D.C. memorial for America’s 200,00 deaths, a while ago. AP photo. Front photo by Dr. Patrick Schnell
Infuriatingly, calamitously, as the loser-in-chief stalls and plots, the pandemic soars. The numbers, which none of us want to see, horrify. America, with 4% of the world’s population, now has almost 25% of its COVID cases and deaths. On Sunday, the U.S. surpassed 10 million cases, at least a million confirmed in just the first 10 days of November; in the last week, cases surged from 104,000 to 145,000 a day, our new grim norm. One in 441 Americans have now been infected, with cases up a record 34% in the last week; the upper Midwest – Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa – had nearly a third of all new cases. Cases in prisons, especially in Texas, are skyrocketing. In many states, positive test rates are staggering: Iowa at 62.3%, South Dakota and Idaho each over 40%; the World Health Organization considers rates above 5% “concerning.”
On Tuesday, U.S. hospitalizations hit an all-time high of 61,964, more than double September’s rate. While advances in treatment have shortened some hospital stays, the sheer numbers, especially at small rural hospitals facing critical staff and bed shortages, have led them to take drastic measures. An Idaho hospital has stopped taking new patients; North Dakota, with the country’s highest infection and death rates, will allow health care workers who are positive but asymptomatic to keep working; El Paso, with more people hospitalized than most states, has set up patient tents in a parking lot, turned a convention center into a field hospital and doubled its mobile morgues. Tuesday also saw five states set records for COVID deaths, and at least five states surpass single-day new case records. To date, we’ve had 241,000 deaths; more indoors time and the holidays are coming.
Because we wouldn’t be here if we’d had even minimally competent leadership, there is widespread rage at the carnage. “What happened to us?” laments a 75-year-old, cancer-surviving doctor who came out of retirement to treat “my patients, my friends, my family” in a small South Dakota town that went from zero cases to the highest death rate in the country. His mournful answer: A governor who “decided to kind of pretend it away,” few masks, school reopened, one grocery store, bank, pharmacy – “It’s all the same Petri dish.” And the same criminal stupidity – climate change/election/ Covid denialism. “COVID IS ABOUT TO EXPLODE,” warns an ER doc who asks why there are no federal contingency plans. “Government DO SOMETHING!” “There is a plan,” comes one response. “But the people who made it (can’t) implement it for 71 more days, and the guy who got fired for not having a plan except ‘let them die’ is also trying to sabotage the new guy.”
The new guy is trying: Biden has named an impressive pandemic task force – esteemed doctors, not quacks – and hopes to swiftly implement a 4-6 week lockdown to contain infections. In a normal transition, notes Olivia Troye, a national security expert and former lead adviser to Pence’s pandemic task force, outgoing staffers would facilitate those new plans. But even with a possible new vaccine, its safe distribution remains a logistical endeavor “akin to landing a spacecraft on an asteroid,” wherein every day’s delay means lives lost. “Sulking in electoral defeat, (Trump) is willfully prolonging the agony,” she charges. “For his entire presidency, he has made an enemy out of anyone who dared to tell him what he didn’t want to hear. Now that includes the American people.”