Is the best of the free life behind us now and are the good times really over for good?

–Merle Haggard



When the White House announced its “Slow the Spread” plan on March 16, we all went home and stayed there. It was a  crashing of the economy that had the “consent of the governed” because we all understood what we doing and why.

“We’ve done it because we want to give the medical system time to put enough resources ahead of the demand and because we don’t want to burn out of our first responders especially doctors and nurses.”

I wrote the above statement  in this space on April 5 in a column titled “Grounded.”

Put it another way. It was a goal so clear that even I understood it. We did not do it to make ourselves safer.  We did it to prevent overloading our medical system at the time when we knew great numbers of deaths were going to be occurring.

And the plan worked. Alongside what we now know is going to be more than 60,000 COVID-19 deaths, we avoided a medical system catastrophe. The USS Comfort was able to sail away from New York City and other temporary medical facilities are coming down around the country.

While numerous daily sources pounded out the depressing COVID-19 fatality numbers, there were only spotty local reports that consistently included hospitalization numbers. But if you kept your ear tuned to Gov. Cuomo’s daily briefing, it was peaking hospitalization numbers that are made his day.

Accurate, consistent, and up-to-date hospitalization numbers have been hard to find during this pandemic. It’s the one metric you need to determine how many hospital beds, ICU slots, and ventilators are being used and how many are available.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are much more meaningful numbers than total cases, second in my mind only to the number of deaths. With a few exceptions like the investigative work by the nonprofit ProPublica, the media mostly gives hospitalizations a yawn.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, documents with frequent updates the now mostly ample availability of hospital beds, ICU beds, and ventilators. It’s where you can go for evidence that the medical crisis we feared was prevented by all of us.

Science is on the move now with so much work being done around the world. It’s a bit like one of those old “paint by numbers” pictures because we won’t know for a while how it’s going to come out.

However, it sure is looking like for many this virus is milder and less vigorous and with a lower than anticipated mortality rate. So far we’ve been counting “cases” based on positive COVID-19 test results, but now people without symptoms are being checked out for signs of the virus by checking for the antibodies it leaves behind.

The early indications from this work are that many more people were infected with the virus while showing only mild to non-existent symptoms.    Eventually, this will help set the final “denominator”  for figuring out all the statistics for this outbreak.

Stanford University and the University of Southern California in the past week reported on such studies with estimates for a Coronovirus fatality rate of  0.1 percent and O.2 percent or the seasonal flu range.

States generally fell in behind the “Slow the Spread” program with executive public health orders that were legally binding. In Colorado, the Governor’s public relations shop came up with the “Stay at Home” order.  Colorado, like numerous other states, is letting that order expire on Monday, I think. The new order the state promised to release over the weekend seems to be a phase-out of restrictions as May goes forward.

The PR boys in Denver are calling it “Safe at Home,” but because it does not just flip the switch to “on,” lots of people are upset. The local Weld County Commission came out with its own version called “Safe at Work,” which is where we are all going at some point.

This kind flap-trap is probably going to play out state-by-state for the next couple weeks and then be quickly forgotten.

There is a better use for our time now.   If you knew someone who died from  COVID-19, take all the time you need to mourn that person and celebrate their life.   For the rest of us, how about we just celebrate accomplishing something that was an important national goal.   It was definable and measurable and we did it.   That’s something worth celebrating and we are all going to remember it.


(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)