By editorial board • 

Virus retaining its grip; new surge biggest yet

County Public Health Officer Lindsey Manfrin warns in today’s Viewpoints that this is no time to let up on the three known ways to ward off COVID-19 — masking, distancing and sanitizing.

In fact, we may well need to keep practicing them for a long time, assuming a vaccine won’t be widely available until mid-2021, will take months to fully develop and threatens to fall well short of our ultimately need.

Since the virus struck the U.S. in February, we’ve been getting a series of over-optimistic assessments. Each time, these flights of fancy have been brought crashing down by reality.

We’re not “rounding the corner” or at the “final turn” in this pandemic. It’s not “going to disappear one day,” “like a miracle.” It’s not “fading away,” “coming way down” or “getting under control.”

It’s not 99% “totally harmless,” either. Nor are children “virtually immune.”

Here are the grim facts we need to face, united in common cause:

We have already suffered documented loss of 225,000 lives associated with COVID-19 — more than the combined death toll from World War I, Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

Epidemiologists fear the toll may surpass that of World War II, 405,399. Worst  case, our Civil War death toll of 618,000 looms.

A New York Times study shows death from all causes up 190,600 between March and July, exceeding the official COVID toll for the period by 50,000. That suggests the virus may actually have claimed many more lives.

And as Manfrin poignantly notes, “These are moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas” — people whose deaths leave “holes in the hearts of friends and family.”

Over the course of the last eight months, almost 9 million Americans have contracted the virus. It has struck in three distinct waves of increasing magnitude, the first peaking around 35,000 a day in April, the second at 80,000 a day in July and the third already pushing past 90,000 a day.

Does national and global vaccination promise to ultimately vanquish this insidious foe? Perhaps, but we’re a long, long way from that point.

There are four vaccines under active development. However, not one promises relief from either infection or transmission. At this stage, the primary goal is simply to ward off symptoms, preventing victims from falling seriously if not fatally ill, according to leading epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci.

What’s more, full national rollout faces significant logistical challenges, including anti-vaccination sentiment shared by up to 30% of the population. Global rollout faces far greater challenges, particularly in the Third World, where health infrastructure is rudimentary.

Is herd immunity a possible solution? Not unless we are prepared to bury myriad more Americans. And that might not even be sufficient, as we aren’t sure yet how much immunity from infection actually provides, or for how long.

We can’t even count on achieving herd immunity through vaccination down the line. That would require first developing a vaccine actually assuring immunity, then administering it to around 80 percent of the world’s billions of inhabitants. After all, we learned early that this virus has no respect for national boundaries.

We’re facing a third wave today.

Some 40 states are experiencing a surge to new highs, including Oregon. The situation is so bad in Idaho, where mask resistance runs high, that its overwhelmed hospitals are seeking extra bed space in Portland and Seattle.

Nationally, we’re logging more than half a million new cases a week. Internationally, the case count has reached 43 million and the death toll 1.6 million.

The running U.S. death toll has not yet surged to new highs, but it always lags behind new case counts, so is likely to follow. The University of Washington is projecting a national toll of 386,000 by Feb. 1.

Republican states in 2016 have been hit much harder in the second and third waves than those that broke Democratic. That should come as no surprise, as Republicans are marked by a greater adversity to government regulation, leading them to resist what health professionals preach as the best single mode of protection — masking.

The virus is also beginning to make disproportionately larger inroads among two groups thought to be at lower risk — children and rural dwellers.

Children account for only about 1% of hospitalizations and less than 1% of deaths, but now comprise almost 10 percent of all cases. More than half a million have been infected to date. Meanwhile, rural counties are only 14% of U.S. population, but are accounting for 21% of the new cases.

No one is immune, not even the president of the United States. We need to face up to the ugly truth that the “final turn” may be years off yet.


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