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Notebook Health

10 reasons we should still take the coronavirus seriously

A healthcare worker directs patients in their cars at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site run by the University of Nevada Las Vegas School of Medicine and the Nevada National Guard. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Health

10 reasons we should still take the coronavirus seriously

Leaders’ missteps have created mistrust, but we still have to fight a pandemic

An Alaskan reader challenged us to share 10 reasons to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously—to believe that it is “not a hoax,” as she put it. Her state’s experience with the coronavirus has encouraged its residents to see it as a faraway problem: The entire state has suffered only 17 deaths so far, whereas a single nursing home in my area saw a higher death toll. 

Part of Alaska’s separation is geographic. Air traffic largely ceased from mid-March until recently, and few would-be visitors braved the lengthy road trip through Canada. (For the curious: Yes, Canada allowed Americans to drive across the border if they promised they were heading straight for Alaska.)

That brings us to the first reason: As Arizona, Texas, and Florida have shown, case counts can rise quickly in places that hadn’t been hit hard. This isn’t mainly from increased testing, because the percentage of positive tests is increasing—not decreasing. Frustration with the economic damage from shutdowns has led to political resistance, just as annoyance with the shutdowns’ inconveniences has led to fatigue among the public. Both mean that we are likely entering a period where the virus spreads more rapidly. My county now reports 100 and even 200 cases per day—far beyond even its April high—but plans minimal restrictions in response.

That brings us to the second reason: The supply of quality personal protective equipment (PPE) remains limited. Improvised fabric masks and bandanas satisfy the letter of the law and are likely better than nothing, but they fall far short of N95 and P100 masks—or even plain old surgical masks—in protecting from airborne transmission. Yet finding good masks remains a challenge, even for hospitals.

A third, related reason: Even where PPE is available, its use remains hit-or-miss. Early signals from Washington, D.C., and the World Health Organization actively discouraged mask-wearing, and commentators seeking to downplay the virus argued that subsequent calls for masks stemmed from politics. Yet experience worldwide has shown that widespread mask use really does make a difference—especially when they’re worn properly.

Let’s move back to what happens if the virus does get past protective measures and consider the argument that it’s “like a bad flu season.” Coronavirus has now killed over 130,000 Americans, despite having only infected roughly one-twentieth of the population. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the flu killed 24,000-62,000 Americans—total, for the entire flu season. 

We’ll call the higher mortality rate reason No. 4, and No. 5 is what happens to people who don’t die. We recover from colds and almost always recover from flu, so we tend to assume that getting the coronavirus and not losing one’s life equates to a full recovery. Not necessarily: As a recent Wall Street Journal article reported, perhaps as many as 15 percent of people who survive the coronavirus have lasting problems such as shortness of breath and irregular heart rate or blood pressure. Since the pandemic has only been a major problem in America for a few months, we don’t know whether “lasting” means a few months, a few years, or the rest of a patient’s life. What we do know is that this virus does not behave like colds and the flu.

Reason No. 6 goes with that fight to get well: Doctors know far more about treating coronavirus than in March, but knowledge is still lacking. Simply discovering whether steroids would help qualified as a major breakthrough. Even now a debate rages about whether doctors should treat severe COVID-19 as acute respiratory distress syndrome or as a phenomenon all its own. That will determine what treatment patients should receive.

The next reason reminds us that we shouldn’t assume they’ll be able to get that treatment: If hospitals and ICU beds fill up, where will patients go? Hospitals in several areas are dangerously close to filling up, with case numbers still surging. On July 5, Austin Mayor Steve Adler told CNN, “I am within two weeks of having our hospitals overrun. And in our ICUs, I could be 10 days away from that.” All of our knowledge and equipment will be in vain if we have nowhere to put patients—or, as hospitals have discovered with their newly minted COVID-19 wards, if they are unable to staff them. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on CBS’ Face the Nation: “We can always provide additional beds, but we need the people, the nurses and everybody else, the medical professionals, to staff those beds. That’s the critical point right now.”

Reason No. 8 is more optimistic, reminding us that the only way out is not through simply waiting to get sick. Our efforts to develop and produce a vaccine are unmatched in medical history. This matters not just because we are likely to have one—or several!—good vaccines, but because we are also likely to have at least one by early next year, if not by late this year.

