the hibakusha. They have grown old and are disappearing, but their lifetime campaign for world peace and against the use of nuclear weapons will be their legacy.