Over Halfway Home.

I normally write about science, but this is an important time to reflect. All the numbers on the COVID-19 pandemic are headed in the right direction. The first wave of infections has crested, hospitalizations are waning, and first responders are catching a breath. But I want to focus for just a moment on the havoc this infection has caused the US.

The human medical implications are enormous. Over 3,500 people have died in a matter of weeks, while many urban hospitals in places like NYC, Detroit, and New Orleans were overwhelmed with patients. Nursing homes have become “death wards,” where inhabitants pray they do not get infected, while overworked care givers struggle to provide care. Loved ones can only look at their family members through windows and hope for the best.

Most people survive this infection without a problem, but for some reason a few get terribly ill. The reasons for this still escape us, and we have little to offer. The much sought after ventilator is no panacea, since most individuals on ventilators never recover. We have provided much better medical support than in any prior pandemic, but often it did not matter. We must mount a scientific inquiry to understand why modern medicine was helpless in treating so many individuals.

The social and economic impact is just as devastating. Unemployment has tripled and may effectively be at 25% (1 in 4) in my home state of Michigan. Many small businesses are struggling to survive, and the large banks put in charge of providing government loans seem inept or just disinterested in helping their customers.

I wonder how many people I relied on to cut my hair, provide food or transit, and a range of other daily activities, will still be there when this nightmare is over. I think about my colleagues in healthcare and wonder how they will be able to move forward after the trauma they suffered. Many of them may also be in financial trouble from the expense of keeping their families together in these difficult circumstances. All these individuals made remarkable sacrifices that turned the initial tide on this pandemic but had their lives upended. Everything everyone did also seemed to be with the best intention.

So now we must move forward. I said this would be the most difficult time of this whole process, since there is no map forward and no pressing issue like overwhelmed hospitals driving decisions. There is also no absolutely correct decision–no death projection, public health initiative, or economic forecast can tell us the correct way to normalization. No matter what the choice is, some will think we are moving too fast and some too slow.

Mistakes have been made by all sides, whether in Washington DC, San Francisco’s Chinatown, New York City, Tallahassee, or Lansing, Michigan. Despite this, there were many successes that should not be forgotten. I hope for one thing: that people show civility and deference in this process. It is time to forgive and move forward.

Published by jbakerjrblog

Immunologist, former Army MD, former head of allergy and clinical immunology at University of Michigan, vaccine developer and opinionated guy.

7 thoughts on “Over Halfway Home.

  1. I like your constructive tone. However, it is not constructive to whitewash the colossal fail at the federal level, which continues to this day, with respect to testing. “Mistakes on all sides” is not the story. Worst federal performance in our history is more like it. And it could be changed, even today, by providing strong leadership on testing. You are making a mistake on this.

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    1. So Pat, what would more testing have done better. How would it have gotten NYC to shut down earlier. Gotten Florida to end spring break. Had China tell us sooner.

      We have now virus tested more than any country in the world. It didn’t save a single life. Please, share your insights.

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      1. Hi Dr Baker and thank you for asking me to explain further. Leaving aside whether more widely available testing would have save lives in the last two months (and not sure how you can say that testing did not save a single life), my point was about where we are now. We desperately need to reopen the economy and our lives, and the lack of widely available rapid testing is one of the main barriers to that. And I place the blame for that squarely on the federal government.

        Thank you very much for what you are doing here and on the clinical front.

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      2. Dr. Baker, in re: to testing, why did Dr. Fauci tell a Congressional Committee last month that we were not set up to easily test people the way other countries have: “That is a failing. Let’s admit it.” Why do other countries feel mass community testing is crucial to safely reopening their countries? Researchers at Harvard recently estimated that US testing capacity would have to triple over the next month in order for the US to reopen safely. They all seem sure that testing is crucial. It’s very confusing and makes folks, especially those with co-morbidities, reluctant to feel reopening businesses is safe without testing. What can I say to friends and family to help ease their fears, especially those of us who have family members and friends working on the front lines? Thank you!

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  2. Thank you Dr Baker for sharing your thoughts reminding us with the hurting others and the hero’s in the heath systems , doctors, nurses, technicians, and genetors who put their lives on the line and faced this deadly pandemic with courage and dedication. We owe all of these hero’s a big thank you.

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  3. Well summarized comments.

    Part of moving forward is establishing consequences for China who is guilty of creating and/or allowing this virus to spread. They withheld data and show no honesty about death rates. Is that the culture and values of a country who we want to have trade agreements with? Is that who we want to keep letting into to our colleges instead of our citizens? Is that a country we should have any involvement with? I think not.

    I won’t be normalized until I see consequences for China from killing our citizens and our economy.

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