It’s mid-July, but if you’re tracking COVID cases, it might feel like we’re back in April. Worse, the official response resembles the COVID denial we saw back in February. We’re caught in a COVID time warp. All the horror of April is happening again, now. After preventing the outbreak from going Level 5 in the Spring, the United States seems, in many senses, to have given up, either denying the problem or lapsing into fatalism about the relationship between actions and consequences.
What’s a reasonable person to do? First, look at the numbers. Then, get ready to take care of yourself.
History is repeating itself
The COVID-19 resurgence in the United States has taken on a gigantic scope. Test positivity has more than doubled, with confirmed case numbers hugely exceeding their April peak, and death numbers reaching their levels from early April and still rising rapidly. Confirmed case numbers are amplified by higher ascertainment, and death numbers suppressed/delayed by several factors, but the epidemic is clearly approximating its dimensions of April and still growing rapidly.
Hotspots like Houston, Phoenix, and Florida are exhibiting the hallmarks of emerging Level 4 COVID-19 outbreaks: 20%+ test positivity, overflowing hospitals, and improvised morgues. And while before only a few states saw acutely threatening caseloads, in recent days sixteen states and counting are showing over a thousand cases a day. Over 40 states are showing sustained increases in COVID-19 case numbers, indicating R is currently greater than 1 in these geographies.
We’re also seeing some of the same problems as we did back in April. The testing system is once again developing a logjam, resulting in delayed results that are near-useless for making quarantine decisions. We’re once again running out of masks. The grocery chain in the United States is once again destabilizing.
But something else is different this time. Many influential circles, like the federal and many state governments, as well as large sectors of society, are displaying February’s complacency in July. Governments are only pausing reopenings, and even pushing ahead with plans to open more public spaces, like schools.
Traffic in the nation’s airports and restaurants and amusement parks continues to rise. And federal officials repeatedly downplay the resurgence, some even claiming it doesn’t exist. The stock market, which was crashing as the USA’s outbreak reached this scale last time, has almost regained its pre-pandemic high.
Activate your plans for a major resurgence
We have a dire emergency in the United States right now, and things may get a lot worse. This kind of complacency could be deadly. COVID-19 outbreaks, while they can be controlled, don’t control themselves. As long as people and institutions resist taking action to control COVID-19 in the United States, the pandemic will keep growing. This complacency is truly extreme in a global context—no developed country, and few countries of any stripe, have controlled a Level 4 cluster and then allowed one to emerge again. Other than the USA, Iran is perhaps the only one.
So, take it seriously. Whatever your plans are for a major resurgence, activate them, or get ready to activate them. Make sure you have supplies to lock down again. If there’s somewhere you’d rather be in a second lockdown, and it’s still safe to go, then now is the time.
Prepare to advocate for yourself
Things have gotten really weird, and you now have to make your own decisions. The first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in the USA proved that it’s challenging to trust governments or the rest of the public to tell you when it’s safe, and the reaction of people and institutions to this upsurge is showing that this problem has not been solved. Instead, it’s best to consult local data on local caseloads and local R, and decide for yourself what is safe for you and your family, and what measures you will take to help protect the rest of the public, even if they will not protect themselves.
“Looking to our community and sifting through our values is the best any of us can do during times of uncertainty,” said Dr. Michael Kinsey, a psychologist from New York, via email. “When it comes to regret, we’re much more likely to lose sleep over making choices that don’t align with our most cherished values than we are about making an errant prediction.”
Here are a few resources for how to make COVID-19 choices for yourself:
- Still on lockdown from COVID-19? Psychologists say those ‘crazy’ feelings you’re having are normal
- One large gathering is riskier than 10 small ones: the math of COVID-19 spread
- But is it safe? The parent’s guide to back-to-school decisions
- To make it through COVID fatigue, get an accountability partner
Be careful out there. No one can protect you as well as you can.