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After recent announcements from the White House and the Texas Governor’s office, many businesses are headed on the path to reopening. When Will Covid-19 End, the concerns on everyone’s mind are, “are we ready?” and “can we afford to wait?” This balance is at the center of discourse in our communities, our governments, and our public health institutions. The answers are not easy, and there is certainly much debate on priorities, strategies, and even what information we can trust in this pandemic period.
There are a few crucial questions built into the larger question of how long coronavirus will last. There are the state and federal government decisions about our response. There is the question of containment, testing, and vaccine development – in short, the factors needed to safely return to “normal.” And, there is the role of our individual, local and national stability, and the consideration of the diverse population we are working to protect from harm, in our states, nation, and around the globe. To talk about how long coronavirus will last is to talk about all these issues and more, as this pandemic has impacted nearly all aspects of modern life.
First, the News, When Will Covid-19 End
As the US has exceeded the 1 million case mark and is currently poised to reach 1 million active cases, the highest infection rate in the world, announcements came yesterday from state and national leadership that restrictions to social distancing are officially easing.
Nationally: The president issued a statement that his administration is prepared to send all 50 states enough tests for 2% of their populations. So far about 1.6% of the population has been tested, so if all the new tests were administered the number tested would more than double. Public health experts warn that at least 31 states need to dramatically ramp up testing efforts prior to returning to work. In addition, testing needs vary greatly from state to state. Less impacted states like Alaska need around 100 tests per day, while New York requires 100,000 per day. The President also encouraged governors to consider opening up schools and businesses.
State of Texas: Governor Greg Abbott, representing the state with a population of about 30 million, made an official statement on Monday, April 27th announcing that stores, restaurants, movie theaters, museums, libraries, and malls may reopen at limited (25%) capacity on Friday, May 1st. The measure supersedes other orders stated by city mayors, county judges, and other representatives with regional authority in the state. The shelter-in-place order extended through May 15th in Dallas county, for example, is shortened by the Governor’s order.
The decisions made by our elected representatives will have a tremendous impact on our nation’s crisis management and recovery. Time will tell how the newest directives to relax social distancing and reopen closed businesses will impact the trajectory and end results of COVID-19.
Containment is Essential
In accordance with the President’s and the Governor’s previous and latest statements: social distancing is still in effect, and wearing masks in public is still recommended. The 25% occupancy operations for non-essential services are designed to respect the need for continued social distance. Non-essential businesses that can operate remotely are expected and encouraged to continue doing so in efforts to manage density in workplace and business environments. Trips out for any activities should be limited and handled carefully.
If we are to see the curve completely flattened, and truly contain COVID-19, it is essential to avoid a spike in infection rate following these re-opening measures. Contagion-reducing recommendations have been shared and mandated for good reason. Symptoms for infected individuals typically appear anywhere between 2 and 14 days after infection. Many exhibit no symptoms. So even if you are not feeling off or showing signs of illness, you can be carrying the virus, and have the ability to infect others. This long latent stage at the beginning of the virus is a major contributor to how it is spreading so far and so quickly.
If you have contracted and are on the road to recovery, it is extremely important to self–quarantine and follow instructions of any medical providers treating you. Staying home and doing everything possible to eliminate your exposure to others is what can stop the spread. It is recommended that you stay home for at least 7 days after symptoms began, or at least 72 hours after fever is gone and other symptoms are improving – whichever is greater. Do be cautious in judging this timeline, as many have reported a resurgence of symptoms that had abated around the 7-day mark. Johns Hopkins Center has put together an informative list of measures to take to stay safe if you are healthy or have contracted with more details on these recommended stay-at-home timelines.
Expanding Testing Capacity is Paramount
Currently, only 1.6% of the US population has been tested. Public health officials have been explicitly clear that this is not sufficient to gather the necessary data about the spread of the virus to make informed decisions about our current quarantine measures.
This is especially important because with continued study of the virus, more information emerges about the onset symptoms and transmission. On April 27, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) formally added 6 symptoms to its COVID-19 list, including: chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or small. Fever, cough, and shortness of breath are the longest standing, and most discussed symptoms, with only colloquial and informal reference to the other newly accepted symptoms until now.
Without vastly expanded testing, our representatives are making decisions that impact our health and safety virtually in the dark.
What Needs to Happen to Reopen Safely?
In addition to the containment and expanded testing measures described above, vaccine research, development, and deployment will likely play a critical role in the ultimate outcome of the crisis.
