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The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over and acting like it is will only make things worse | COMMENTARY

Lou Packett during his rehabilitation from COVID-19 at the University of Maryland Rehabilitation and Orthopedic Institute.
Lou Packett during his rehabilitation from COVID-19 at the University of Maryland Rehabilitation and Orthopedic Institute. (University of Maryland Medical System)

With COVID-19 deaths topping the 120,000 mark this weekend and some 21 states seeing an uptick in new cases (and worse, in hospitalizations, a number that can’t be dismissed as the product of more widespread testing), it would seem almost too incredible to believe that Americans think the pandemic is over. Or even no longer a threat. That’s not what we know from the experience of the past or what public health experts are telling us. Yet the signs of such a response, of a collective “well, it’s time to move on,” are unmistakable. It’s in Vice President Mike Pence’s claim last week that there isn’t a “second wave” which is correct only in that the first wave isn’t finished yet. It’s in the behavior of thousands who thought it a swell idea to crowd the BOK Center for a Donald Trump campaign rally in Tulsa Saturday even as local health officials warned against it. And it’s in the growing number of Americans who refuse to wear a mask or other facial covering confusing “personal freedom” with “irresponsible, self-destructive behavior.”

There are any number of reasons behind this abundance of wishful thinking. Americans, and probably a lot of other folks around the world, are growing tired of social distancing, shutdowns, the accompanying economic recession and all the rest. President Donald Trump, ever focused on self-interest and reelection, is not just rooting for recovery, he’s happily misrepresenting reality in an off-the-charts level of denial or perhaps a let-them-eat-cake attitude toward the masses. And, of course, the overall trends have been moving in a favorable direction including in Maryland where last week marked the third straight of declining number of hospitalizations. Mix in a bit of unmasked envy among the Fox News crowd as they whine about the lack of social distancing among certain Black Lives Matter protesters. Not to mention how so many coronavirus-related restrictions have been lifted successfully by states. Perhaps the moment when people became sick of it all was inevitable.

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So here’s a reality check. It isn’t over. And that’s not Democrats-wanting-President-Trump-to-fail talking. It’s not fearmongering in the “mainstream media” however that’s defined these days. It’s experience and medical expertise. During the last major pandemic, the 1918 “Spanish Flu,” the first wave in the spring was bad but the second wave in the fall much worse killing tens of millions. The opportunity World War I presented for the virus to be spread across Europe and beyond by young men living in close quarters made the difference. As National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci has observed, this is no time for complacency. Think football can be played as usual in the fall? Not unless players are willing to live in a bubble. That a Republican National Convention in Florida can be held in August without social distancing after authorities in Charlotte, N.C. declined to allow full attendance in their arena? Dr. Fauci has strong reservations. And, by the way, he wouldn’t have attended the Tulsa rally, not because of any animus toward Mr. Trump but because he regards it as too dangerous. He just wants some common sense and no indoor crowds. “Outside is better than inside, no crowd is better than crowd,” he has said.

Can masks be uncomfortable and maybe look a little goofy? Sure can. Does it seem decidedly low-tech to use a face covering like those 17th century plague doctors with their beaked masks? Yes to that as well. But researchers caution that the virus passes through little droplets expelled from the mouth and nose every time a person speaks, sings, laughs, coughs or simply exhales. And masks protect against those droplets, both from you passing them to others and you receiving them from folks who may not even realize they have it. Tight masks around the face is best. Pleats are better than flat. Multiple layers are good, too. Follow those and other social distancing guidelines and you lessen the chances not only that you won’t become sick but that others around you stay healthy as well. Anyone unconvinced that the coronavirus is nothing to fear ought to take a few minutes to read Sun reporter Jon Meoli’s recent account of life on the COVID-19 rehabilitation ward with patients learning to breathe, to talk, to swallow after weeks with a tube stuck down their throat pumping air into their lungs. Until there’s a readily available vaccine, we need to band together and take these reasonable precautions. That’s how the hospitalization rate fell in recent weeks and it’s how Americans can, hopefully, avoid that dreaded second wave.

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The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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