U.S. officials urge hyper-vigilance in the week ahead, even as optimistic signs appear on the horizon.

President Donald J. Trump listens as Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force delivers remarks at a coronavirus (COVID-19) update briefing Saturday, April 4, 202020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

Brace! Brace! Brace!

U.S. officials sounded the alarm yesterday that this week will be a trying one.

The week of April 6, the scientific experts on Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force have assured the public in no uncertain terms, is the week things could get very bad in the U.S.

The mandated shut-downs, they also insist, must continue in states across the country.

“The next week is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment. It’s going to be our 9/11 moment. It’s going to be the hardest moment for many Americans in their entire lives. And we really need to understand that if we want to flatten that curve and get through to the other side, everyone needs to do their part.” — Surgeon General Jerome Adams, Meet the Press. April 5, 2020.

U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome Adams, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus Taskforce, addresses his remarks at a coronavirus update briefing Monday, March 9, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)

Experts also stressed the importance that members of the public comply with state and local authorities who insist everyone avoid leaving home unless it is absolutely necessary.

“Unfortunately, if you look at the projection of the curves, of the kinetics of the curves, we’re going to continue to see an escalation. Also, we should hope that within a week, maybe a little bit more, we’ll start to see a flattening out of the curve and coming down.”

“The mitigation that we’re talking about…is absolutely key to the success of that. It is going to be shocking to some. It certainly is- is really disturbing to see that.”

“But that’s what’s going to happen before it turns around. So we’ll just buckle down , continue to mitigate, continue to do the physical separation because we got to get through this week that’s coming up because it is going to be a bad week.” — Dr. Anthony Fauci, Face the Nation. April 5, 2020.

By “mitigation” Dr. Fauci and other experts agree that businesses must remain shuttered, schools must remain closed. People in areas who have been instructed to do by state and local authorities should obey shelter-in-place orders. The public must be vigilant; staying home, practicing social distancing, avoiding public spaces, even the grocery store.

Perhaps these experts are concerned that the improving weather will soften resolves to stay at home, and hamper nationwide attempts to flatten the curve.

There are also optimistic signs that may lead some to drop their guard against COVID-19 before it is safe to do so.

Though the grimmest death-toll predictions have been revised down, and down again, COVID-19 still threatens public health, the U.S. economy; including all those who depend on it for their livelihoods.

There are, however, hopeful signs on the horizon. Cases in Italy, the EU nation hardest hit by the Coronavirus, have begun to stabilize.

And while the U.S. has reached 312,000 confirmed cases and the U.S. death toll is approaching 10,000, new cases and deaths in New York City- one of the places in the U.S. hardest hit by the virus- show signs of flattening out.

The death toll in New York City, which has been steadily climbing and sometimes jumping sharply, fell for the first time this week and the subsequent day’s tally of deaths didn’t show a marked increase.

Only about 16,000 hospital beds have been filled in NYC- far fewer than the dire 100,000 hospital beds models predicted would be needed. If New York has seen the apex of new cases, or is approaching it this week, that is indeed a hopeful sign.

COVID-19 cases worldwide have topped 1 million people, the death toll is over 50,000. Both numbers are likely to be underreported. Data from some of the hardest hit places, like China and Iran, is untrustworthy. Testing is still not widespread. And since co-morbidities are such a huge factor, even the number of deaths might be much higher than 50,000 people.

Any deaths are tragic and a tragedy. But the same comorbidity factors that suggest people likely died in hospitals and nursing homes from COVID-19 well before anyone was testing for it; comorbidity also means many of those who have died, may have died with COVID-19, not from it.

The difference is small but crucial. Elderly frail and immunocompromised people with comorbidity factors who also had COVID-19 before anyone was looking for it suffered from other conditions that were just as likely to kill them. Which is why medical professionals wouldn’t have bothered to test for anything else.

All this is to say that the death rate from COVID-19 might end up being much lower than was originally feared.

The stock market has rallied a bit today on hopeful signs that treatments and vaccines currently in the works show great promise. There are quite a few such projects all around the world.

There has also been promising cooperation between governments and private companies. In one such partnership, the U.S. is pursuing a number of promising early trials and billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft founder Bill Gates has offered to fund the most promising.

This situation is far more serious than the flu and U.S. health experts are correct to urge us all to be cautious and vigilant.

The computer model predictions have been dire indeed. But these models, however good at projecting outcomes, are only as good as the information they are given. And our information about COVID-19 remains deeply flawed for a number of reasons.

Among the best ones, are the unknown number of asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19. As many as 50% of people who come into contact with the virus appear to have no symptoms at all.

How infectious is an asymptomatic carrier of coronavirus? No one knows. Not yet, anyway. We also don’t know how well it spreads. We don’t know how long it stays viable on hard surfaces. Scientists aren’t even sure about the incubation period for COVID-19.

Computer models certainly can’t predict how many people will disobey the rules, and the lengths they will go to in order to flout authority.

With all these unknown factors, we must take dire predictions and computer-generated future scenarios with a grain of salt.

But we must take the advice of our scientific experts wholeheartedly.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)

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