January brought with it a new Virus, COVID-19, presumably born in China. At first, experts were thinking this new strain would behave like current flu viruses, with the effects being minimized by warmer summer months.
To limit the spread, on Jan. 16 the Centers for Disease Control initiated screening of passengers arriving from China. Then by the end of January, it became apparent we were facing something altogether different, so on Jan. 29 the COVID-19 task force was formed and, in order to limit additional carriers entering the country, on Jan. 31 the president put restrictions on Chinese nationals entering the United States. Two months later restrictions were also placed on European travel.
Now we are almost at the end of 2020’s 11th month, and the COVID pandemic is being reported to be gaining steam once again. This should not have come as a surprise, because with each winter comes a new outbreak of a flu virus. But today, the media and our politicians want to take some action and claim they are saving lives.
Yet, when we look at what has worked thus far, we have only experienced two scientific activities that accomplish lifesaving purposes. The first being medical practitioners who have developed and are implementing treatments to help those infected survive, while the second is the prospect of a vaccine to prevent the sickness caused by this new virus.
Initially, not having ways to terminate this new challenge, medical experts looked to lessons learned from the 1918 H1N1 pandemic and established an initiative to “flatten the curve.” This implementation is not meant to save lives or reduce those who would become infected, but to slow the spread so as not to overwhelm the country’s hospitals and medical facilities. Experts estimated huge numbers of infected patients requiring hospitalization would emerge.
So, the public was told to lock down and shelter in place at home for a six-week period, all non-essential businesses would be shuttered, and the pandemic would be under control. Next, the president ordered two hospital ships to stand by, one on each coast, along with numerous emergency military-style field hospitals to be set up around the country. We were also alerted to a perceived shortage of medical “respirators.” The president, using the War Powers Act, enlisted several existing auto factory suppliers to produce the needed equipment, and the USA is now exporting respirators to other countries in need.
Medical experts initially appeared on TV stating the public did not need to wear masks, because the equipment should only be used by front-line medical personnel. Massive efforts to produce enough masks and other personal protective equipment was launched.
Then, on April 3 the CDC changed its position and indicated the public should utilize cloth face coverings. Community members started busily sewing masks for their neighbors and suddenly cloth masks were in every store, and for sale on many street corners. Wearing a face covering (mask) has taken on a cult-like persona with some individuals crying out, “If you do not wear a mask, you will die.” Unfortunately, most masks produced are not N95 quality, and while they do provide a limited amount of protection, they lack the ability to stop an airborne virus from getting through to you.
Some high-density areas like New York City were experiencing a rise in cases and were in fear of becoming overwhelmed. Officials believed they needed to enact a plan. Yet, in meeting the city’s future medical needs, one of the most unscientific methods was instituted. Instead of using federally supplied medical resources, Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed sending COVID patients to convalescent hospitals. Surprisingly, the facilities’ management agreed to admit COVID-19 patients. Now they were in proximity with those most vulnerable. Some 1,600 patients needlessly became infected and died.
Then there is the issue of what can be found by large-scale public testing. In short, the more people tested, and the greater the number of times you test them, the higher the number of apparent COVID cases will appear. That kind of raw data has little meaning. However, if you were to test a representative sample of the population and use first-time patient test data, you could estimate the number of cases present in the general population. It would allow decision makers to gain a better understanding of medical facility needs and determine the effects of mitigation efforts in place.
Bright spots occurring recently include FDA approval of some therapeutic drugs and at least three companies indicating their vaccines are nearing the end of clinical trials and required approvals, meaning vaccinations may be available by the end of the year. Yet the best news is, the COVID-19 mortality rate is declining. Unfortunately, it has also brought to light, establishing a new vaccine normally takes two to three years. While the medical establishment may find it acceptable to wait for products that increase their protection against litigation, it also explains why common flu vaccines only exhibit 50% effectiveness.
Why? Because viruses mutate over time, and if it takes three years to develop and approve a vaccine, the resulting product is set to protect the patient from a virus as it existed three years ago, not necessarily the one the patient will be exposed to today.
So, by reviewing the COVID-19 milestones over the past year, it becomes evident the Trump administration has provided the tools that bring us closer to ending the COVID-19 pandemic.
What happens next remains to be seen.
Alan Ferdman is a Santa Clarita resident and a member of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee board.