July 15, 2020

The elephants in the room

Actually there are three elephants in the room that I have ignored when writing about the pandemic. Partly because I do not want to have a “political blog” and because we, as individuals, at the moment, have minimal control over the big picture. We can control our own responses, so I have focused on what we can each do to keep ourselves safe. I want people of all political persuasions to feel safe reading these.

But today the news made me realize I can’t ignore this obvious behemoth in the room any longer. We have accelerating growth of cases and deaths, hospitals are getting overwhelmed again. But our president now wants to funnel data about cases, hospitalizations, and deaths through a new unproven entity, bypassing the experience of the CDC. It is very hard to trust that this data will not be manipulated. Trump is not known for his honesty and he has already complained about the testing numbers. The CDC is not perfect, it has made mistakes, as we all have. We all have changed our recommendation since this novel virus first came to our land. Our understanding of the disease has evolved. Admitting that we are learning, then changing advice is not a weakness. It is a strength. Updating recommendations, as we learn, saves lives. Attacking the CDC and taking away their role will not help us gain control of our worsening pandemic. We are failing and we need leadership and data, not changing course or methods, especially unproven. This should not be politicized, as former CDC directors write in this editorial. Wearing masks and social distancing have proven data. Lives are at stake and we are losing the battle because the response is based in politics and not science. It is unconscionable.

As is our health care system and our public health infrastructure. Those are the other elephants in the room. Public health infrastructure in many states has been underfunded for years, which has left states like Texas unable to respond adequately. We are also the only developed nation that doesn’t provide universal health insurance, ours is employment based. New estimates are that as many as 27 million people will lose their health insurance due to job loss and unemployment from COVID. It is worse in the states that opted out of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) public option. The job losses are not just due to the shutdown, but other factors as I wrote about yesterday. But think about if you had just lost your insurance and you developed signs of COVID-19. Ignoring signs and avoiding the hospital may increase your risk of dying or having complications, but you may willing to take that risk to avoid the outrageous cost of the ER or hospital. And then think about patients who no longer can afford care or medication for their chronic conditions, who then ignore that chest pain and have a heart attack at home. More people will die than need be.

Let me be honest. I want you all to be aware that we seem to be abandoned by our president. My opinion is based in data, not politics. We must do better and expect better. We can use this next election as an opportunity to build a better, kinder nation. All of our lives depend on it. Sadly, for many, it will be too late.

But I also want you to know that despite the failings of our federal, state, and local governments, many scientists, doctors, and others across the world are working very hard to understand the virus and figure out solutions. There is good news on many fronts. More treatments are being developed, easier and faster testing is coming, new vaccines show encouraging data, we know how to manage sick people better, and we know what works to prevent infection. Remember to stay safe so you can vote in November. Our lives depend on it.

Wash your hands, cover your nose, keep safe six, register to vote.

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/07/14/cdc-directors-trump-politics/

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/07/15/891351706/white-house-strips-cdc-of-data-collection-role-for-covid-19-hospitalizations

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/magazine/covid-19-public-health-texas.html

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/27m-americans-may-have-lost-job-based-health-insurance-due-to-covid-19-down/577852/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/07/14/need-some-good-news-about-covid-19-here-are-six-reasons-optimism/