To Fight COVID-19, Follow Example of Activists

After the AIDS crisis emerged, the fight led by advocates set the example we should follow now.

  • Monday, December 14, 2020 4:24pm
  • Opinion

We’re standing in the eye of a hurricane, King County Public Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said at a news briefing last Friday to discuss the pandemic at large in the county.

Despite a small decline in total case numbers relative to the previous week, Duchin warned that many of the county’s high volume test sites were closed or had reduced capacity due to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, so more individuals may seek testing in the coming days, resuming the upward trend in increased cases.

Duchin added that public health officials have observed infection levels rise among all age groups at Seattle county testing sites and even higher at King County sites, suggesting that transmission is likely occurring at a much higher rate than the case counts themselves may suggest.

In other words, strap in, because the situation is about to get worse for everyone.

As larger and more complex outbreaks are reported in long-term care facilities and workplaces, Duchin said the burden on area hospitals is rising to accommodate COVID-19 patients, placing others in the community at risk, from those who need procedures such as joint replacements and cardiac valve replacements, to even some cancer surgeries, all put off to make room for an influx of new patients struck with debilitating respiratory issues, high fevers and potentially other insidious symptoms.

“Clearly what we’re seeing is impacts across all areas of our community. It’s also impacting all areas of our public health response. And I continue to have the highest level of concern that any one of us or our loved ones would not get the life saving medical care we expect if we needed it,” he told reporters, noting the anticipated welcomed federal and medical review of a vaccine happening in the coming weeks. “But regardless of when a vaccine becomes available, we will need to continue all the personal protective and community measures to prevent spread of COVID-19, particularly to get through the next few months,” Duchin said. “We all need to sustain all of our community effort. And this means taking all possible COVID-19 prevention steps in our personal lives, in our workplaces, and everywhere in the community that people gather.”

That means it’s on all of us.

Americans have struggled to adapt to life through this pandemic — one that has threatened what we hold dear about living in this country as often as it has attacked us, from freedom of movement to commerce and our right to quality education, all the while exacerbating our weaknesses and coming down hardest on our most insecure. In response to this, many Americans flouted health officials’ restrictions and advice to fly home by the millions and gather with loved ones for Thanksgiving.

We have the know-how, discipline and resources to deal with this pandemic properly and get our lives back. The choice is ours to implement them, as our leaders to work together for the good of the nation and get our response to this crisis on track.

But, as Duchin said, the resources to implement vaccine programs and the public health response, in general, is about to be curtailed by the status quo.

Funding is disappearing at a time when the challenge to control this virus has been escalating to the highest level since the epidemic started. The failure of Congress to enact another stimulus plan is damaging efforts to combat COVID-19 at a time when resources are needed more than ever to do so.

There is precedence for this. As you can see on our front page this week, a small group of islanders is organizing a commemoration of another global health epidemic that began almost 40 years ago and has not stopped. In those darkest days and years when the AIDS crisis first emerged, that public health crisis was misunderstood despite aggressive study. It was stigmatized and ignored, recklessly so, criminally so, by the American government for far too long, and scores were lost and more suffered.

We’ve lost many of the leaders of that fight through the years, activists who included islanders and towering figures they stood shoulder to shoulder with. Most notably in recent times, playwright Larry Kramer, a founder of the protest organization called the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in 1987 who passed away in May of pneumonia. Their advocacy, energy and fight against overwhelming odds is credited with changing public health policy and raising awareness of the disease. They cut through bureaucracy and politics to make change and find solutions. They set the example we should all live up to now. And they didn’t do it alone.

Facing what is perhaps one of the gravest hours in modern American history, neither can we.

In this country, the problem is bigger than individual accountability, but for now, without a better coordinated federal response to end this nightmare, each of us needs to go all-in to slow this disease, to call on legislators to help, and do everything in our power to preserve and protect life. Our future is at stake.

“Plague! We are in the middle of a plague! And you behave like this! Plague! 40 million infected people is a plague! Until we get our acts together, all of us, we are as good as dead.” — Larry Kramer.

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