Eight months into the global disaster of a lifetime, maybe it is time Americans stop hating on each other and accept that no one has the perfect answer for how to deal with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Seven months ago, Sweden was being condemned for refusing to play follow-the-leader in the quest to isolate and kill the newly emergent pathogen.
President Donald Trump in April declared the Nordic country was “paying heavily” for failing to lock its residents in their homes, “as the country confirmed a near-record number of new infections,” England’s Daily Mail reported.
Today the per capita death toll in the U.S. has surpassed that of Sweden, and the Nordic country – though faring worse than its Scandinavian neighbors – doesn’t look to have done that bad on the global scale.
Early on, writes Richard Smith at BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), “the New York Times called Sweden ‘a pariah state,’ and Sweden has had higher death rates than most countries in Europe, although lower than Britain. But, as I write this on 20 September 2020, the difference in the number of cases in Sweden and most of the rest of Europe is striking. Most countries in Europe have a rapid rise in cases, whereas Sweden does not. Spain, which had one of the most severe lockdowns, has one of the steepest increases.”
Sweden, the Journal’s former editor noted, recognized early on that the pandemic was going to last for a long time, and Swedish chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said “that ‘it would be in the autumn when it became more apparent how successful each country had been.’ As Britain looks close to going into another national lockdown, some are arguing that Sweden seems to have adopted a better strategy. But all judgements must be provisional as pandemics are unpredictable, and Tegnell does expect local spikes in cases.”
Tegnell looks now to be wrong on the date of the judgement day. It might be well into next year or longer before it becomes clear how successful various strategies have been.
He has guessed better on the the disease’s unpredictable nature. The number of cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, are creeping up in Sweden although deaths do not seem to be following in line.
Back in April, infection rates in the range of 500 people per day were resulting in 100 deaths per day over the course of the weeks it took COVID-19 to kill. Similar infection rates are now killing only one or two per day, according to a Swedish COVID-19 tracker.
At that rate, COVID-19 doesn’t even make the list of top-10 killers in the Nordic country. On average, 77 Swedes per day die from heart diseases, 63 per from cancers, 18 from problems linked to mental health, 17 from already established respiratory diseases like pneumonia.
But Sweden is nowhere near free of the scourge of COVID-19 because almost no country appears free.
Across the Atlantic, the pandemic has become nothing but another reason for residents of the increasingly tribal United State to loathe each other.
On one side are those who believe the government knows all and should control all. On the other side are those who see the most dangerous pandemic disease in 100 years as nothing but a government scam designed to provide leverge with which to control the masses.
Progressives point to the now soaring infection rates in red states and claim the problem is that the people living there are stupid.
No matter the state, stupidity might indeed play some role in catching the newest infectious disease. It’s obvious with SARS-CoV-2 as with other respiratory viruses that the more time you spend around the infected and the closer you get, the better your chances of catching their disease.
And some aren’t doing much to protect themselves.
A new survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports one out four Americans are now ignoring the agency’s advice to wash their hands after touching a face covering, surfaces in a public place, or their own eyes, nose or mouth.
“Hand hygiene is one important measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other pathogens,” the study noted in one of several mixed messages coming out of the CDC.
As part of a push to get people to wear face coverings, CDC has until now made a big deal of how SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted “mainly through exposure to respiratory droplets.”
French scientists reporting in the Journal of Emerging Infectious Disease reported their laboratory experimentation with the virus led them to a slightly different conclusion.
”…We showed that a moderate protein concentration in droplets markedly increased the infectivity of SARS-CoV-2, suggesting that a protein-rich medium like airway secretions could protect the virus when it is expelled and may enhance its persistence and transmission by contaminated fomites,” the wrote. “Accordingly, it is plausible that fomites infected with SARS-CoV-2 play a key role in the indirect transmission of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). This finding supports surface cleaning as a necessary action that should be enforced and repeated becuase it may play a key role in halting SARS-CoV-2 transmission and mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The conflicting reports coming from scientists who all generally profess to be ultimate authorites has certainly not helped to bridge the partisan divide between those in this country or others.
“There is a mounting breakdown of trust,” Richard Horton wrote at The Lancet, a respected British medical journal earlier this month. “Not only between politicians and the public. But also among politicians and publics with science and scientists. This breach of faith with science is far more threatening.
