Bearing Witness to the Pandemic January 2021

Week of January 3-9, 2021

As if this week was not already tragic enough after an insurrection incited by the President and a coup attempted by his rabid supporters, three  records were set this week. More than 4,000 Americans died in one day, 300,000 confirmed cases were reported in one day, and more than 132,000 were hospitalized. Over 365,000 have now died in the US from 22 million confirmed cases. The short term hope of 2021 being a better year did not last more than a few days.

Vaccinations, like testing, have become another national embarrassment. A month after emergency use approvals were awarded and shipments began the pace of vaccinations is dismal. Only 9 million Americans are reported to have received one shot, but less than 1 million both doses. Health officials say we should be inoculating at least one million people per day. Millions of doses have been shipped out and millions are said to still be sitting in freezers unused. In Florida the elderly are seen waiting in lines overnight in their cars or camping out in tents. Every county seems to have their own overwhelmed system of registering, even though they and their state governments have had nearly a year to prepare. This only adds to the anxiety of Americans who are witnessing or experiencing multiple crises at the same time.  

The situation is so dire in California that first responders and ambulances are being told not to bring patients to hospitals unless their condition is salvageable.  Things are similar in Britain which placed itself into a complete lockdown through March. With 50,000 new cases a day, one out of fifty residents of Britain are said to be infected and nearly 75,000 have died.

Mortality data from 2020 shows that deaths from causes other than COVID were also dramatically up during the year.  Deaths that were attributed due to diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and dementia rose by 5-15% over a year ago. This likely explains the discrepancy of why the total deaths in the country were almost 100,000 higher than those assigned to COVID or that which would normally have been expected. It has been suggested that some county coroners, doctors, or patient families who refused to accept COVID as being real did not want to admit a loved one had died from it. I have witnessed this first hand in my own conservative rural small-town newspaper where the number of obituaries are double what they were last year, but few referenced COVID as the cause of death. And our county health department continues to show few COVID deaths compared to national averages.

Week of January 10-16

Americans are shocked, saddened, and overwhelmed with a deadly pandemic that has gotten worse, and now a deadly insurrection in the nation’s capital. One that was motivated by a deranged seditious president and his co-conspirators in Congress who do not accept the results of the November election. The country has to endure two highly contagious lethal viruses, Coronavirus and Trumpism.

On the same day January 6 of the attack on the US Capitol by Trump supporters, the nation experienced another record daily death count, over 4,300 in one day alone. it is projected that by the time a disgraced twice-impeached ex-President Trump leaves the White House there will be over 400,000 deaths from 24 million cases in the US. This exceeds the worst projections from the early days of the pandemic. Fatalities are on a pace to soar past those of the 1918 pandemic as well as all deaths from WWII. One year after the pandemic begun, worldwide some 2 million reported to have died. The only good news is that infections in this the 3rd wave in the US appears to have plateaued and we are now on the downside, even though they are high above 200,000. Hospitalizations which peaked at over 130,000 are now falling as well, which is good news as throughout most of last year some 10% of those hospitalized never made it home alive.

Predictably, President Trump in his few remaining days in office had nothing to say about these tragic numbers or much less to help the country grieve. He was just too busy pouting about his election loss and cheering on a treasonous attack on the legislative branch of the government.

An estimated 10 million Americans have received at least their first vaccine shot, far short of the 20 then 100 million once promised by the Trump Administration. But still less than 1 million have received the full two-dose regimen. The lack of adequate planning for the vaccine program continues to rightfully anger Americans who are desperate to be inoculated to save their lives. Widespread vaccines have not yet begun for those with high-risk medical conditions who are said alone to number 100 million.  Without a doubt there will be people who die because there was vaccine available and sitting in freezers, but not administered. President-elect Biden has set a goal of vaccinating 100 million in his first 100 days in office. A good goal, but experts argue we need to be doing double that rate.

The economic toll continues to rise when jobless claims exceeded 1 million for last week, including both state unemployment and and federal relief aid claims. However, extended unemployment benefits, small business loans, and other financial aide began flowing from the relief bill passed by Congress before the holidays.

Week of January 17-23

Deaths in the US from Coronavirus raced past 400,000 at the start of this week from over 24 million confirmed cases. Not only is this now the leading cause of death, but it is greater than that of strokes, dementia, diabetes, flu, and pneumonia all combined. While we have 4% of the world’s population we account for 20% of deaths. Trump certainly made us number one and doing great at one thing, dying.

It is now clear that the Trump Administration had no strategy or plan for the distribution of the vaccines once approved and ready for shipment. Some reports indicate about 31 million doses were produced and available  from Pfizer and Moderna for the US but only 11 million people have actually received their first shot. Most states are still less than 5%. Mass confusion reigns across the country. In one nationwide poll more than half of the respondents said they had no idea how, where, or when they could get the vaccine. At this rate the spread of the virus is much faster than our ability to inoculate against it with two full shots.

The country and world have now been in the grips of the pandemic for a full year. The first known case was announced on January 21, 2020, in Seattle. Though many now think that it was already circulating in the US as early as a month prior.