Reason No. 9 underlines why the vaccine is worth the wait: While the current surge in cases focuses on the young, experience has shown that it won’t stay restricted to them. Nursing homes can turn away coronavirus patients, but they can’t function without their (typically young) nurses and aides. If cases surge among the young, they will soon surge among all age groups.

Several readers have offered various political viewpoints on the pandemic, but looking at the situation in other countries gives us the 10th reason: Countries that took the coronavirus seriously are limiting both their death toll and economic damage. Several have brought transmission down sharply, in some cases almost to zero: New Zealand, Finland, and Estonia have each had great success. By comparison, countries like Sweden, Brazil, and Iran that effectively chose to let the fires burn have felt great pain. All have one thing in common: They’re far from here, and their decisions weren’t based on American politics. We have the luxury of being able to see what has worked elsewhere. Let’s act based on that.

But let’s do something else, too. Let’s let our speech be seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6). Missteps by leaders on both sides of the aisle have led to mistrust among the public—mistrust of politicians, mistrust of medical specialists, mistrust of each other. Social media has done what it usually does, dividing instead of edifying, setting us at odds instead of helping us understand one another.

Let’s be the alternative to that kind of talk. Shouldn’t Christians look—and sound—different from the surrounding culture? As we engage with those around us, let’s ask not whether our words support a given political stance, but whether they reflect who we are in Christ.

Comments

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  • Fuzzyface
    Posted: Fri, 07/10/2020 04:54 pm

    A lot of the mew cases in AZ are in Yuma and San Cruz counties with a lot of hispanics that cross into Mexico where, word is, there is a lot of cases. I'm not sure why Maricopa county is increasing - they keep trying to tell us that it wasn't the protesters although Maricopa's rise started about that time.

    Also note that the COVID death rate is not near what it was when this first started.  Also remember Arizona, (and especially Yuma County anyway,) had very limited testing until June. 

    Many of the cases that I've heard about now are asymptomatic or very minor symptoms.

    I know that our hospital is using most of it's respirators and has shipped out quite a few patients to other areas.  But the hospital won't tell us how many of those patients are those from Mexico that cross into Arizona and then say "I have COVID" so that they can get good care.

  •  Deb O's picture
    Deb O
    Posted: Mon, 07/13/2020 11:05 am

    Yuma also has a large retired population who cross over to Mexico for less expensive prescriptions and  medical and dental care. Another possibility for higher rates of hospitalization?

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Fri, 07/10/2020 08:57 pm

    The doctors have gotten it wrong from day one. The models were exaggerated and we have been given conflicting guidance, so don't be surprised that the public distrusts the doctors. And don't blame it on social media, which is a convenient excuse.

    The reality is that as more are tested we are beginning to see more had the virus than first suspected. We are also seeing that the virus is much less lethal than originally told - giving one more reason why we should open up.

    The people that need to be careful are the elderly, those who are obese, those with health concerns, and those with diabetes. The schools should open up but those kids with health issues should stay home. Grandparents who are raising their children's kids should also be careful. Parents with health concerns who are vulnerable should also consider keeping their kids home. The schools should have options for these kids who cannot go to school, such as remote learning.  Many doctors are advocating this approach rather than a complete lockdown, which I agree with.  The officials of the communities with surges, may have to go back to more restrictions. We learn as we go in this pandemic. 

    I live in Texas where the surge is happening. About the time of the start of the surge, or slightly before, I noticed many out of state plates - CO, OK, LA, CA, NJ etc. I was taking a local drive and was blown away by by all of these "foreigners" driving our streets. A local Air BnB had a bunch of people staying there and I wondered if people from other hard hit states were coming to our "safe state" for at the time we had few cases. 

  •  Deb O's picture
    Deb O
    Posted: Mon, 07/13/2020 11:20 am

    Agreed ... good points all. I'm glad you recognize this as a pandemic and not a hoax. I'm in the vulnerable category, so I have not traveled out of state and rarely out of my county. However, I believe all the out of staters were spending money in TX, so they're opening up your economy ... what the President wants them to do.

