Corona Virus Pandemic: Part IV
LEARN TO LIVE WITH THE VIRUS?
The panic from the pandemic continues and this crisis is changing the way we live. The number of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. has now exceeded 5.5 million with nearly 175,000 deaths and continues to rise exponentially, at the rate of almost 1,000 deaths a day. Indeed, the new model projects the death toll could reach 300,000 by the end of the year! As per the Center for Diseases Control director, “We are about to see the worst fall in public health history,” a dire statement that reflects the sad state of affairs for an advanced country whereas many other countries like South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and New Zealand seem to have gained good control of the disease. Brazil and India are also reeling from the effects and Florida has become one of the pandemic epicenters.
The current debate is all about, “How safe it is for our children to go back to school?” now that many schools are reopening. On the one side, most parents prefer a proper in-person instruction for their children rather than the “virtual on-line learning with zoom classes” but how can you justify the risk? Already, there has been a 90 percent increase in Covid-19 cases in U.S. school children after schools reopened in some states. There is a false notion among some that children, in general, are immune to the disease but not so. The total number of infections in children currently have exceeded 390,000 with over 90 deaths! And infected children can easily spread the virus.
There is a lot of hype and hope surrounding the availability of a vaccine soon that will lead to herd immunity and thus bring down the incidence of infection. Currently, a global scramble is under way to bring Covid-19 vaccine to the market. But let us be realistic. Moderna, an American biotechnology company soon to begin its phase 3 clinical trials of a vaccine, says it may take at least another six months to know if it is effective and safe. China is a leading contender too and they hope to market a vaccine by year end. Indian labs are also into vaccine production. Even Russia has jumped into the fray. Keep in mind there are anti-vaccine sentiments among the public, with about 20 percent not planning to take the vaccine. Which means, even if the rest 80 percent of the population gets vaccinated with an effectiveness of 70 percent, only 56 percent of the population would develop immunity. This may not be enough to confer herd immunity in the general public.
So, what are we supposed to do now? Japan has decided to coexist with the virus and they have established the “new life model” calling all the people to be prepared to follow it for an extended period of time and learn to live with the virus. Accordingly, the Japanese government has established a practical set of rules, using the basic principles of rationality. The Japanese, a very sensible bunch, know “that bad things can’t be forsaken for all times. And using the risk assessment models, humans can continue to live well and thrive.”
Can America be expected to follow such a protocol and reconcile with the idea that the virus is going to be with us for some time? I am not so sure. The U.S. behaves more like “many countries in one” rather than a union of states with a set of protocols, each state behaving its own independent way. Otherwise, how do you explain that some states such as Nebraska, Minnesota and Wyoming have significantly lower infection rate and states like California, Arizona and Florida are experiencing an exponential surge? Unless the entire country can work together under the recommended set of protocols laid out by our scientists, we may not be able to control the disease soon.
Whether we like it or not, time has come for us to phase into a new life pattern where masks in public places are a necessity, social distancing is the norm, online learning may be safer than in-person classroom lessons, at least for a while, and tele-health becomes the new way for patients. Yes, there are many more adjustments to be made. This is the only way to stop the relentless march of the virus and cut down the loss of precious lives.
To be continued …
M.P. Ravindra Nathan, M.D., is a cardiologist and Emeritus Editor of AAPI Journal. For further reading, “Second Chance - A Sister’s Act of Love” by Dr. Nathan from Outskirts Press, can be found at www.amazon.com