When life dealt me a tough hand to play last December, and my right leg had to be amputated due to infection, I had no idea how quickly or as desperately I would need to rely on another. But several years before, the good Lord delivered to me a great friend. Just as Robinson Crusoe relied on his sidekick “Man Friday” in the timeless novel Daniel Defoe penned in 1719, I too have a “Man Friday” who not only is my aide de camp but – because I live alone – checks in on me every single day.
On Monday I took my “Man Friday” to Erlanger Hospital’s emergency room in fear he may have contracted the coronavirus and, while it was confirmed he has a lung infection and feels worse than a mashed cat, the test results take two days.
He’s now quarantined to his bed pending those results, but we already know COVID has the worst grip ever on the United States right now. I’m talking about today, this minute – and we had 11 million confirmed cases on Sunday … with 69,000 Americans in our hospitals.
On the front page of Sunday’s New York Times was this paragraph: “More than 1,000 Americans are dying of the coronavirus every day on average, a 50-percent increase over last month. Iowa, Minnesota, TENNESSEE (my all caps), and Wisconsin have recorded more deaths in the last seven days than in any other week of the pandemic. Here is what is important: According to the Tennessee Department of Health, COVID cases were up by 5,817 this Sunday over Saturday and 16 new deaths were reported in that 24-hour period.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger is almost apologetic about extended mandatory masking so allow me to deal the truth: If you fail to protect yourself you and your loved one could die. Please! Mask, distance and vigorously wash your hands with very warm water and soap as never before. Jerome Adams, the U.S. Surgeon General, blamed ‘Pandemic Fatigue’ as the culprit for this bitter surge. “People are tired and aren’t taking mitigation measures as seriously as before."
“The virus hit the country at different points, so you’ve had some people who have been doing these things since February, March and April,” he said on NPR’s “All Things Considered”, “but what happened they didn’t see the wave until later. And they are just tired.”
Last week Dr. Anthony Fauci, while rejoicing over Pfizer’s promising vaccine, said it would be sometime between April and June before Americans could get the vaccine but The Washington Post let it slip yesterday that next month – yes, this December – the vaccine will be available in limited quantities for medical personnel, First Responders, and extremely high risk patients. Better is yesterday’s news that drug giant Moderna also has a vaccine with a stunning 95 percent success in early trials. The medical community is ecstatic, and last week a third supplier, BioNTech, said their version has a 90-plus success.
The more vaccines available the more millions can be treated and this ain’t exactly Baskin-Robbins – I take the first available and never whine over the flavor. The Washington Post predicted 20 million vaccines will be available in December but keep your antenna up; the rumor is strong that within 30 days the new vaccines will be coming fast and with more research teams right on the cusp watch for Donald Trump and Joe Biden to share our good fortune.
The reason the vaccines are ready to burst through the gate is obvious --- we are having an unprecedented number of hot cases right now and it has gotten so bad my Erlanger nurses whisper they are being okayed to work despite testing positive for COVID. While that is hard to believe, last week’s memo blamed a severe nursing shortage at Erlanger as the unfathomable answer. Several months ago, it was found that Erlanger nurses were being badly managed and went as far as to seek union representation.
The latest from ABC News: “Saturday marked the eleventh consecutive day with over 100,000 COVID-19 cases recorded, health data showed. In the last week, the U.S. has reported a new weekly record of cases, with 989,825. That means approximately one in every 331 Americans tested positive for COVID-19 this week. The U.S. case number crossed the 10 million mark on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins.”
ABC News also reported: “Since Nov. 1, the U.S. has reported over 1.7 million new cases. The U.S. is currently averaging over 1,000 reported COVID-19 deaths per day, with 7,708 American deaths recorded this week, and 14,634 deaths in the last two weeks.” Can you get yours arm around this? It is the truth. And it is ‘now.
NPR reporter Allison Aubrey batted it around with Steven Inskeep on “Morning Edition” yesterday and look at this back and forth:
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AN EXCERPT OF REPORTER ALLISTON AUBREY WITH HOST STEVEN INSKEEP ON NPR’S “MORNING EDITION” ON NOV. 16, 2020
INSKEEP: So how different - when we hear about that many people being infected, how different are the numbers than just a few weeks ago?