  • RC
    Posted: Wed, 07/15/2020 12:19 pm

    In your second paragraph you all about opening up, but then when some out-of-state people arrive to blow money in Texas, you reverse your position and complain. How can you draw any conclusion by driving by one Air BnB?   PS. Out-of-state people are not “foreigners”, you obviously forgot Texas joined the USA back in the 1845.

  •  Xion's picture
    Xion
    Posted: Sat, 07/11/2020 06:41 pm

    A major fallacy common in the reportage is that a rise in the number of positive cases is always bad.  It is only bad if it leads to death or long term damage.  Every other scenario is good, due to herd immunity.

    Also, one correction to the article. I tried to ride a motorcycle to Alaska by way of Vancouver BC in May 2020 and was denied at the border because I was deemed non-essential.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Sun, 07/12/2020 04:44 am

    Good try. I guess.

  • Ann Marshall
    Posted: Mon, 07/13/2020 09:08 am

    Thank you, Dr. Horton, for your measured, gracious outline of the pandemic situation as it now stands. 

     

    I look at wearing a mask as being comparable to getting a vaccination for rubella: we don't vaccinate against such a mild illness to benefit the child receiving the shot. The rubella vaccine was created to benefit unborn children. In other words the mask, like the shot, is for your neighbor. 

  • Nanamiro
    Posted: Sat, 07/18/2020 10:56 pm

    Exept that there is no evidence thus far that the average cloth face covering has any benefit in preventing transmission. In fact, I am wondering if Oregon's transmission rate is increaseing because people are trusting their masks instead of social distancing and washing their hands. 

  •  jrmbasso's picture
    jrmbasso
    Posted: Mon, 07/13/2020 11:19 am

    One reason to wear face masks in public that is usually left out is ithat t physically reminds the wearer to be alert to keeping distance, washing hands, and symptoms of surrounding people. 

  • smlilly
    Posted: Mon, 07/13/2020 11:32 am

    As an Alaskan resident and a public school teacher, in the state, we had 116 cases (July 11's count) on July 12. Ninety-three of those were in residents. I do not understand all the science or public policy surrounding this but what I do know is that no one really knows what will happen. We have not had the deaths here as in other places and nothing precludes a rise in deaths in the future. When (of if) school resumes face-to-face, my students will want to know the truth about this crazy time and situation from me. I will need to trust God--who is the Author of wisdom and gives it to all who ask for it, per James--and the Holy Spirit for the wisdom to know what to say. I appreciate World's coverage and balance of perspectives. Both political parties--and presidential campaigns--have politicized this issue so to the point where we do not know whom to trust. We believers need to seek the Father--who provides all things for life and godliness through the knowledge of His Son--for what we need. He will give it. Then we need to walk it out. Love God, love others...sounds easy, very hard to do. 

  • Idaho ob
    Posted: Mon, 07/13/2020 05:44 pm

    The lies continue about Sweden.  No worse than those had a full lockdown. Similar in size, climate and population to Michigan.  Many fewer deaths.

    the lies and misunformation continue

  • SteveInMA
    Posted: Mon, 07/13/2020 10:32 pm

    I think your article is a good attempt to explain the covid panic and why we simply should not ignore it, but it falls short in more important areas, some medical, some not. The first is that, although the virus is statistically slightly more dangerous than the flu, its on par with other illnesses we have in the U.S., which for decades have occured without the media attention that this situation is getting. This doesn't mean we should not practice the appropriate safe techniques,  but it should make the people of the entie world wonder why we aren't doing so more often for other diseases. After all, the flu can kill someone who is immune compromised. However, when the COVID-19 situation dies down I bet you won't find anyone in the U.S. advocating that.

    Also, why is the nunber of infections the only number talked about. Isn't the mortality rate more important? Why do the CDC mortality rate numbers for COVID-19 also include flu and pneumonia deaths?  All these seemingly minor issues add up to a lot of mistrust in the reporting of this virus. Anyone who takes this data on face value should rethink why they are doing so.

