The data could not be clearer: Stubborn pandemic demands caution still

covidcases032721-235x300In 25 states, including in Virginia and Maryland, data show coronavirus cases are running higher than U.S. averages and staying high. In seven states, notably Michigan, new virus-related deaths are increasing.

A half dozen states have recorded hundreds of confirmed cases involving corona virus infections with a variant known as B 117 that was first detected in Britain and may be more contagious and lethal. States up and down both coasts and in the Upper Midwest have reported dozens of infections involving a variant first detected in South Africa and known as B 1351. It, too, is believed to spread more easily and cause greater illness and death.

Across the country, an average of 58,000 coronaviruses are occurring daily. The country has exceeded 30 million infections and the nation is approaching 550,000 deaths due to the disease.

And though more than 89 million Americans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, that still amounts to only 27% of the country’s adult population.

Herd immunity? Not close, experts say. So, why are too many people thinking and acting as if the pandemic were over? It is not, experts say.

But consider this: The Washington press corps, after criticizing President Biden for weeks for declining to conduct a formal news conference, asked not a single question of him about the coronavirus when he met with reporters for more than an hour.

Signs of progress

The president, in his prepared remarks, offered good news about the rapid tempo now of the national vaccination campaign. He said the administration hopes now to double its initial goal and to see that 200 million vaccinations are administered in the first 100 days of the Biden term. Officials already hit their initial 100 million vaccination-target in a little more than half the time they had planned.

Vaccine supplies, while increasing, still lag demand. People, including in the nation’s capital, still confront challenges in getting shots and figuring out who is eligible and when. But officials expect manufacturing to spike imminently, leading to reports already of potential gluts. (Really?)

Although communications about the Astra Zeneca vaccine have been bungled, data provided on its safety and effectiveness soon may see it win federal emergency use approval, giving the U.S. another option. Americans already are receiving vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson. The maker of Novavax may seek U.S. approval for its vaccine imminently, experts say.

Drug companies have pushed ahead with large clinical trials now to see if children may be safely and effectively protected with the available vaccines.

The federal government, states, local governments, pharmacies, clinics, and medical practices have not only crashed to open mass vaccination sites but also to advance mobile and home visitation operations. And optimistic officials are racing to expand not only vaccinations but also the groups of people who are eligible to get vaccinated.

Senior deaths decline and schools re-open

The vaccination results already appear excellent, especially for older patients, the Wall Street Journal reported:

“Hospitalizations and deaths among the elderly are falling, marking hopeful signs that an inoculation push aimed first at older Americans is bearing fruit. Deaths tied to nursing homes have plummeted. Seven-day averages for newly reported deaths recently fell below 1,000 for the first time in more than four months. Public-health researchers caution the pandemic is far from over, especially as newly reported U.S. cases plateau after a steep decline and more infectious coronavirus variants spread. But as this happens, the Americans who have long faced the highest mortality risk are increasingly protected.”

Meantime, Biden said schools, especially with support from the recently approved $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, are reopening apace. His administration estimates that the country is on track for half of elementary and middle schools returning to full-time, in-person classes with the first 100 days of the president’s term.

Colleges and universities are scheduling in-person graduation ceremonies and accelerating plans for a fuller resumption of on campus learning and living for students, notably with the view that young people soon will be eligible for vaccinations and will get them.

Still, after spring break crowds turned rowdy and overwhelmed spots like Miami Beach in recent days, public health officials are warning people to play it safe and still, for now, stick close to home and avoid nonessential travel.

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.

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. For far too many, the disease’s ill effects may be long lasting.

Please keep up the health measures that have gotten us far: Practice excellent hygiene (especially robust handwashing), cover your face (maybe with double masks), maintain distance, and avoid close, confined spaces with poor ventilation. If possible, individuals should stay around home and deal mostly with familiar folks in their single household. If you worry that you have been exposed to the disease, for heaven’s sake get tested. Testing matters a lot, still.

If your turn comes up, please get vaccinated. If you’re uncertain about vaccines, discuss your hesitancy with your doctor. If you are trying to discuss this issue with a friend or loved one, there are ways to do so more effectively. And women, I’m sorry that men can be thick about their health and you so often need to intervene, including getting guys their shots.

Restless and ready for the pandemic to end? We all are. Even if you are vaccinated, it may be unwise to go to extremes, especially when your own kids or grandkids caution you about your behavior. Instead, resolve to shed that pandemic weight gain — 2 pounds on average — and hit the warming outdoors for more exercise. Stay healthy and get fitter!

Figure above courtesy of the New York Times
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