There are troubling signs Americans are letting their guards down in the fight against COVID-19 even as we pass a grim milestone of 100,000 deaths.
Television footage is filled with crowded beaches and resorts where people are not practicing social distancing. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the medical expert leading America’s fight against COVID, has expressed deep concerns about the breakdown of what he calls our greatest defense against the virus: our own social distancing and safety actions.
There are too many grim ways to describe the number of deaths, but the context may make it more real. The 100,000 figure equals the entire population of Kenosha, Wisconsin, or Edison, New Jersey. It would equal 20 times the number of people killed in homicides in the same time period, according to a report by the Washington Post. It would be twice the number of people who die of strokes.
The victims for the most part had to die lonely deaths, unable to say goodbye to loved ones in person for fear of transmitting the virus.
The social distancing and stay-at-home orders have been difficult for citizens of a country who thrive on social interactions, neighborhoods, and getting together with friends and family. But we should remember these social distancing behaviors probably saved thousands of other lives that would otherwise have been unnecessarily lost.
This has been particularly true in Minnesota. The stay-at-home order may have been more strict and lasted longer here than in some other states, but it also bought time for hospital readiness, as Gov. Tim Walz has pointed out on numerous occasions. He continues to repeat the importance of that message as Minnesota moves toward its peak number of cases by the end of June.
Indeed, while new cases have been steady in Minnesota the last few weeks, there have been sharp increases in the number of daily deaths at times. The need for ICU beds is growing.
The occupancy of ICU beds in hospitals has reached 87 percent in the Twin Cities, while outstate hospitals have more capacity. The 80 percent capacity statewide becomes only about 50 percent capacity, and less worrisome, if we count the number of ICU beds that can be added in 24 hours.
Ventilator supply also appears to be in a solid position with ventilator use at about 40 percent of capacity. The state continues to order personal protective equipment for health-care workers who note there are shortages at times and of the need to reuse the PPE.
Walz and state health officials worry about a spike in cases with the partial opening and patio dining at restaurants and bars starting Monday. Hair salons too will be allowed to operate at 25 percent capacity. Churches now allow gatherings of up to 250 people.
Walz and his administration argue the more people who wear masks when in public, the more spread we can stop and the more likely we will be able to open up more of the economy.
Unfortunately, 101,000 deaths will come. Even one more death is too many. But we can curtail the wrath of the coronavirus by our own actions as much or more than any vaccine or treatment.