Eighteen states have hit “red zone” status where infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have soared to such dire levels (more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people per week) that a study held in private by the Trump Administration recommends officials impose tough public health measures.
The country now has, at least twice, shattered daily coronavirus case counts, reporting 70,000 new Covid-19 diagnoses. The country, as the New York Times reported, also has “set a record with 75,600 new cases [in one day], the 11th time in the past month that the daily record had been broken.”
Overall, more than 3.6 million Americans have been infected with Covid-19 and roughly 140,000 have died of it. That means roughly three times as many Americans have been infected as live in Fairfax County and more have died from the novel coronavirus than live in Arlington, Va.
Communities of color continue to be savaged by the disease and its victims have become more brown (Latin and LatinX) as the illness spikes in the West and Southwest and among “essential workers” — the poorly paid people who make the country function and who find they must go to work because they lack any social safety net.
Younger people have become the latest and increasing face of the disease, with their infections, hospitalizations — and yes, deaths — rising sharply. Here, too, experts see people returning to work or socializing, especially in bars and clubs and parties, as causes for major concern. The use and abuse of vaping puts a sizable number of young people at heightened risk during the pandemic, experts warn.
Covid-19, unchecked, gives public health experts grave worry, particularly as reckless optimists persist in arguing that the healthier young may better fight off the coronavirus and not die from it, while children had seemed less likely to contract it.
The reality check: Doctors and medical scientists by the day build evidence that coronavirus illnesses, even if not deadly, can be sustained and debilitating, perhaps for the long term. As cases skyrocket, the statistical absence of youngsters infected also appears to be declining. (In other words, more kids are succumbing to Covid-19, especially as the total cases explode).
Here’s the other inescapable nightmare of the coronavirus: It may be spread, widely and in hard to detect fashion, by the asymptomatic (including “super spreaders”) or by individuals early in the course of the slow-developing illness. That is a big worry as millions of adults 65 and older live with young folks, notably school-aged children.
The Trump Administration has chosen to make a battle royale over the reopening of schools in the fall, with press secretary Kayleigh McEnany notably opining that this must occur, with the benefits outweighing the risks, and “the science should not stand in the way.”
Students (especially older kids), parents, teachers, and states and local school districts disagree. Some of the largest public systems will stick to less-than-optimal online instruction rather than expose the young, teachers, and an army of educational support staff to sickness or death. (Of course many private schools, with better funding and the capacity to put in place quickly more recommended safeguards, are reopening, illustrating yet more disparities in opportunity for the well-to-do and other Americans.)
The political partisanship surrounding the pandemic response rages on, as unbounded as the Covid-19 spread. The administration launched an ugly reputational assault on Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and a member of the White House coronavirus task force. The attempt to undercut his scientific authority and huge public credibility quickly blew up on Fauci’s attackers, notably the administration’s noisy trade advisor.
Still, and at the same time, the administration infuriated public health officials by seizing the official mechanisms by which hospitals and states report Covid-19 cases, yanking this important data collection and interpretation responsibility from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead, the White House informed the public that it had, as it had once discussed, agreed to a no-discussion contract with a politically connected Silicon Valley data firm to carry out a crucial function of epidemic fighting.
This contract has not been made public, nor have administration officials disclosed any privacy or other safeguards on how Palantir may use a big and significant trove of data it will collect.
The abrupt shift away from the traditional and long-respected CDC effort led agency staffers to pull down data from public sites, causing a continuing furor and increasing suspicion about how federal officials deal with Covid-19 information.
This is not an idle worry, as the president and vice president, as well as other Cabinet officials, have pushed nonsensical arguments, including that increased testing for the disease is to blame for coronavirus case spikes (not the actual rising and spreading of Covid-19). Trump officials also sent concerns soaring about a federal role in testing and tracing with media reports the administration wants to slash funding for these crucial functions in prospective pandemic relief packages.
States and hospitals have complained about the administration’s clumsy and resource-consuming switch.
The contract with a firm connected with Peter Thiel, a Republican donor and speaker at the Trump nominating convention, might have been defensible, particularly as the underfunded CDC had a rough roll-out of its Covid-19 data reporting. But White House officials have not explained why they have not stepped in to boost support for the CDC, including to eliminate officials use of antiquated technology like fax machines, rather than starting from scratch with an outside consultant. Alas, public health has been a major but underfunded need in this country for a long time.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also their struggles to access and afford safe, efficient, and excellent medical care. This has become an ordeal due to the skyrocketing cost, complexity, and uncertainty of treatments and prescription medications, too many of which turn out to be dangerous drugs.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed huge gaps and challenges in the health care system, notably how difficult it can be for ordinary folks to deal well with complicated and conflicting views about basic issues of their health and well-being. The administration’s puerile politicking and reelection maneuvering would be tough to take in normal circumstance, but as millions get sick and tens of thousands die from a spreading and uncontrolled disease the daily dramas have become unhelpful and unacceptable.
Americans need clear, concise guidance — based on the best-available medical science — and the opinion surveys show that they think experts like Fauci provide this. It is not coming straight or fair from the White House chatter or fact distortionists.
Tens of millions of us are jobless due to the pandemic, and record numbers of Americans have lost their health insurance. The economy is on the rocks and too many people are struggling and going hungry these days. Grownups are angry, frustrated, and restless — even more so when they see how their youngsters are struggling, too.
Let’s ask again: Why can’t the federal government step up and get behind a nationwide, science-based battle against Covid-19, including with: increased and improved testing with timely results; the assurance that health care workers and first responders have abundant supplies of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies; more and better contact tracing and isolating and support of the infected? These are some of the many things the nation needs — notably leadership and a clear, coherent plan to attack the virus, get people back to work and kids in school. A nation unified — not divided — could tackle these and many other challenges and thrive anew. Please keep washing your hands, covering your face, maintaining appropriate distancing, and, if you don’t need to go out or to be with others, stay home.