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Community Voices (Pyatt): With little ability to test from the outset, US still playing catch-up on coronavirus

The lack of COVID-19 testing kits — which will eventually be debated at length as to whether it was avoidable and whose fault it was — and the shortage of other medical equipment necessary to fight this current pandemic has led to some novel approaches to “flatten the curve” and hopefully to work our way through this mess. This includes our newly acquired “social distancing” skills.

This is akin to starting the Super Bowl and giving the opponent several touchdowns. The United States never had a chance. We’re still playing catch-up, and it’s still in the second quarter.

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Luckily, Gov. Hogan was chair of the Governors’ Association — and in my opinion this was a Godsend for us and may save the state from the worst-case heard of early outbreaks in Washington and California — and took quick and decisive action.

Lack of or insufficient testing kit availability — as quoted by the nursing home administrator in the media — likely will be the primary lesson learned from the Pleasant View Nursing Home outbreak on or about March 28th in which at least 81 patients contracted COVID-19 and causing 17 deaths through Tuesday night. At the same time, 31 staff members have tested positive, and it seems incomprehensible that all were asymptomatic. Staff are the guardians of COVID-19 entry.

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As we evolve into this scenario of “do I have it/don’t I have it” because of very strict criteria for allowing — or not allowing — tests, I recently listened to a radio chat on National Public Radio on this topic. Very soon, folks will need some clarification of whether they either had it at one time or don’t have it or could develop in the future if we’re going to emerge from this financial slowdown. I’ll call them the “Dunnos!”

Only about 3% of Maryland’s residents have been tested. So far — fortunately — the vast majority of tests were negative. Again, it’s not the fault of local medical folks. They’re trying. And I believe the situation is slowly improving.

Only if you are sick enough to require hospitalization because you have had quite serious breathing issues and — if determined; oxygen sensors are now also in short supply — low blood oxygen levels, will you know the answer. Even then there are false readings. And this comes amid myriad similar symptoms from flu and allergies. So it’s possible all Pleasant View staff members, most with considerable medical training, were faked out.

Probably the large majority (say 90% or so) will continue to stumble along for months or even longer not knowing the answer yet not sure they can rejoin the “rat race,” e.g. their jobs.

According to a recent survey done by the University of Chicago and reported in a Washington Post opinion article, slightly reworded here, 80% of economists believed that restoring public trust in our public health system and maintaining our social distance policy was more important than an immediate return to employment, particularly when there is a high chance of a recurrence. They want to be sure folks are going to remain healthy.

They appreciate that sick workers are not productive. But we haven’t come to terms with those who either think they’re susceptible or just aren’t sure. Not knowing may be just as bad as testing positive. The health care system is in a duct-taped “first responder” mode.

The covid19.healthdata.com website — the basis for the March 31 presidential brief — showed a shortage of 1,310 hospital beds, 532 ICU beds and 638 ventilators coming in May for Maryland. Hogan appears to be aware of this, but Superman can only do so much.

Lack of bipartisan agreement on fundamental COVID-19 response and national wavering on leadership, e.g. lack of a coherent short-term, mid-term and long-term game plan, will soon have an impact locally. In less than a few weeks.

We will soon be promised cures and magic serums and the “availability” of new and wonderful ventilators just like we have repeatedly been misinformed about the availability of tests in the past yet receiving assurances of “wonderful” new tests coming. Most of these won’t pan out. But that’s not a strategy.

Established industries will have their struggles, but telecommuting, online chats, and e-trade will eventually re-emerge stronger than ever. There is an opening or opportunity — perhaps more of a necessity — to rethink how humans do commerce and preserve public health concerns

The team of virologists, physicians and bio-statisticians assembled to address this and future threats — from both federal agencies and two top-ranked public health programs at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland is truly amazing. We need to listen.

Dave Pyatt writes from Mount Airy. Email him at Dpyatt2@verizon.net.

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