Let’s start with the good news.
Right now, the U.S. has a pivotal window of opportunity to beat back the virus that has rocked the nation. Americans on the whole are starting to follow procedures to help stop the spread, which is also helping stop the spread of the traditional or seasonal flu. This is excellent.
The bad news is that the window of opportunity is quickly shutting. And while many American are following COVID-19 protocols, many others in the country seem unwilling or unable to seize the moment. This is unfortunate since winter is near when colds and the flu typically peak.
Common winter respiratory illnesses are undoubtedly going to complicate the job of finding out who is sick with coronavirus COVID-19 (aka., contact tracing) and who is suffering from a less threatening respiratory tract infection all of which are caused by a variety of human coronavirus strains. Many people may not be aware that human coronaviruses are very common and circulate all year long; it just so happens that the COVID19 strain we are currently battling is a distant cold-causing cousin of human coronaviruses.
The problem the U.S. is now facing is that it has not controlled the first wave of the COVID19 pandemic during the beginning of the “low season” for common coronavirus transmission. Many other countries throughout the world have effectively suppressed the spread of COVID-19 during its first wave and are now worrying about a second wave. Despite the slight decrease in cases in August, an average of 50,000 Americans a day are diagnosed with the virus. And those are just the confirmed cases. We have no idea how many people actually have been infected or how much of the virus is contained. To put the 50,000 figure into perspective, at this rate, the U.S. is having more cases per week than Britain accumulated since the start of the pandemic.
Due to inconsistent and conflicting messaging from government and new agencies, many Americans have been misled about how long and what type of restrictions are necessary in our daily lives. By letting caution be thrown to the wind on both large and small scales, the nation has come away with an attitude that a few weeks of sacrifice this past spring was a sufficient one-time solution. For many Americans, it could be because COVID-19 has not yet touched their lives, but the movement restrictions and other response measures have (a bigger driver of major conflicts and internal debates the U.S. is currently facing). There has instead demanded a stronger emphasis to return back to pre-pandemic lifestyles than in suppressing this virus.
Warmer temperatures of summer did not abate its spread, and recreational activities continue on. Of course, people are less likely to transmit the virus outside (especially if they are wearing face coverings and keeping a safe distance apart), but the assumption all people don’t eventually go inside where, say, an air conditioning unit spreads the virus, cannot be held.
Without a safe and effective vaccine being readily available and most Americans unlikely to be vaccinated before this winter, this pandemic is going to last much longer than any of us anticipated. The virus will continue to easily spread like wildfire as the country pushes for life to return back to pre-pandemic times. For example, as some parts of the country open up K-12 schools and major universities resume in-person classes, we will see virus transmission rates take off and cases start to climb again. Peaks will exceed the peak we have experienced this summer. Winter is only going to reinforce that. Why? More bodies + more exposure to indoor air.
There will most likely be another lockdown this fall. The dangerous pattern we are facing is for spikes in cases to cause temporary restraints and for some people to take these precautions more seriously. As soon as cases start to plateau or decline a little, victory over the virus will be quickly declared by the media, and people will believe they can safely resume their normal life.
As stated by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases:
“It’s like an all or nothing phenomenon, right? ... You are all locked down or you get so discouraged with being in lockdown that you decide you’re going to be in crowded bars … you can have indoor parties with no masks. You can do all the things that are going to get you in trouble.”
The only way we can drive back transmission rates is for all Americans to continue making sacrifices for the greater good. Even if a person feels they are less likely to die from COVID-19 if infected, they are still highly likely to spread the virus to others with weaker immune systems and cause fatal outcomes. The virus does not discriminate.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, we now know that we are not alone in a vacuum. By everyone working together to get cases down to more manageable levels, we’ll be able to eventually allow schools, restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, and so many other businesses to safely reopen and avoid a disastrous winter.
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