A former student of mine--and a friend from years ago--passed Sunday due to complications related to COVID-19. In September, he had shared a post on Facebook (we were Facebook friends) calling the virus a hoax. Too many people have died. It's time we recognize this public health emergency for what it is.
There are those who still believe the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax, a political ploy, a Chinese plot, or some other conspiracy theory. The truth is that it's a public health crisis, not just for our country but for the world.
Worldwide, over 46 million people are now known to have had the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus which first appeared in China in November of last year. 1.2 million people have died, and while 33.6 million have recovered; 11.8 million active cases still exist, and over 85 thousand of those are said to be in serious or critical condition. Worldwide, about 3% of those known to have contracted the disease have died.
In the US, over 229 thousand have died. Over nine million people have been infected. The number of new cases reported in a day set a record Friday with over 99 thousand. There have been over a half million new cases reported in the last seven days.
In North Carolina, 2,057 new cases were reported Sunday. 4,383 North Carolinians have now died from the virus. A dozen US states have reported over 16 thousand new cases in the past seven days:
North Carolina 16,343
It isn't just the US that is seeing many more cases. Europe is also experiencing a resurgence of the virus. In the months of March, April and May, Europe as a whole reported between 35,000 and 38,000 COVID-19 cases every day. Most European countries imposed restrictions on gatherings and required people to wear masks. For most of June, July, and August, Europe reported less than 20,000 cases a day. But as those countries reopened their businesses and reduced some restrictions, there was a dramatic rise in cases. People started traveling extensively, began involving themselves in group activities and not social distancing, and the result was inevitable.
In Germany, where hospitalizations from the virus have doubled in the last ten days, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that restaurants and bars will have to close their doors to patrons starting Monday. Professional sports teams will play to empty stadiums, while theaters, gyms and cosmetic studios will have to close. Supermarkets, most other stores, schools and day care centers will remain open, but there will be new restrictions on the number of people who can gather. The government will provide financial assistance to closed businesses.
President Emmanuel Macron, who had already extended the curfew in Paris to all night, imposed another nationwide lockdown. Most work sites including factories, farms and construction will remain operative but retail businesses will have to close. Macron said the government will provide financial assistance to affected businesses. Restrictions on nursing home visits and funerals will not be as strict as in the Spring. The lockdown will be in effect at least through December 1st.
Other European countries are also imposing new restrictions. Portugal has made wearing a mask compulsory even outdoors when social distancing cannot be maintained. The Czech Republic imposed a nationwide curfew. Stores, schools and restaurants were required to close and masks were made mandatory in all public places. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new national lockdown, closing all non-essential businesses. People were ordered to stay at home except for essential purposes, including education, medical visits, or to shop for groceries. Schools will remain open. Pubs, bars and restaurants won't be able to have customers dine with them--they can offer takeout and delivery.
So...does this mean the whole world is in peril? No. It means that if we don't take some kind of action to curb this disease, it's going to kill a lot of us.
But what about Sweden? some may ask. Sweden chose not to implement any significant restrictions on its population. It never closed schools or businesses. It essentially used children in a 'herd immunity' experiment and willingly sacrificed its elderly to the experiment. Many of the elderly Swedes who died from the disease were never hospitalized. Sweden's deaths per million is lower than that of the US (587 compared to 714), but they've come nowhere close to achieving herd immunity (where enough people have had the disease and developed antibodies that the spread diminishes). Herd immunity requires up to 75% of the population to have been infected. Sweden has had less than 15%. More Swedes have been sick and died than was necessary--and with no good result.
Some countries have done much better at limiting the spread of the virus. Sweden's neighbors--Norway (52 deaths per million), Finland (65) and Denmark (125) imposed restrictions early. Blame the Chinese for the virus if you wish, but they took quick and decisive action when the outbreak began. They've had less than five thousand deaths (if you choose not to believe their figures, so be it, but that's what they report) and only three deaths per million population. Hong Kong reports only 14 deaths per million, Taiwan .4 (that's point-four), Vietnam .3, Japan 14 and South Korea 9.
