Hold On, It's Gonna Get Bumpy: Your Pandemic Update
As we wave bye-bye to 2020, let's keep in mind that the SARS-CoV-2 virus doesn't know what a calendar is, and it doesn't care how frigging exhausted we are, and it also hates being anthropomorphized, too. Human beings are supposed to be the smart ones, but because we haven't been especially brilliant about things like getting together in groups or wearing masks, the COVID-19 pandemic keeps roaring along. Yesterday, the USA set two more new records: more than 3,700 deaths in a single day, and more than 124,600 patients hospitalized nationwide. Considering the ridiculous numbers of people traveling for Christmas, those records don't seem likely to last long.
So there's a happy thought. At least future grad students in public health and political science will have plenty of irrational behavior to write dissertations about.
California Hospitals Can't Get Oxygen. This Is Not A Metaphor.
The LA Times reports hospitals in Southern California aren't just overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 cases; they've also been facing a shortage of oxygen, which is more than just a little indispensable in treating people whose lungs are being damaged by the virus. Just how bad was it over the weekend?
Problems on Sunday caused at least five hospitals in L.A. County to declare an internal disaster, which closed the facilities to all ambulance traffic — not just certain types of ambulance patients, as is more typical.
It's not simply a shortage of oxygen itself, county and hospital officials say. There's a shortage of canisters, which patients need to return home, and aging hospital pipes are breaking down due to the huge amounts of oxygen needed to be distributed around the hospital.
Oxygen pipes in older hospitals actually have two problems: So many patients need oxygen that it's difficult to keep enough pressure in the oxygen systems, and worse, the high rate of flow through the pipes can cause them to freeze, making the flow of oxygen unreliable.
LA County has gone from roughly 1,300 COVID-19 cases daily in early November, to an average now of 14,000 cases a day. And that could get worse as Christmas travelers come home and spread the virus around — public health authorities have urged people to stay home, or if they travel, to quarantine following trips. Maybe some people will actually do that if they hear the hospitals are literally unable to provide enough oxygen to keep everyone alive.
On the other hand, the LA Times reports today that "Christian" singer Sean Feucht plans to hold three days of New Year's superspreader concerts in the LA area, so he can spread the Gospel and perhaps the deadly virus. Feucht has been holding "Let Us Worship" open-air concerts all over the country, often in homeless camps, to prove to crowds of maskless believers that the government can't push them around or even hope to protect the health of others, so that's a hell of a social psychology dissertation right there, isn't it?
We Have Vaccines. They're Not Getting Into Enough Arms.
NBC News reports that the pace of vaccinations is falling so far behind Operation Warp Speed's goal that, "at the current rate, it would take almost 10 years to inoculate enough Americans to get the pandemic under control." The plan was to have 80 percent of Americans vaccinated by late June, which would translate to roughly three million vaccinations every day between now and the end of June. As it stands now, after two weeks, only two million people have received the first dose of the vaccine, which requires two injections, about three weeks apart, to be effective.
The good news is that roughly 11.5 million doses have been delivered to the government by the manufacturers. The bad news is that vaccines don't do a damn bit of good sitting in a freezer. President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday said he was grateful to Operation Warp Speed, researchers, and pharma companies for getting vaccines developed, but added, "as I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should."
Donald Trump, true to form, tweeted later that day that it was all the states' fault, because getting the vaccines to people is the states' responsibility, stupid slow states. Then, again true to form, he lied and said Biden had "failed with the Swine Flu," by which we suppose he must mean the 2009 vaccination program rolled out slowly (for a virus that killed 12,000 people over a year). Clearly, 2009 was worse because it was Democrats. The hiccups in ramping up production of that vaccine also led to improvements in manufacturing, to the point that, so far, the problem isn't so much the vaccine supply as actually getting it to people.
The UK Virus Variant Is Here, But Please Don't Try To Collect 'Em All
Health authorities in Elbert County, Colorado, said today they believe they've detected two cases of the coronavirus variant that has been hitting the United Kingdom, and which is believed to be more contagious but not more deadly, than the variant that's been going around the US so far. The two people who were found to have the virus are in isolation, but that shouldn't be reason for complacency:
The first patient had no known travel history, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday. In part because of that, there is a good chance the variant has been spreading within the community, William Haseltine, chair and president of the global health think tank ACCESS Health International, told CNN Wednesday. [...]
Scientists advising the UK government have estimated the variant could be up to 70% more effective at spreading than others. Scientists were "confident" the new variant is "spreading faster than other virus variants," Peter Horby, chair of the UK's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, said last week.
So far, it's believed that both of the vaccines available in the US will protect against the UK variant, although of course research is ongoing.
Another Vaccine On The Way Soon
Just to make clear that not all the news is terrible, health authorities in the UK today approved a third vaccine against the coronavirus, this one developed by pharma company AstraZeneca and researchers at Oxford University. The Oxford-AstraZenica vaccine is more like traditional vaccines, using a weakened version of the virus to provoke an immune response to prevent infections. One big advantage of the new vaccine is that it only needs to be refrigerated, not frozen like the Moderna vaccine or kept at super-low temperatures like the Pfizer-BioNTec vaccine, making delivery to some areas easier. The US is likely to approve the Oxford-AstraZenica vaccine fairly soon as well.
Whew. Stay the fuck at home and when you do go out, wear your goddamn masks, people.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.