The New Zealand Herald

Time to hon­our the true heroes of US’ deadly Covid pan­demic

Shock­ing death toll would be far higher without them 1413 doctors, nurses, hos­pi­tal staff and first re­spon­ders have died.

- United States of America · Italy · Florida · Duran Duran · Atlanta · Arizona · Los Angeles · Maryland · Kaiser · South Dakota · North Dakota · University of Arizona · New Zealand · Van Buren Point, New York · Bergamo · Microsoft · Oracle · New York · Duran Duran · Warren, AZ · Bisbee · Jose Perez · Riverview, Hillsborough County, FL · Federation of American Scientists

Ev­ery war pro­duces dead heroes. The war on Covid in the United States has pro­duced at least 1400 of them so far. And with the dark­est days ahead of us, with med­i­cal staff ex­hausted and in short sup­ply, with hos­pi­tal sys­tems in real dan­ger of Italy-style col­lapse in sev­eral US states — this might be a good time to hon­our them.

They are the self­less doctors, nurses, staff and first re­spon­ders who died while our Pres­i­dent lied. Heroes he never, ever prop­erly pro­tected, equipped or hon­oured. Who none­the­less saved his wretched life when he got Covid. And without whose sac­ri­fice the shock­ing Amer­i­can death toll of about 270,000 so far would be greatly higher.

They in­clude folks like Penny Scarangell­a Smith, a 48-year-old reg­is­tered nurse in Barstow, Florida, who loved her daugh­ter and Du­ran Du­ran. Yolanda Coer, 40, a tiny 150cm-tall nurse man­ager in At­lanta who left a hus­band and two young sons. Michael Wil­lis, a res­pi­ra­tory ther­a­pist in Bis­bee, Ari­zona, who had re­turned to work in 2017 to pay his wife’s med­i­cal bills. Jose Perez, a 44-year-old Los An­ge­les fire­fighter and para­medic, who doted on iso­lated se­niors, pick­ing up their pre­scrip­tions. He found and de­liv­ered mat­tresses for fam­i­lies without beds. He bought foot­balls for chil­dren in pub­lic hous­ing. Peo­ple would call the 911 emer­gency line, ask­ing for him by name, his part­ner said.

Some of these heroes were as young as 28-year-old Ade­line Fagan, a Hous­ton physi­cian who wanted to be a doc­tor since she was 11. And some were as old as Sam Sco­laro, a 75-year-old Riverview Florida MD who re­fused to give up his prac­tice when Covid ap­peared, de­spite his age and high risk. A prac­tis­ing Catholic, he made a prom­ise to God that if he got into med­i­cal school he would help his pa­tients un­til the day he died. That day was Au­gust 7.

This re­mark­able list and these re­mark­able sto­ries have been as­sem­bled by a part­ner­ship project of the Kaiser Health Foun­da­tion and the Guardian news­pa­per. Be­cause our Pres­i­dent’s pol­icy has been to con­sis­tently di­min­ish the Covid threat, lie about its dan­ger, dis­cour­age mask­ing and refuse other mit­i­ga­tion, it’s not sur­pris­ing these sto­ries are not nearly as well known as they should be. By the project’s count, 1413 doctors, nurses, hos­pi­tal staff and first re­spon­ders have died from Covid con­tracted on the job in the States.

This, of course, doesn’t in­clude an in­cal­cu­la­ble num­ber of other es­sen­tial non-med­i­cal work­ers who died while work­ing at mar­kets, meat plants, power com­pa­nies and other jobs that needed doing.

Alas, it’s prob­a­bly about to get much, much worse. Sev­eral states are out or al­most out of ICU and Covid beds, par­tic­u­larly in the red Repub­li­can states that have opened widest and masked the least. For ex­am­ple, South Dakota’s right-wing gov­er­nor re­fused to ban a mask­less gath­er­ing of 400,000 mo­tor­cy­cle goons in Au­gust. Now it has one of the high­est Covid death rates in the en­tire world. Its neigh­bour just north, the aptly named North Dakota, is the very worst. In mid-Novem­ber, it had the high­est daily mor­tal­ity rate of any state or coun­try on Earth — 18.2 deaths per 1 mil­lion peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by the Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Sci­en­tists.

Ari­zona, where an­other Repub­li­can gov­er­nor pre­sides, will run out of ICU beds statewide in two weeks and out of all hos­pi­tal beds in a month. If that hap­pens, there could be a med­i­cal sys­tem col­lapse.

Without hospi­tals, peo­ple will be­gin to die from treat­able heart at­tacks, ap­pen­dici­tis and other pre­vi­ously non-lethal emer­gen­cies. Think life ex­pectancy in 1850.

In a let­ter that went vi­ral over the week­end, the Covid-19 mod­el­ling team at the Univer­sity of Ari­zona begged the Trump­ist gov­er­nor to in­sti­tute an im­me­di­ate three-week lock­down at what Ki­wis know as alert level 4.

“If ac­tion is not im­me­di­ately taken, then it risks a catas­tro­phe on a scale of the worst nat­u­ral dis­as­ter the state has ever ex­pe­ri­enced,” the let­ter read. “It would be akin to fac­ing a ma­jor for­est fire without evac­u­a­tion or­ders.” Emer­gency field hospi­tals can be built, and will be. But you can’t build peo­ple. There is a staff short­age among the rel­a­tively small cadre of Covid-fac­ing med­i­cal heroes in each state.

In ad­di­tion, largely hid­den from pub­lic view, thou­sands of doctors and nurses with Covid skills have been trav­el­ling from state to state, like for­est fire­fight­ers. Af­ter months of non-stop work, they are ex­hausted. And although the small army of trav­el­ling US nurses has grown from about 39,000 to per­haps 50,000 dur­ing the pan­demic, there are still not nearly enough to han­dle the huge spike in cases — an as­tound­ing 205,000 new cases on Satur­day [NZ time]. And yet our Pres­i­dent has time to tweet and whine end­lessly about the elec­tion he lost, but will not in­voke a na­tional lock­down, manda­tory mask­ing or the sort of emer­gency mil­i­tary as­sis­tance needed. The Repub­li­can gov­er­nors who fol­low his cues are still mov­ing way too slowly to con­tain this tidal wave of cases.

So these are our dark­est hours in many decades. We are fac­ing a med­i­cal Dunkirk this win­ter. Stud­ies sug­gest we may lose as many as 440,000 Amer­i­cans by the time the vac­cines turn the tide. It could get much higher if our hospi­tals col­lapse like in Berg­amo or Wuhan.

Whether or not mod­ern medicine is avail­able at all in many places next month will de­pend on a thin, tired, ded­i­cated line of heroes, who have al­ready lost at least 1413 of their num­ber to save us.

How we get through this will now de­pend on them. This is their finest hour.

Dick Brass was vice-pres­i­dent of Mi­crosoft and Or­a­cle for al­most two decades. His firm Dic­tron­ics de­vel­oped the first mod­ern dic­tio­nary-based spellcheck and he was an ed­i­tor at the Daily News, NY

 ?? Photo / AP ?? A doc­tor checks on a Covid-19 pa­tient at Prov­i­dence Holy Cross Med­i­cal Cen­tre in Los An­ge­les.
Photo / AP A doc­tor checks on a Covid-19 pa­tient at Prov­i­dence Holy Cross Med­i­cal Cen­tre in Los An­ge­les.

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