That sound you hear swelling up from our regional hospital systems is the chorus of hundreds of health care workers sounding a warning not enough of the public is hearing.
By now, it’s become clear for anyone paying attention that the “lagging indicators” impacting the public reporting of coronavirus cases are colliding with the reality on the ground. How do I know this? By listening to local health care workers, who are (and have been) raising a fire-engine red alarm.
We’ve yet to hit the cold and flu season full force, and already, local hospitals are filling up, transferring patients to facilities with open critical care beds, halting non-urgent surgeries, and dealing with significant and growing staffing issues. There are neither enough beds nor hospital staff to adequately handle what our region may face this winter.
Here in the Cincinnati region, we have easy access to international leaders in fields like infectious disease and epidemiology, and medical facilities that attract patients from around the globe.
It’s more than unfortunate that their valuable insights are being drowned out by political noise and pandemic conspiracy theorists, who have become normalized to the point that serious journalists interview them for front page news stories.
In the background, behind all that noise, our health care workers are literally begging the public to take precautions, especially in the absence of any real enforcement from our state government.
They’re telling us quite plainly what is at risk and what they are personally facing. As a doctor recently posted on Twitter: “Don’t mind taking care of patients for hours on end, but when much of it could have been prevented by people being less selfish, it’s a defeating feeling.”
A Facebook post from a local family care physician reads: “We are exhausted and full of dread for what we see coming, and we feel like no one is listening. We are on the brink.”
To a point, it’s understandable. A mixed public message has harmed the overall public health goal to slow the spread. If restaurants and bars are open, it must not be that bad. If we can still go to work and the gym, people must be exaggerating.
Kids wouldn’t still be picked up on the bus and sitting in a full classroom all day if there were actually significant risks to staff and students… right?
Asking Ohioans and Cincinnatians very politely (and repeatedly) to comply with international health guidelines isn’t going to do it. We’re very polite here in the Midwest, but the virus isn’t going to say “oops” when it bumps into us in the Kroger and then keep on trucking to ruder, more distant lands. The Midwest is hurting right now.
We need only look to countries around the world to get a glimpse of what might have been.
Currently, the United States holds 5% of the world’s population and has had nearly 30% of the world’s COVID-19 deaths. The trajectory is only growing more alarming. Per the CDC, cases per 100,000 have increased by 72% from the average over the previous two weeks, as of mid-November. Sadly, the increase is not correlated with increased testing.
Countries that have taken more drastic measures, and whose populations have almost universally adhered to mask mandates have experienced far fewer deaths during this pandemic. We have months worth of data at this point that makes it painfully obvious we could have done a much better job from the start as a nation.
Further CDC data indicates that the U.S. has recorded more than 300,000 more deaths in 2020 than an average year. In fact, COVID-19 is now the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
It’s no wonder the international humanitarian relief organization Doctors without Borders has focused many of its global humanitarian efforts to multiple U.S. regions since the spring. We need them now more than ever – a grim bit of irony, given the common perception that we direct too many funds to foreign countries in need.
Local health officials continue to stress the importance of masking and avoiding even small family gatherings, and they have explained that all is not lost, though it could be soon. There’s a light in the darkness, provided we can manage to work together and acknowledge what the data, and more immediately, our health care workers, are telling us.
We owe at least that to these workers, as well as to our service industry workers, teachers, first responders, and all the other essential workers who have little choice but to mingle with the public, including the significant percentage of that public who continue to refuse precautions.
We must keep our eyes open to the data and our ears open to the warnings so many local health care workers fervently wish we’d hear.
Sarah Bricker Hunt lives in Anderson Township.
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