The Enraging Deja Vu of a Third Coronavirus Wave
Health care workers don’t need patronizing praise. They need resources, federal support, and for us to stay healthy and out of their hospitals. In many cases, none of that is happening.
 
There’s a joke I’ve seen circulating online, over and over during this pandemic, that goes along the lines of, “Months this year: January, February, March, March, March, March, March…”
 
My lips pull into a smile, but my heart’s not in it.
 
I was on the phone two weeks ago with a nurse who lives in Missouri, where cases have risen from 1,100 per day in August to about 3,400 daily in November. Her husband works in the ER of a rural hospital. Every time a patient suspected of having COVID-19 walks in, the sample is sent to be tested in St. Louis, an hour and a half away. Results take eight hours or more to process.
 
Medical workers don’t get enough protective equipment. “They’re given one N95 mask and have to keep it in a bag to reuse for days,” the nurse said, fretting about her husband’s safety. “He should at least get a new mask for every shift, right?”
 
I looked at the calendar: It was Oct. 30, but it might as well have been March.
 
I could still hear the voice of another nurse, Sarah, in Illinois, who poured out her fears to me on March 2, when the coronavirus was just starting to make its presence known in her city.
 
Sarah told me she had been instructed to write her name on a brown paper bag and put her mask in it to reuse for the week. “There’s this feeling like, we’re just going to get it,” she told me, sounding more resigned than scared.
 
As a health reporter covering the pandemic, I’ve experienced too many moments of deja vu. This summer, as the virus swept through the South, news footage of overwhelmed hospitals in Houston turning away ambulances recalled similar scenes from March and April in New York City. Now, we’re in the so-called third wave of the pandemic, with the virus slamming into Midwestern states, and this week, Dr. Gregory Schmidt, associate chief medical officer at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said his colleagues are converting 16 hospital beds into new ICU beds in anticipation of an influx of COVID-19 patients. “People in leadership are starting to say things in meetings like, ‘I have a sense of impending doom.’”
 
I’m exhausted and infuriated to be doing the same interviews and hearing the same stories for a third time. Why haven’t we learned? What have we been doing between March and November?
 
Why is Dr. Peter Wentzel, in Grafton, West Virginia, only now able to order a point-of-care test system for his community clinic, just to be told that the cartridges for it will arrive in December at the earliest? Why are clinicians at Mountain Family Health Centers in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, once again facing seven- to 10-day wait times for their patients’ test results?
 
I remind myself that many things have improved since March. An incredible amount of scientific knowledge has been amassed about the virus itself. Thanks to detailed contact tracing studies around the world, we’ve learned that the virus can be spread beyond 6 feet via small particles suspended in the air, teaching us the importance of good ventilation to decrease transmission risk. Thanks to antibody studies, we’re learning that reinfection, while possible, is likely rare. Continue Reading
 
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