Student Opinion: As The Pandemic Nears An End, A Look Back

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(Marketwatch)

By Jacob Derin

On Tuesday, the federal government announced new guidelines on mask-wearing that allow fully vaccinated people to be outside without masks except in crowded places. This represents a big step towards a post-pandemic world, and is an excellent time to wonder “What took so long?”

The response to the COVID-19 crisis has revealed profound and unacceptable gaps in our pandemic preparedness. From our failure to adequately produce protective equipment to the utter failure of leadership at the federal level, the U.S. COVID-19 response deserves a grade of “F,” and that’s a degree of generosity afforded only by the grading scale and my inability to assign a lower one.

Future pandemic-grade pathogens could well be far nastier than SARS-COV2. The best estimates put its lethality at 0.5-1 percent. Consider a virus just as infectious as SARS-COV2 but an order of magnitude deadlier. Imagine multiplying the death toll by 10 (and then recall that it’s probably an undercount).

This is not a world any of us want to live in (and the odds are good that we wouldn’t get to live long in it anyway). 

It’s undeniably true that a lot of the blame for the rapid, global spread of the coronavirus falls on Chinese government officials who ignored or covered up evidence of the Wuhan outbreak, wasting critical time and destroying hopes of containment. However, once COVID-19 reached our shores, the time for finger-pointing was over. It was time for action.

It didn’t help that the American government and half of its country’s population were in the thrall of the dumbest cult in living memory. Where autocracy had contributed censorship and secrecy to the public health disaster, Western democracies were happy to pitch in their fair share of shocking ineptitude.

It should strike no one as surprising that governments led by far-right populists (Trump, Modi, Bolsanaro) produced some of the worst pandemic responses. At the same time, left-wing political violence (and the resultant mass congregations) in the wake of George Floyd’s murder threw its own fuel on the epidemiological fire.

It’s clear that a wide variety of political extremism is not up to the task of mitigating and controlling viral outbreaks. So what is? Unfortunately, the answer is extremely politically unsexy: solid, boring science.

Several very smart and courageous Chinese doctors risked their lives to warn their government and the world of the coming storm, and some lost the gamble

Containment is an all-or-nothing game, and once a disease has spread beyond its point of origin, there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. The first few weeks matter enormously to this effort, and the Chinese government’s refusal to listen to its expert citizens may well have allowed the pandemic to get started.

Once containment fails, the next best tactic is mitigation. This is what we’ve come to know as “COVID-19 protocols:” wash your hands, stay six feet apart, isolate yourself as much as possible, etc. But you can only ask people to stay inside and away from each other for so long.

Aside from the comparatively mild results of boredom and frustration, lockdowns have created a shadow crisis of severe mental health consequences in the United States and beyond. And this is even before you consider the lasting economic devastation of the worst global recession since the Great Depression.

COVID-19 will not be the last pandemic we experience, and next time we have to do better — for everyone’s sake.

Jacob Derin is a third-year English and Philosophy major at UC Davis.


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16 thoughts on “Student Opinion: As The Pandemic Nears An End, A Look Back”

  1. Ron Oertel

    It’s undeniably true that a lot of the blame for the rapid, global spread of the coronavirus falls on Chinese government officials who ignored or covered up evidence of the Wuhan outbreak, wasting critical time and destroying hopes of containment. However, once COVID-19 reached our shores, the time for finger-pointing was over. It was time for action.

    It’s never time for “finger-pointing” to be over, in the world of politics.  Followed by finger-pointing at the finger-pointer.

    It didn’t help that the American government and half of its country’s population were in the thrall of the dumbest cult in living memory.

    I love surprise links like that!

    But honestly, it seems to me that some are now in the thrall of some different cults.

  2. Alan Miller

    JD,  Thanks for yet another great and amusingly-written article that doesn’t hesitate to call out every spade as the spade that they are — China, Trump, Trump supporters and progressive protestors.  All have their excuses as to why they aren’t contributors, none are valid.  Far-right protestors could have been mentioned as well, though they have been covered extensively.

    I’m a bit uncomfortable with the headline but I don’t know if you wrote that – as in, I’m not completely convinced the pandemic is nearing an ‘over’ point, even if you define that as US only – certainly isn’t in other parts of the world, and I wouldn’t put it past the virus to mutate in India past vaccine boundaries and jump back into the US deadlier than ever.

    1. Matt Williams

      I’m not completely convinced the pandemic is nearing an ‘over’ point, even if you define that as US only

      I agree with Alan, I believe we are far from over.  Until we at least go through a second winter season successfully with no spikes, during a time where human activity migrates indoors, we will still be vulnerable.  It isn’t a surprise that Southern Hemisphere countries like Chile and Argentina are seeing substantial upturns in cases and deaths.

      I plan on continuing to wear my mask until at least December 31, 2022.

      1. Jacob Derin

        Based on the numbers coming out of Israel, herd immunity is eminently achievable with mRNA vaccines. They’re astoundingly effective at not only preventing hospitalizations and deaths but even mild, transmissible cases.

