Six items that bring out my COVID-19 pessimism.

One of my colleagues at the University of Michigan suggested that I was the “most upbeat person she knew on the COVID-19 pandemic.” I appreciated but was surprised by this comment. While I try to be evenhanded and base all of my blog posts on available data, politics and opinion have so remarkably penetrated the discussion of COVID-19 that it is hard to keep a perspective about events as they are happening. Therefore, I guess that trying to be guarded in your comments about this illness seems like optimism these days!

I have always felt this pandemic would be an 18-month slog, with progressive ongoing infections occurring continuously during that time. While there has been good news on decreasing death rates, nothing else that has happened really has changed the trajectory of the disease in a permanent way. Social distancing helps to delay some of the cluster outbreaks, but it is a temporizing measure. Tonight, I give a list of six COVID-19 related issues where I am particularly pessimistic. Many of them relate to recent news announcements

1) College sports. The Ivy League cancels all fall sports and Stanford (the preeminent Sears Cup contender) permanently ends 11 varsity teams. The concept of watching collegiate athletics in person this year seems to be slipping away. 

2) Travel Industry. United Airlines potentially furloughs half of its employees.  I was one of the University’s most frequent travelers, spending more days on airplanes than in my car. I haven’t moved from my home since early March. The experience of many of my colleagues is similar. Even if I wanted to go on a trip, most of my business travel has been canceled along with all national and international meetings. I can’t see when this will change, even after the infection passes. It makes me very concerned about the survival of the travel industry. 

3) COVID-19 vaccinesDelays mark Moderna’s vaccine trials. Novavax receives $1.3 billion to sell the government COVID-19 vaccine. Almost all of the vaccines that the US is supporting are novel technologies that have never been proven effective in human beings. In addition, the funding is often going to companies who have never created and licensed an effective human vaccine. Also, the government has been unwilling to support more rudimentary, proven technology (killed virus vaccines as are being developed in China) in part because they don’t want large amounts of SARS-CoV-2 virus to be produced for the vaccine. These factors all make me believe that a successful COVID-19 vaccine, even at the 50% efficacy threshold put forth by the FDA, will take much longer to develop and be proven safe. 

4) Investigative reporting. There have been few true insights from investigative journalism in this epidemic. Those that have come out, such as the problems with the early COVID-19 testing program in the CDC and identifying crooks and cronies selling fake N95 masks have come from ProPublica and other not-for-profit sites, while commercial journalism seems more focused on pushing opinions. We should do all we can to support sites like ProPublica since it may be the only way we can get the insights we need to function as a free society.

5) Return to stay at home orders. Aside from people who ignored the orders in the first place, there is a degree of fatigue in the population that would make it difficult to reinstitute these orders except in the direst situation (where it would have to approach martial law to be enforced). The current disease activity, despite the upswing, is nowhere near that level. I also wish people would please stop the political banter around public health measures. It only makes these discussions more difficult. We need to focus on a few simple things that are truly effective like wearing masks, which most people will support. 

6) Contact TracingNYC is able to get useful contact tracing data from about 1/3 of infected individuals. This seems pretty bad and the level of contact identification isn’t adequate to limit viral speed. But even worse is the fact that many infected individuals are asymptomatic and undiagnosed. These people have no chance of being identified for contacts. Contact tracing is not approach to limiting the spread of this pandemic!

Published by jbakerjrblog

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

8 thoughts on “Six items that bring out my COVID-19 pessimism.

  1. You are very level headed. But it seems like you are determined to ignore or minimize the elephant in the room. That the President is working at cross purposes with the scientific community on masking, which seems to be the one simple step that helps the most. And he has made the problem worse than it had to be. First on PPE procurement and test development. Poorly implemented travel restrictions. Undercutting CDC guidance. Your latest blog indicates this may be happening again on the vaccine push.

    Bemoaning the politicizing of the virus is a cop out when the failure of leadership is so glaring. The economy is hostage to the virus, no matter the low death rate.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jim,

    You have been a rational voice through out this pandemic focusing on factual data to help us all understand what’s happening and as we are better informed, we are more likely and able to effectively care for ourselves and our families.

    Thank you for the rational science based common sense you bring us!

    I’m curious about the virus surviving and spreading in warmer temps?
    At one time the thought was that this is a “seasonal virus”, that clearly didn’t like the sun. The virus seemed to like damp colder environments with of course the necessary ingredient: Population density.

    Is the virus spread in FL, Texas, etc just spreading by cluster because people are not social distancing and wearing masks so we have community spread in a warmer summer climate?

    Thank you,
    Laurie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Summer in the south is like winter in the North; people huddle inside to avoid the weather (110 degrees in PhX!). So yes, by congregating inside in air-conditioned environments and not wearing masks you have the perfect recipe for cluster spread.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am really enjoying your blog and appreciate the perspective that you are taking. I find that your arguments are rational balanced and well thought out. You can’t understand how much I appreciate that. My question for you is this, in the beginning they said that face masks would do nothing. Now everybody is saying that you must wear face masks. What are your thoughts on the change in that? I really
    need to understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Face masks are the only valuable defense. All the decontamination of surfaces, objects, food etc. are not valuable. I think if people want to do one thing that is of value they should wear masks. It is a respiratory virus!

      Like

    1. I think that every child should go back to school. The benefits clearly outweigh the risks. Teachers are at come risk, but t is difficult for a child to transmit COVID-19. I also think we need to catch up with all of the missed vaccinations. It is unlikely a child will become ill with COVID-19, but they could easily become sick from measles if they don’t get their normal vaccines.

      Like

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