The pandemic of Covid-19 isn’t over. It’s surging.
As restrictions are lifted around the world, the sense of urgency surrounding the novel coronavirus pandemic has weakened. Hundreds of millions of students have returned to school; restaurants, bars and other businesses are slowly reopening in many countries. In parts of Europe, vaccine researchers worry that they will not have enough sick people for testing.
But this historic pandemic is not ending. It is surging. There were 136,000 new infections reported on Sunday, the highest single-day increase since the start of the pandemic. There are more than 7 million confirmed cases so far. The number of deaths is nearing half a million, with little sign of tapering off, and global health experts are continuing to sound the alarm.
“By no means is this over,” Mike Ryan, the World Health Organization’s executive director, said Wednesday. “If we look at the numbers over the last number of weeks, this pandemic is still evolving. It is still growing in many parts of the world.”
U.S. states are seeing an increasing number of patients since Memorial Day weekend, when many people socialized in groups in parts of the country, while there are new concerns that the anti-racism protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis could add to a nationwide surge.
In the United States and elsewhere, the protests about injustice are partly fueled by the racial disparities seen in the outbreak. Protesters have attempted to maintain social distance and use masks and hand sanitizer — but that has not always proved possible.
Public health experts have expressed understanding about the protests. “It doesn’t help to say police violence doesn’t matter,” Gregg Gonsalves, a professor of epidemiology at Yale, told New York Magazine. “The health disparities that have killed tens of thousands of people over a half a century don’t matter. We are saying we understand it matters; they’re public-health issues too.”
But almost all experts acknowledge that mass protests are a risk — just as the reopening of the economy seen in many nations around the world, including the United States, carries risks. “The facts suggest that the U.S. is not going to beat the coronavirus,” the Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer write. “Collectively, we slowly seem to be giving up.”
That demoralized attitude is reflected at the top of American politics: It has been more than a month since the Trump administration held a daily coronavirus task force briefing.
There are several reasons for this. The first is that Trump, who never really paid attention to it in the first place or saw it as some kind of plot against his regime, has now just given up even the facade of doing anything about it. The second reason is that most Americans saw it as something akin to a fad like the hula hoop or the Macarena and are now bored with it and want to get back to whatever it was that occupied them before all this happened last winter. As Matthew Dalby noted on Twitter, “The one thing that wasn’t in pandemic disaster movies was people getting bored with the whole thing and ignoring it.”
Perhaps the most insidious reason this plague is still spreading and surging is the baseline of willful ignorance — “It’s no worse than the flu” — and rampant stupidity along with the other American pandemic, blatant racism. As seen in this benighted elected official from the great state of Ohio:
A Republican Ohio state senator is under fire this week after asking if “African Americans or the colored population” have been disproportionately affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic because they “do not wash their hands as well as other groups.”
State Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) raised the question Tuesday during a hearing on whether to declare racism a public health crisis. Huffman, an emergency room doctor, wanted to know why African American communities are being hit so much harder by the virus, posing the query to Angela Dawson, executive director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health.
“I understand African Americans have a higher incidence of chronic conditions and that makes them more susceptible to death from covid. But why does it not make them more susceptible to just get covid?” he asked. “Could it just be that African Americans or the colored population do not wash their hands as well as other groups? Or wear a mask? Or do not socially distance themselves? Could that be the explanation for why the higher incidence?”
He later explained that he thought “people of color” and “colored people” were interchangeable terms. Really.
The harsh reality is that this pandemic will end with effective vaccination. But until then, following the guidelines that medical professionals have been telling us since the middle of March is the only way. Unfortunately it’s all too abstract for people who really need to get their hair done and have an uncontrollable urge to share a swimming pool in the Ozarks, and it won’t hit home until it actually hits home.