Bearing Witness to the Pandemic November 2020

Week of November 1-7

As the month begins COVID cases are soaring uncontrolled across the country. Daily new counts reach an all time high of over 125,000 and fatalities rise above 1,000 per day. In the Spring we would have been under lock-down by now. It seems our leadership has not only failed us but given up, too afraid of the backlash to enforce a national mask mandate much less send everyone back home. They are the cowards, not those of us who wear masks and stay home.

And what does the President do? On Monday the day before the election, Trump threatens to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci from his role on the White House Pandemic Task Force. Trump had previously called the doctor a disaster and idiot. Dr. Fauci had said over the past weekend that there was going to be a “whole lot of hurt” in the coming weeks. Like a Nazi calling for a purge, Trump then worked up his adoring fans at a campaign rally into chanting “Fire Fauci.” And of course this happened at a campaign event in Florida where most did not wear masks or maintain social distancing. Trump was even seen tossing out his Make America Sicker Again hats into the crowd. All this despite a new round of infections within the White House including Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. How fitting that it was only two weeks ago that Meadows claimed they were not going to get the pandemic under control. There is nothing under control inside the White House, especially the President.

As the nation rapidly approaches 10 million cases, Trump continues to falsely claim that we are “rounding the turn” and that the problem is that we are doing “‘too much testing.” Tell this to the doctors and nurses at hospitals in some locations that are reporting all-time highs of COVID patients with temporary morgues being set back up like in El Paso. Contact tracers are overwhelmed and can’t keep up with the new infections. Testing lines and wait times for results are mounting. Thank goodness that more states are reinstating business closings, public curfews, and sending students home from public schools. Yet, resistance by conservative Trump supporters, who are egged on by the President’s own propaganda and reckless behavior, to wearing masks to protect members of their own community is as widespread as the virus. Trumpism acts like a virus that has infected many.

Despite the pandemic that has taken 235,000 lives in the US so far, Americans took to the polls often standing in lines for hours to vote. It was one of the most encouraging sights of the whole miserable year that thousands of poll workers and vote tabulators risked their own health to support the health of our democracy. Over 150 million Americans are estimated to have voted this year, with 100 million of those by early voting, out of 240 million eligible voters. This brings the turnout to a respectable 67%, which is high for the US although low for many democracies around the world.

Week of November 8-14

News of what is becoming a humanitarian disaster, the third wave in the US, is much worse this week. Daily case counts are now exceeding a record-breaking 150,000. Each day with a count that high can be expected to produce several thousand new additional deaths in the coming weeks. Some are warning that given the current trend, where the virus is out of control in community spread, the daily case count may double before the end of the year. Worldwide case counts are now above 50,000,000 and the daily death count is running above 10,000 per day.

The country has added nearly 1 million new cases in just the past week. Before then it went from 9 million to 10 million in just 10 days time. The worst outbreaks are now coming in rural areas, many which have resisted public health advice. The average daily death rate has once again risen above 1,000 as it did in the Spring; the equivalent of two jumbo jets crashing to the ground. On one day this week nearly 1,900 fatalities were reported. The death count rises to 245,000 at the end of the week.

The CDC now forecasts 280,000 deaths by early December, leaving others to project a year-end total of 300,000. Another CDC study concludes that there has already been 300,000 fatalities when all COVID-related excess deaths are included, and that the true year-end total may be closer to 400,000. Excess death rates are highest among the young and minority populations who have underlying health problems that were thought to be triggered by the virus or the body’s immune response to it. Part of that total is due to so many non-COVID patients delaying medical treatment due to concerns of their safety or perhaps loss of jobs, income, and health care benefits.

The states of Texas and California have each surpassed 1 million cases. More states are reverting back to lockdowns with restrictions on inside dining, social gatherings, quarantining visitors, and non-essential travel. There are an estimated 70,000 COVID patients who are sick enough to be hospitalized. Medical gear has once again become scarce. Contract tracers have given up in some communities. Tent hospitals and temporary morgues are springing up. ICUs are nearing capacity. Exhausted health care workers continue to beg their communities to stay home, wear masks, and cancel holiday gatherings.

Each state and community is pretty much on their own as the Federal Government appears to all but have given up. President Trump is just too busy playing golf and denying his election loss to be bothered with saving more American lives. And Congress still cannot pass a new pandemic relief package.