Australia recorded no new daily coronavirus community infections on Sunday for the first time in nearly five months, paving the way for further easing of restrictions.
The Australian government took the pandemic seriously from the beginning and, unlike in the United States, government officials listened to the advice of public health experts. The vast majority of the public complied with social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines--unlike the US, where masks are seen by some as an attack on individual liberty.
Australia first tackled the virus with a ban on travelers from high-risk areas in February. Australia's borders were closed to non-citizens on March 19th, and later that month, movie theaters, bars, and schools were closed and social distancing rules imposed. Testing was made widely available, and the restrictions included penalties for non-compliance. The state of
Victoria, which had been one of the country's significant 'hot spots' for the virus, ended most of its lockdown restrictions – some of the world's toughest just last week. Earlier attempts at reopening had met with increased numbers of new cases, so lockdowns were reimposed. Internal borders between states were at one point closed to travel except with a special permit for the first time since the 1918 flu pandemic.
There are now less than 200 active cases of coronavirus across Australia, which has recorded just 27,595 cases and 907 deaths since the pandemic began. Australia's deaths per million population is just 35--compared to 712 in the US.
Authorities are now turning their focus to reuniting families split by virus measures, pledging to reopen all internal borders and bring thousands of citizens stranded overseas back home before Christmas.
Australia is just one of the nations that has made restrictions and especially wearing of facial coverings a priority and who have reduced their numbers of new cases and deaths as a result. Greece imposed some of the tightest restrictions in Europe when the pandemic began. Their deaths per million is
61. In Germany, which imposed stiffer restrictions than most and has recently reimposed some as new cases increased, the deaths per million is 126. In countries where mask-wearing has been almost universal, the number of cases and deaths has not increased as it has in others where many have refused. As already noted, in Hong Kong, the deaths per million is only 5; Japan's deaths per million is 14. In the United Kingdom, where many--like in the US--have refused to wear masks, the deaths per million is 687.
The Lincolnton City Council, which held a special meeting last Friday (Oct. 23rd) has asked for citizen input and open dialogue regarding current COVID-19 precautions and restrictions at their meeting Thursday evening (Nov. 5th, 7 PM) at City Hall. The NC Dept. of Health & Human Resources sent a letter to city and county leaders in 36 North Carolina counties asking them to consider local ordinances or other means to help slow the spread of the disease. Those 36 were chosen because in the two weeks before the letter was sent, they had all had 300 or more new confirmed cases.
What the Council doesn't need on Thursday is politically motivated arguments. Some will likely claim that masks don't work--they do; the evidence from multiple studies including one by the SCDHEC is overwhelming. Some will want to protest the restrictions imposed by Governor Cooper's executive orders. The Council has no power to change those; they can pass additional restrictions if they choose, but that is unlikely. What they need from the public, business leaders and others, is positive input--an answer to the question: "What would you have us (the City) do to help curb this pandemic in our area?"
The truth is, we know what works. The masks are the best thing we have until a vaccine is approved and provided to the population. The so-called 3Ws (3Ms for Hispanics) do, when universally practiced, help to keep from spreading the virus. We do not believe the Council will, nor should they, pass any kind of additional restrictions. It is, however, unfortunate that some--including businesses who have received grants and loans from the City--aren't doing much of anything to help. It's unfortunate that for some, what they believe are their rights mean more to them than the lives of others.
I've reported, based on discussions among very knowledgeable doctors and others who work in medicine, that with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays coming and the likelihood that people will gather without appropriate caution, we will have a lot more cases of the disease in the coming months than we've already had. Many celebrated Halloween as usual--without wearing protective masks, partying in close proximity, etc. There is a significant reason to believe that some of them have now been infected with the virus. We'll know in a week or two when cases start showing up.
Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday elections, this pandemic isn't going to end right away. I do believe that it will--especially if a vaccine is developed--begin to diminish by late Winter.
For now, the masks, the social distancing, etc. are all we have. Let's use them. I lost another friend from years ago to this disease on Sunday. PLEASE--do your part to help save lives.