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The End of Coronavirus

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Published in the Humboldt Independent on July 7, 2020

And now for your government-mandated positivity for the week of Tuesday, July 7th: this pandemic, like most pandemics, will end. Odds are good we wouldn’t be here otherwise. Generally speaking, once cases of a given pandemic disease reach a low enough level and uncontrolled transmissions become the rare exception rather than the norm, even the more cautious of optimists can begin to conjecture about the existence of a hypothetical light at the end of the hypothetical tunnel. A virus thrives based on its ability to spread, as we’ve heard time and time again these past months, so if our preventative measures manage to corner the virus and cut off its access to new victims, then we’ll be in the clear. That doesn’t mean all cases everywhere are gone forever, but it would mean cases of COVID-19 would become something unusual.

Surging daily cases

US cases started growing again recently, and have climbed to a worldwide high of 50,000+ new cases per day.

Thanks to the charming collusion of politics and healthcare, these kinds of containment measures apparently did not contain enough bald eagles and ranch dressing to convince enough Americans to make a difference. In contrast, the simple application of masks and social distancing has proven to have notable impacts in the European Union. As of press time, there have been a roughly comparable total of 2.6 million infections in the EU, comparable in sum to our 2.74 million cases. However, Europe has reported a substantial reduction in new daily cases, down from 40,000 cases daily in April to fewer than 15,000 cases per day as of July, all in a geographical region whose population exceeds our own by almost 150 million. Meanwhile, US cases started growing again recently, and have climbed to a worldwide high of 50,000+ new cases per day. The sharp reduction in EU infections compared to US infections seems to indicate that masks, social distancing, and otherwise generally reasonable behavior are not, in fact, the tools of a communist deep state Illuminati inasmuch as they are weapons of common sense. Not to take a political stance or anything.

The question is, what next?

With cases still on the rise, we have to hope another measure becomes available. Two main options are generally discussed when we talk about the “end” of COVID-19: Herd immunity and vaccination. Like our old friend measles and other highly infectious diseases, achieving herd immunity against COVID-19 would require an estimated 70% of the U.S. population – some 200 million Americans – either all get vaccinated or survive a COVID-19 infection. Sources still expect at least two years before herd immunity even begins to factor into infection rates, and those estimates still eventually account for an “acceptable” 1,000-2,000 COVID-related deaths per day. That’s an awful lot of Americans, an awful lot of strain on our health care system, and pretty much the last solution we’d ever want to lead with.

Two main options are generally discussed when we talk about the “end” of COVID-19: Herd immunity and vaccination.

And although numerous vaccines are still in development, there has yet to be any indication anything is going to be available to the public anytime soon. Even an overnight miracle cure would require plenty of evaluation and review before it was able to be distributed to the public. As of this month, only seventeen of the 205 potential vaccines being worked on have even reached human trials.

We’d all love an end to this pandemic, but despite historical precedence, we might not get a nice clean break. There may be lessons here from another pandemic the world has been wrestling with now for years. Despite worldwide understanding and preventative measures, the AIDS pandemic has an absolutely heinous impact on many African nations, where a lack of acceptance towards preventative measures and medicine has severely limited efforts to contain the spread of the disease. Rates of AIDS infection in eastern and southern Africa can reach as high as 25%, and data from 2006 indicates that some 29% of all pregnant women in South Africa have HIV. The lack of health education seems to be one of the largest contributing factors in determining how well a given population handles the spread of a pandemic, wherever that pandemic takes place.

Education is our best bet

What all current crises indicate, from the global struggle against COVID-19 to the cultural battles against systemic racism and authoritarian police action, is that education itself is an absolutely critical component of any health care system. Preventative medicine, as a very concept, begins with education, as does political and social justice. And not just the presence of education in the form of expensive private institutions, but an education system focused on developing critical thinking and research skills in our young people. If the most modern and prosperous of nations has a substantial voting population so alienated from modernity as to outright disregard proven science, we have to wonder exactly who benefits from such wholesale neglect of our citizenry. Not only does education positively inform our lifestyle and health-related decisions, it informs our ability to inform ourselves in the face of new information. Knowing enough to trust the experts, or to not trust your friends, family, or even your gut is not something that is not easily foisted upon a group of Americans already belittled for the failures of their education system.

Galen Lastko, submitted on behalf of the SoHum Health’s Outreach department.