Looking back, and looking ahead

Science advances against COVID-19, but denial remains biggest factor thwarting COVID-19 control across the United States. Let's check the record and focus on what matters for the future.

Coming soon for subscribers only: A special report on pandemic planning since 2005 and what 2020 tells us about protecting America from future health risks. Not a subscriber? Please sign up today. Paying subscribers get special reports like this first plus access to my COVID-19 archives. Free subscribers are welcome, too.

Get 33% off for 1 year

An eery feeling came over me a few days ago when I stumbled upon a message that I sent to a friend in a foreign country in mid-March:

By mid-March, the calamity-in-progress was coming into focus, but even those of us who saw the potential explosion of COVID-19 cases across the USA did not imagine that nearly 200,000 American lives would be cut short by Labor Day.

One key point stands out clearly: much of what was said by experts in February and March was true then and remains true today. Facing these facts remains an essential step to bringing the COVID-19 emergency under control — including its impact on jobs, schools, and everything else.

Let’s do a quick recap of facts that were true in March and remain true today:

  1. The only way to stop the outbreak is to prevent transmission of the virus from one person to another.

  2. Essential steps to prevent transmission include keeping people from getting close together and being diligent about handwashing and other sanitation.

  3. Containing the virus from spreading requires rapid, accurate testing to identify individuals who are infected with COVID-19 so that they know they must isolate until no longer contagious.

  4. Medical science evolves, so what we think we know now may change tomorrow or next week or next month.

Much has changed, too:

  • While we must be diligent about sanitation and keeping hands clean, the risk of disease transmission from objects like groceries or mail is lower than once thought.

  • As surface-to-hand transmission appears to be less significant, airborne transmission is much more important and dangerous than we expected based on other coronaviruses. This is why gatherings are risky, and indoor gatherings are even riskier.

  • The disease caused by the COVID-19 virus is not just a respiratory infection. It attacks multiple organs and systems, including significant heart and circulatory effects.

  • Steroids, antivirals and other treatments have made a huge impact on COVID-19 survival. The timing of treatment makes a big difference, and survival also appears to depend on where the sickest people are. Outcomes are better for treatments at large, especially academic, medical centers.

  • Those who recover from COVID-19 may have long-lasting or perhaps permanent health consequences. This may be true even in people who experience mild or no symptoms.

When I hear President Trump proclaim that the United States response to COVID-19 has been “perfect” — or whatever he says, I know that his words influence enough people to thwart any real effort to halt COVID-19. Nonetheless, recent trends are improving. Let’s pay more attention to what is working: more people covering their faces, giving others space, and keeping hands clean.

Only a few weeks ago, nearly every state was tallying increasing new cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Now, 15 states are stable or trending in the right direction, and only North Dakota has a sharply increasing trend, according to the disease trackers at Johns Hopkins. The team at Covid Exit Strategy has a gloomier view of the data.

Meantime, a British expert raises a caution flag about early vaccines, saying the best case is that the first vaccines will be only partly effective. Ending the pandemic won’t happen so fast, says Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust.

Let’s keep taking care of each other — covering our faces, washing our hands, and giving each other space. We are in it for the long-haul.

Want more posts like this? Have a question for me to answer in my next video update?

Leave a comment