More than 130,000 Americans are dead because of the coronavirus. There are more than 3 million cases in the U.S. right now. Tens of thousands of new diagnoses are coming in every day.
Here are some hard realities.
First, there’s a lot scientists, doctors and public health officials still don’t know about COVID-19. And a lot of things they thought they knew are changing. Younger people aren’t as immune from the virus as initially thought. It might be less serious if they become symptomatic, but they can still become seriously ill or even die. The semi-scientific theory that warmer weather would kill off or slow COVID-19 has been proved false. No one knows with certainty that if a patient is exposed to the virus, they can’t get it again. And the virus may have long-term health impacts on those who were sick and recovered, including possible neurological damage.
While the pandemic won’t last forever, it’s looking more and more as if COVID-19 will stay around until there is a vaccine, which could be anywhere from a few months to a year away. Some drugs are showing promise for treatment, but nothing is ironclad right now.
Original estimates in March projected more than a million deaths in the U.S. if there was no action taken in terms of limiting gatherings and shutting down schools, along with certain businesses and social functions. Under such a shutdown, deaths were projected to reach from 100,000 to 200,000. The country is in that window now, and without a uniform, nationally coordinated response to the virus, it looks as if fatalities will exceed those projections.
The virus is not something that can be debated into non-existence. It’s a health crisis that is infecting and killing Americans at an alarming rate.
Scientists say that wearing masks, practicing social distancing and frequent hand-washing are essential to slow the spread. Lives are on the line.
That doesn’t mean everyone needs to go into a bunker to ride this out, but people have to be smart about the activities they choose. Just because the government in a particular state says people can go to a crowded beach doesn’t mean it’s safe or worth the risk. West Virginians and other Americans are going to have to evaluate these things for themselves, and do what they think is best — keeping in mind not just how it might impact them, but how it could affect friends, loved ones and even strangers.
Gov. Jim Justice has pushed back the opening day for public and private schools to Sept. 8. It could be pushed back further, depending on what happens over the next 50 days or so. Makeshift solutions have allowed some businesses and social venues to reopen, and the same will probably be required of schools. Even then, cases could increase, just as they have with other reopenings.
America’s predicament is serious and complicated. Economic concerns are real and growing with the rising number of cases. Public schools are critical in West Virginia, providing benefits that extend far beyond education. Guarding against the loss of human life while keeping alive the engines that fuel this country aren’t competing objectives but the tall order our leaders must fill.
No fixes have been found. But the search for a path out of this madness must continue. In the meantime, a lot is riding on the self-responsibility. This is a long-term problem. In the absence of better answers from people in positions of power, everyone needs to focus on what they can control to slow the spread.