Development of a Vaccine
Experts are conflicted on the topic. Many saying the expected waiting period for a vaccine to come available is 12-18 months away, though some are more optimistic that this can occur within a tighter timeline. Medical News Today recently published an article exploring diverging expert opinions.
Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at University of Edinburgh, Mark Woolhouse, goes so far as to state that a vaccine cannot be considered a strategy to deal with our current crisis – the development and distribution timeline is simply too long to consider this a true, viable strategy.
On the other hand, Professor of Vaccinology at Oxford University, Sarah Gilbert, whose team is working on vaccine development has stated that she believes a vaccine may be available to the general population as soon as this fall. Her reasoning includes the urgency and global focus on the pandemic, the streamlined trial and testing across labs around the world, and fast-tracked legislative approval via emergency use laws.
Countering the optimism of Dr. Gilbert, is the concern that fast-tracked legislation and deployment does not provide comfort of adequate testing for any vaccine. The availability of a vaccine is not the singular question to solving the problem. Safety of the formulation, it’s predictable and successful use across populations (especially at-risk individuals), the possibility of required multiple doses, and potential mutation of the virus itself are all considerations that may hinder this rapid-rate development.
Still, following creation and testing, the vaccine would then need to be produced at mass scale, distributed and administered – an enormous logistical operation in itself.
What About Antibody Testing?
Sadly, the World Health Organization recently put out a statement that “there is no evidence that people who have already recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from second infection.” While antibody testing may be extremely beneficial for tracking the course and severity of the virus in different populations, this information cannot provide reliable evidence of any steps toward herd immunity at this point.
The Role of Financial Stability in Decision Making
Conversations about the disruption to our economy have accompanied the Coronavirus discourse from the very start. We’ve written a few articles (like this or this or this) about financial impacts of the pandemic, particularly on topics tied to our expertise in the personal injury field. We’re keenly aware that with a shuttered economy, many families are struggling with limited paychecks, or with no income at all.
There is no doubt that leaders in business and government are struggling with the pressures they are facing to operate our communities so that people are able to earn, while protecting those at risk of serious illness or death. With the stimulus bill falling short of the needs of so many these needs are increasingly poignant. In an nation where most people live paycheck to paycheck and an unexpected $400 expense can be devastating, the $1200 check to individuals (if they were lucky enough to already receive it) has likely already been eaten up by rent payment.
Average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Texas is about $1100. And, the initial $342 billion in funding for small business loans ran out in two weeks, prompting an additional allocation of $310 billion – rapidly depleting. Getting individuals, families, and businesses back on solid financial ground is essential to any kind of successful recovery from this crisis.
What About At-Risk Populations?
This is such an important question. The way that we treat our most vulnerable is what really defines our character as individuals, as communities, and as a nation.
The tragic fact is that at-risk populations will struggle the most. This has consistently been discussed since the beginnings of this crisis in reference to populations of advanced age or compromised immune health. Over time, more groups have been added to the at-risk category. Those with diabetes and heart conditions most recently have shown correlations to greater severity of symptoms. Increasingly, conversations are turning to the disproportionate impact that the pandemic is having on the economically disadvantaged. Minority communities are more likely to be socio-economically disadvantaged in the US, so poor communities of color are being hit harder by the virus than affluent white communities. It’s devastating that income disparity or race should position some of our citizens to be at greater risk of infection, suffering and death.
What is the Takeaway?
From healthcare workers, to legislators, to kids out of school, to essential workers – the question on everyone’s mind is: when will this end? “When” is really a moving target, and some experts have raised the possibility that this pandemic could become an endemic, meaning it is a virus that stays with us. Other endemics include three strains of seasonal influenza, HIV, tuberculosis, and four different coronaviruses.
When a new virus strain emerges, what remains to be seen with time is how it can be controlled. Will seasonal (flu) or regional (Ebola) outbreaks periodically occur, or will vaccination be able to effectively eliminate the strain from the population? Yale School of Medicine warns that pandemics happen in waves, so as we garner more experience and data on this virus, and work to develop a vaccine, we may continue to experience spikes of infection rates that require renewed quarantine and social distancing efforts.
In the meantime, as our governments take steps to reopen industry sectors, we are left to largely rely on ourselves, our families, and friends, to weather this crisis safely. Tips here to keep your home safe as we continue to weather this storm. Stay safe.
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Publication Notice: All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit the Centers for Disease Control or World Health Organization live updates pages for the most recent information on the COVID-19 outbreak.
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