It is probably not a surprise to you that currently in the war against COVID-19 that the virus is winning. According to former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, a perfect storm is keeping humanity from overcoming the virus and the situation could get even worse.
This perfect storm that Dr. Frieden speaks of is uncontrolled spread, slow vaccine rollout, and worrisome mutations. If we take action, however, he believes that we can do better.
“A misleading narrative suggests that uncontrolled spread of Covid shows that public health measures don’t work. The plain truth: most places didn’t stick with the program long enough to get cases to a manageable level and now masking and distancing aren’t being done reliably. So yes, if you don’t use masks correctly and consistently, they don’t work. And vaccines don’t work if people don’t take them.”
The country has been seeing record high cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Since all three are at high levels, Frieden says to expect deaths to continue increasing.
Limitations of hospital beds and staff are also concerning to Frieden.
“Health care workers are exhausted, at risk, and relief is months away. No reinforcements are likely to arrive from other parts of the country.”
Graphic courtesy of Dr. Tom Frieden
Dr. Frieden believes that there are 4 reasons why some areas are struggling and others are not.
“Opening too soon, leading to rapid resurgence, failure to distance/mask, failure to find/stop outbreaks, and superspreading events. In most places, public health measures didn’t fail, they weren’t applied.”
Dr. Frieden says that test positivity rates are increasing steadily in 12 to 17-year-olds and in 5-11-year-olds. These ages now have the highest positivity rates of any age groups which he says is not a good trend.
Everything isn’t doom and gloom, however, as Frieden has positive news concerning the effectiveness of vaccines, despite troubles with the rollout.
“Some plain talk on vaccines. They’re stunningly effective and, so far, reassuringly safe. Allergic reactions to Pfizer vax: 11 per million, 70% among people with a history of anaphylaxis or allergy. Among people without such a history, about 1/500,000.”
Dr. Frieden states that the data shows that the same folks that are not likely to wear masks are not likely to get vaccines.
What may be the most concerning for Frieden is new virus strains.
“At first I thought maybe the UK was blaming mutations for sloppy public health work – but no. The strain is more transmissible. Not inevitable that it will spread in the U.S., but likely. I’ve never seen an epidemic curve like this. If the strain becomes common in the U.S., it is close to a worst-case scenario.”
Dr. Frieden says that new strains will likely keep COVID-19 here for years.
“B.1.1.7 is more transmissible so it will cause more infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Strains may emerge that make testing less accurate, treatment less helpful, and vaccines less effective. B117 is a shot across the bow.”
For more on Dr. Frieden, follow him on Twitter at @DrTomFrieden.