    Because of this misreporting, COVID-19 is seen by many as something unique (in terms of the numbers its producing) and incredibly dangerous. This is taken to an extreme by some who wear masks while out gardening,  jogging,  and even driving in cars alone. Even going into a store wearing a mask does very little. There is practically no chance you can spread the disease by simply walking by someone, so unless you stop and talk with someone, is the mask really of any use?  A mask is meant to stop slaiva droplets, not the actual virus itself.  Some people may even believe a cloth over the face will stop something as small as a virus.  That misinformarion can be deadly and there is no attempt being made to correct it, in fact sometimes it seems like it is encouraged. There is so much obvious misinformation being spread that to say the reporting of this is not political (on a world wide scale) seems unrealistic.  

    The article identifies the political divide as a cause of the problem.  On that I agree. In the U.S. there is little trust in anything elected officials say. I think if the two major parties came together and bought before the people a unified plan, most people in the U.S. would have been shocked and easily honored the requests out of sheer amazement that the parties agreed on something.  Instead, the blatant attempt to "blame" and the distrust of decades has led us to where we are today. 

    Yet, I believe that for the safety of others we should wear masks, but only in the necessary situations.  No reason to wear a mask in your car or backyard, but when going into a store or even just to make someone else feel secure, it doesn't hurt to wear it. 

    My last point is that the U.S. is too diverse for any one COVID-19 plan to be effective. The article points to other counties and says "if the U.S. did what country XYZ did then..." without taking into account demographics, as well as value and philosophy differences.  In response I say if people in other countries valued their freedom and "right to choose" as much as some Americans, they would quickly realize how strange the criticisms of America sounds. 

    The article fails to address most of these issues. If the questions and objections many people have were strictly medical,  the article would be more appropriate.  But because all the misinformation that is being allowed to propagate is left unchecked, the article leaves the some significant questions unanswered and fails to recognize the problem as far more than just a medical concern. 

  • Nanamiro
    Posted: Sat, 07/18/2020 11:04 pm

    I agree. This whole global response is incredibly political and even feels experimental. There is just no other way to explain why we are still in this bizarre situation.

  • DC
    Posted: Thu, 07/16/2020 09:50 am

    I agree that we should take the coronavirus seriously. I also agree/appreciate your closing encouragement that we Christian’s speech should be seasoned with salt (notice Col. 4:6 does not say “sugar”.)

     

    I’m not sure the novel coronavirus should have been called a pandemic, the main reason being that this illness has mostly affected those whose health was already quite compromised by comorbidities.  Closing state economies for 3-5 months was a very-controlling response to a new/unknown virus (which is now more known.)

     

    do not think there are enough stats to say coronavirus has only infected  roughly one-twentieth of the population.” In some locations, one-seventh of the population was found by testing to have the antibodies.  Maybe that is true is many places.

     

    Regarding reason #5: “What happens to people who don’t die”:  again, this is mostly about those with major pre-existing conditions.  I have found that many doctors (not all) are focused on disease and eradicating it and its symptoms, instead of health and maintaining it. Most, most, most healthy people who got Covid-19 were asymptomatic or had a mild illness.

     

    Reasons #6 & 7: Although having enough PPEs, vents, hospital beds, and medical personnel  are worth planning for, many states, including mine, over-planned for them and ended up stock-piling or sharing with other states or paying lots of overtime.

     

    Sorry, but your negative characterization of Sweden, who chose to only minimally close-down is uncalled-for. I compared their current stats to my state of Michigan, with a similar population and strict quarantine rules for 4 months! Sweden has 7415 total cases per million to Michigan’s 7647 and 547 deaths/million, while MI has 632.  Both entities have high population areas as well as low-pop. rural areas.

     

    I so wish that good sense would re-assert itself in the US regarding health. We all know that eating good food, regular exercise, sleeping enough, et al…are important. However, instead, our governors and doctors have told us, ad nauseum, to stay home and stay safe. The good health many of us are experiencing is not touted as a blessing, nor does it get attention, nor are we encouraged to reap its benefits. 

     

    Mary E. Cupery

  • Nanamiro
    Posted: Sat, 07/18/2020 10:59 pm

    I looked at data regarding Europe's  Covid numbers, and Sweden was about in the middle in regards to death rate in Europe. And they didn't collapse their economy and get into horrific debt.