Like in a plane crash that kills hundreds of people, there are always multiple reasons for such a catastrophic failure. And it is true of the many failures and contributing causes to arrest the spread of Coronavirus early on. It is doubtful a global pandemic could have been halted all together at our borders, but many countries have done a much better job. Those nations that did well had leaders who did not delay a national coordinated response. They did not denigrate science and sideline scientists. They did not politicize behavior. Their leaders did not distort the truth, manipulate data, or lie to the public that there was little to worry about and it would soon be over. They did not rush to reopen their economies prematurely. They did not let every state, every county, and every city have to figure out how to handle testing and vaccinations. They did not fail to provide leadership to unify the country in making shared sacrifices as if in a war.

New virus variants from Britain, South Africa, and Brazil are now reported to be circulating around the world, including the US. The CDC says that one mutation is about 50% more contagious than the existing strain of Coronavirus which most of the country has so far experienced. It is unknown as to how well the existing approved vaccines will protect against these new mutations, or if the variants cause worse illnesses in addition to being more transmissible.

President Biden now inherits all this carnage that Trump has left behind. The day after his inauguration he pronounced that “help is on the way” by outlining seven goals to fight COVID-19:

  • restoring trust with more frequent honest briefings
  • speeding up vaccinations at the community level
  • mitigating further spread of the virus with a long overdue national testing program and requirements to wear masks
  • providing emergency relief funding to individuals, communities, and states
  • reopening schools and assisting employed parents with childcare
  • addressing disparities in illness and fatalities head on
  • preparing for future threats including virus variants.

Biden had previously announced a goal of 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office. He directed FEMA and the CDC to plan for mass vaccination centers. He also declared this was the equivalent of a war in which he would use the Defense Production Act to speed up critical supplies needed for testing, vaccination, or the manufacture of their components. As part of 10 rapid pace executive orders Biden also immediately rejoined the World Health Organization. What a relief to just know that we have a federal government finally focused on the pandemic instead of what the hell may come out of Trumps twitter feed.

Week of January 24-31

The twelfth month of the pandemic ends with another 95,000 deaths in one month alone, bringing the total to over 425,000 fatalities from 26 million cases. The good news is that all metrics are starting to decline as the third wave finally subsides. New cases and test infection rates are dropping sharply. Daily death rates have fallen from the 4,000s to the 3,000s. There are now less than 100,000 hospitalized for the first time in months. This is particularly encouraging as 10% of those hospitalized in some locations end up passing.

Other good news is that the speed of vaccinations is finally accelerating with more than one million per day. However, at that rate to get a country of over 300 million vaccinated will take a year. More than 32 million doses are reported to have been administered.  Yet, there remains much disorganization, confusion, and anxiety as the process for who and how to get vaccinated is a mess. Reports surface of the rich, connected, and privileged being vaccinated over those with urgent needs because of their work, age, or health conditions. Some elderly have resorted to signing up for dozens of sites hoping they get a call from someone, anyone.

More good news is that trials from another new vaccine, this one from Johnson & Johnson, have been found successful at reducing both the number of severe illnesses and deaths due to COVID. It also requires only one shot and no special ultra-cold holding. A fifth vaccine from Novavax reported 90% effectiveness in Britain. although a disturbing less than 60% efficacy in South Africa.

The bad news is that the three new variant strains of the virus from Britain, Brazil, and South Africa have all arrived onshore the US.  Health professionals are worried because these are so much more contagious we may need to speed up vaccinations at an even faster pace. Not all of the vaccines are said to be equally effective against the new variants. There is much concern that the virus may be evolving and mutating faster than our ability to respond to it with rapid adjustments to the vaccines.

A sobering article reported that a significant number of people are becoming infected for a second time from one of the virus mutations. Not surprising, some now advise that the public begin wearing higher quality masks or even multiple layers of masks. Thankfully, President Biden’s new edict for wearing some form of a mask at all federal properties and in  public transportation has now gone into affect. In frank honest talk from the Oval Office, something we rarely heard from the former president, Biden warns we still have some dark days ahead of us and now is not the time to stop wearing masks or social distancing, or return back to normal.

News reports indicate some states have either accidentally or intentionally been undercounting infection rates. In Missouri the state did not include positive results from antigen tests. As a consequence, the state’s total infections and daily positivity rates were off by double digits. Missouri was later reported to be off to the slowest start with the lowest rate of vaccinations in the country. Less than 4% of the population having received at least their first shot. The pandemic still rages across rural and urban Missouri with so many rural area residents refusing to wear masks, much less believe Trump lost the election. How ironic that even the conservative Governor Mike Parson, who believes he has done a good job with managing the pandemic when he has actually done very little, had to move his annual state address out of the Missouri state capitol house chambers due to an outbreak of positive test results among mostly Republican state representatives who refuse to wear masks. And these are the people who are suppose to be protecting us. God help us all.

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 featured image is from the COVID Tracking Project at US All Key Metrics | The COVID Tracking Project.

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