Apocalyptic
FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - June 30, 2020 - 12:00am

This is what happens when the effort to fight the pandemic becomes politicized.

As of this weekend, only two of America’s 50 states were showing declining rates of COVID-19 infection. In several southern states, the surge in cases has been explosive and will likely get worse in the coming days. One public health official aptly described the frightening surge in cases “apocalyptic.”

Epidemiologists are forecasting Florida will be the new US epicenter of infections. As of Saturday, the state, home to many American retirees, reported 9,585 new cases. That is about the number being reported by New York and Italy during the hellish month of April.

The surge in infections cuts a wide swathe from Florida to Oklahoma to Arizona and Texas. It is not coincidental that these are Republican-dominated states that opened up early at the encouragement of Donald Trump. They did so in defiance of guidelines set by the Center for Disease Control.

Trump rushed the Republican-controlled states to reopen in the hope their economies would snap back to normal, thereby helping his reelection bid. He seems completely unconcerned about public health or the lives of his own voters.

Several days ago, Trump organized an indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma even if cases were rising in that area. His campaign aides tore off stickers on seats intended to encourage social distancing.

Although the actual turnout at this rally was disappointing, several campaign workers tested positive for COVID-19. About two dozen Secret Service personnel had to be isolated. Experts are nearly sure that mindless campaign event would be a super-spreader for the virus.

Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and loyalists such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have been trying to play down the frightening surge in infections. They were the ones two months ago encouraging supporters to protest the quarantine restrictions in their states. They goaded state governors to hurry in opening up against the judgment of scientists.

This gang of anti-science politicians is in denial. They will reap the whirlwind.

According to the latest data, the actual number of infections in the US could be as much as 24 times the reported number. That means there are a lot of virus carriers out there, many of them walking the streets without masks.

Trump, refusing to wear a mask, had made doing so a political issue.  His followers have vociferously resisted local authorities mandating the use of this cheap but effective method for slowing the spread of the virus.

Trump’s politicization of mask wearing puzzles the rest of the world. Since an infection anywhere is an infection everywhere, people around the world are worried the incompetence and sheer stupidity of the administration will make the pandemic more difficult for the world to defeat.

The spike in infection in America’s southern states threatens to spin out of control.

Cebu

We have our own southern surge in infections. Cebu City and environs have been put under enhanced community quarantine. Troops have been sent in to enforce the lockdown. The DOH corralled participants in the Doctors to the Barrios Program to support the medical personnel in the beleaguered city.

At the moment, the rapid rise in infections threatens to overwhelm public health capacity in Region 7. Additional bed capacity needs to be installed. The military sent in a medical team as part of the emergency response.

As a signal of the seriousness of the situation, President Duterte assigned his chief troubleshooter DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu to oversee the situation in Cebu. The IATF deployed to the city to make an assessment.

The peril of any worsening of the infections in Cebu is that it could spill over to the Eastern Visayas provinces. We can expect strict restrictions in movement over at least the next two weeks.

Because of the outbreak in Cebu, the World Health Organization has identified the Philippines as the country with the highest rate of infection in the Western Pacific. Among the ASEAN countries, we have the third largest caseload after Indonesia and Singapore – and the second highest death toll.

The spike in infections in Cebu is nothing compared to what is happening in the southern US. It nevertheless demonstrates what could happen if the fight against the virus slackens and if we allow complacency to set in.

No one accused our government’s response to the pandemic to be the best in the region. We did not have the thoroughness of the Vietnamese and the Taiwanese. We certainly did not have the immense resources of the South Koreans and firm determination of China in stamping out the virus.

We did manage, however, to prevent infections from overwhelming our health system. We certainly failed in closing out the effort. It is reasonable to expect that infection outbreaks will pop up here and there over the coming months.

The magnitude of the outbreak in the southern US makes impossible to do any sort of contact tracing. In our case, we never really put a sufficient contact tracing effort in place. This should be high among the things we have to do if we are to defeat this virus.

There need not be a second wave of infections if we do not let down our guard. Instead, we should expect many long months of playing cat and mouse with the virus, chasing it down to wherever an infection happens. We should not tire.

Unlike in the US, we have prevented effort against COVID-19 from becoming politicized. This is not because our politicians and the street protest industry have wanted for trying.

COVID-19
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