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We're losing the war on the coronavirus

By any standard, no matter how you look at it, the U.S. is losing its war against the coronavirus.

Why it matters: The pandemic is not an abstraction, and it is not something that’s simmering in the background. It is an ongoing emergency ravaging nearly the entire country, with a loss of life equivalent to a Sept. 11 every three days — for four months and counting.


The big picture: “The part that really baffles me is the complete lack of interest in doing anything to achieve the goals we all agree on,” said Ashish Jha, the director of the Global Health Institute at Harvard.

  • Everyone wants to be able to safely reopen schools and see their friends and leave the house. To do those things safely, you have to get the virus under control. But much of America is talking and planning like victors at the precise moment we’re in the throes of defeat.

Seven times over the last two weeks, the U.S. has set a new record for the most cases in a single day. Cases are increasing in 33 states, and several of those states are seeing such staggering increases that they may soon overwhelm their hospitals.

  • No, those increases are not just a reflection of better testing. And though testing has dramatically improved, it’s still not enough to meet demand.
  • The peak of the U.S.’ coronavirus vigilance is in the past, but the peak of the virus’ actual spread is happening right now.

Yes, but: Public health experts say they’re optimistic that we’ll get our act together.

  • “It's certainly within our power to turn things around. Whether or not we will depends on whether our political leaders will commit themselves to it,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University. “If they’re able to get on the same page as the evidence, then I think they can avoid shutdowns.”

It’s true — and it’s good — that the percentage of all coronavirus patients who die seems to be falling. And experts hope that will hold, as the pool of infected people is skewing younger.

  • But “I don't know that I take much comfort in this, knowing that thousands of people are going to die in the coming days and weeks and it was all preventable,” Jha said.
  • The virus has already killed over 130,000 people in the U.S. — roughly the population of Charleston, S.C. And deaths are now beginning to rise in the places experiencing big outbreaks.
  • Patients who don’t die can still experience lasting, painful symptoms, including damage to the lungs, heart, immune system and even the brain, after they leave the hospital.

What’s next: The optimistic view is that the pandemic just had to get worse before it gets better — that people outside of the New York region may not have taken it seriously enough in the early days when it was concentrated there, but that they will now.

The bottom line: “I think there's a lot we can still do to turn around, and i'm still hopeful we are going to get more leadership to fight this thing,” Jha said. “I think we’re going to have to relearn the lessons of March and April and New York, without the ability to say, ‘Oh that was just New York.’ “It's going to be a painful summer.”

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