That is where we have failed. Those countries that rapidly instituted masks, social distance, frequent hand washing, PLUS Test/Trace/Isolate succeeded in limiting the speed of spread, protected the Medical Care (hospital) system from being over-run, and protected it’s citizens and economy. Those countries bought time to learn enough about the virus to lower the mortality rates by developing treatments that decrease risk of death AND probably disability and to ramp up the hospital care system and PPE.
The US has failed to meet the challenge.
Death may not be the worst outcome, depending on one’s views relative to the balance between longevity and quality of life. Chronic disability (such as congestive heart failure, severe pulmonary insufficiency, kidney failure requiring dialysis, stroke, etc.) can be lifelong and devastating following this infection. Some may consider that shortness of breath after walking 100 feet, requiring a rest before moving on, or kidney dialysis 3 times per week the price one must pay to survive a serious infection. Others may think this sort of severe disability is not acceptable. Many in our society are clueless about these potential outcomes (usually that means they are in denial, a very common defense mechanism used to deal with a terrible threat).
This did not have to be our present state, but it is.
In December US intelligence agencies (including the CIA) and the US military intelligence were already issuing reports about an emerging deadly respiratory virus in China. This went up the chain of command but was ignored by the Whitehouse. In January, Doctor Fauci, at the annual BIOTHREATS CONFERENCE in Washington DC, announced to the bio-tech industry representatives in attendance that this virus was already “beyond containment” and stated that aggressive biomedical development (drugs, vaccines, etc.) would be required. He told attendees that the NIH would “find the money” to support these efforts and that this was a national and global emergency.
Undoubtedly, this was reported to the Whitehouse. These early warnings were not only ignored, they were also widely denied publicly by our highest public official. (The warnings issued in senatorial and congressional committee meetings however, prompted many privileged senators and congress people to sell pandemic-sensitive stocks very early in the “denial phase”).
It is clear that masks and social distancing are effective in limiting spread. Super-spreader cases, case studies of spread in restaurants (China) , call centers (South Korea), and choir rehearsals (Washington State) suggest that both droplet and aerosol transmission occur in non-medical procedure settings.
We already knew that aerosol spread occurred in operating rooms when nasopharyngeal surgery and similar aerosol generating medical procedures were performed. In one operating room event, all 11 doctors and nurses who spent any amount of time in that operating room (despite everyone wearing N95 masks) became infected and the surgeon died from the infection (he had the most exposure). This was reported early on documenting aerosol spread in medical settings.
For those who have not read my previous discussion of aerosol vs droplet spread:
Aerosol = very small lighter-than-air particles containing infectious virus that float in the air and can be recirculated through air-conditioning vents or linger suspended in the air, especially indoors where the air is still.
Droplets = larger particles that fall quickly onto surfaces but can also with a cough, sneeze, scream or singing be transmitted to someone in very close proximity before falling .
Then we learned that carriers/transmitters of the virus can either remain completely without symptoms or develop symptoms as late as 10 days after initial exposure, all the while transmitting the virus to others around them. Assymptomatic transmission makes COVID 19 different from and more dangerous than most other viruses that infect humans.
Let me say that again.
Aerosol transmission makes this virus more dangerous than most other viruses.
Asymptomatic transmission makes this virus more dangerous than most other viruses.
And finally we have learned that this virus is more lethal than most other viruses. For example, COVID 19 is 25 times more lethal than the H1N1 influenza pandemic (references provided in previous post).
To summarize, the combination of easy transmission, asymptomatic transmission, and high mortality rate make this virus exceptionally dangerous and difficult to control.
How did the US respond?
Instead of rapidly ramping up PPE, testing, tracing, and isolation public health capability we instead had national leadership that said this was just like “another flu” virus and would “go away”. The narrative constantly shifted, but more importantly, effective action was not taken, and still has not been taken.
Testing remains woefully inadequate.
In many areas of our country it can take 5 days to schedule a test and 10 days to get the results. Such tests are useless. To effectively implement TEST/TRACE/ISOLATE we need rapid and widespread testing, rapid reporting, and a system to then trace contacts and isolate infected and exposed individuals. The US still shamefully lacks these essential services.
John’s Hopkins University early on developed an on-line contact tracing training program. But public funding to hire such trained individuals has been inadequate.
Isolation requires facilities in which exposed or infected individuals have their own bathroom and bedroom, have food provided, and are medically supervised until they are no longer infectious.
The US does not have such facilities. Individuals, unless they are financially very secure, do not have access to a home or other environment where this is possible. Worse, those essential workers (meat packers, food delivery, nursing aids, etc.) who earn the least, usually live in cramped housing conditions with multi-generation households in which isolation is impossible. Such individuals often live from paycheck to paycheck, so staying home from work means the family does not eat or the rent is not paid. So they go to work infecting others.
The result has been not just death and disability but horrible economic consequences.
Our shutdowns could have been shorter had we acted quickly and effectively.
Had we responded rapidly and appropriately, we would not be in our present economic predicament. So ironically and tragically, those that complain that shutdowns “were not necessary” and masks “are not necessary” contribute to the worsening economic consequences. As the virus surges following relaxation of restrictions, further restrictions and economic consequences become necessary.
Compounding this situation is the denial on the part of many individuals regarding the science and facts about this virus. Part of this denial is the result of our con-artist in chief, (and some governors) misrepresenting the facts to the public and displaying inappropriate behavior (such as refusal to wear a mask until most recently).
The other component of this denial is based on the natural tendency of humans to ignore data that is threatening and not consistent with personal ideology and beliefs. Beliefs such as “the government lies, the government is not to be trusted, the government cannot tell me what to do” presents obstacles to social behavior that would protect not just oneself and family, but the community (and economy) in general.
Contact tracers have reported that sometimes people hang up on them, refuse to cooperate, sometimes saying that it is an “invasion of privacy” or a “government hoax”.
Such beliefs and behaviors are encouraged by misinformation in the social media, shock-jocks such as Rush Limbaugh, conspiracy theories, and supported by dangerous politicians who have placed party over country, ideology over science, the next election over the good of the country.
The best way to mitigate the dire health and ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES of this pandemic include all those components that have worked in other countries:
- SOCIAL DISTANCE
- FREQUENT HAND WASHING
- SOCIAL BUBBLE
This is a sad state. In the meantime what can you do?
In the context of the COVID 19 pandemic I will close with the usual summary.
- Avoid alcohol consumption (alcohol wreaks havoc with your immunity)
- Get plenty of sleep (without adequate sleep your immune system does not work well )
- Follow good sleep habits
- Exercise, especially out of doors in a green space, supports the immune system
- Get some sunshine and make sure you have adequate Vitamin D levels.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet rich in micronutrients.
- Practice stress reduction like meditation and yoga which improves the immune system
- Eliminate sugar-added foods and beverages from your diet. These increase inflammation, cause metabolic dysfunction, and suppress immunity.
- Eliminate refined-inflammatory “vegetable oils” from your diet, instead eat healthy fat.
- Clean up your home environment and minimize your family’s exposure to environmental toxins by following recommendations at EWG.org with regards to household products, personal care products, and organic foods. (https://www.ewg.org/)
THIS WEBSITE PROVIDES INFORMATION FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. CONSULT YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER FOR MEDICAL ADVICE.
Eat clean, drink filtered water, love, laugh, exercise outdoors in a greenspace, get some morning sunlight, block the blue light before bed, engage in meaningful work, find a sense of purpose, spend time with those you love, AND sleep well tonight.