        I do think we’re nearing an end, at least in the US.

        1. Matt Williams

          Jacob, you are probably too young to have heard Dusty Springfield’s “Wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’
          Plannin’ and dreamin’ each night of his charms
          That won’t get you into his arms”

          Continued diligence will.

          With that said, can you explain to me what the downside is in continuing wearing a mask as your default public face?

        2. Jacob Derin

          With that said, can you explain to me what the downside is in continuing wearing a mask as your default public face?

          The first thing I’d point out is that I haven’t actually taken a position on this so far, either in the article or in my comments. I’ve just said that the CDC revised its guidelines and that the data on vaccine efficacy suggests that herd immunity is probably pretty close at hand. Particularly given the rapidly scaling vaccine distributions, we should be able to reach the roughly 75-80% immunization rate that’s necessary pretty soon.

          One reason why the CDC might want to issue guidance that’s less strict viz a viz mask wearing for fully vaccinated people is to provide an incentive to get the vaccine.

          Another thing to remember is that the mask actually does very little to protect you from catching the virus. It mainly stops you from spreading it. However, there’s very good evidence now that the vaccine does that anyway, so I guess the question is “What’s the upside to continuing to wear the mask after you’ve been vaccinated?”

          1. David Greenwald

            “we should be able to reach the roughly 75-80% immunization rate that’s necessary pretty soon.”

            Unfortunately the numbers suggest otherwise – given the current vaccination rate, the slowing number and the number of people reluctant or refusing to vaccinate, it is going to be very difficult to get to 75 percent let alone any time soon.

  3. Alan Miller

    I also wanted to address this:

    The federal government announced new guidelines on mask-wearing that allow fully vaccinated people to be outside without masks except in crowded places.

    Um . . . there was a mandate to wear masks outside?

    I have, for 13 months now, been clear this transmits primarily in enclosed spaces by concentration of the virus in air.  I have never felt the need to wear a mask outdoors, and from everything I’ve read it isn’t necessary unless you are in a crowd (which you shouldn’t be anyway) and can’t distance.  One day last fall I went to SF (about the only time I’ve left Davis) and was shocked when my friends were shocked I came to the door without a mask.  “I’m outside”, I said.  “Everyone wears masks outside here”.  I looked around, and it seemed like indeed they did.  This cultural norm crept into Davis over the following months.  I also found it insane.  Either it’s a good practice or it’s not, but doing things for show isn’t a good way to express good practice.  I haven’t been inside a pubic space or store in months, and if I did I would certainly wear a mask, with nose covering.  But Davis and SF are mass exceptions.  Have you ever been anywhere else?  No one wears masks outside once  you get past Sacramento, Reno.  And many don’t wear masks inside, the other side of crazy.  So the federal government now says fully vaccinated people can go outside without masks.  Well . . . isn’t that special.

    1. Ron Oertel

      “I’m outside”, I said.  “Everyone wears masks outside here”.  I looked around, and it seemed like indeed they did.  

      You’ve committed a significant social “faux pas”.  🙂

      There was and is.

      I believe there’s details/information you’ve left out, regarding that. Not sure what the status is, at this point.

      1. David Greenwald

        This is state guidelines: “Outdoors and maintaining at least 6 feet of social distance from others not in their household. You must have a face covering with you at all times and must put it on if you are within 6 feet of others who are not in your household.”

        1. Ron Oertel

          That’s what I recall, though you’ve described it as “guidelines”, rather than a “mandate”. Then again, the phrase also includes the words “must”, thereby adding to the confusion.

          In any case, I haven’t heard if those guidelines (or whatever they are) will now be updated.

          Regardless, I suspect the social faux pas restrictions might remain in place for awhile – depending upon location. 🙂

        2. Alan Miller

          OK, nuance there . . . 6 feet of others and carry one with you.  That all makes sense and I was aware of that.  Was out yesterday and people walking alone or walking dogs outside with a mask on.  I don’t get that.

          Friends driving across US from Michigan to CA said until you reach Coast states, no one wears masks outside, and even inside is store by store. One place they asked owner said, “This is America, you wear a mask if you want to!” I don’t find that attitude particularly high on brain power either.

        3. Ron Oertel

          Was out yesterday and people walking alone or walking dogs outside with a mask on. I don’t get that.

          If you have pets, treat them as you would other human family members to protect them from a possible COVID-19 infection.

          Do not put a mask on pets. Masks could harm your pet.

          https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/pets.html

          Doesn’t say anything about putting wigs or costumes on pets, though. And with that comment, I am no longer trying to be helpful. 🙂

           

  4. Don Shor

    I would just like to get to the point where we no longer have to ask our customers if they ‘forgot’ their mask, which we have to do almost every single day at this point.

    We will follow the guidance of the County Health Officer in this regard. The question we will have soon is whether masks are necessary to wear out in the nursery yard, or just in the building.

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