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America’s coronavirus epidemic had one epicenter but now it has many

The New York Times reports:

Once again, the coronavirus is ascendant. As infections mount across the country, it is dawning on Americans that the epidemic is now unstoppable, and that no corner of the nation will be left untouched.

As of Wednesday, the pathogen had infected at least 4.3 million Americans, killing more than 150,000. Many experts fear the virus could kill 200,000 or even 300,000 by year’s end. Even President Trump has donned a mask, after resisting for months, and has canceled the Republican National Convention celebrations in Florida.

Each state, each city has its own crisis driven by its own risk factors: vacation crowds in one, bars reopened too soon in another, a revolt against masks in a third.

“We are in a worse place than we were in March,” when the virus coursed through New York, said Dr. Leana S. Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner. “Back then we had one epicenter. Now we have lots.”

To assess where the country is heading now, The New York Times interviewed 20 public health experts — not just clinicians and epidemiologists, but also historians and sociologists, because the spread of the virus is now influenced as much by human behavior as it is by the pathogen itself.

Not only are American cities in the South and West facing deadly outbreaks like those that struck Northeastern cities in the spring, but rural areas are being hurt, too. In every region, people of color will continue to suffer disproportionately, experts said.

While there may be no appetite for a national lockdown, local restrictions must be tightened when required, the researchers said, and governors and mayors must have identical goals. Testing must become more targeted.

In most states, contact tracing is now moot — there are simply too many cases to track. And while progress has been made on vaccines, none is expected to arrive this winter in time to stave off what many fear will be a new wave of deaths.

Overall, the scientists conveyed a pervasive sense of sadness and exhaustion. Where once there was defiance, and then a growing sense of dread, now there seems to be sorrow and frustration, a feeling that so many funerals never had to happen and that nothing is going well. The United States is a wounded giant, while much of Europe, which was hit first, is recovering and reopeningalthough not to us.

“We’re all incredibly depressed and in shock at how out of control the virus is in the U.S.,” said Dr. Michele Barry, the director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health at Stanford University.

With so much wealth and medical talent, they asked, how could we have done so poorly? How did we fare not just worse than autocratic China and isolated New Zealand, but also worse than tiny, much poorer nations like Vietnam and Rwanda?

“National hubris and belief in American exceptionalism have served us badly,” said Martha L. Lincoln, a medical anthropologist and historian at San Francisco State University. “We were not prepared to see the risk of failure.” [Continue reading…]

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