Daily Herald opinion: Let's use our current COVID 'down time' to better prepare for next surges
No one on this green Earth wants a return of the coronavirus, but wishing won't make it so. The known numbers of cases are still relatively small but climbing, while the unknown numbers of cases can only be surmised through educated guessing. Are there a lot more cases than we know about? Only a few? It's impossible to know, given the easy availability of at-home testing, and some people who decide not to test at all.
The key to knowing how well we can handle the next COVID surge lies with the readiness of our hospitals. But while most Americans are enjoying a respite from COVID and are more hopeful about the future, most hospitals haven't recovered from the last surge yet.
Staffing shortages exist in most medical centers nationwide. The people who remain on the job are exhausted. Medical facilities suffer from the same supply-chain shortages every other industry is experiencing. Hospital workers report more abuse -- both verbal and physical -- from people who don't believe they have COVID or don't believe COVID exists.
A story published in The Atlantic quotes a survey of nearly 12,000 nurses done in January by the American Nurses Foundation, where nearly 25% of respondents said they were planning to leave their jobs within six months (and another 30% said they might quit). Almost 90% said their workplace didn't have enough staff, and half of those called the shortage "serious."
Moreover, the article says, the pandemic caused veteran medical staff to take early retirement in unprecedented numbers. Even when these workers are replaced, it is with people with much less experience.
We can't rewrite the past, but we can prepare for the future. It's critical that all of us do what we can to avoid getting infected, and if we get infected, to keep our illnesses from requiring hospitalization. We must use this "down" time, when hospitalizations from the subvariant BA.2 are still relatively low, to get the unvaccinated vaccinated, and the vaccinated boosted -- with the full knowledge that the vaccine becomes less effective over time. Yet, fewer than half of the Americans who had the first two shots have gotten boosted.
We urge local health officials to make a serious effort to get seniors boosted by going to where seniors live and gather -- nursing homes, senior centers, churches -- with the same heroic sense of urgency and purpose that got most American seniors vaccinated to begin with. This generation stoutly held out their arms for the vaccine, and they will take the boosters when offered.
We're all weary of COVID-19 -- of too many sorrowful deaths, of the debilitating illnesses, of the crippling isolation that COVID imposes and the anger and damage to personal relationships that trail in its wake. Having temporarily lost it, we value the current "normal" more than ever. To hang onto it will take work.