How ironic that as the country marks Veterans Day, so many self-proclaimed conservative patriotic Americans resist state-wide, much less nation-wide, mask mandates. I guess that is just asking too damn much of a sacrifice for them to wear a mask in public. They should just be lucky they are not being drafted, sent to boot camp, and then overseas to fight and die from a different type of enemy that is less deadly to the homeland than Coronavirus.

Large city hospital admissions in the Midwest are spiking with a flood of sick patients now coming from non-mask wearing rural areas. The infection rate of those tested is over 30% in some rural communities, due mostly to spread from family and social gatherings.  Governors like Missouri’s Mike Parson refuse to enact state-wide mask mandates saying people should just take personal responsibility and do the right thing. How is that working out for us, Gov? Your rural supporters who shun wearing masks or limiting public gatherings are now being turned away from city hospitals that are overwhelmed. And because you failed to support Medicaid expansion, dozens of rural hospitals across Missouri have closed up in recent years. You constantly talk about personal freedoms and choice, but you don’t seem to understand the other half of the conservative tenet that with personal rights come civic responsibilities. If they don’t want to follow advice or think it is a hoax just to hurt Trump, then fine, you take responsibility with the buck stopping at your desk to find a way care for the sick, bury the dead, and take care of their grieving families.

In some badly needed good news drug maker Pfizer announced outstanding success with its vaccine late-stage trials, claiming a 95% efficacy rate. It is expected that emergency use authorization will be given within the month and the first immunization shots administered before the end of the year. But instead of celebrating the good news and congratulating the scientists who made this possible, the President blamed Pfizer and his own FDA for withholding the announcement until the week after his election loss. Least we forget that everything is about him and his fragile ego. The President should be having daily meetings monitoring a war-time logistical effort to get the vaccine produced, distributed, and given to 300 hundred plus million Americans anxiously awaiting it, many whose lives will be saved by it.

Week of November 15-21

On Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, the nation passed the grim milestone of 250,000 confirmed deaths. The week ended at 255,000. That is an average of one death in less than every minute. Total cases topped 11 million, rising at the staggering rate of 1 million a week.  There were nearly 200,000 cases reported on Friday alone with at least 150,000 the rest of the past week. Over 80,000 people are now hospitalized. It is projected that another 100,000 could be dead by the end of the year if the current trends are not arrested.

Positive test rates peak over 50% in some western states like Wyoming and South Dakota where patients are being flown out of rural areas and even the state to wherever they can find available hospital beds. The high test rates are likely because no one believes they can get COVID, or that it doesn’t even exist, until it is too late and they get so sick they have to be tested. In North Dakota, a state which has resisted mask wearing and its Republican Governor refused to do his most important job of protecting the public, it is reported that 1 out of every 10 residents has tested positive. In South Dakota, where Governor Noem gladly hosted the Sturgis cycle rally then refused to support mask mandates or other restrictions, the test positivity rate was nearly 60%.

However, in some states like Missouri, Republican Governor Mike Parson still resists mask mandates saying folks just need to be responsible. That guidance apparently did not work out for even his own Republican state legislators who had to postpone a special session to focus on distributing virus relief funds. Many of them became sick or went into quarantine from attending a largely mask-free GOP caucus session with the governor, who a few months ago had become ill from the virus as well. And these are the folks who are suppose to protect us, and they can’t even protect themselves? Public health officials, mayors, hospital executives, and healthcare workers in the state’s largest cities of St. Louis and Kansas City beg the governor for a state-side mask mandate.

Finally, the White House Task Force had its first public briefing in months. They reported that most of the new infections were coming from small social gatherings and from those who are asymptomatic carriers of the virus. Scientists say that up to 40% of those infected do not experience symptoms and thus do not know they are contagious transmitters. The CDC went so far as to recommend that families take the extraordinary steps of cancelling their plans for travel and big family gatherings over Thanksgiving. Expecting an onslaught of new infections from Thanksgiving, college campuses and public schools are sending students home for the holiday with instructions not to return to classes until after Christmas. More states have enforced mandatory closings of public venues, enforced curfews, and quarantines for travelers and visitors.

The virus continues its spread throughout the White House inner circle as this time it was Donald Trump Jr. that has come down ill. This follows a month after First Lady Melania and son Barron tested positive. Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has still been quiet, recovering from his diagnosis the week of the election.

