Kids are flocking back to school for in-person, fall classes — and they are getting eye-opening views of how grownups continue to react to the gravest public health crisis in a century. What kinds of lessons are the next generations taking away from us?
Public health officials are moving with urgency not only to get youngsters 12 and older vaccinated but also to persuade decision-makers in districts across the country to ensure that the young cover their faces and distance — measures that have helped reduce the coronavirus’s spread.
The world, of course, is well past weary of the pandemic. But with the Delta variant causing spikes in cases (now averaging 100,000 per day), hospitalizations, and deaths (averaging 500/day), officials say they have few choices but to rely on public health measures that have helped to quell viral outbreaks.
Public opinion polls have shown substantial support for vaccination mandates, which increasing numbers of federal, state, and local governments, colleges and universities, as well as corporations have imposed.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics both have backed testing, face coverings, and distancing, along with other hygiene measures, to protect kids in schools.
The hyper-politicized pandemic
But, sadly, the U.S. pandemic response has been politicized to the extreme, including with anti-science disinformation or lethal inaction, notably by Republican politicians like U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, and governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas. It’s a tragic reality that commentators have taken to calling the recurrent controversy a “culture war,” which seems an odd but right appellation for discussions about serious health concerns.
After months of assailing the safe, effective vaccines developed during the Trump Administration, GOP politicians have walked back some of their embrace of extreme opposition to vaccinations.
The mere mention, though, of putting fabric across people’s noses and mouths has inflamed elements of the public anew, leading to demonstrations and expressions of outrage about covering parts of the human anatomy — but as if, really, undies aren’t also abominations of this sort, too?
Hospitals overwhelmed, with consequences
Opponents of public health measures seem too willing to accept that hospitals and health systems in multiple states, most of them red and in the South, have warned that they are reaching their breaking point. This will have major effects on the delivery of medical services not only to Covid patients but also anyone with need for emergency treatment for vehicle wrecks or heart, lung, or brain problems.
The fourth pandemic surge for now may be more palatable to some politicians and holders of extreme beliefs with the ill patients now younger and sicker quicker — but, perhaps, because of their age, less likely to die. The steady rise of pediatric cases is causing public health officials huge concern, though not so for purported freedom-claiming opponents of vaccines and face coverings.
Responsible parties, however, may want to remind the devil-may-care, “immortal” young people about not only the real risks of sustained damages due to long-term Covid cases but also the financial havoc that can result from serious coronavirus infection. Researchers have estimated that an “average” coronavirus hospitalization can leave a patient with $73,000 in medical bills. And insurers, who had agreed to waive certain Covid treatment costs, are slowly declining to keep doing so.
Medical debt already sends too many Americans plunging into a downward financial spiral that can result in bankruptcy. Is this a path that people want for themselves with Covid, what has become a largely preventable illness?
Make no mistake about it: Existing vaccines, even with their unlikely “breakthrough” infections, are proving to prevent serious illness and death — exactly what experts would hope for in their best dreams for preventive shots (see graphic, above, from Kaiser Family Foundation). They are not 100% foolproof. The Delta variant is showing itself to be highly contagious and damaging to those infected. The spiking cases, hospitalizations, and deaths — yes, hundreds of tragic fatalities weekly, still — are occurring almost exclusively among the unvaccinated.
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. In the U.S. alone: at least 617,000 deaths and 36 million infections. 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 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.