Friday, October 9, 2020

Covid-19: Our Situation Evolves – Part 1

 We are still completely into the pandemic.  Here is yesterday morning’s New York Times view of how new cases are concentrated in the US, with the brightest red areas having over 56 per day per 100,000 population:

Nationally, the 7-day average, since bottoming out at September 13th’s 35,073, has increased nearly daily to Wednesday’s 45,660.  Deaths, though, have been drifting down, from 734 to 700.  Wisconsin north of Milwaukee, in and around quality-of-life-survey-winning cities such as Appleton and Green Bay, is a strange place to be getting the worst of it – perhaps this is related to binge drinking and per-capita alcohol consumption.  While most of the rest of the country has gone up and down, the Northeast, where people have consistently worn masks and practiced social distancing and leadership has been quicker to pull back on allowed gatherings when outbreaks pop up, has mostly maintained light colors since April. 

At the same time, new infections worldwide have increased almost day-by-day since the pandemic began, with September 13th and October 7th 271,765 and 312,534 7-day averages.  They have been high in some surprising places, as here with dark red showing places with 14 per 100,000, some of which imply the danger of slacking off:


What other issues are getting attention?

In case anyone has wondered why this headline has faded away, “The Sturgis Biker Rally Did Not Cause 266,796 Cases of COVID-19” (Jennifer Beam Dowd, Slate, September 10th).  Dowd found faulty reasoning causing that early September conclusion, corroborated, as we will see, indirectly by others. 

The New York Times Editorial Board finally addressed our absent governmental agency on September 14th in “Under Trump, OSHA’s Covid-19 Response Is Failing Workers.”  The piece noted that meat processing facilities, in two of which 12 workers died of the infection early, were given small fines, one less than $4,000 per dead employee, and OSHA “has issued only general guidelines based on C.D.C. recommendations that were never mandatory,” neutralizing its mission of keeping workplaces safe.  That same day, that publication released Donald G. McNeil Jr.’s “Gates Offers Grim Global Health Report, and Some Optimism.”  The subject, Bill of course, advocated $4 billion in American aid to poorer countries for the vaccine we hope to get soon, which may seem large to some but is much smaller than George W. Bush’s 2003 $15 billion on AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. 

The disheartening opinion piece, “Stop Expecting Life to Go Back to Normal Next Year,” by Aaron E. Carroll, appeared September 15th, also in the Times.  Per Carroll, our impatience, both in our national disposition and in our executive branch, has given us “unrealistic optimism,” overestimation of “what a vaccine might do,” and once that drug arrives Americans “will throw themselves back into more normal activities,” which “could lead to big outbreaks, just as winter hits at its hardest.”  He projected the first half of 2021 to require much the same restrictions as now, and reminded us, once more, that “this is a marathon, not a sprint.”  In the meantime, also on September 15th, we expect “South Korea to provide coronavirus vaccines for 60% of population:  report” (Kayla Rivas, Fox News), helped not only by its high national cohesion but its compact, urbanized population.  Seven days later, Peter Doshl and Eric Topol, professors in medicine and pharmacy, doubted vaccine research methods in The New York Times’s “These Coronavirus Trials Don’t Answer the One Question We Need to Know,” namely, if the product will “prevent moderate or severe cases.”  I hope these companies are more aware of that problem then the authors suspect.

Finally for this week we have Sarah Zhang’s “Vaccine Chaos Is Looming,” in the September 27th Atlantic.  Here we get into the same problem I documented several weeks ago, about American will to successfully complete large complicated projects.  Our infrastructure is world-class, there is an ample supply of available skilled workers, we have vehicles galore, our management and organization are well-established, and we know how high the priority is and must be, so why do we need to worry that “millions of doses must travel hundreds of miles from manufacturers to hospitals, doctor’s offices and pharmacies, which in turn must store, track, and eventually get the vaccines to people all across the country”?  Are we wondering if we can complete, per a cited source, “the largest, most complex vaccination program ever attempted in history,” even if “the vaccines are too precious to risk shipping conventionally”?  Can we fix problems such as “Medicare doesn’t cover the costs of emergency-use drugs”?  Do we have what it takes?  If not, why not? 

More next week. 

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