As we face yet more uncertainty related to the trajectory of COVID-19, it’s easy to feel and sense the fatigue that many of us have both locally nationally, and globally. The reaction to the pandemic used to seem more predictable based on political leanings but now it seems less so. Democrat governors move increasingly to remove mask mandates, vaccines face an increasing amount of indifference, and people are just tired of the issue.
Some of this may be related to recent decreases in infection case rates. In my state, infection rates continue to plummet, as do death rates. This appears to be a trend across the nation. But one key point that is being missed as we evaluate this trend in the US is that the numbers are down but still historically high: the case rate was 204,852 on January 11, 2021, and was almost as high on February 8, 2022, at 191,920.
One of the causes of confusion and even acrimonious divergence in medical opinion about how to interpret our current situation is the divisive lens through which this and so many other issues have been viewed since the beginning of the pandemic. There appears to be divergence even between virology experts about where to go next in our management and response to the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19. I can’t help but sense that this pleases many on the fringes of the COVID-19 debates, the ones who have consistently attempted to sow doubt, distrust, and even fear of our most trusted scientific institutions.
To be sure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not done itself any favors, with continuously evolving stances, guidelines, and proposed actions to best manage the pandemic. Even trusted leaders and experts in virology are stumbling to find common ground, moving proposed quarantine times from 5 days to 10 days to 14 days and back to 5 days (for people who are asymptomatic and positive) within a week.
It’s all a bit numbing for medical providers who are trying to do their best to treat patients while clinging to trusted sources to help guide us as we do so.
But there remains a bright light that should be guiding us, not dividing us, as we care for our patients. As vaccination rates have gone up, the trends, while up and down like a roller-coaster, appear to move toward what we hope is a permanent fading of COVID-19. The vaccines have proven to be undeniably safe and effective and we need to keep them front and center as we look for the COVID-19 exit ramp. We need to keep looking for patients who are contemplative about the vaccine, appeal to their sense of reason, and forget about those who wear the tinfoil hats.
Additionally, we need to understand the significance of the current data about those unlucky souls who are either very sick or are dying from COVID-19, with total deaths now over 900,000. Think of it: 900,000 Americans gone from COVID-19. And we need to fully grasp the data: over 90% of those who are hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
Medical providers need to model compassion as we wade through the sadness and futility of the deaths of our unvaccinated citizens as we look for the end to this sad and tragic chapter in American medicine. We’re all seeing the backlash and ill will being aimed toward the unvaccinated. Much of that feels rational, particularly for families not able to secure needed care for their loved ones who are sick, dying, or are dead from non-COVID illnesses, many because needed care was not available due to resources needed to treat unvaccinated COVID-19 sufferers. Alas, we need to remember that all humans, even ones who make bad decisions, deserve our compassion, our love, and even our care.
So here’s to the next few months and the hope that it will lead us out of this international nightmare. Here’s to a future where we’re much better prepared to face the next pandemic when it comes our way, which it most certainly will.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID Data Tracker. Accessed February 9, 2022. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#trends_dailycases
2. Copley E, Mulhern A. Are 90% to 95% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 unvaccinated? Politifact. October 5, 2021. Accessed February 14, 2022. https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2021/oct/05/kathryn-moffett-bradford/are-90-95-those-hospitalized-covid-19-unvaccinated/