Student Opinion: It Can Happen Here

By Jacob Derin

The U.S. is in for a tough winter, and I’m not exactly sure that people understand what that means. As hospitals reach capacity, we may soon hit the point at which they can longer cope with a new surge of COVID-19 cases.

We’ve been hearing for months the same, tired refrains from health officials: “Wear your mask; stay six feet apart; don’t go to large gatherings,” but I don’t think people fully understand why these messages are so crucial. 

Young people, correctly understanding the data on how the SARS-COV2 virus affects them, see that it is unlikely to kill them (although it is hardly benign for them either). And it is difficult, when the scale of the devastation caused by COVID-19 is so vast, for any individual to understand how their actions contribute to it. But they do. Many journalists and doctors out there will happily explain exponential spread to you and how even asymptomatic carriers can bring about the deaths of people they’ve never met.

It’s about to get worse. 

Once we enter the winter months, a few events start to happen, which are dangerous from that perspective. People start staying inside more, and the sun is out less. The longer people spend in confined spaces, the easier it will be to catch an airborne virus. And the less the sun is out, the less chance it has to sterilize surfaces that people might touch. There’s also some reason to think that it’s relevant that the humidity will be lower.

Every day for the past week, the U.S. has added more than 150,000 COVID-19 cases to its confirmed total. This is how we’re going into the winter months. That number, the “rate of growth,” will start to go up as those people infect multiple other people. That’s how exponential growth works.

But, I want to focus your attention on what I think is the more imminent and dangerous consequence of the recent explosion of COVID cases: the impact on our hospitals.

The more infections there are the more people end up in the hospital. That’s a pretty simple cause-and-effect relationship that I think we all understand. But it’s worth taking a moment to really think about what that means. There are only so many beds, doctors and nurses in U.S. hospitals. There are only so many drugs, testing reagents and truck drivers to bring them to the right places, and so on. As big as it is, the U.S. healthcare system has its limits. And we’re reaching them

What happens when we run out of those things? This is what doctors and epidemiologists have been terrified of from the start of the pandemic.

Hospitals will have to start rationing care, only giving beds to the sickest people. That means turning away people who might well end up dying of COVID-19. But they might also end up dying of something else: a drug overdose, a heart attack, an injury, or any one of a thousand other things.

And, if things continue to get worse, the hospitals stop working. Yes, that can happen. If enough nurses and doctors get sick and enough hospital resources are depleted, then the normal operating mechanisms cease to exist.

I’m not sure if raising the specter of this grim possibility has succeeded in frightening you, but if it hasn’t, try this: picture it again.

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  1. Tia Will

    Thank you Jacob for pointing this out again, from a student perspective.

    For the younger folks out there I would like to add another factor to contemplate. The fate of the “long haulers”. Although still largely anecdotal, there are increasing accounts of that group, believed to be less severely affected by COVID, but whose severe effects, while not lethal can be longstanding.

    So imagine you are a late teen or twenty-something, studying for the SAT, or MCAT, or LSAT when you go out to that party. A few days later and you lose your sense of taste and smell. You test positive. No big deal. Until the daily headaches, fatigue, and your worst nightmare, the inability to concentrate kick in…and are still there six months later with no specific treatment or end in sight. Potentially life long consequences.

    Or you are a twenty-something married, professional woman who has decided to start your family. Same scenario with an added twist. You have had a blood clot form and are at a much higher risk of stroke during or after your pregnancy.

    This is not the flu. It is not just the elderly or already ill who are affected. There is no vaccine yet available. There are no specific treatments widely available. And yes, it can and is happening here.

    So explain again why anyone needs to be convinced, begged, or mandated to stay home, socially distance, mask and clean thoroughly!

    1. John Hobbs

      “So explain again why anyone needs to be convinced, begged, or mandated to stay home, socially distance, mask and clean thoroughly!”

      The intentional and ignorant disinformation spread by the Fox News, Trump, and their echo chamber[edited]

      1. Bill Marshall

        John… have a relative (not ‘blood’) who is “so” into Fox News (until they reported Trump lost…), pro-Trump… yet, in May, when visiting CO, insisted on masks, hand-santizer when she picked us up at the airport… then wiped the interior down with sanitizer when we exited… and says the whole Covid thing is “fake news”, and gov’t is over-reacting, infringing her liberties… [CO had much higher rates than CA, at the time]

        True story… a college grad with a Masters (Bachelor’s in Biological Science, Master’s in Business Admin.  Worked for Genentech for years)… I am not so creative as to make this up!

        Song you might remember, John… “It’s a Strange, Strange World We Live in, Master Jack”.

        In the meantime, we are following protocols, but are not paranoid.  And dealing with necessary inconveniences… and hoping things change sooner than later…


  2. Alan Miller

    Biggest help would be to purge the arseholes.  Went to drug store and grocery store today – total nightmare still.  Guy walks by in CVS with mask – nose exposed.  I mentioned what an arse the guy was to the cashier, who said it’s common.  Note to arseholes:  wearing a mask with your nose exposed is not wearing a mask.  It just makes you a jerk.  Then to grocery, was packed.  Social distancing was impossible.  People walked within inches.  Families shopping together taking up whole isles – note that recommendation is one person goes to the store – ignored.  Kids wandering within inches of strangers.  Aisles at nugget so you stand for long period right next to the cashiers in the next row – even though you are separated by six feet plus plexiglass from your own cashier – note to nugget –> the virus isn’t as stupid as that setup.  Bottom line – I’ve given up on the human race.

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