This is a thread I wish I had started in the spring. I want to examine how the media has covered and shaped public perception of covid 19. What kinds of things did they highlight? What did they omit? I'm going to start by taking on many of the common ideas, and present information that I think would have changed public perception and reaction. Here is my list:
1) The claim was we needed to act drastically because covid can overwhelm hospitals, but the flu does not. That is patently false.
“We are pretty much at capacity, and the volume is certainly different from previous flu seasons,” says Dr. Alfred Tallia, professor and chair of family medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “I’ve been in practice for 30 years, and it’s been a good 15 or 20 years since I’ve seen a flu-related illness scenario like we’ve had this year.”
Tallia says his hospital is “managing, but just barely,” at keeping up with the increased number of sick patients in the last three weeks. The hospital’s urgent-care centers have also been inundated, and its outpatient clinics have no appointments available.
The story is similar in Alabama, which declared a state of emergency last week in response to the flu epidemic. Dr. Bernard Camins, associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says that UAB Hospital cancelled elective surgeries scheduled for Thursday and Friday of last week to make more beds available to flu patients.
In California, which has been particularly hard hit by this season’s flu, several hospitals have set up large “surge tents” outside their emergency departments to accommodate and treat flu patients. Even then, the LA Times reported this week, emergency departments had standing-room only, and some patients had to be treated in hallways.
The Lehigh Valley Health System in Allentown, Pennsylvania, set up a similar surge tent in its parking lot on Monday, in response to an increase in patients presenting with various viral illnesses, including norovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the flu. “We’ve put it into operation a couples times now over the last few days,” said a hospital spokesperson. “I think Tuesday we saw upwards of about 40 people in the tent itself.”
Three hospitals in Rhode Island went on diversion status Wednesday after both cold weather accidents and flu sufferers overwhelmed their emergency departments. Rhode Island Hospital, Miriam Hospital and Roger Williams Medical Center were on diversion status at the same time Wednesday morning, according to the Providence Journal. State law, however, prohibits more than two hospitals from doing so at a time. Subsequently, all three were forced open.
The state health department declared the flu as being "widespread," which triggers a requirement that unvaccinated health workers must wear surgical masks.
Illinois has given the same designation to flu activity, and hospitals there have implemented special visitor restrictions as a result at HSHS St. Joseph's Hospital in Highland, HSHS Holy Family Hospital in Greenville and Anderson Hospital in Maryville, according to the Belleville News-Democrat.
At Anderson Hospital, visitors displaying any flu-like symptoms are prohibited, and patients younger than 18 are not allowed on patient floors. Also, visitors to the hospital's Pavilion for Women are restricted to the baby's siblings and four other guests designated by the mother, the report said, as the hospital cannot risk subjecting those vulnerable patients to illness.
Hospitals across the state are sending away ambulances, flying in nurses from out of state and not letting children visit their loved ones for fear they’ll spread the flu. Others are canceling surgeries and erecting tents in their parking lots so they can triage the hordes of flu patients.
“Those are all creative things we wouldn’t typically do, but in a crisis like this, we’re looking at,” said Michelle Gunnett, a nurse who oversees emergency services for a Southern California hospital system.
When Candysse Miller took her 88-year-old father, who lives in Redlands, to a nearby emergency room on Jan. 6, it was standing-room only. Many people crammed in the small space were sneezing and violently coughing, she said.
“It was like a flu war zone,” said Miller, a writer. “I’m not a germophobe or anything, but that will quickly make you one.”
War zone? Where have we heard that description before?
The flu virus has reached nearly every corner of the nation.
Influenza activity is widespread in all states except Hawaii (and the District of Columbia), according to the weekly flu report released Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Flu is everywhere in the US right now," said Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the CDC's influenza branch. "This is the first year we've had the entire continental US at the same level (of flu activity) at the same time." It has been an early flu season that seems to be peaking now, he said, with a 5.8% increase in laboratory-confirmed cases this week over last.
There were 11,718 new laboratory-confirmed cases during the week ending January 6, bringing the season total to 60,161. These numbers do not include all people who have had the flu, as many do not see a doctor when sick.
Seven additional pediatric deaths were reported during the week ending January 6, bringing the total for the season to 20.