We’re at a lull. It doesn’t seem like we are, but it’s true. New York has gotten a handle on its massive outbreak, as has New Jersey. Chicago and Boston have both weathered their respective covid-19 storms. Fatalities, at one point regularly surpassing 2000 daily, have not breached 1000 on any day since June 10th (or throughout all of June, depending on which set of numbers one uses.)
The reason this is a “lull” and not a “downturn” is because the new case numbers have continued to rise. The shutdown operations slowed transmission of the disease, but no cohesive response efforts were taken to combat the virus during that time. The result was a very slow growth in national caseload while localities were able to deal with their individual outbreaks. A combination of premature openings and large-scale gatherings have provided new avenues for the virus to spread.
We are now seeing more new cases per day than we did during the height of the NYC outbreak. They are not, as yet, producing the same number of deaths because those cases are spread across a much larger medical system. Individual medical systems are beginning to strain in various locations, though. There are three factors in play: ICU bed availability; ventilator availability; and medical personnel availability. In a given area, once any one of those three is taxed beyond maximum capacity, the death rate will increase dramatically.
Depending on where the outbreaks occur, we may be able to absorb many more cases of covid-19 before we see such fatalities. If they continue to cluster in specific cities, the death toll will soon rise… thus, a lull.
Hope is on the horizon; work continues apace for vaccine development throughout the world. As reported by Reuters, multiple companies have completed the initial phase of human trials with various levels of reported success. From there, additional human trials will be performed and the vaccines, if they pass, will move on to large-scale production. It is quite probable that multiple vaccines will be available by early 2021.
A variety of vaccines will be ideal, because live vaccine cultures tend to produce longer and greater immunity but many immunocompromised people can tolerate only dead vaccines.
On the positive side of the local coronavirus response, many states and cities are attempting to regulate their openings with an eye toward public safety. On the negative side, many of these places are using guidelines formulated from the initial impressions of the virus.
When the primary transmission mode was believed to be surface contact, it was reasonable to focus most attention on surfaces. Thus, the instructions for hand-washing, the suggested use of gloves, and the sanitizing of things like grocery carts after every use. These are still very important, as transmission via surface contact has been verified. After that, the concern became air transmission, where droplets from speaking, sneezing and coughing were shown to be the main method of spreading the disease. The response to that – masks – has unwisely been met with considerable pushback due to politicization of the topic, but at this point even most of the hesitant Governors and Mayors are promoting their use.
Further investigation demonstrated that aerosolization was a major contributing factor to transmission. This discovery has not been addressed in most recovery models. Because the simple breathing of infected individuals can slowly fill a room with minute droplets bearing covid-19, any “opening” protocol which does not take into account the inherent danger of staying in one enclosed place for 20-30 minutes, unmasked, is insufficient and will all the virus avenues to spread. Currently, that describes the plans in nearly every U.S. city and state.
We’re going to see the numbers continue to rise, both on the caseload and the deaths. The opening protocols, even in the places where leadership is working to ensure safety of their citizenry, are inadequate. And while vaccines are on the way, we’re going to face at least another four months – and possibly closer to eight – without one being available for anyone who wants it.
We can still take control of the virus, but it will require a commitment to mass testing and a large-scale shutdown for a few weeks, and as yet there is no political will for either.