Americans continue to become infected and die from COVID-19 infections. The new USA death toll is over 191,000. New projections from Washington U. (IHME) are for 410,000 US deaths by January 1, 2021. Approximately 6.4M cases have been diagnosed in the country, about 500,000 of those being children. Thirty states have infection rates higher than 5% with 13 of those states having infection rates of greater than 10%. Although daily cases have fallen to just below 40,000 per day, this is still an extremely high plateau and will lead to significant increases as we relax social distancing recommendations. Recent evidence of the adverse effect of abandoning social distancing can be gleamed from the Sturgis, South Dakota motorcycle rally four weeks ago. The rally drew an estimated 400,000 people and resulted in an estimated 250,000 cases of COVID-19.
Our K-12 schools are reopening varying between in-classroom, or hybrid models. The $200 billion dollars recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is estimated to keep these schools safe, has not been given by the federal government. Therefore, many school districts are lacking proper PPE, accurate and fast-result testing, ventilation upgrades, or adequate space of instruction and isolation. The reopening of colleges has coincided with outbreaks, not unexpected because college life is not typically associated with social distancing. Several major universities have implemented aggressive testing programs, often involving the testing of ALL students, faculty, and staff. Remember that 40% of the cases are asymptomatic and they have been found to be responsible for the spread of 50% of the cases. This universal testing allows the identification of asymptomatic individuals, appropriate contact tracing, and isolation. This is the scientific manner to fight this dangerous virus. It truly remains a dangerous threat to American lives, education, and livelihoods. Young people are not immune, and they are thought to be responsible for the recent summer surge. Concerns are that the reopening of colleges, superimposed on a remarkably high daily case count, will be responsible to a second wave in the fall. Additionally, we see today a 20-year-old Division II football player has died from complications of COVID-19. In recognition of this ongoing threat, several major college athletic conferences had already postponed fall athletics. The University of W. VA. changed from in classroom to remote learning after an outbreak of 500 cases amongst its students. Iowa State has abandoned its plans to have 25,000 fans in the stands for fall football games.
There are actions that we must take as responsible citizens to protect ourselves and those around us. WEAR a mask, WASH your hands, WATCH your distance, and avoid large crowds. These measures, touted in the COVID-19 age, are likely to lessen the impact of the seasonal flu which typically runs from October to May.
Unfortunately, people who contract influenza have lower general immunity resulting in a higher susceptibility to COVID-19. It is thought that a person can contract both at the same time. The “CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age or older be vaccinated every flu season”, preferably before the end of October. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends two doses for children 6 months to 8 years old. We should all get our seasonal flu vaccine, so that the typical yearly thousands of deaths from seasonal influenza will possibly be lessened.
Americans are quite skeptical about taking a COVID-19 vaccine if it becomes available this year. A CBS/U.gov poll reveals that only 21% of voters say they would take a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it became available. This low level of compliance is due to the plummeted trust in the CDC and FDA. The perception of political influence over these organizations has ruined the public’s confidence that those organizations will rely on the science, not political expediency, when making decisions regarding protecting our health. Because of the floundering confidence, nine pharmaceutical companies, which are competitors in the COVID-19 vaccine race, have issued a joint statement that they will not seek “authorization or approval” for a vaccine until they have proof of safety and effectiveness. Even with this unprecedented measure, designed to restore confidence, there must be transparency and independent analysis regarding the trial data to help ease concerns. If there is no confidence, there will be an inadequate number of citizens sitting for a vaccine and there will be no widespread immunity.
Clyde E. Henderson, MD
Cincinnati Medical Association