The seventh month of COVID-19 begins

Lessons from Italy that the USA has not yet learned, some encouraging signs in Arizona, and a top thought leader has optimism about COVID-19 treatments. These are the top stories for July 31, 2020.

As we enter our seventh month of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have some optimism. Not a lot, but some is better than none, right?

More governors and other state or local leaders are taking actions independently from the federal government (or at least its leader,) and instead, they are looking at the reality in each area and implementing virus mitigation strategies that align with those realities. In Arizona, signs are starting to indicate that the recent shift in strategy is slowing the rate of new cases. We need more of this. More on my thoughts after these incredibly long six months are below today’s top stories:

Six months ago, on January 30, COVID-19 leapt into the headlines for the first time, when the World Health Organization declared a “global health emergency.” It’s no stretch to say that few — or perhaps no — public health or medical professionals ever imagined that this emerging infectious disease would spread uncontrolled across the United States and that six months later, there would still be no national plan on how to respond to the pandemic.

Those of us who have worked in healthcare have profound sadness, not only for the 150,000+ lives lost and hundreds of thousands who may suffer permanent disabilities from COVID-19, but also for the abandonment of America’s leadership in global health. It’s not that we didn’t know how to do this. Our strategic response to Ebola included dispatching our best experts to West Africa to both treat the people who needed help but also learn how to prevent the disease from spreading. That is how global health works. That is one of the most important failings of our recent response.

Nobody can claim they were not warned. The current administration reduced the USA’s national health security plan from 100+ pages to about 24 pages — eliminating the details about how and why to coordinate with other governments and what a strategic US response to an emerging infectious disease includes. Instead, the Trump administration’s “America alone” approach has left us with a crazy-quilt of tests that yield variable results, confusion over the risks and protective methods, and discord when unity is more important than ever before.

Solving this requires every one of us as individuals to step up.

Here are my main observations on this somber anniversary:

  • There is no part of the United States that is “COVID-19 free.” Once we accept this, we can start to take mitigation strategies seriously. Check out for the actual numbers, in vivid visualizations.

  • Even though the virus keeps proving to be more complex than originally believed, physicians have gotten much better at taking care of people. The result: much lower mortality among people who get to the right hospitals at the right time. The emerging result: long-term disability related to COVID-19 will be increasing.

  • Public health cannot be handled in a vacuumNo matter how adeptly one city or one state responds to an infectious disease outbreak, the impact of an effective response in one area is muted or erased if surrounding areas approach it differently.

  • Experience counts: Complaints that test results are taking up to two weeks are no surprise to anyone who has worked on outbreak response previously. And the mounting testing disaster we see now was described completely in this March article in The Atlantic.

  • Getting control over COVID-19 will happen only if individuals take action collectively and decisively in sufficient numbers that any political leaders opposing health measures become irrelevant. The decisions by large private-sector employers in the greater San Francisco area to shut their offices led the way for government officials to tell everyone else to stay home, too. We need more of this. In other words: stay home, cover your face, give others space and wash your hands. Even if there is a successful vaccine by early 2021, the virus threat will remain very real.

The bottom line is that it’s up to each of us. Take care of yourselves, take care of the people around you, and take care of your communities. We can do it. We must.

What do you think we should learn from this and do now? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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