Experts monitoring the coronavirus outbreak warn that if we, as a nation and as a people, do not implement and follow drastic measures and preparations for the inevitable surge in the number of those infected by the disease, then we may very well be on track to experience the chaos and tragedy that Italians are going through right now.
Italy has the second oldest population among the nations on earth, and the younger generations are very sociable people who are very much present in the lives of their elderly loved ones. Very much like Filipinos, right?
The number of people who died of the coronavirus pandemic in Italy has topped the 2,500 mark, as of press time. The first cases of COVID-19 in the country were confirmed on January 31, 2020, and started off with two Chinese tourists who visited Rome tested positive for the virus.
Italy reported an increase of 16% in the death toll just in the last 24 hours — adding 345 new deaths to a total of 2,503 — according to an Al Jazeera report.
When it comes to the number of COVID-19 infected cases, the total rose to 31,506 from the previously reported number of 27,980 — a spike of 12.6% — and this is the “slowest rate of increase” since February 21. Al Jazeera further reported that Italy is the country in Europe hardest hit by the coronavirus.
As a result, the Telegraph reported that “victims in Italy will be denied access to intensive care if they are aged 80 or more or in poor health should pressure on beds increase, a document prepared by a crisis management unit in Turin proposes.” In effect, some patients denied intensive care will be left to die, doctors fear.
While this may sound so cruel and sad, this is just a fact of life and a protocol to follow when there is a scarcity of resources just like in a pandemic or a war where there may be mass casualties.
Those who will have higher chances of survival and recovery are prioritized given the limited resources and insufficient bed spaces. Unfortunately, lolos and lolas 80 and above have lower chances of survival, not to mention that many of them have underlying conditions because of old age. This is the principle and protocol followed in almost all hospitals.
On a global scale, the World Health Organization (WHO) is reporting that to date, as of press time, COVID-19 has infected more than 184,000 people and has taken the lives of at least 7,500.
In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting that as of Tuesday, March 17, the total cases are 4,226 while the total deaths are 75.
Time reported that right now, the number of new cases of confirmed infection in the U.S. is doubling every four days. This puts us on a trajectory towards becoming Italy. Is this the direction we want to take?
The report further stated that a research team at Imperial College London published a new study on March 16 “suggesting that without taking control measures, there would be about 2.2 million deaths in the U.S.” Do we want this? Do we want to be part of the death toll statistics?
As Time wrote: “We could still avoid this catastrophic scenario. We will need to act urgently, ruthlessly, and aggressively to adopt five key measures that helped to flatten the curve in places like Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea.”
Why is it so critical for us to have a massive surge in testing? People who are sick need to get the right diagnosis and clinical care. We know, for example, that if you are hospitalized with COVID-19, there’s a high chance you’ll need transfer to the intensive care unit.
People with mild symptoms who get tested can self-isolate and help stop the spread of the virus. If one person has the disease, we can then test those they have been in contact with (known as “contact tracing”). In other words, testing and contact tracing can help to break the chain of transmission.
Countries that have flattened the curve made testing widely and freely available, using innovative approaches like mass drive-thru test centers. South Korea has been conducting around 12,000-15,000 tests every day, and has the capacity to do 20,000 daily. While it is hard to get accurate estimates, the CDC reports that only around 25,000 tests have been conducted in total nationwide by CDC or public health labs in the U.S.—compare this with the roughly 250,000 tests that South Korea has done to date.
2. Communicate and coordinate
There’s one striking message from a new analysis of how Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan were able to contain COVID-19. In all three locations, there was excellent communication and coordination between different government departments and between the central and regional governments.
In Singapore, for example, “there are almost daily meetings between Regional Health System managers, hospital leaders, and the Ministry of Health.” Clear COVID-19 plans and protocols are in place so that all key players at all levels of the health system know what they are supposed to do. There’s also explicit, detailed [FACTUAL SCIENCE-BASED] information given daily to the public on the state of the outbreak.
3. Use social distancing to protect the vulnerable
Social distancing means staying away from places where people congregate (movie theaters, bars, restaurants, shopping centers), avoiding mass gatherings (like religious services and concerts), and maintaining a distance of at least six feet from other people. Countries that flattened the curve have taken a variety of approaches to breaking community transmission, from school and office closures to suspending public transportation.
People can transmit the virus without knowing they are infected. When we decide to have a beer or cocktail at our favorite crowded bar, we could end up spreading the coronavirus to our friend, who then transmits it to their aging mother who has heart disease and who could end up getting sick or even dying. We are all potential links in the transmission chain, which is why social distancing is so important.
4. Protect our health workers
We need to protect these heroes—our national shortage of protective equipment means doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and other front-line workers are getting infected and risk death.
Rapidly scaling up and deploying the production of protective equipment for health workers is not just a public health necessity. It’s also a moral emergency.
5. Expect and plan for a rise in cases
As Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has warned, “things will get worse than they are right now.” Every health care setting across the country, especially hospitals, should take steps now to prepare for a rise in cases, including scaling up their supplies of equipment such as ventilators.
WHAT DO WE DO? If we want to follow the success story of South Korea, then we should stop complaining about the inconveniences the drastic measures being done now — social distancing, washing your hands, staying at home, closure of schools and non-essential businesses like theaters, bars, gym, malls, restaurants, and casinos, work from home, shelter in place, self-quarantine or community lockdown, etc — but these sacrifices are important to our being safe and alive, especially the most vulnerable.
We are all in this together. Just follow the directives of the local and federal government and show good examples of obedience and cooperation to your children. The sooner we all get our act together, the sooner will our healing and going back to our normal life will be.
Are we overreacting as some of you have been arguing?
Well, the clock is ticking. As Dr. Anthony Fauci warns: “If it looks like you’re overreacting, you’re probably doing the right thing.”
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Gel Santos Relos has been in news, talk, public service and educational broadcasting since 1989 with ABS-CBN and is now serving the Filipino audience using different platforms, including digital broadcasting, and print, and is working on a new public service program for the community. You may contact her through email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send her a message via Facebook at Facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos.