Nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases: Vaccines and what to expect
By Cassandra Drumond
San Francisco. We have seen a nationwide increase in COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks, and we are now seeing many counties across the United States tighten restrictions on indoor gatherings and other high-risk activities.
Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, provides an update on the current numbers: “We have 10.5 million who have been infected in the US, about a quarter of a million deaths. Infections are still on the rise and daily rates of new infections are currently between 120,000 to 150,000. This is a 60% increase from the past two weeks. About 1000 people die from COVID every day. These numbers are much higher than the first two waves of the virus and flu season hasn’t even started. Healthcare workers have been dealing with the virus for about 8 months and they are getting burnt out. This is one of the many implications beyond those who get COVID. It is a rippling effect that has many consequences beyond getting ill.”
Dr. Nirav Shah, adjunct professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Stanford University School of Medicine, discusses what we can do in the next few months to make a difference: “First, it is not a surprise the numbers are rising in the wrong direction, we predicted this with people staying indoors, and the colder months. Without broad protections we know we need to take precautions such as masking and not gathering in large groups. Also, we cannot solely count on vaccines, it will require a multiple pronged approach. It means still wearing masks, still social distancing, still hand washing. It will mean protecting essential workers, protecting the elderly and other populations that are the most vulnerable. There has to be a really collective effort in order to beat this and it requires everyone to do their part.”
Regarding testing, Dr. Jha explains why we are at the worst moment of the pandemic: “We have the most infections right now than at any other point. The truth is, we know we are missing two thirds of all infections, because testing is inadequate. This is a moment of exponential growth. We will get to 2000 deaths a day by mid-December. There is a huge disconnect between how bad things are and how little attention the country is paying to it. In terms of why we are here and how we got here, we are here because we have an administration that two months ago decided to stop engaging and helping with the pandemic. When Dr. Scott Atlas took over the COVID taskforce his strategy, which he has been very explicit about, is just letting the infection run. Their footing has changed to ‘we are no longer trying to control the pandemic’ so all of these things combined got us where we are right now.”
Although the Biden administration does not have any current power, he does have a degree of ‘soft power’ meaning he has influence over his audience, as Dr. Shah points out. He can do a road trip to red states and talk to people about why wearing masks can help stop COVID. It won’t convince everyone. And as Dr. Jha explains: “There are enormous challenges for Biden in terms of COVID and the vaccine. Logistical supply chain challenges, in terms of transportation, storage and distribution. And getting the vaccines out into the community, and lastly and probably most importantly, there is a huge challenge around vaccine hesitancy in communities of color but certainly other communities as well. We’re going to have to engage with people and understand where their distrust comes from. It’s going to require civil leaders, and community leaders to be fully engaged. We’re not going to have mandatory vaccines. If we don’t do the hard work and just put the vaccine out there, we’re going to have 30 to 40 percent of people who don’t get vaccinated and it won’t be enough to get the pandemic under control.”
Addressing the current climate, Dr. Shah explains: “We are at a time when trust in science is at an all-time low. We need to work on rebuilding trust in science. When you talk about masks, it’s a science issue, not a political issue. It is our responsibility to repeat the messages based on science that we know is true. If you communicate clearly what the science says, in terms of what we do know, along with telling people what we still do not know, people will trust leaders and we’ll see changed behavior in a short amount of time. Communicating at regular intervals with all of the data, without having leaders contradict each other in the public eye is very effective.” COVID-19 is still present in our communities and each person should be doing their part by wearing a mask and social distancing, so collectively we can see a decrease in cases and deaths.