Perhaps you remember, as do I, exactly where you were when the planes flew into the twin towers on this day oh so many years ago. I was in my office at the University of Iowa when someone pounded on my door and asked if I had heard what was happening. I hadn’t, so we hastened down the hall to the small auditorium in our department and put the newscast up on the big screen. I was standing there, gazing in horror at the carnage, when the second plane hit the building, and a few hours later when the towers fell, it felt as if the world was ending.
At the time, I would never have imagined being in my office 19 years later, writing an update to my work family in the 10th month of a global pandemic. On 9/11/01, 3,000 people died. Yesterday alone, 6,000 people died from COVID-19 globally. The world is routinely adding 300,000 new coronavirus cases a day, with the total number of reported cases on track to reach 30 million sometime next week. At the current rate, worldwide deaths from the disease will top 1 million by the end of September.
In Indiana, 1,282 new cases were reported yesterday – the highest single day on record in our state. The total number of positive cases topped 100,000 a few days ago and more than 3,100 people have now died from the disease. In the U.S. total deaths will top 200,000 by the end of the weekend and the total number infected is 6.6 million, equivalent to the total population of our state.
And yet…the number of deaths and hospitalizations in Indiana has not spiked, the statewide positivity rate remains low, and we are routinely testing more than 20,000 Hoosiers per day. In Hancock County, our positivity rate remains at about 4% (half that of the state) and our last reported death was more than 3 weeks ago.
So what are we to think? In my opinion, those that say the sky is falling are wrong, as are those that say the miracle cure is only weeks away. The truth lies in between. The virus is real and remains infectious, but our efforts to control the spread (wearing masks, keeping our distance, washing hands) continue to work. A vaccine will arrive, perhaps as soon as the end of the year, but it will take time to distribute, require multiple injections, and may provide immunity for just a few years…but it will be enough. Enough to give us additional time to create new treatments, to apply other preventive measures, and to develop a long term approach, just like we do with the flu.
I believe the days of mandatory mask wearing and social distancing will fade away, but not until next year. Washing our hands often should never end, nor should covering our coughs, or staying home if we are ill. It is likely that our approach to life has been forever altered as we remember this shared experience and pass our learnings along to future generations, just as we have our memories of 9/11…