Even though President-elect Biden finally has the green light, the most effective tool to combat COVID-19 is in OUR hands

178

By George W. Contreras, DrPH(c), MEP, MPH, MS, CEM

Now that the U.S. 2020 elections are over (for the most part), the country needs to regroup quickly and take aim at the ongoing threat that is ravaging the entire country. As of December 14, Johns Hopkins University reports that the United States has 16.3 million cases. The concerning part is not that actual number as is the pace at which we are getting there. We reached eight million on October 16 (21 days after the last million) and then nine million on October 30 (14 days later). We reached ten million on November 9 (ten days later). We reached eleven million 7 days later, and we surpassed 12 million in five days.  In the past few weeks, cases have been increasing by one million in 4- 5 days. Among other things, this pace indicates that the virus is still widely spreading throughout the nation.  

It is time for everyone to take action to prevent reaching 20 million cases by the end of the year. During the past few days, there were over 200,000 new cases in the United States and the daily numbers of new cases have been steadily increasing. Several states in the nation are currently living what the New York City area experienced back in March and April. Although the overall cases and deaths are much less than earlier months, even New York City and its surrounding areas are experiencing increases in cases well above established benchmarks. On November 9, New York City Mayor DeBlasio and health commissioner, Dr. David Chokshi, reflected on increasing citywide statistics and made a plea to all New Yorkers to “double down and make a last-ditch effort to avoid a possible second wave.” As a result, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have implemented new restrictions as of November 13.  Governor Cuomo even declared new areas in New York City as yellow and orange zones 

As the weather gets colder and holidays approach, there are increased probabilities for traveling and larger family gatherings which would be the norm given the time of year. However, we are operating in a world that is far from the norm. We currently have limited indoor activities, no Broadway shows, and many colleges and universities are learning remotely. Several institutions of higher learning have already decided that their spring semester will be remote to minimize the number of persons in in-person classes. Various sectors have done their part to help slow the spread of the virus but it is clearly not enough. 

Even though President-Elect Biden announced his coronavirus task force, they cannot really start to work or implement changes until January 20, 2021. On November 23, the GSA issued the statement that president-elect Biden can move forward with transition steps. Until public health can lead the pandemic response, as it should, we as a community must do our part to put the PUBLIC back in public health. We need to continue wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently (or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer) and maintain physical distance (and avoid large gatherings). As a public health professor and frontline paramedic in New York City, it brings me no pleasure in informing my family that I will not join them this Thanksgiving or other upcoming holidays. But I have seen what this virus can do on its worse day. I do not want to return to the days of seeing so many sick people dying at home and at the hospitals. Furthermore, I certainly do not want to be the reason why a member of my family or a loved one gets infected. They may be mad at me but hopefully they will understand my reasoning. In the end, I would prefer a living and healthy family member who was mad at me than a family member who was happy to see me over dinner and subsequently get sick or even die. 

We need to remember that the statistics we see today are based on actions (or inactions) from weeks prior. If we continue to be reactive, then we will always be playing catch up. Therefore, we need to plan and make sure that we do as much as we can to avoid pathways in the upcoming months to continued increases in virus spread. I acknowledge that these decisions are very difficult as holidays approach and we all want to spend it with family and loved ones. But we also need to remember that we can show how much we really care for them by not potentially exposing our family and loved ones to the virus. The toll that this pandemic has taken on our economy, physical and mental health, cannot be underscored. But we are resilient and can beat this virus if we act together as one unified country. 

Although three vaccine companies (Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZenaca) have mentioned promising early unverified results, there is still no FDA-approved vaccine for this coronavirus. Now that the FDA has granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to Pfizer, I still urge everyone to remember that the next hurdle is the large production and distribution of said vaccine. Therefore, I caution people to understand that most of the United States population will not have access to the vaccine until well into 2021. In the meantime, we must ensure that we have set the stage to keep ourselves safe and healthy. So, for the sake of this year’s holidays, stay home this year so that you can all celebrate wholeheartedly next year. We need to do it for ourselves, our elders and our children. 

Although three vaccine companies (Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZenaca) have mentioned promising early unverified results, there is still no FDA-approved vaccine for this coronavirus. Now that the FDA has granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to Pfizer, I still urge everyone to remember that the next hurdle is the large production and distribution of said vaccine. Therefore, I caution people to understand that most of the United States population will not have access to the vaccine until well into 2021. In the meantime, we must ensure that we have set the stage to keep ourselves safe and healthy. So, for the sake of this year’s holidays, stay home this year so that you can all celebrate wholeheartedly next year. We need to do it for ourselves, our elders and our children. 

George W. Contreras, DrPH(c), MEP, MPH, MS, CEM, is assistant director of the Center for Disaster Medicine and assistant professor in the School of Health Sciences and Practice Institute of Public Health at New York Medical College. He is also an adjunct associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, adjunct professor at Metropolitan College of New York and still works on the front lines as a paramedic in New York City.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.