We have known from the beginning that it is a powerfully contagious virus and for those with underlying medical conditions, it is lethal. We know that and it is said that the vast majority of those dying during the pandemic have been persons with one or more co-morbid situations. In Italy, a major hot spot earlier on, it was 99.2% of persons who died that had at least one other illness. That makes frail elders and persons living with Chronic diseases vulnerable targets.
To the astute observer, information and knowledge seems to change almost daily as experience and research combine to help us understand what we have experienced and will yet experience. Pharma companies and university research labs around the globe are racing to be the first with a drug and first with a vaccine. The rewards for success are enormous.
In late 2019 the world heard about the outbreak of a strong virus but its seriousness on the world stage was not felt to be so serious. That led some of the major news outlets in the US to use terms like “pandemic panic” in assuring the public that this was nothing to worry about.
But in China it was seen to be sufficiently serious as to cause some key medical experts to track the number of cases and document successful treatments. Early results published in the New England Journal of Medicine show that initially there were a significant number of children under 3 infected. It also showed that the source of infection was not the Wholesale Fish Market yet social media kept that assertion going for some time.
Early in 2020 the World Health Organization did not see any reason to recommend a ban on international travel, although they did declare an International Health Emergency on January 30, 2020. International travel remained intact for several weeks moving people around the globe. This delay in travel seems strange in retrospect. The Americans were early to institute some international restrictions which brought out assertions of racism and alarm from various sectors.
China must have been in a bit of panic because the newswires carried stories of people in masks and being confined to home in and around Wuhan. On March 11, the WHO declared the Corona-19 virus as being the cause of what was an international outbreak and declared a Pandemic. This came on the heels of another New England Journal of Medicine article published February 28 and authored by the now very famous Dr. Anthony Fauci and colleagues. In this article, Covid-19 was described as the latest threat to Global Health and cited over 78,000 cases in China and 14 cases in the US linked to travel from China.
With the WHO declaration, and aided by epidemiologists and statisticians, the world was thrown into panic. Already significant numbers of cases were appearing in Iran, Germany, Italy and elsewhere. The initial projections that set the world afire were sufficiently frightening as to send the world scrambling! The thought of two million deaths in the US with proportionate numbers assumed for other countries sent shivers down the backs of politicians and public health officials alike. So, into lock-down we went, virtually shutting down much of the international economy and stay home orders issues virtually world-wide.
At that time there was precious little known about this particular virus and its characteristics. The Chinese medical researchers were tracking and publishing as best they could.
Stay-at-home was accompanied by panic-buying as we were told that everything, every surface, had to be decontaminated regularly because the virus could be anywhere. The specter of huge numbers of deaths sent shock waves of fear amongst people. With all the measures instituted we have turned our communities inside out, much action based, as now seems evident, on information that was incomplete at best and inaccurate at worst.
A few weeks into the pandemic Dr. Deborah Birx appeared on one of the US daily briefings and acknowledged that the original forecasts were way off and the models were now being completely re-worked. Meanwhile, on Canadian national briefings the use of masks was very tentative.
Now instead of two million deaths, Dr. Fauci has said there may be 100,000 deaths. And as the research continues to come in, it appears that most deaths occur with people who have had long standing other medical problems, any one of which likely would have caused death anyway in a short time. Dr. Klaus Puschel, Pathologist and Head of the Hamburg Institute of Forensic Pathology, raises the question for those who succumbed: Did they die of Covid or with Covid? He goes on to explain that in the autopsies that he has overseen or conducted on patients who have died, all had serious pre-existing conditions that would have taken their lives soon in any event. He says that all were either obese, smokers, had high blood pressure, or other major problems with essential organs.
And this is what happens each year with the seasonal flu; even though many of us take the vaccine (certainly not universal), the flu precipitates the death of many seniors with other medical conditions. To fear the sickness that comes from Covid is fine; to walk with enormous fear of death, not so much unless you are a frail elder or a compromised immune system.
We were told that the bug can live on surfaces for a long time but then this week it seems that is not quite the case. The key point of all this is that we have turned ourselves inside out causing irreparable harm to many people and businesses based on lack of good information. We, as a world, reacted out of panic driven by inaccurate and incomplete information. And how could it be otherwise? It was a new virus, hence the term “novel virus”, and at the outset there was very little known about it.
All of this, of course, has given rise to a new industry called Conspiracy Theories! There are many of them out there, a theory for everyone. And if you listen and take them all seriously, you will need therapy! Wisdom is to ignore the theories put out for your enjoyment by social media addicts but be attentive to real events and facts. For instance, it is not just the US that is calling for an international investigation but at last count 67 countries around the world are calling for an investigation and some have suggested bringing pressure on the Chinese Communist government for reparations.
That is not a conspiracy theory, it is accurate news carried on the newswires.
But the cloud has had many silver linings and in the wake of the dust settling, New Brunswick will be a better place. The elusive Long-Term Care Strategy and proper Pandemic Planning may actually happen; the need for a proper plans and strategy has been known in the field for nearly 30 years and the province pays a steep price for its absence.
And we have seen, as David Coon noted, the enormous value of the political parties rowing the boat in the same direction; may this continue as we try to restore this province to the great leader that it can be. In the reform process at York Care Centre the Mantra was: It’s A New Day. May it be so!
Ken McGeorge is a retired CEO in major teaching hospitals and long-term-care facilities. He was co-chair of the New Brunswick Council on Aging and is a columnist with Brunswick News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ken McGeorge, BS,DHA,CHE is a career health care executive based in Fredericton, NB, Canada.