We are 12 months into this pandemic and Americans seem to be regressing in their efforts and attitudes toward preventing the spread of Covid-19.
It has indeed spread like a “forest fire” as Dr. Michael Osterholm predicted in June.
Though mask wearing has increased, social distancing and avoiding public and private gatherings has not. In addition to our lackluster approach to the basics of prevention, there are several other reasons for our abject failure in containing the Coronavirus:
- • It was politicized from the beginning. This deadly virus became a convenient and effective wedge issue in its infancy. Donald Trump has admitted to downplaying the virus by referring to Covid-19 as Democrats’ “new hoax.” (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/trump-calls-coronavirus-democrats-new-hoax-n1145721) And by saying it would “disappear…like a miracle,” while infectious disease expert and member of the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Anthony Fauci, predicted “it’s going to get worse.” (https://www.npr.org/sections/latest-updates-trump-covid-19-results/2020/10/02/919432383/how-trump-has-downplayed-the-coronavirus-pandemic.) Too many Americans chose this chasm between what the Trump administration was saying versus what a world leading expert in infectious diseases as a route to apathy toward preventing the virus from spreading.
In addition, Trump and his administration made the CDC tertiary sources of information about the pandemic and the Trump administration’s grasp on the narrative increased as the pandemic worsened. Messaging from the CDC was being altered by the White House to fit their more economically and politically-motivated version, which was described as a “slow suffocation of the agency’s voice, the meddling in its messages and the siphoning of its budget.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/16/us/politics/cdc-trump.html)
- • There are more asymptomatic people than we realize. And asymptomatic carriers are spreading the virus without realizing it, making testing so important. Young adults are less likely to develop symptoms or severe symptoms but are still capable of transmitting the virus. A study published in the journal Nature Medicine found that almost half of the cases studied were infected by someone who did not show symptoms. (https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/medical/80-percent-of-people-in-this-age-group-are-asymptomatic/ar-BB15zLMB I know of a family of six who all tested positive after being contact traced and all were asymptomatic. All four children were attending school face-to-face. Had they not been tested they would have most likely spread the virus to dozens of people. Testing is paramount.
- • People are wearing masks…but many people wear them incorrectly. Too often I see people wearing their masks under their noses or under their mouths, like a chin strap. So, there is that. Masks need to cover both your mouth and your nose to be effective. Wearing masks is not common in the West which makes implementation more difficult…not to mention, this too has been politicized ultimately giving Americans the green light to disregard wearing a mask in the name of freedom. In Asian countries, like Viet Nam, people wear masks regularly as a means of protection from both pollution and viruses.
- • There is no cohesive prevention plan. Every state, every city is doing its own thing. Parts of California are totally shut down while other cities/areas are not. And, yet there are no travel restrictions. Florida just does its own thing – which is nothing. Texas is all over the board and bars are open. And everyone travels with little to no regard for the virus. It makes absolutely no sense. Like with most things, but especially regarding personal and public health, we are conditioned to react. Many Americans refuse to take personal responsibility for their health or the health of others.
- • Not enough young and middle-aged people have died to frighten young or middle-aged people. Yet, young adults are transmitting the virus at a higher rate than other age groups and are also less likely to wear a mask or socially distance. (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6941e2.htm)
Ignorance There are so many examples. I have friends who are still hyper concerned about surfaces even though that isn’t the foremost way of contracting the virus – wash hands regularly and vigorously, yes, but surfaces are not the primary way it is spread. I know many people who dine in restaurants, regularly, claiming they wear their masks while walking into the restaurant and then remove them as soon as they sit down. People are doing the same in gyms, they walk in the front door wearing a mask and then remove it as soon as they enter the gym area or a group exercise class. Another friend mentioned she cannot believe swimming in outdoor pools is still going on because “kids spit in the water and they can transfer it that way.” I tried to explain that chlorine would kill the virus and that sharing air is what is concerning.
On social media I see photos posted of people living their lives as if we are in pre- or post-Covid times with no regard for the health and safety of others: no masks, no social distancing, no avoiding crowds. We’re cherry picking our way through preventive measures, choosing which one (s) best suit us even as the number of cases rises past 20,000,000 and is double that of India in 2nd place with over 10,000,000 cases. (https://covid19.who.int/)
Another example of this ignorance is the continuation of high school sports. The Ohio School Athletic Association (OHSAA) is permitting full-contact sports like wrestling to continue but athletes are not allowed to shake hands prior to or following a match. (https://thepostmillennial.com/ohio-okays-high-school-wrestling-but-bans-shaking-hands) Allowing wrestling to continue during a pandemic underscores not only our cluelessness about virus transmission but our disregard for the health and safety of people who live in our communities.
We need to practice ALL evidence-based preventive measures in unison to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. In a recent New York Times article, virologist Ian Mackay describes The Swiss Cheese Model of Pandemic Defense as, “Multiple layers of protection, imagined as cheese slices, block the spread of the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. No one layer is perfect; each has holes, and when the holes align, the risk of infection increases. But several layers combined — social distancing, plus masks, plus hand-washing, plus testing and tracing, plus ventilation, plus government messaging — significantly reduce the overall risk. Vaccination will add one more protective layer.”(https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/05/health/coronavirus-swiss-cheese-infection-mackay.html)
Let’s hope there are some positive outcomes from this tragic time in our history. One such effect this pandemic has undoubtedly caused has been dubbed the “Fauci effect,” an 18 percent increase in medical school applications in 2020. (https://www.npr.org/2020/12/07/942170588/fauci-effect-drives-record-number-of-medical-school-applications) We have great healthcare in the United States and some of the best scientists in the world. We rely on our scientific community to prevent or fix our fallibility regarding our own health and the health of others. Let’s hope that future medical school applicants are considering a career in public health. If this pandemic has shown us anything, it is that we need more public health awareness and education.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Tisha Klinkhammer, a mother of three and a resident of Missouri City, Texas. Klinkhammer is a former resident of Edinburg, Texas and political science student at UT-Pan American. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. Klinkhammer can be reached via email at: [email protected].
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