Opinion | Susan Knopf: Out of an abundance of caution
Did you see the cartoon on social media? Guy sitting in front of his laptop says, “That’s odd: My Facebook friends who were constitutional scholars just a month ago are now infectious disease experts.”
I don’t claim to be an expert, but I have wondered a great deal about our nation’s pandemic playbook.
I was confused when our governor shut down the ski areas. You can play frisbee golf in a public park in Denver, but you can’t go skiing? I bet Vail announced its shutdown to protect the ski mega giant from being sued — by employees and customers.
“I bet the governor took his lead from Vail,” said Dr. Glen Mays, professor and chair of the Department of Health Systems, Management and Policy at Colorado School of Public Health. “These are political moves. They have to worry about being too far out in front of public opinion.”
Mays is working from home, just like the rest of us. “Economic impact is going to be massive,” he said.
That’s because this isn’t going to be just a couple of weeks. Mays expects the shelter at home order to remain in effect a minimum of eight weeks. That takes us into mid-May. Mud season just went from six weeks to three months, and we lost our single best month of the year. Virus mitigation and suppression could continue 12-18 months, according to experts.
Mays explains that authorities are looking at the progress of COVID-19 in China, where the first outbreak occurred. They are also watching how it is spreading like wildfire through Europe. For the record:
- A new study from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Health reports the “median disease incubation period” is 5.1 days.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports it may take 2-14 days following exposure to show symptoms. Dr. Sanjay Gupta reported on CNN that Chinese data shows 80% of those diagnosed with COVID-19 contracted it from someone who did not know they were infected.
- Mays says that’s one reason why COVID-19 is more than twice as contagious as the flu.
- Vox reports COVID-19 is more than twice as deadly as the flu.
- Those 60 and older are most at risk of dying, according to China’s data.
- A National Institutes of Health study found the virus lingers in the air and on surfaces far longer than flu viruses.
- More than three hours hanging in the air
- Up to 24 hours on cardboard
- Up to 2-3 days on plastic and steel
We are told to act as if you are infected. You can protect yourself and others. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment advises people to stay away from other people. Wash your hands for 20 seconds. Avoid touching your face, mouth, nose and eyes. Don’t be alarmed, don’t confuse every virus with coronavirus. COVID-19 patients have fever, reportedly 87.9%.
Back to the pandemic playbook. Mays says in “2007-2008 the federal government spent billions of dollars to support pandemic planning. Those plans are not specific when you put provisions into play.” Colorado does have a specific plan for a biological event on page 107 of the Colorado State Emergency Plan. It’s online!
With the emergency plan in place, Mays says he hopes the worst case scenario will be avoided. He says CDC modelers estimate U.S. deaths may reach 200,000 to 1.7 million. Some math you should know: We have about 160,000 ventilators in the U.S. We have at least 10,000 in emergency reserve. But we may need more than 300,000 ventilators to meet the need of our citizens who become critically ill from COVID-19.
The shortfall is a direct consequence of our for-profit health care system. Mays says, “It’s the heart of the ethical issue.” We need to consider how we are cheated by the for-profit health care model. One of the critical issues is the lack of hospital beds.
Our health care system is optimized for profit. Mays says, “hospitals have not maintained excess capacity” for some theoretical future pandemic. We have fewer than three hospital beds for each 1,000 Americans. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we are ranked 32nd in the world in hospital beds per capita.
The rationale for the quarantine is to “flatten the curve.” We need to slow the spread so we don’t overwhelm hospitals and health care providers.
Ultimately this fall, health care will be on the ballot here in Colorado and in the national election. We need to vote for ourselves. We need to vote for our health. Vote for substantive health care system change. If we are going to improve how health care is delivered, we need to change how it is monetized.
Susan Knopf’s column “For the Record” publishes biweekly on Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf lives in Silverthorne. She is a certified ski instructor and an award-winning journalist. Contact her at email@example.com.
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