These are exhilarating times for optimists about the coronavirus pandemic, what with cases finally dropping to lows not seen in months, hospitalizations in major decline, and deaths falling sharply. Public health measures targeted to protect people from infection are lifting, pronto, and the nation is opening apace.
Normality, however, isn’t exactly rushing in. And the toll of the pandemic — which rages across the globe — is still unfolding, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
“Deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic are causing an extraordinary jolt in the U.S., inflating the nation’s death rate to the highest level seen in nearly two decades. Whether the U.S. will quickly snap back to pre-pandemic levels following a mass-vaccination effort remains to be seen. Daily Covid-19 deaths are on their way back down, but the disease is unlikely to disappear, and health experts say there could also be long-running effects from issues like missed cancer screenings, a surging rate of drug overdoses and health inequities exacerbated by the pandemic … The U.S.’s age-adjusted mortality rate shot up by about 16% in 2020 from the year before, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, marking the highest point since 2003. This also broke a 90-year streak in which the yearly death rate was always lower than it was 10 years earlier.”
The pandemic’s toll, while it occasionally has burst into public consciousness (for example, when memorialized by President Biden and Vice President Harris), has inflicted serious social and psychological damage that may not yet be fully recognized, the Atlantic magazine’s Ed Yong reported:
“This time last year, the United States seemed stuck on a Covid-19 plateau. Although 1,300 Americans were dying from the disease every day, states had begun to reopen in a patchwork fashion, and an anxious nation was looking ahead to an uncertain summer. Twelve months later, the situation is very different. Cases are falling quickly. About half as many people are dying every day. Several vaccines were developed faster than experts had dared to predict and proved to be more effective than they had dared to hope. Despite a shaky start, the vaccination campaign has been successful, and almost half of the country has received at least one shot, including 85% of people older than 65. As the pandemic rages on elsewhere in the world, the U.S. is eyeing a summer of reconnection and rejuvenation.
“But there is another crucial difference between May 2020 and May 2021: People have now lived through 14 months of pandemic life. Millions have endured a year of grief, anxiety, isolation, and rolling trauma. Some will recover uneventfully, but for others, the quiet moments after adrenaline fades and normalcy resumes may be unexpectedly punishing … ‘People put their heads down and do what they have to do, but suddenly, when there’s an opening, all these feelings come up,’ [said] Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, the founder and director of the Trauma Stewardship Institute … Lipsky has spent decades helping people navigate the consequences of natural disasters, mass shootings, and other crises. ‘As hard as the initial trauma is,’ she said, ‘it’s the aftermath that destroys people.’”
There are other significant aspects of the pandemic that Americans cannot escape and will be dealing with for — who knows how long, Yong reported:
“Millions of Covid-19 long-haulers spent months with debilitating symptoms, and many are still sick. In one study, 30% of people with lab-confirmed Covid-19, most of whom had not been hospitalized, were still experiencing symptoms after an average of six months. Many are still struggling with the byzantine world of disability benefits and long-term diagnoses … Many Americans who were hospitalized with Covid-19 will still be affected too. At the height of the winter surge, 132,000 people filled U.S. emergency rooms. Based on evidence from Italy and from past coronavirus epidemics, about a third of those people—and the hundreds of thousands more who were hospitalized before and after that moment—will develop PTSD.
“At least 580,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, and this official tally probably omits hundreds of thousands of uncounted deaths. Because each death leaves an average of nine close relatives bereaved, roughly 5 million Americans have been grieving parents, children, siblings, spouses, or grandparents at a time when funerals, bedside goodbyes, and other rituals of mourning and loss have been disrupted. Some may feel guilt about surviving, as did New Yorkers who narrowly missed the 9/11 attacks, or gay men who were “spared at random” by HIV during the 1980s. Some grievers may not heal for a long time. “In normal circumstances, about 10% of bereaved people develop prolonged grief, becoming incapacitated by intense, all-consuming grief that persists for more than a year and flattens their life. About half a million Americans will likely feel this way—roughly the population of Atlanta. Grief will germinate along the same societal cracks that the pandemic exploited and widened: Indigenous, Pacific Islander, Latino, and Black Americans were more than twice as likely to die from Covid-19 than white Americans, and are therefore more likely to have lost loved ones to the disease.”
While federal and state governments sought to protect patients from the high costs of coronavirus treatment, medical providers are tussling with the ill and recovering — especially those with long-haul cases — now over big bills for Covid-19 care and testing.
Loved ones who serve as unpaid and under-appreciated care givers are emerging from months of the pandemic, reporting they already were overwhelmed and now are exhausted and stressed to the max.
As for the coronavirus itself, it isn’t going away and the much-discussed hope for “herd immunity” to send it to oblivion isn’t likely to happen, experts say. Vaccines will play a big role in this country in reducing the severity and lethality of Covid-19, which will continue to mutate.
It may soon, based on how other bugs have run, become a lesser but still significant infection, more akin to the flu. It will keep up its slaughter in other parts of the world, especially without greater and wider vaccine manufacture and supply. In this country, with so many people likely to decline vaccination and to disregard public health measures, hopes are all but gone that such a mass of the population will be made immune to the infection that it will fizzle out.
For now, optimism is running higher than it has for a long time and people cannot help but enjoy what seems to be the ebbing of the coronavirus calamity.
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. Please get vaccinated. All medical interventions carry risk. But vaccines’ benefits long have been shown to far outweigh their harms. Consult your doctor if you have concerns. Don’t hesitate to talk with loved ones and people you respect if you have doubts.