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The good news: The United States has a chance to beat Covid-19 before things get much worse.
The bad news: That window is closing fast. And the country seems unwilling or unable to grasp the moment.
Winter is coming. Winter means cold season and flu season, which will certainly complicate the task of finding out who has Covid-19 disease and who has a less threatening respiratory infection. It also means that the honored outdoor freedoms that unite us to life before Covid – pop-up restaurant patios, park picnics, trips to the beach – will be soon. out of reach, at least in the northern parts of the country.
Public health experts warn, unless Americans use the declining weeks from now until the onset of “indoor weather” to prevent transmission in the country, otherwise, this winter will could be very bleak.
Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said: “I think November, December, January and February will be difficult months in this country without vaccines. please.
Of course, it was possible that some vaccines might have been approved at that time, thanks to rapid scientific research in history. But there is little prospect that a large number of Americans will be vaccinated in time to prevent the grim winter in Osterholm and others foresee.
Human coronavirus, a distant relative of the virus that causes Covid-19, circulates all year round. Now is usually the low season for transmission. But in the summer of this year in response to the failed US Covid-19, the SARS-CoV-2 virus spread across the country and pandemic-tired Americans seem interested in continuing their former lifestyles. Covid rather than suppresses the virus to the point where schools can be reopened and always open, at the same time restaurants, movie theaters and gyms can operate with some restrictions.
“We should set the goal of not transmitting disease before we open schools and we put children at risk – children and their teachers and caregivers. And so if that means no gyms, no movie theaters, ”said Caroline Buckee, deputy director of the Infectious Diseases Dynamism Center at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health. know.
“We seem to be choosing recreational activities over children’s safety for a month’s time. And I cannot understand the trade-off.
While many countries have attempted to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the United States has failed miserably. Countries in Europe and Asia are worried about a second wave. Here, the first wave emerged, engulfing rural and urban areas of the country. Although the number of cases has decreased slightly in the past few weeks, more than 50,000 Americans a day are being diagnosed with Covid-19. And those are just confirmed cases.
To put it plainly, at this rate, the United States is having more cases in a week than the UK has accumulated since the beginning of the pandemic.
Public health officials have been hoping the transmission of the virus will ease as the summer’s warm temperatures and a trend – soaring this year – for outdoor recreational activities. Experts believe that people are less likely to transmit the virus outside, especially if they’re wearing a face mask and keeping a safe distance.
But in some places, people have bounced Covid’s warnings with the wind, violating public health orders in the process. Kristen Ehresmann, director of epidemiology, prevention and control of infectious diseases at the Minnesota Department of Health, points to a large three-day competition recently held in her state. The organizers knew they had to limit attendance to 250 people but declined; thousands of people attended. In Sturgis, SD, it is estimated that about a quarter of a million motorbike riders will flock to the city last weekend for an annual 10-day protest.
Even on a smaller scale, public health agencies know some people are caught off guard. Others have never accepted the need to try to stop the spread of the virus. Ehresmann’s father was recently invited to visit some of his friends; She was gone, she said, but wearing a mask, touching her elbow instead of shaking hands in greeting. “And people acting like, …” Oh, you drank that Kool-Aid, “instead,” We all need to do this. “
Ehresmann and others in the public health industry are puzzled by the phenomenon of people refusing to acknowledge the danger posed by the virus.
“It’s just this idea, ‘I just don’t want to believe it so it won’t come true’ – to be honest, I haven’t really solved that problem since it has to do with disease before,” she said. .
Buckee, a Harvard expert, wondered if the magical thinking that seemed to have infected the country was due to the fact that many of the people who died were the elderly. For many Americans, she said, the disease hasn’t affected their lives yet – but mobility restrictions and other coping measures do.
“I thought if the children died, this would be… another situation, quite honestly,” she said.
Epidemiologist Michael Mina is frustrated that the crucial opportunity to regain control of the virus is being lost, as Americans ignore the reality of the pandemic in an attempt to continue living before Covid.
“We continue to squander the opportunity to have,” said Mina, associate professor at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health and associate medical director of clinical microbiology at Women’s Hospital and Brigham in Boston. Get with this plague to control it. .
“The best time to quell a pandemic is when the environmental characteristics are slow to spread. It’s your only chance of the year, really, to take advantage of that extra support and take control of the transmission, ”he said, audible disappointment.
Fostering a resumption of transmission will require people to continue to make sacrifices, accepting the fact that life after Covid cannot be as usual, not while so many people are still susceptible to infection. Instead, people happily throw away the shackles of coronavirus suppression efforts, seemingly believing that a few weeks of sacrifice in springtime are a one-time solution.
For months, Osterholm warned that people were being confused about how long the limits in everyday life would need to be applied. Now he thinks it’s time for another course. “What we’ve done before and beyond,” he said.
The country was in jeopardy, Osterholm said, as the number of illnesses in one location spiked leading to some temporary restrictions on those who were finally alert enough to initiate precautions. But as soon as the cases began to stabilize or diminish a little, victory over the virus was declared and everyone thought it was safe to continue living a normal life.
“It’s like an all or nothing phenomenon, doesn’t it?” Said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “You are all locked up or you are so frustrated with being locked up that you decide to be in crowded bars… you can have indoor parties without wearing a mask. You can do all the things that will be difficult for you. ”
Osterholm said with the K-12 school year to begin again in some parts of the country or begin – along with the universities – in a few weeks, the transmission will begin and cases will begin. started to rise again. The next vertices, he predicts, will “go beyond the ones we just experienced. Winter will be just to reinforce that. Indoor air, ”he said.
Buckee argued that if the country did not change orbit, more shutdowns would be inevitable. “To be honest, I can’t see how we will open restaurants and bars in the winter. We will revive. Everything will stop working again.
Fauci favors a re-establishment of reopening measures, with a powerful messaging component that explains to everyone why reducing the transmission speed now works later. Young people especially need to understand that even if they are less likely to die from Covid-19, statistically speaking, transmission between 20 subjects will eventually lead to infection for parents and grandparents. where there is a risk of severe infections and leading to death. higher. (Young people can also develop long-term health problems caused by a virus.)
“They are not alone in a vacuum,” said Fauci. “They’re spreading it to people who are going to blow the wind in the hospital.”
Everyone must work together to bring cases down to a more manageable level, if the country hopes to avoid “a catastrophic winter,” he said.
“I think we can control it much better, from now to mid to late fall when we get the flu or we catch whatever we get in the fall and winter. I don’t give up, ”said Fauci.
But without the effort “the cases will not decrease,” he warned. “Not. They just aren’t. “
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