AUBREY: Yeah. You know, new cases are increasing so quickly that just since the beginning of the month, there's been about an 80% increase, and we have not reached the peak yet. We're averaging a thousand deaths a day, as you just said. That is 42 people every hour, Steve, and close to 70,000 people are hospitalized. I spoke to Marc Boom. He's a doctor who is the CEO of Houston Methodist. He says right now, there are about 150 people being admitted to Texas Medical Center hospitals every day. And if current trends continue, it's just not sustainable.
MARC BOOM: So, two weeks from now, that's 300, and then two weeks after that, that's 600, and two weeks after that, that's 1,200 if that trend continues. And that's what we cannot allow to happen. And it just - things get so much worse so quickly, and we've got to be vigilant and we've just got to persevere.
AUBREY: He says it's absolutely crucial that everyone take precautions to slow the spread.
INSKEEP: Allison, when I look at a chart of infections, it's starting to look like we're climbing a mountain. It's even becoming a cliff; it's going up so steeply. Is there's still a possibility to get this under control before absolute disaster?
AUBREY: You know, take what they've done in England. They've basically gone back into a nationwide lockdown. They've kept schools open, but restaurants, pubs, nonessential businesses have closed. Here in the U.S., we have a hodgepodge, Steve. Chicago has a stay-at-home advisory. There are new rules in Michigan, Washington, you know, new ones being announced every day at a state level. North Dakota just issued a mask mandate. I spoke to one of President-elect Biden's coronavirus advisers, Loyce Pace. She told me at their very first meeting last week, the focus was to lay the groundwork for a much more unified approach. And what we're likely to see is a set of evidence-based guidelines on when to issue restrictions and when to loosen them.
LOYCE PACE: You know, these things are a dial, not a light switch. And so, I think that that will be a part of our discussion is really understanding better when and where to turn up that dial based on data.
AUBREY: You know, she says this will be crucial going forward.
INSKEEP: So, we have this crisis with Thanksgiving just 10 days away. What's the safest approach to the holidays?
AUBREY: You know, there's a new element to this pandemic fatigue, Steve. Most people get it that this is not the year for big parties or big family gatherings. But many people are expanding their bubbles ever so slightly, getting together with just one more friend, allowing, you know, one more kid for a play date. It's this very incremental expansion of our social bubbles, combined with more time indoors, that some experts say is leading to the spread of virus in the household. So, the safest thing for the holiday is to just gather with your immediate household or your immediate social bubble.”
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You want more? This from Healthline.com: El Paso County in Texas has seen a 160 percent increase in its COVID-19 positivity rate and a 300 percent spike in hospitalizations since the first of the month. Beds in the county’s intensive care units (ICU) reached capacity over the weekend. Overflow ICU patients are being airlifted to other cities. There’s a curfew in place for the next 2 weeks from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. Residents are required to stay home unless they’re traveling to or from work or need to use essential services.
In Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers is urging residents to “stay home.” “If that’s considered a self-imposed lockdown, whatever it is, it’s important,” Evers said at a news conference. “There is no way to sugarcoat it. We are facing an urgent crisis.” That warning comes as the state shattered single-day records of new COVID-19 cases, deaths, and hospitalizations. Hospital beds are at 84 percent capacity.
Utah hospital officials have presented that state’s governor, Gary Herbert, with a proposal if hospitals face having to ration care in the next week or two. Already this month, two Utah hospitals have had to open overflow ICUs. The plan would move people who are getting worse out of the ICU despite receiving critical care. And if two patients had equal conditions, the younger patient would get treatment priority over the older one.
Yes, that’s beyond the realm to ever favor oen patient over the other … but that’s where our country finds itself right now.
As I sat in Erlanger’s ER waiting room for most of the afternoon, I was an eyewitness to the staff’s sheer brilliance at separating the COVID symptoms immediately from the other patients. But I wondered, as I watched these pros, how intensely horrifying the nightmares would be if one of God’s greatest ER doctors had to pick between a 26-year-old girl, with an infant daughter, and a 66-year-old who earned a Bronze Star and three Purple Heats in ‘Nam? Who lives? Who dies?
COVID does not play fair. That is exactly why we must mask, distance, and wash our hands rather than give the Devil what he thinks is his due. We fight until the very last inch. And then, Lord willing, we’ll bite – hard as we can -- to get over the line. Always stay in the game, and go as tough as you can, until you hear the whistle.
Now, if it ain’t asking too much, loft a prayer for my “Man Friday” as we await the test results. A purer soul has never been … and in some special ways, he’s kept my train on the track. So to speak.