“For the public is slowly turning against those who have sought to guide the political response to COVID-19. As countries face a resurgence of coronavirus transmission, scientific advisers are recommending further restrictions to our liberties. There is now a palpable public reaction against these mandates. Whereas in March people were ready to stay at home to protect their health and health systems, the growing economic emergency that has followed national lockdowns is leading politicians to resist similar measures being applied once again.”
The lockdowns made perfect sense initially. After SARS-CoV-1 broke out in 2002, it was isolated in the places where infections appeared and as a result disappeared in 2004.
That was a bit of a surprise as was the appearance of the deadly virus itself.
“While animal coronaviruses have been associated with severe disease in their respective hosts, human coronaviruses (HCoV) were historically detected in mild respiratory illnesses,” University of Michigan researchers noted in a peer-reviewed study published in Infectious Diseases in July. “Therefore, the identification of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) as caused by a coronavirus of animal origin in 2002 was a surprise because of its epidemic behavior as well as its severity. Also a surprise was the ultimate interruption of SARS transmission by public health measures.”
With luck, SARS-CoV-2 would have disappeared, too. It actually looked to be disappearing in Alaska.
Only a case or two per day – and some days none – was reported through most of May, but infections started rise rapidly in June and are spiking again now as in many other states and Europe.
What to do next is the subject of debates that often degeneration into divisive arguments. There is no sure fire path forward. Some scientists are now even questioning whether lockdowns really worked as well as it first appeared.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh argue in a “special paper” at BMJ that their modeling of the pandemic accurately “predicted that school closures and isolation of younger people would increase the total number of deaths, albeit postponed to a second and subsequent waves. The findings of this study suggest that prompt interventions were shown to be highly effective at reducing peak demand for intensive care unit (ICU) beds but also prolong the epidemic, in some cases resulting in more deaths long term.”
In other words, the lockdown did a great job of flattening the curve – something obvious in the Alaska data – but increased the carnage. Still this is the view of only one trio of scientists with one model.
There are plenty of others with opposite views. They count millions of lives saved with lockdowns though calculating those that didn’t die is inherently speculative.
“An early consensus about how to manage the spread of the virus has disintegrated,” Horton wrote in that Lancet letter. “We see scientists splintering into factions.”
Of course, we do.
Any fan of American professional football can understand what is going on.”Winning cures all,” it has been observed there, and losing does the exact opposite.
Humanity ran into a viral hurricane in the form of SARS-CoV-2 and could do little more to control it than to control the wind. That so many who were severaly sickened were nursed back to health is a tribute to modern medicine.
Almost 1.1 million people are reported to have died of the disease to date. The Spanish flu of 1918-19 killed 17 million to as many as 100 million people at a time when the global population was about a quarter of what it is today.
Still, the vast majority of the population survived then as they are surviving today thanks to luck, genetics or lifestyle. The value of lifestyle is well illustrated in the case of COVID-19.
Obese people, according to one study, appear to have about a 40 percent greater chance of catching the disesase than the non-obese. And all studies agree the virus gravitates toward the obese.
Both genetics and body mass may be playing a role in Japan where one sampling of seroprevalence to determine how many people might have been exposed to the disease found “COVID-19 infection may have spread widely across the general population of Tokyo despite the very low fatality rate.”
Reporting in a study on the medRxiv preprint server, scientists from Japanese and U.S. medcal centers suggested the much debated “herd immunity” might have been reached in Tokyo where 45 percent of the population appears to have been exposed to the virus.
Others scientists argue herd immunity will never be reached without a vaccine, and still others argue the most likely end to pandemic will come with the disease evolving into a milder form as did the flu.
From a purely evolutionary standpoint, a virus that sickens instead of kills has a much better chance of survival. It can go on forever as have the flu and the common cold, some versions of which are caused by CoV viruses.
Only time will tell, but more is being learned by the day. The problem is that much remains unknown.
The latter is unfortunately not a good thing in a digitially connected world now hardwired for instant gratification and instant answers.
Not to mention easy solutions.
Despite some government suggestions of a miracle vaccine by next year, the world is unlikely to find a quick an easy cure for COVID-19, which is sure to only add to the divisiveness going forward.
We have met the enemy, and he/she is us.