[guest post by Dana]
In a new report at STAT, health experts are becoming increasingly concerned about Covid-19 and the window of opportunity closing on us before we can get a handle on the spread of the virus. After all, the cold and flu season will be upon us soon enough, and there is no end in sight for the pandemic – save for the hopes of an effective vaccine in the future:
…which is all but sure to complicate the task of figuring out who is sick with Covid-19 and who is suffering from a less threatening respiratory tract infection. It also means that cherished outdoor freedoms that link us to pre-Covid life — pop-up restaurant patios, picnics in parks, trips to the beach — will soon be out of reach, at least in northern parts of the country.
Unless Americans use the dwindling weeks between now and the onset of “indoor weather” to tamp down transmission in the country, this winter could be Dickensianly bleak, public health experts warn.
“I think November, December, January, February are going to be tough months in this country without a vaccine,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
While pharmaceutical and biotech companies are involved with vaccine development, the US Dept. of Health and Human Services projects that even with Operation Warp Speed (OWS) in effect, a vaccine will likely not be available until January 2021.
As greater Europe and Asia are currently braced for a second wave of the disease, the US is still in the first wave. States are showing no change in infection rates, a decrease in infection rates, and even some increased infection rates. To put it another way:
[M]ore than 50,000 Americans a day are being diagnosed with Covid-19. And those are just the confirmed cases.
To put that in perspective, at this rate the U.S. is racking up more cases in a week than Britain has accumulated since the start of the pandemic.
While there was hope that the virus would abate during the hot weather, that has not been the case. Experts agree that there is less risk of transmission outdoors, but heavily attended events like the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and Minnesota’s three-day rodeo demonstrates that far too many Americans still don’t take the virus seriously, are tired of the restrictions on their lives, and are throwing caution to the wind.
Public health officials are puzzled by the refusal to take the virus seriously. Kristen Ehresmann, director of infectious disease epidemiology, prevention, and control for the Minnesota Department of Health shakes her head in disbelief:
Just this idea of, ‘I just don’t want to believe it so therefore it’s not going to be true’ — honestly, I have not really dealt with that as it relates to disease before.
Epidemiologist Michael Mina despairs that an important chance to wrestle the virus under control is being lost, as Americans ignore the realities of the pandemic in favor of trying to resume pre-Covid life.
“We just continue to squander every bit of opportunity we get with this epidemic to get it under control,’’ said Mina, an assistant professor in Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and associate medical director of clinical microbiology at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
“The best time to squash a pandemic is when the environmental characteristics slow transmission. It’s your one opportunity in the year, really, to leverage that extra assistance and get transmission under control,” he said, his frustration audible.
Meanwhile, in an effort to encourage more Americans to wear a mask, the CDC will be participating in the World Mask Week campaign, the goal of which is to encourage people around the world to embrace the use of face masks until a vaccine is available.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Pandemic Action Network are partnering with more than 40 organizations to host World Mask Week which began Friday in an effort to increase the use of face coverings across the globe.
Wearing a mask in public spaces has been stressed by medical professionals as a primary way of slowing the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Dr. Ali Nouri, President of the American Federation of Scientists, said the event will help normalize wearing a face mask.
“If you’re not masking, you’re not just putting yourself at risk but you’re putting other people at risk,” said Nouri. “The more people that understand that and realize that their well-being depends on other people doing the right thing, that’s going to generate more pressure, more momentum and more acceptability of masks.”
With that, the state of Kansas just released information about the efficacy of face masks. The results were unsurprising:
The state’s 15 counties with mandatory mask orders — including Wyandotte and Johnson counties in the Kansas City area — have seen a greater decline in coronavirus cases than the remaining 90 counties that don’t mandate them.
Since July 12, not long after counties were given the option of accepting or rejecting Gov. Laura Kelly’s mask mandate, those with mask orders have seen cases decline from about 26 to 16 per 100,000 population. Cases in counties with no mask mandate have stayed relatively flat.
In a state as geographically diverse as Kansas — the 15 mandatory-mask counties contain about two-thirds of the state’s population — there are plenty of variables. Density of population is only one of them. Still, an armchair comparison tells you that masks have made a marked difference in the Sunflower State.
All of the decline in cases, says Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Dr. Lee Norman, “comes from those counties wearing masks.”
“Masks work,” says Dr. Sanmi Areola, director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment. Johnson County’s average number of cases has leveled off and even declined under the mask mandate — “from a high of 116 cases per day the week of July 12 to 90 cases per day last week,” Areola told The Star Friday.
Anthony Fauci points to the need for everyone to take the virus seriously if our country is to get a handle on it:
Everyone has to work together to get cases down to more manageable levels, if the country hopes to avoid “a disastrous winter,” he said.
“I think we can get it under much better control, between now and the mid-to-late fall when we get influenza or we get whatever it is we get in the fall and the winter. I’m not giving up,” said Fauci.
But without an all-in effort “the cases are not going to come down,” he warned. “They’re not. They’re just not.”
Good luck to us.