President Trump pronounced the other day that "people are tired of COVID."
After seven months of sickness, death, shutdowns, job losses and anxiety, who isn't tired of the demands the coronavirus makes on our psyches? Who doesn't long for the day when the stands can be packed again at a Pittsburgh Steelers game, when every seat can be filled at a concert, when we can walk into a store without doing a risk/benefit analysis, and when we can visit friends and family without calculating the amount of time we can spend indoors?
But, as much as the president might wish it to be so, COVID-19 is not like a spotlight-hogging celebrity who has worn out his welcome or a TV show with tanking ratings. The death toll worldwide due to the coronavirus has passed 1 million, with 220,000 of those deaths having been logged in the United States. Many epidemiologists believe the worst may yet be ahead, as cold weather settles in and the pandemic overlaps with flu season.
However weary we are of the disruptions to our daily lives, however dismayed we may be at the thought of holidays without seeing loved ones, however tired we are of COVID-19, we really don't have any other choice but to persevere and do what we can to prevent the spread of the coronavirus until there is a vaccine or an effective treatment.
"The fall resurgence is here," Gov. Tom Wolf said earlier this week, with several counties in Pennsylvania reporting worrying infection rates. While the overall transmission rates in Washington, Fayette and Allegheny counties remain at moderate levels, and are low in Greene County, the rates have shot upward in counties within our vicinity, including Westmoreland, Armstrong and Lawrence counties. The state has logged at least 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day since the start of October. Pennsylvania is doing better than it did in the spring when it comes to testing, and its hospitalization rate is better now than it was six months ago.
Disturbingly, though, 67% of people contacted by contact tracers in Pennsylvania earlier this month would not respond to queries about where they have been or what kind of gatherings they may have attended. A better response rate would help lower the numbers.
What we cannot do is pretend COVID-19 doesn't exist. If, as some have argued, we toss away all restrictions and let the virus run rampant through the population, only isolating the elderly and those deemed vulnerable, the cost would be more than we could bear. There would be hundreds of thousands of additional deaths, and lingering, acute illness in many who survive. Tom Frieden, a public health physician, pointed out in The Washington Post this week how arduous and brutally painful the road to herd immunity would be: with an estimated 15% of the population already infected, we would need many thousands of additional Americans to contract the disease before we'd hit 60% and, theoretically, herd immunity.
"The route to herd immunity would run through graveyards filled with Americans who did not have to die, because what starts in young adults doesn't stay in young adults," Frieden wrote.
So, as we head deeper into the fall, the advice of the last several months remains as applicable as ever: wear a mask when you go out; do your best to keep your distance from others when you are outside your home; wash your hands; and keep your chin up. We will get through this.