Unchecked Covid-19 pandemic gives U.S. a new reason to hold its breath

cnndocsconditionreport-300x148Falsehoods, even when loudly repeated, do not magically become true. The Covid-19 pandemic rages across the United States, and the facts do not support in any way the myth that the nation is “rounding a corner” in seeing the disease diminish its destructive course or magically disappearing.

The toll of the coronavirus is ripping toward 210,000 deaths and more than 7.3 million infections, with those figures likely understated.

As the Washington Post reported of its data analysis:

“Coronavirus cases have risen in 33 states and Puerto Rico since late August, and at least a dozen states have reported rising hospitalizations in recent days … The coronavirus map shows flare-ups coast to coast and from the Canadian to the Mexican border. Brooklyn is once again dealing with a spike in cases, and the state of New York on Friday reported its highest one-day case count since May 28. New Jersey and Delaware have experienced rising numbers, as has Texas, which just recently endured a midsummer surge. Wisconsin, a critical swing state in the presidential election, has been hammered. It had logged record highs in case counts for 20 straight days [as of Oct. 2], and recorded more than 17,000 new confirmed infections in a single week.”

The White House infections

The stunning latest turn in the disease’s course has been the announced infection of President Trump, the First Lady, and an array of White House and GOP notables. Suddenly, the pandemic that has hammered millions of Americans took on a different human face.

The growing list of the prominent and newly infected includes a senior Trump aide, a former White House counselor, U.S. Senators, a former New Jersey governor, the chair of the Republican Party, the head of the president’s re-election campaign, and the president of Notre Dame University. At least three White House reporters have tested positive for the coronavirus, as have a dozen or so people linked to the Cleveland presidential debate.

Joe Biden, the former vice president and Trump’s Democratic opponent, led the national response in wishing the best for the president and all who struggle with Covid-19, calling the latest developments a “bracing” chance to emphasize the importance of coronavirus preventive measures.

The president’s illness only added to the ferocious discussions of evidence-based, widely accepted public health safeguards recommended with the coronavirus, including:

  • Face covering
  • Aggressive hygiene, including hand washing and avoiding touching the face and nose
  • Maintaining distance from others
  • Avoiding prolonged, close exposure to people indoors
  • Appropriate testing
  • Contract tracing
  • Quarantining if exposed and isolating if infected

The White House and the GOP have attacked medical-scientific guidelines as part of a shambolic federal coronavirus response. The strategy from top to bottom has been described in the D’s: deflect, deny, and downplay. Furious talk has ensued with Trump’s hospitalization over his record of comments and actions, especially in recent days as more information floods out about allies’ infections and the timeline of the president’s schedule.

The 24/7 chatter on news media and social media may generate much heat and less light.

Testing for diagnosis, not prevention

As key experts have pointed out, however: The need for widespread, proper testing persists. Bigly. But testing, it is important to know, is diagnostic, not preventive. It is not predictive about illness outcomes.

It may be heartening to know that individuals exposed to the infected report negative coronavirus test results. That is a snapshot that can change. Quickly. The illness takes time to develop. So, those exposed will need to be tested, repeatedly, and for a span before they may be more worry free.

Because coronavirus tests can show with high levels of accuracy that individuals have a current infection, they can be helpful in getting the positive isolated and those exposed into testing and quarantine. Testing, though, is not a magical way to put up a perfect bubble of health, as the White House has learned the hard way.

Health experts also have offered science and evidence about the time that individuals should stay away from others — after exposure to a known coronavirus carrier, or if diagnosed themselves. Individuals who defy expert guidance to conjure their own lockdown schedules should be wary of consequences. Hint: The U.S. Senate skews old, male, and not always healthy. Rushing to do business in the august chambers could be deadly to colleagues.

Full disclosure

By the way, the nation will obsess, rightly so, on the president’s health for a time, and an administration that has a rotten record on full and accurate information may wish to step up to be different now.

The president’s condition may stabilize, improve, or worsen in short order. The coronavirus affects patients in varied ways, especially if they are older, male, and carrying excess weight.

Americans have a right to know, lots, about the well-being of their elected commander-in-chief. His doctors (shown above, in CNN screen capture from news conference) should know that we’re, effectively, “key stakeholders” for POTUS, so the importance of the fundamental right of informed consent has a uniquely public extension:  Americans need to be told clearly and fully all the important facts they need to make an intelligent decision about what treatments the leader of the free world is undergoing, from whom, and why. (Like, why is he getting a treatment that hasn’t even finished clinical trials?) The president’s medical staff should know that Dr. Pangloss, with his unbroken optimism and cheer, is a legendary Voltaire character of scorn. Dr. Everything-Is-Always-Fine also can be a familiar malpractice defendant.

In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the high value they can experience by staying as healthy as they can — and outside of the U.S. health care system. That system had its big problems before the pandemic, including with infections acquired in care giving institutions (hospitals and nursing homes), misdiagnoses, and medical errors — the third leading cause of death in the nation, by some expert estimates.

That said, we need to protect and improve the health system more than ever, notably with big support for public health and medicine based in science and evidence.

We’ve spent months now battling not only the coronavirus but also a firehose of misinformation about public health, medicine, and science. We’ve got to change course and do better, so we stop having this disease kick us down. Please vote. Please take the individual steps to stay healthy. We all have lots of work to do, so we return not to normality but to a better place — including for the millions of Americans (including the president et al) sick with the coronavirus and untold other diseases and conditions.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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