As patients who have suffered through catastrophic injury or illness know, the recovery process can be a tough slog. Good days. And bad. Positive signs. Negative ones, too. This is the difficult up-and-down the nation is enduring as it seeks to conquer the coronavirus pandemic.
Cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from the disease plunged in recent weeks.
But the trend lines, unacceptably high even after their decline, have plateaued (see chart from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) — and public health experts fear they will rise anew.
Vaccinations — with more than 70 million administered — have increased significantly for tens of millions of Americans, notably older people, front line health workers, and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
But the process to sign up to get shots remains buggy and problematic. Hurrah for computer-savvy young folks who are helping others work around nightmarish online registration systems. But why is this necessary?
As vaccine demand still exceeds supplies, equity issues persist as hard-hit communities of color, educators, and workers deemed essential struggle to find their place in vaccination priority lines.
Vaccine makers have said they imminently will boost, big time, their manufacture and provision of supplies. Federal authorities have given emergency-use approval to a third vaccine from Johnson and Johnson. To be clear, it has shown effectiveness in preventing serious illness and death from the coronavirus. It does not require the careful refrigeration that products do from Moderna and Pfizer. It also is given as much more convenient single dose. Arm-chair authorities have spent far too much debating the efficacy metrics of the J&J vaccine. If offered the option to take it, or the others already approved, experts say, as the tennis shoe campaign once counseled: Just do it.
Hesitancy about the vaccines may be declining, as advocates ramp up major information campaigns to assure the public about the safety and effectiveness of the shots. Cases of adverse reaction to them have been beyond rare, especially as tens of millions of doses have been administered globally.
Premature victory laps
So, why not ease up the restrictions? As the Washington Post reported:
“Iowa and Montana have lifted mask mandates. New York is reopening stadiums for concerts. California and D.C. are now allowing indoor dining. Roughly 30,000 fans recently flocked to the Daytona 500 NASCAR race in Florida.”
Public health officials say the country should not take a premature victory lap, especially with huge numbers of people still unvaccinated and uninfected with the coronavirus. With so many vulnerable people for the virus to rage in, it is mutating, and concern has been huge about the contagiousness, harmfulness, and vaccine-resistance of coronavirus variants, especially those believed to originate in Britain, South Africa, and California. This all means that the population-level protection, aka herd immunity, is not nearly in effect to safeguard us.
Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Washington Post:
“Reopening just as these variants are spreading is not smart. We’re like a punch-drunk boxer, getting up just as our opponent is preparing to deliver an even faster punch. … By reopening, we’re leaning into that left hook. Why can’t we ever learn?”
The disease’s “lessons” have been staggering: more than 510,000 deaths and at least 29 million infections. Those numbers likely are undercounted. They are the globe’s worst.
But fingers crossed.
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 crow about the need to move on, settle up, and they fast forget the lonely agony of the suffering.
Trauma recovery takes time
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’re not done with the coronavirus. We still have to deal not only with the horrors of the disease, but also the shambolic federal response to it, replete with a torrent of destructive falsehoods, anti-science and counter factual arguments, as well as an unacceptable assault on the ideas, beliefs, and institutions that knit together and did not seek to divide the country for centuries.
We need, experts say, to keep up the things that have dropped the coronavirus numbers before. We need to double down on excellent hygiene (especially hand washing), maintaining distances, face covering (maybe with two masks, depending on circumstances), and avoiding closed, confined spaces with weak ventilation. If the vaccines are available to you and you are eligible under various guidelines to get them, please do so. Consult with your doctor about your individual circumstance if you have doubts. It may be tempting to relax on health restrictions. Now is not yet the time. It is best to stay home as much as is possible and hang out mostly with members of your immediate household only.
Stay healthy! We have much collective work to do to move the country to a better place.