BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT
An interesting phenomenon has started in much of the rest of the United States has been mildly (or not all) impacted by the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) from Wuhan, China. At a time when everyone expected hospitals to be flooded and overwhelmed, they’re not. In fact, as some family members and friends of mine in the medical community attest, their jobs are jeopardy, as demand for their services has declined. Just here locally in Lee County, Florida, nurses are reporting long-term furloughs with no end in sight. Another person I know of in the medical system up north has been told by his employers they will likely be reducing his hours–at least for a time.
So, you’re probably wondering, how the heck is this the pandemic everyone thought it was?
Well, friends, it is because in a destabilizing event, like during a pandemic, human behavior tends to go askew and we find ourselves heading down unplanned paths. Everyone was anticipating a breakout of the disease everywhere. What we got, more predictably, was the breakout of the disease in major cities and states with major cities in it. California, New York, Seattle, for example. Apparently things are quite bleak in some parts of Massachusetts. Down here in Florida, the disease is in many places. But it has not yet hit everywhere equally.
This is because national flights slowed to a trickle and many Americans began fundamentally changing their behavior in order to embrace the social distancing that the Trump Administration rightly called for early during the disease (and probably should have done so earlier). These new patterns of behavior embraced by at least a large chunk of the population implies that “normal” won’t be coming back as quickly as everyone–notably those on the Right–believe. One can expect the service sector to continue being the hardest hit. In fact, new protocols embraced by patrons of places like restaurants or brick-and-mortar shops will likely be fewer and farther between, creating a net reduction in revenue and certainly take-home pay for people, like waiters and waitresses.
The changes in human behavior here in the United States (and elsewhere) has created a glut in demand for products. This collapse in demand explains why there are oil tankers lining the coast of California, as there is no place left in the United States to store the oil. It also explains why farmers are having to throw away large numbers of their products that ordinarily would go to major markets in the United States that simply are not online right now.
In the case of the medical community, it has had seen a drop in demand for most medical services save for the most critical, notably for those who would be used to treat COVID-19. And since most COVID-19 cases are taken to hospitals, as opposed to private medical practices or outpatient centers, the 1.9 million Americans employed by private, small medical practices or outpatient centers are most negatively impacted by this drop in demand for their services (for now).
That is why medical staffs in the United States are enduring cuts at a time of pandemic. It also very dangerous, because as the Trump Administration seeks to reopen the country back to the way it was, the disease will quickly propagate from the major metropolitan areas to just about everywhere else rapidly. At which point, it is quite likely that the very same staff being furloughed or laid off entirely will be needed to rush in and assist with the influx of patients (this will likely become especially true as the ordinary flu season takes off during the cold weather months up north alongside the COVID-19 pandemic).
Fact is, the president has not taken enough credit–or is given enough credit, for that matter–for flattening the curve. But the curve has not yet been flattened. It is flattening. For the curve to be truly flattened, as both Trump and Dr. Fauci alluded to about 2 weeks ago in the White House Press Room, we might need to push out the social distancing until August or even September (though it is unlikely that the president will do this since his base is dedicated to reopening the country ASAP for economic reasons).
In areas most afflicted with the disease, the hospitals have managed to stay afloat. Actually, in New York City, they were offering $100,000 signing bonuses for nurses around the country to come to NYC and work until the disease was contained and the hospital system was not at risk of being overwhelmed. Even with the social distancing and similar measures in effect, though, the hospitals in these areas–from Long Island to Detroit to San Francisco–are just barely getting by.
Reopening the country completely would likely alter this paradigm for the worse.
Living through the pandemic thus far has been strange, surreal, and off-putting. We are in a national medical emergency, yet, we are laying off or furloughing “43% of the nearly 1.9 million people employed at family medicine offices, including receptionists, medical assistants, nurses, physicians, billing staff and janitors,” according to a report by HealthLandscape.
We Americans are living in a strange time. The pandemic is just getting started, yet our leaders and many on the Right behave as though this is a temporary problem that will just “go away” by summer and never return. It’s a glorified, really bad flu season. Wrong. And the damage will be lasting–not only health-wise but, obviously, financially.
For those reading this laboring under the false notion that this is not a real pandemic because medical staffs are being furloughed or fired en masse: it is very real. It’s just that the patterns of behavior have shifted where people are prioritizing their need to avoid infection of COVID-19 by going to a doctor’s office with their desire to have some medical ailment treated or managed. As time progresses, patterns will change and, more importantly, many more nurses and doctors and medical technicians will be needed in many more places the more the country reopens–particularly as the colder months return and the hospital system is flooded with ordinary flu sufferers as well as sufferers of COVID-19.
Just remember: in Philadelphia during the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak, Americans there grew tired of the quarantine measures that were in effect. The denizens of Philadelphia broke quarantine and held a parade. The next day, the number of infected and deaths skyrocketed. That will likely happen in the country, but on a much larger scale, as soon as the country reopens.
We’ve already lost around 51,000 souls in just one month of this illness being among us. The United States accounts for 25 percent of the world’s total death rate from COVID-19. In one month. Expect many more, especially if we try to simply go back to the way things were, and continue living denial that reality has changed.
The laying off of medical staffs does not prove in the slightest that COVID-19 is not a real pandemic. It is very real. And lethal. Unfortunately, many of those medical staffs being laid off will likely find much work as the people infected explodes should we reopen the country with minimal precautions. If we take mitigation strategies, though, we can continue to flatten the curve. But we cannot let up and we cannot be deceived by false notions of the pandemic being a “hoax” or whatever is being argued in the dark spaces of the internet today.
Going forward, it is essential for the US to maintain its medical capabilities. The Congress and the Trump Administration must craft a special fund exclusively for the country’s 1.9 million medical staffs employed by private practices and/or outpatient centers who are all at-risk of losing their jobs and, 43 percent of which are set to be furloughed or fired by June. We will need these people ready to reactivate quickly, as the disease propagates to greater levels in the cooler months of the Fall and the frigid months of Winter. And we will have to be ready for that which Dr. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota (the man who has been consistently correct about this disease’s outbreak pattern, as I have been hailing him here at this site since end of January): multiple waves of COVID-19.
The US needs to ensure that it has sufficient numbers of medical staffs ready to flood the zone as the disease propagates and as high percentages of those staffs (unless the Trump Administration can get the testing situation resolved as produce greater numbers of protective gear for those staffs dealing with COVID-19) are taken offline from the illness. The last thing we want is to be suffering a medical staff shortage at a time when we need that system operating a peak tempo. Action must be taken now before the rain starts and the flood begins.