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Why America’s window of opportunity to defeat COVID-19 is closing



This story originally appeared on STAT, a health and medicine website that provides ambitious coronavirus coverage. Go here for more stories on the virus. try STAT More for exclusive analysis of biotechnology, pharmacy and life sciences. And look at STAT Tracker COVID-19.

The good news: The United States has a window of opportunity to defeat Covid-19 before things get much worse.

The bad news: That window is closing fast. And the country seems unwilling or unable to seize the moment.

Winter is coming. Winter means cold and flu season, which is sure to complicate the task of figuring out who is sick with Covid-1

9 and who suffers from a less threatening respiratory tract infection. It also means that the liberated outdoor freedoms that connect us to pre-Covid life – pop-up restaurant patios, park picnics, beach trips – will soon be out of reach, at least in the northern parts of the country.

If Americans do not use the difficult weeks between now and the onset of “indoor weather” to reduce broadcasting 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 Disease Studies and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

It is possible, of course, that some vaccines could be approved by then, thanks to rapid scientific work. But there is little prospect that large numbers of Americans will be vaccinated in time to predict gloomy winter Osterholm and others predict.

Human coronaviruses, the distant cousins ​​of the cold-causing virus that causes Covid-19, circulate year-round. Now is usually the low season for broadcasting. But this summer of America’s failed Covid-19 response, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is spreading across the country, and pandemic-tired Americans seem more interested in resuming their pre-Covid lifestyle than in suppressing the virus to the point where schools can reopen, and stay open, and restaurants, cinemas, and gyms can operate with some restrictions.

“We have to aim for no transmission before we open schools and put children in a damaged position – children and their teachers and caregivers. And so, if that does not mean fitness, there is no cinema, so to be, “said Caroline Buckee, associate director of the Center for Transmissible Disease Dynamics at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health.

“We seem to be choosing leisure activities now on child safety within a month. And I can not understand this trade.”

While many countries managed to suppress the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the United States has failed in misery. Countries in Europe and Asia are worrying about a second wave. Here, the first wave retreats, including both rural and urban parts of the country. Although there has been a small drop in cases in the past two weeks, more than 50,000 Americans a day are being diagnosed with Covid-19. And these are just confirmed cases.

To see this in perspective, at this rate the US is developing more cases within a week than Britain has accumulated since the beginning of the pandemic.

Public health officials had hoped that the transmission of the virus would be reduced by the warmer summer temperatures and the tendency – set up this year – of people taking their recreational activities outside. Experts believe that people are less likely to transmit the virus outside, especially if they have facial clothing and keep a safe distance.

But in some countries, people have thrown Covid warnings before the wind, throwing public health orders in the process. Kristen Ehresmann, director of epidemiology, prevention and control of infectious diseases for the Minnesota Department of Health, tells of a large, three-day rodeo that was recently held in her state. The organizers knew they had to limit the number of attendees to 250, but refused; thousands attended. In Sturgis, SD, a quarter of a million motorcyclists were expected to descend on the city this past weekend for an annual gathering spanning 10 days.

Even on a smaller scale, public health authorities know that some people are removing their guards. Others have never embraced the need to try to prevent the virus from spreading. Ehresmann’s father had recently been invited to visit some friends; he went, she said, but wore his mask, elbows to elbows instead of shaking profiled hands. “And people acted like, …” Oh, you drank that Kool-Aid, “instead of:” We all have to do this. ‘ “

Ehresmann and others in public health have been fueled by the phenomenon of people refusing to accept the risk posed by the virus.

“Just this idea of, ‘I just do not want to believe it that way, so it will not be true’ – honestly, I have not really treated it as it relates to the disease before,” she said.

Buckee, a Harvard expert, wonders if the magic thought that seems to have infected the country’s noises is due to the fact that many of the people who died were elderly. For many Americans, she said, the disease has not yet affected their lives – but movement restrictions and other response measures have.

“I think if the kids were going to die, that would be … another situation, very honestly,” she said.

Epidemiologist Michael Mina despairs that an important opportunity to fight 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 are simply continuing to destroy every possible opportunity we have with this epidemic to get it under control,” said Mina, an assistant professor at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health and associate director of clinical microbiology at Boston Brigham. and the Women’s Hospital. .

“The best time to drain a pandemic is when environmental characteristics are transmitted slowly. “It’s your opportunity a year, in fact, to take advantage of that extra help and get the broadcast under control,” he said, his audible disappointment.

Passing the car would require people to continue to make sacrifices, to accept the fact that life after Covid can not continue as normal, not while many people remain vulnerable to the virus. Rather, people are carefully throwing away the shackles of coronavirus suppression attempts, seemingly convinced that a few weeks of spring sacrifice was a one-time solution.

Osterholm has been warning for months that people were being cheated on how long restrictions on daily life should have been set. He now thinks the time has come for another stalemate. “What we did before and more,” he said.

The country has fallen into a dangerous pattern, Osterholm said, where a swift blow to cases in one country leads to a temporary restriction by people who eventually become alarmed enough to start taking precautions. But as soon as cases start to flatten out on the plateau or fall a little, victory statements against the virus and people think it is safe to resume normal life.

“Like just a phenomenon or nothing, right?” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute on Allergies and Infectious Diseases. “You’re all locked up or you’re so discouraged from putting up the lock that you’re going to be in crowded bars … you can have house parties without masks. You can do all the things you’re going to do. “They bring you into trouble.”

Osterholm said that with the K-12 school year resuming in some parts of the country or starting – along with universities – within a few weeks, broadcasting will be disrupted and issues will start to rise again. He predicted that the next peaks would “exceed exactly the peak we have just experienced. Winter will only strengthen it. Indoor air,” he said.

Buckee thinks that if the country does not change the trajectory that is in operation, more closures are inevitable. “I can not see a way we will have restaurants and bars open during the winter, honestly. We will have revivals. Everything will be closed again.”

Fauci favors a reinstatement of reopening measures, with a strong message component aimed at explaining to people why driving the transmission will now pay off later. Young people in particular need to understand that even if they are less likely to die from Covid-19, statistically speaking, transmission among 20-year-olds will eventually lead to infections between their parents and grandparents, where the risk of infections severe and fatal outcome is higher. (Young people may also develop long-term health problems as a result of the virus.)

“It’s not just them in a vacuum,” Fauci said. “They are spreading it to people who will be blowing up in the hospital.”

Everyone should work together to reduce issues to more manageable levels if the country hopes to avoid “a catastrophic winter,” he said.

“I think we can take it under a much better control, from now until mid-autumn to the end, when we get the flu or whatever you are, in the fall and winter. I’m not giving up,” he said. Fauci.

But without a comprehensive effort “issues will not fall,” he warned. “They are not. They just are not.”


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