It’s been several months since COVID-19 broke out in China and raced across the globe, rapidly spreading all the way to Park County, Wyoming. And yet, despite the new coronavirus having held …
It’s been several months since COVID-19 broke out in China and raced across the globe, rapidly spreading all the way to Park County, Wyoming. And yet, despite the new coronavirus having held the largely undivided attention of the international medical community for that entire time, there is much that we still don’t know about this contagion.
Experts not only remain unsure about how infectious and deadly this virus is, they’re still investigating where it came from and exactly when the first person became infected.
Initial reports out of China suggested the outbreak began in December, with residents in the city of Wuhan falling ill after visiting a wet market. But that no longer appears to be what happened. A geneticist from the University of Cambridge in England recently published a paper suggesting COVID-19 may have actually originated in a different province as early as mid-September, according to a summary from Newsweek.
Researchers are also working hard to determine how widely the disease has spread — we still don’t know how many infected people show no symptoms — and why it seems to be affecting different areas in different ways.
Similarly, although the consensus view among our medical experts is that aggressive social distancing measures are the best way to slow the spread of this new threat, there are educated, minority voices who believe we just need to let the disease run its course.
But models relied upon by the Trump administration and its coronavirus task force suggested that, without taking any precautions, the United States might have lost 1.6 to 2.2 million Americans to the virus, President Donald Trump said on March 29; his team suggested there might still be 100,000 deaths with social distancing.
Trump noted that the new coronavirus is different from the common flu.
“Part of this is the unknown, and part of it also is the viciousness of it,” he said.
Underscoring the unknown — and likely highlighting the unprecedented efforts that Americans have undertaken to slow the disease — the predictions have improved in recent weeks. On Monday, the president said that far fewer Americans — in the 50,000 to 60,000 range — are now projected to be killed by the virus. We’re thankful to see those initial projections decline, though some have greeted the good news with angry proclamations that they always knew this really wouldn’t be that bad.
But if there is anything we can truly now say about this new threat, it’s that so much remains a mystery and can change rapidly. Plus, another wave could be coming.
And yet, scroll through your social media feed or flip on your favorite cable news channel, and you’ll find no shortage of people making bold, definitive declarations about what our country and state should or should not be doing in response to COVID-19.
We understand why so many people are quick to weigh in, as the stakes could not be higher. Lives and livelihoods hang in the balance as government leaders try charting a course that protects as many people as possible while dealing the least amount of damage to our economy.
But we would suggest giving our county health officials, governor and president the benefit of the doubt amid so much uncertainty. Our society is in a dangerous spot.
For just a moment, consider the politics: Under even the bleakest of projections, the overwhelming majority of us should still be healthy by the time this pandemic has run its course. For those people, the greatest threat will come from being put out of work or having their lives upended.
Then there’s the other side of the equation: the imperative to save as many lives as possible. That must continue to be the overarching goal, because even under the best of scenarios, tens of thousands of Americans will be dead when this is over.
And that is the nearly impossible situation that our leaders face: fighting an invisible, polarizing enemy, all while lacking comprehensive information on what they’re combatting.
Our leaders don’t deserve a free pass on how they handle this crisis. But we can at least offer them some grace.