It’s Time to Hunker Down

The Atlantic

Zeynep Tufekci, writing at The Atlantic, first with the good news:

The end may be near for the pestilence that has haunted the world this year. Good news is arriving on almost every front: treatments, vaccines, and our understanding of this coronavirus.

Pfizer and BioNTech have announced a stunning success rate in their early Phase 3 vaccine trials—if it holds up, it will be a game changer. Treatments have gotten better too. A monoclonal antibody drug—similar to what President Donald Trump and former Governor Chris Christie received—just earned emergency-use authorization from the FDA. Dexamethasone—a cheap, generic corticosteroid—cut the death rate by a third for severe COVID-19 cases in a clinical trial.

Doctors and nurses have much more expertise in managing cases, even in using nonmedical interventions like proning, which can improve patients’ breathing capacity simply by positioning them facedown. Health-care workers are also practicing fortified infection-control protocols, including universal masking in medical settings.

Our testing capacity has greatly expanded, and people are getting their results much more quickly. We may soon get cheaper, saliva-based rapid tests that people can administer on their own, itself a potential game changer.

And then with the kicker:

The best way to prepare would have been to enter this phase with as few cases as possible. In exponential processes like epidemics, the baseline matters a great deal. Once the numbers are this large, it’s very easy for them to get much larger, very quickly — and they will. When we start with half a million confirmed cases a week, as we had in mid-October, it’s like a runaway train. Only a few weeks later, we are already at about 1 million cases a week, with no sign of slowing down.

Americans are reporting higher numbers of contacts compared with the spring, probably because of quarantine fatigue and confusing guidance. It’s hard to keep up a restricted life. But what we’re facing now isn’t forever.

It’s time to buckle up and lock ourselves down again, and to do so with fresh vigilance. Remember: We are barely nine or 10 months into this pandemic, and we have not experienced a full-blown fall or winter season. Everything that we may have done somewhat cautiously — and gotten away with — in summer may carry a higher risk now, because the conditions are different and the case baseline is much higher.

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