Some thoughts about Independence Day in the thrall of a pandemic

fourth-225x300The United States heads into a long weekend celebrating 244 years of its independence in the deepening thrall of a microscopic killer. And political partisans, with their failure to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, will push further still in the days ahead to divide what has been a remarkable, diverse union of states. Unlike virtually every other advanced country on earth, the pandemic in the United States has become politicized and partisan, to the detriment of our nation.

The novel coronavirus has infected more than 2.5 million in this country, killing at least 127,000 — more individuals than the U.S. casualties in World War I or the combined deaths the nation tallied in prolonged campaigns, combined, in Vietnam, Korea, and Iraq. The disease also may be far more widespread than believed — an even more worrisome possibility, health officials warn.

Despite the unfounded and magical assertions by President Trump, the summer has offered no letup to the predicted sickness and dying.

In the heat of the southern and western states, infections and hospitalizations for the coronavirus are spiking, with the nation as a whole setting frightening records. Republican governors who have belittled public health alarms about the pandemic have found themselves backtracking and drowning in puddles of their past counter factual braggadocio. Texas has stopped its relaxation of coronavirus restrictions, with the state also halting non-essential medical procedures in fear of its medical system getting overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases. Florida is shutting bars and beaches and urging people to stay at home, steps that were mocked by conservative Republicans, including the governor, just a blink ago. Arizona, which is setting infection highs and seeing its hospitals nearing their capacity, is in a summer meltdown — and not due to seasonal heat.

Is this the much-feared Phase 2 of the coronavirus pandemic, or is it a worse case — the long, relentless crush of an unchecked Phase 1? It may not matter, as Covid-19 rolls over and over a nation whose leadership deficit grows by the day.

The disease, experts say, is not changing. But its afflicted look to be shifting. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has expanded its risk guidance for patients: The disease is still a big concern for seniors, especially those with underlying health conditions. But more of the infected are young now — ages 18 to 55. In hard hit areas, they make up the bigger part of the infected population, including those who are hospitalized. The CDC has broadened its warnings about Covid-19 to caution younger Americans, especially those who are obese or have underlying conditions. Pregnant women now also are at risk, the CDC says.

The disease’s shifting demographics also has created an anomaly — and who knows how long it will last: While infections and the infection rate are skyrocketing in many areas, deaths, as of now, have not increased proportionally. Younger patients may fight off the disease better than their elders. For now. Skeptics note that deaths are a lagging indicator in this pandemic.

So, will beach- and bar-goers soon replace nursing home and long-term care residents as the drivers of staggering coronavirus deaths? As business people, politicians, and the restless clamor not only for a swift return to the old normality, will Covid-19 provide its own grim comeuppance to the over-eager?

The president’s own denial of the coronavirus’s toll continues to be jaw dropping. He and his minions, notably including Vice President Pence, dare to persist in their nonsense that if the nation runs fewer tests, fewer cases of coronavirus will be found. Trump, in bellicose campaign rhetoric, asserted that he has told federal officials to slow down testing — an order that public health officials said they have never received. The federal government runs a pandemic task force, but the Trump Administration has declined to develop and follow a national strategy to respond to Covid-19, leaving the heavy lift to states and local governments.

They must set up the testing, tracing, and isolating needed with the coronavirus. They have been left to find, buy, and distribute critically needed medicines and medical equipment, notably ventilators and personal protective equipment for health workers, first responders, and care givers.

Not only does Trump keep repeating, like a magical incantation, that the virus will somehow disappear, he has resumed campaigning for reelection. He refuses to wear a mask in public. He wants to pull large crowds, encouraging his supporters to stay packed together and to not wear face coverings. His political forays have resulted in his own political troops and his security details finding themselves fighting Covid-19 infection or locked down due to their exposure to the disease.

With racist language about Covid-19 and his spurning himself of safeguards like distancing and face covering, the president and Republicans have created a partisan canyon about how to respond to the coronavirus. Public health officials, who have based their recommendations in evidence and science, find themselves targeted, including with death threats. They are declining to expose themselves and their loved ones to extremists’ reactions — quitting, and, tragically, taking their expertise out of crucial public decision making.

What’s ahead, especially as the fall and winter loom, along with regular and sometimes serious seasonal illnesses (like the flu) atop an unchecked Covid-19 pandemic? Maybe a vaccine. Will the omnipresent anti- crowd, though, prevent its full effectiveness by unfounded hysteria about inoculations? Might there be more improvements in the treatment of those with the disease?

If the country continues on its awful path, how comfortable will Americans feel about resuming more activities, notably the resumption of work and commerce, as well as schools and education — much less entertainment and recreation? How many debilitating illnesses and horrible deaths will it take before the naysayers give up their abject fantasies and outlandish complaining?

n my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the high value in their staying healthy and away from the U.S. health care system. Until medical science comes up with a way to prevent or better treat it, the coronavirus will continue to pose the possibility of swamping our health resources. In their better times, they already had notable problems with infections acquired in hospitalsnursing homes, and other medical care giving facilities, as well as major challenges with medical error and misdiagnoses.

That said, the system and the providers in it need our support. As recent experiences with the coronavirus have amply shown, dire consequences result when doctors, first responders, clinics, nursing homes, and hospitals get overwhelmed by serious infections. We need to heed the evidence- and science-based guidance of medical and public health experts, not hip-shooting, loud-mouthed political partisans pushing bunk for their own gain. It looks as if, more than ever, we need to research information carefully, make good choices based on the best available evidence and science, and protect ourselves and our own with less support than usual from our government and officials. Sad.

During the holiday, please safeguard yourself and those you love: Keep your distance, cover your face when near others, wash those hands often and vigorously. If you’re feeling poorly, stay home and away from others. In general, these days, stay around the house, if you can, though keep up healthful exercise as you can. A legendary scientist — a famous seismologist accustomed to informing the public — has offered her own concise, science-based communication: Mask up, don’t share your air.

Avoid crowds. Stay out of bars and risky gatherings. For heaven’s sake, please ensure folks you know don’t fool around with fireworks — potentially setting fires and risking sight and appendages, not to mention creating an unwelcome racket (a big problem this crazy year) and terrifying animals for no reason. If you’re settling into seasonal eating, take care in the storage, preparation, and serving of foods, so they don’t end up sickening you and yours. Be careful about your sun exposure — wear protective clothing and appropriate sunscreen. If you will be around pools, rivers, lakes, or the ocean, follow best practices with water safety.

Stay safe, sane, and healthy for the Fourth!


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