I thought the pandemic was over now. And I am not alone. There were sophisticated models that predicted a dramatic decline in the number of infections by the summer. And while understandably concerns about the second wave, re-infection, and the coming flu season, there was good reason to believe that the worst of the first wave would be well behind us.
Well, it all seems wishful thinking. Here we are over nine months after the pandemic began with more than 224,000 deaths and more than 70,000 new cases and 800 deaths per day in this country as of late October. New hot spots are popping up in the US and around the world. Herd immunity, whether from infection or vaccination, is many months or even years away – if at all. Despite these challenges, we have good news.
Good news about COVID-19: my top 5 list
Given the grim news, it’s easy to overlook some positive developments about how the fight against this pandemic is going. Here is my perspective on five important ones.
- Soon after its appearance, researchers identified the viral cause of COVID-19, mapped its genome, and tracked its spread.
For a virus unknown less than a year ago, all of this happened quickly because of the dedication and collaboration of scientists and public health officials around the world. Imagine what it would be like now if we did not yet know the cause of this terrible disease and had no idea where it is spreading.
- We now have good evidence that face covering and physical distancing work.
Although recommendations on how to wear masks or other face coverings and how to maintain physical distance were first made many months ago, only recently a compelling scientific case was published in support of these recommendations. Studies of the effectiveness of these measures (like this, this and that) make justification difficult Not Follow these recommendations.
- There is increasing evidence of this Testing and contact tracking Job.
Given that the widespread implementation of these measures creates huge challenges and obstacles, we have seen better containment in places where testing and contact tracing are routine (e.g. New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore). And it’s likely that at some point we’ll have new and better tests with improved accuracy, greater availability (including home testing), and faster turnaround times.
- Care for patients with COVID-19 has improved since the beginning of the pandemic.
This may be responsible for reports of lower death rates among those with COVID-19. Increased testing, detection of more asymptomatic cases, and more patients in younger age groups can also help improve numbers. Still, supportive measures (such as “pronouncing” patients), certain medications (such as dexamethasone and the recently approved remdesivir), and more experience with this infection have likely improved overall results. Importantly, we’ve also identified ineffective treatments (like hydroxychloroquine – see here, here, and here for studies) so we can avoid those that are unnecessary and potentially harmful.
- A number of vaccines have been developed and large-scale studies are on the way to determine which are safe and effective.
This too has happened with unprecedented speed. Several companies are working on different vaccine candidates. Manufacturing of some of the leading candidates is already underway, and officials plan to distribute millions of vaccine doses in the coming months. While there is no guarantee that any vaccine in the pipeline will be successful, these developments increase the likelihood that sooner or later we will receive an effective vaccine.
It should be emphasized that there are major concerns about the safety of moving this quickly, the lack of transparency of the trial data and the possibility of politics influencing the process, which could lead to reluctance to vaccinate. Still, it seems better that these efforts are underway than waiting years for a potential vaccine to be approved.
The final result
Much about how our country responded to the pandemic could and should have gone better. But it would be even worse without the items on this list.
If we all do our part in the fight against COVID-19, good news should be easier to find. Maybe that’s already happening: some places have at least temporarily contained or almost eliminated COVID-19. And toilet paper is back on the shelves.
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For more information on COVID-19, please visit the Harvard Health Coronavirus Resource Center.