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.