Journalist lays out why we're seeing a ‘patchwork pandemic’ in the US

Journalist lays out why we're seeing a ‘patchwork pandemic’ in the US
Scientist testing with coronavirus through test tubes. Via: Pixabay

When one looks at the coronavirus infection rates being reported by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, it is obvious that some parts of the United States have been hit harder than others. Journalist Ed Yong, in an article for The Atlantic, stresses that the U.S. is dealing with what he describes as a “patchwork pandemic” — and the fact that one place isn’t seeing a huge infection rate today doesn’t mean that it won’t be tomorrow.

“This pattern exists because different states have experienced the coronavirus pandemic in very different ways,” Yong explains. “In the most severely pummeled places, like New York and New Jersey, COVID-19 is waning. In Texas and North Carolina, it is still taking off. In Oregon and South Carolina, it is holding steady.”

Yong is not exaggerating when he describes New York State — especially New York City — as “severely pummeled” by coronavirus. According to Johns Hopkins, more than 28,600 deaths had occurred in New York State as of Wednesday afternoon. In contrast, Hopkins had so far reported 16 deaths for Montana and 17 deaths for Hawaii. But those figures don’t mean that residents of Montana or Hawaii, just to give two examples, shouldn’t practice social distancing or let their guard down.

“I spoke with two dozen experts who agreed that in the absence of a vaccine, the patchwork will continue,” Yong notes. “Cities that thought the worst had passed may be hit anew.”

Justin Lessler, a Hopkins epidemiologist, told Yong that how much or how little COVID-19 spreads in an area depends on “how engaged and invested the population is.” And Martha Lincoln, who specializes in medical anthropology at San Francisco State University, told Yong that some Americans take the pandemic more seriously than others — noting that “in the face of medical uncertainty, people make decisions by returning to their own groups, which are very polarized.”

Dr. Ashish Jha of Harvard Medical School told Yong that many people have made the mistake of thinking of COVID-19 as something that happens to someone else.

“When this outbreak began in China,” Jha recalls, “everyone said: thank God it’s not here. It moved to Western Europe, and people said: they have government-run health care, that won’t happen here. Then, it hit New York and Seattle, and people said: it’s the coasts. At every moment, it’s more tempting to define the other who is suffering, as opposed to seeing the commonalities we all share.”

Yong concludes his article by emphasizing that the pandemic won’t be going away anytime soon and that vigilance will still be essential.

“Of all the threats we know, the COVID-19 pandemic is most like a very rapid version of climate change — global in its scope, erratic in its unfolding, and unequal in its distribution,” Yong writes. “And like climate change, there is no easy fix. Our choices are to remake society or let it be remade, to smooth the patchworks old and new or let them fray even further.”

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