Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. He can be reached on [email protected]
Close to 1000 people have died today from coronavirus in the United States. This is not because people here are stupid or medicine is not advanced. So I decided to explain to those who call me and say how can so many people die in the United States?
It all boils down to ventilators for the minority of people who are severely affected as most people develop mild symptoms and get well.
Let me explain why the minority of people who are severely affected die. To the person reading this, remember that if you cannot breathe for a few minutes, you would probably die. Just a few minutes without breathing and you may die. Keep that in mind as you read further.
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The novel coronavirus attacks the lungs and at some point, the person cannot breathe on their own. As a result, they need a ventilator, or a machine that helps people who cannot breathe well on their own by pumping air in and out of their lungs through a tube inserted into their windpipe.
Note, a ventilator is different from a respirator, which is a protective face mask that stops the wearer from inhaling hazardous airborne particles. For instance, N95 respirators that doctors, nurses and other hospital staff need to protect themselves from getting infected by coronavirus.
The question you may ask then is, why doesn’t the United States have enough ventilators since it’s what it’s required to save many people?
The reason is because ventilators are often not needed in the millions or the hundreds of thousands at the same time.
In hospital, often, you may have a few dozens or hundreds. They do not just produce them and keep them there, doing nothing. Usually, hundreds of thousands of people, or millions of people do not need them at the same time. In fact, the ones at hospitals are often enough, or more than enough.
One ventilator now costs between $25,000 and $40,000. It’s not always this expensive, but still expensive. It does not therefore make sense to produce millions of them when no one needs them.
Now, when a big pandemic hits, like this one, with thousands and thousands of people needing them at the same time, there would be shortages. General Electric and the rest have promised to produce 50,000 ventilators within 100 days, which is three months from now.
By that time many people would have died. When there are few ventilators like here, in Italy, France, UK or Spain, doctors choose who die and who may be given a chance to live. It’s not because they are wicked, it’s because they may believe this person or that person has a bigger chance to survive if given a ventilator.
Being on a ventilator does not mean you will survive, but it means you are given a chance to survive.
People die also because when there are so many people needing care at the same time, doctors, nursers and all the healthcare professionals are overwhelmed and cannot do the impossible.
To summarize, people die because one, there is no cure, two, there is no vaccine, three, there are not enough ventilators, four, there are too many patients at the same time, five, doctors, nurses and all the other caring staff are overwhelmed by so many people at the same time.
The only solution is to avoid being infected as much as you can by practicing physical distancing while a vaccine or cure is being developed, which will take a year or close to two years from now.
Yes, one may argue that President Donald Trump and the rest were given enough time to prepare while China was being battered and would have saved so many people, one by not describing the coronavirus as a hoax at a big rally attended by many people, two by not saying we have it under control many times, three by not taking it seriously, four, by producing some ventilators while it was not very bad here, five, by imposing social distancing long enough to contain the spread instead of trying to do mitigation, which means, trying to make the impact less severe….by that time, it’s already too late.
So downplaying the impact of the virus in the United States is by all measures the biggest error of judgment committed during this pandemic. Please stay safe, stay home.
Simon Ateba is the publisher of TODAY NEWS AFRICA in Washington D.C.