While news of successful coronavirus vaccines has brought much needed optimism to the country, the U.S. is facing a major surge in COVID-19 cases that experts expect to get much worse in the following months before a vaccine is distributed to the general population.
Dr. Geeta Nayyar, assistant clinical professor of medicine at Florida International University, attributed the latest surge partly to pandemic fatigue and urged Americans to remain vigilant.
“The doctors are tired,” she said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “The nurses are tired. We’re all tired. I think it’s completely OK to recognize that and acknowledge that. That said, this is the last inning of the game. This is the time when you run that last mile with all your adrenaline, heads down and focused on getting to the end.”
Nayyar compared the process of enduring the coronavirus pandemic to a team sport, in which everyone has to rely on each other to succeed.
“Your coaches are your doctors,” she said. “Lean on them if you have a question. … We are here to help you and guide you, but it’s the team that’s going to get us to the end, and that’s all of us. That’s all of us doing the right thing, the simple things. It’s the same thing we’ve been saying since the beginning: Please wear a mask, socially distance, wash your hands. It’s the least we can do this holiday season so we can all celebrate next year.”
‘It’s up to us’
Many hospitals are on the brink of reaching full capacity, running low on available ICU beds and ventilators.
Hospitalizations hit a new high of at least 98,000 on Tuesday, and at least 261,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, so far in 2020.
These numbers are expected to rise following Thanksgiving, when millions of people flew despite warnings from public health officials. According to a TSA spokesperson, over 1 million people flew just on Thanksgiving Eve, which was about 40% of the volume in 2019 and the highest volume since the pandemic began. It will take up to two weeks for COVID-19 data to be available from the holiday week — and with more holidays coming, the number could rise even more.
Nayyar stressed that this means one thing: How bad things get is up to Americans’ behavior.
“It’s completely up to us what happens between now and the end of the year,” she said. “That said, historically, as a country we have not done well. We can look at the data from the Fourth of July, Halloween most recently, Memorial Day, and unfortunately we are going to see the data from his holiday as well. It is 100% up to us.”
She compared needlessly taking risks with coronavirus to that of other unsafe activities, like drunk driving.
“Just because you got away with it maybe this one time as a family, it doesn’t mean you should take the chance again,” Nayyar said. “We’ve really got to remember what’s important this holiday season, keep our heads down, and really focus on so much positivity in the upcoming new year.”
The home stretch of the pandemic
The key to getting through the rest of the year (and until a vaccine is widely available) is patience, particularly because a vaccine won’t be widely available to the public until at least the summer of 2021.
“We have terrific data,” Nayyar said. “We’re not at the end game yet — we need the FDA to weigh in — but the reality is that vaccines are on the way. We should feel incredibly encouraged. We should feel that much more focused on getting to the end of the game, but we also have to realize that’s tomorrow and there are things we are learning in this process that we have never done before.”
So, she added, “we might fumble the ball a few times but we are absolutely going to get there. The important thing to remember is what we can do today to prepare for tomorrow because the reality is this is a long game, and this will not be available to the general population until mid-to-late next year. So there’s a lot of work still to be done, but we should feel very optimistic about where we’ve come as a medical and scientific community.”
In the meantime, it’s back to basics, which means following public health guidelines and changing how you celebrate the holidays in order to be safe.
“We have a good number of folks that are doing what they should be, which is staying home, celebrating in their nuclear bubble, wearing a mask and being really responsible, and really appreciating the spirit of the holiday which is to take care of others,” Nayyar said.
But, she continued, “we’re seeing hospitalizations rise and the realities and the demand are not keeping pace. We’re never going to have enough ventilators. We’re never going to have enough talented doctors and nurses, so we really need to take this time to think very carefully about the next few weeks.”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.