Delta surge gets grimmer as both public health steps and resistance stiffen
The coronavirus has killed almost 630,000 Americans, with the pandemic adding in its fourth surge now under way 1,000 deaths a day or 42 fatalities per hour.
The disease has infected almost 38 million of us, with more than 145,000 new cases occurring each day in recent weeks.
More than 90,000 coronavirus patients were in hospitals nationwide in the last week, more than in any previous surge except last winter’s, the New York Times reported.
Alabama has run out of hospital beds for coronavirus patients, the newspaper says, adding:
“[A]t least two hospitals in Houston were so overwhelmed with virus patients that officials erected overflow tents outside … in Austin, hospitals were nearly out of beds in their intensive care units. And in San Antonio, cases reached levels not seen in months, with children as young as 2 months old tethered to supplemental oxygen. Arkansas hospitals were also close to capacity.”
Kids and young people now falling to virus
In Mississippi, federal officials have responded to state pleas and set up two military field facilities to try to treat the coronavirus cases that have overwhelmed the state’s hospitals. Children’s of Mississippi, part of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson and the state’s only pediatric hospital, said it is treating its largest number of Covid-19 cases so far during the pandemic, the Associated Press reported. The news service also noted that the institution said that, of the 28 hospitalized children, “100% are unvaccinated. This number includes eight children in the ICU, including five who are too young to receive the vaccine.”
This is part of several distressing trends (see Financial Times graphic, above, of states moving in lockstep in negative directions) in the current pandemic surge, CNN reported on Aug. 16:
“[P]atients hospitalized with Covid-19 this summer tend to be younger than in earlier surges. And with vaccines widely available, they’re mostly preventable, too … Seniors still have the highest per capita rate of hospitalizations, but the gap [in patient ages] is smaller than it’s been. The recent hospitalization rate among seniors aged 70 and older is about a quarter of what it was in January, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But hospitalization rates among younger adults are about as high as they were in January. In fact, the hospitalization rate among adults aged 30 to 39 is the highest it’s ever been, CDC data shows. Children also account for a larger share of hospitalizations now than they did in January, as hospitalization rates among those under the age of 18 hover right around the record high. In a few states — including Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Louisiana — the number of children hospitalized with Covid-19 more than doubled over the past week, federal data shows.”
In Orlando, demand for liquid oxygen has grown so dire due to the pandemic that officials have asked the public to reduce water usage. That’s because water treatment competes with life saving for desperately needed oxygen supplies.
Controversies over boosters and nursing home staff vaccinations
The Biden Administration is pushing harder than ever to get people across the country vaccinated, causing a controversy by saying booster shots will be needed and will roll out starting in late September, and telling nursing homes and other long-term care facilities that they may lose Medicare and Medicaid funding on which so many of them rely unless they get their health workers vaccinated.
Owners and operators of the facilities immediately complained about what effectively constitutes a federal vaccine mandate for health workers caring for the old, sick, and injured. They contend that their underpaid, overworked, poorly trained, and already stressed to the max employees may just quit, leaving homes and their residents even more vulnerable.
(Here’s a thought: How about following the path of many other businesses dealing with pandemic staffing challenges and raise pay, offer rewards and benefits, and treat employees better? And, by the way, to get telling insight into how nursing homes have dealt with concerns about their unacceptable pandemic responses, it’s worth reading how North Carolina facilities are seeking to stretch coronavirus-related legal immunities to shield themselves against claims of harm unrelated to Covid-19 or its challenges.)
The administration’s announcement about booster shots was criticized by skeptics who say that existing data does not yet show that the existing vaccines’ effectiveness wanes so much over time as to justify administering a third shot. But officials have countered this argument, citing the experiences in highly vaccinated Israel with increasing breakthrough infections, as well as the huge toll that the Delta variant-powered fourth pandemic surge is inflicting in this country.
U.S. officials also are defending the nation’s role in providing vaccines to poor and developing nations, where shots are costly, supplies are dismal, and few people have been fortunate enough to get vaccinated. Critics say this country is making a mockery of vaccine equity, as well as allowing the coronavirus to flourish and potentially mutate in even more dangerous fashion, by failing to be more aggressive in supplying vaccines globally.
The administration insists that vaccine supplies are sufficient and increasing to vaccinate Americans who have not gotten shots already, provide boosters — especially to higher risk populations that may benefit from them — and significantly increase inoculations for other nations in need.
Vaccination rates continue to edge upward in this country as people appear to be reacting to the awful pandemic surge, continued efforts to deal with access and equity challenges, as well as rapidly rising public health mandates — for shots and face covering, not only indoors but at large, outdoor settings, too.
Will resistance lessen with fully approved vaccines?
While public health mandates have provoked angry and extreme reactions, the measures are likely only to increase. That’s because federal regulators raced to give their full green-light this week to one vaccine (by Pfizer), ending its conditional and emergency-use approval. Officials affirmed the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine after they studied for weeks hundreds of thousands of pages of information on tens of thousands of patients in rigorous clinical trials, as well as the reality that hundreds of millions of people around the globe have gotten the shot with side-effects rare.
The U.S. military, public institutions of higher education, and corporations have told their people that vaccines would become mandatory when vaccines received full approval, a step that also will diminish arguments against required inoculations by health workers, first-responders, and employees in many governments, businesses, and schools.
Officials expect to weigh in, in quick step, on full approval for vaccines by Moderna and Johnson and Johnson, as well as booster shots. Now that the Pfizer shot has won FDA approval, doctors, in theory, may prescribe it “off-label” for patients to get a boosters, even before regulators consider the need for them.
Ferocious opposition to common-sense public health measures, notably mask mandates, has not ebbed, but it is getting much greater political and legal pushback. The Texas Supreme Court declined to uphold a gubernatorial order barring face-mask mandates in the Lone Star state. The largest school districts in Florida have defied their governor’s threats of funding cuts and ordered face coverings for staff, teachers, and students. The administration in Washington has said it will support districts with aid if Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis carries out his plan to cut state money that pays superintendents and school board members who impose face mask requirements.
Still, the current pandemic surge, especially because it is so preventable, is causing huge damage to the U.S. health system, fueling despair, anger, and frustration among already overworked, exhausted, and super stressed doctors, nurses, and other medical staff.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damages that can be inflicted on them by an array of awful circumstances and things, including:
- dangerous drugs
- risky and defective products
- abuse and neglect in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- and car, motorcycle, and truck crashes.
In these cases, a crowd of problem people and institutions — these can include doctors, hospitals, insurers, regulators, and politicians — may press victims to move on, settle up, and they fast forget the lonely agony of the suffering. It can, however, take a long time for patients to recover from terrible illness or injury. Harms can last a lifetime. Patients may need medical services, as well as financial and other support for months or years. They also need closure and justice for wrongs done, as well as the sense that they may be able to help others avoid the problems that afflicted them.
We are not done with the coronavirus and the huge trauma it has inflicted on us all. The country got to savor this summer, even briefly, what the world might be like with this nightmare quelled more and greater normality restored. Please get tested, if appropriate, and vaccinated. Officials are trying to make it as easy and convenient, as possible — and it’s free. All medical interventions carry risk. But vaccines’ benefits long have been shown to far outweigh their harms.
By the way, if your unvaccinated status causes you to get infected with the coronavirus (which is a greater likelihood than if you had the shots), know this: Most private insurers no longer are waiving the cost of your hospital care and you could face tens of thousands in medical bills, if not more. Who wants or needs that bankrupting possibility?