In good news, a second vaccine from Moderna has announced excellent test results and is preparing to request emergency use authorizations.  This follows similar news last week from Pfizer. It is amazing what these firms have done in less than a year’s time when most vaccines take several years of development and clinical trials. Both companies say they will have millions of doses ready to ship within days of the approval to do so. Government officials expect to have 40 million doses available by end of year, enough to vaccinate 20 million people given that two shots are required. The first will go to essential workers in healthcare and to the most vulnerable high-risk patients. Halleluiah, we have hope that the end is within sight, even though it may not be until mid-2021 before most are inoculated. Between this news, Biden’s win, and Trump’s imminent departure, we can all begin to exhale.

Yet, the Trump administration, which has yet to concede the election after three weeks, still refuses to approve its support of transitioning the federal government. That would include starting to share COVID data and vaccine distribution plans with the incoming Biden administration that will be left to clean up the disaster left behind.

The economic recovery begins to stutter from new shutdowns with the lack of any Congressional progress on a new relief package for the unemployed, closed businesses, and struggling state and local governments. Like a broken record, new state unemployment filings were once again above 700,000 in the previous week, not including gig workers filing under the federal-provided program for the self-employed. More than 10 million are said to be without jobs, nearly half of all those laid off due to the pandemic. Millions more are underemployed, and then unknown millions more have left the workforce all together. Some 10 million receiving combined state and federal unemployment benefits are nearing the expiration of their benefits which vary between 13 and 26 weeks across the country plus the additional 13 weeks provided by the original pandemic aid relief package. Consumer spending and consumer confidence is falling once again. Despite all this carnage, the stock market continues to record record highs as it has in recent weeks. And the number of 401K millionaires has also hit new records.

Week of November 22-30

The 10th month of the pandemic ends in the US with over 13 million known positive cases and 260,000 deaths. Over 2,000 died on several days of this week. There are a record 96,000 patients who have been hospitalized. More portable triage tents and refrigerated morgues are being set up outside of overburdened hospitals and their overworked staffs. Most communities have given up on contact tracing; it is too late. While fatality rates dramatically improved over the summer, of recent they have stabilized between 1.5-2%. That means for every new 100,000 cases, which is less than what we are gaining each new day. there will be an additional 1,500-2,000 new deaths and grieving families.

And yet even at this late stage of the crisis, many Americans continue to whine and protest about having to wear a damn mask. They are egged on by conservative politicians and conspiratorial media outlets as if this is some infringement of their liberties and rights. I know this firsthand because I live in a rural community, county and state that has shunned business restrictions, resisted mask wearing, and held mass public gatherings. And not surprising our county’s positive test rate is 30% in a state that is at 20%.

What the hell happened to the true patriots who understand that with citizenship rights come social responsibilities for the greater good? And what about elected officials who are unwilling to make tough decisions to protect their constituents instead of their political party ideology? As example, Governor DeSantis of Florida actually ordered that local city and county governments could not enforce mask ordinances or limit dining capacities. What type of upside-down dystopian country has the US become?

How could 70 million Americans vote for the President who presided, ignored, lied, manipulated, delayed, and of course blamed others over this humanitarian disaster that has claimed more American lives than most of the many wars we have fought? Yes, we have been at war with an invisible enemy who has invaded our own county, and the commander in chief failed to protect us. In fact the Trump Administration seems to have surrendered to it.

In some good news, a third vaccine maker, AstraZeneca, has reported success of up to 90% effectiveness with its late stage trials, following Pfizer and Moderna announcements from recent weeks. Tens of millions of doses are now expected to be ready for distribution in December once final regulatory approvals are given for the latter two vaccines.

As the Thanksgiving Holiday ended, the Pandemic Task Force warned the country that we will experience a surge upon a surge due to holiday travel, family gatherings, students returning, Christmas shopping, and reckless socializing. Over 10 million were reported to have traveled by air over the holiday week, despite health officials urging Americans to stay at home. The next few weeks, which are still months before widespread public immunization, will likely be the darkest days of our nation’s history that most of us will ever experience.


The above news items have been taken from a number of local, regional, national and international news media  including print, broadcast, and digital sources, but no social media. Additional editorial opinions and comments about these news items are those of this author.

The feature image of of daily US COVID hospitalizations is from the COVID tracking project at https://covidtracking.com/data/charts.