Another day, another bleak coronavirus milestone. Monday, Dallas County Health and Human Services announced two more COVID-19 deaths, bringing its total to 997.
As the county nears 1,000 fatalities, the United States is rapidly approaching 200,000, according to AP News. Considering how infectious the coronavirus is, Dallas County’s number isn’t surprising, said Dr. Erin Carlson, an associate clinical professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Still, it could have been a lot lower, she said.
“What was unexpected is that we would let it go this far,” Carlson said. “What was completely unexpected was that there would not be more federal control and oversight … over public health during this time.”
As the coronavirus ravages North Texas, epidemiologists are pleading with the public to comply with their recommendations. Yet some politicians continue to spew unfounded claims about the severity of the disease, leading their constituents to question public health officials’ expertise.
In Dallas County, the coronavirus is the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer this year, said Dr. Philip Huang, director of the county’s health department. The case rate has gone down in recent weeks, but Huang said it can skyrocket once more if people become too relaxed.
With schools reopened and businesses operating at 75%, it’s important for people to wear masks and physically distance, he said.
“People get tired, but they have to stay the course on this,” Huang said.
COVID-19’s case fatality rate is somewhere between 2 and 2.5 deaths per 100 population, which is “extremely high” for the U.S., Carlson said. That’s more than double the mortality rate of the common flu, she said, which counts less than one death out of 100.
As the virus evolves, it will likely become more transmissible and less deadly because of human adaption, Carlson said. Viruses evolve that way to ensure that they can survive, she said; if they kill off too many human hosts, then they can’t live on.
“Viruses are generally smarter than humans, and they can continually outsmart us to infect more and more hosts,” Carlson said.
“Just think of the common cold,” she continued. “It’s going to become more like that.”
Within the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area, the coronavirus is projected to claim a cumulative total of 2,421 lives by Oct. 9, according to the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium by the University of Texas.
Although COVID-19 will eventually become more benign, it will take a while for it to get there, Carlson said. That being said, people should continue to take the virus seriously; even if it doesn’t kill them, it can inflict permanent damage on their organs, she said.
Meanwhile, the Texas Democratic Party is calling for several Republican state lawmakers to return the money they’ve received from “anti-science” political action committee group Texans for Vaccine Choice.
A statement by the Texas Democrats claims that the anti-vaccine special interest organization could ruin Texas’ chances of containing the virus. The PAC is pushing against a COVID-19 vaccine and a vaccine requirement for schoolchildren, according to the statement.
“Republicans don’t believe in doctors or experts and want to continue to push anti-science policies,” said TDP communications director Abhi Rahman. “Democrats want to stop the spread of coronavirus and end this crisis. That’s the choice in this election.”
Plano state Reps. Matt Shaheen and Jeff Leach are among the list of candidates endorsed by Texans for Vaccine Choice in 2018. Shaheen and Leech both told an NBC affiliate, Austin’s KXAN, that they support a parent’s right to choose whether to vaccinate their child.
Carlson said that in years past, it was primarily “anti-vaxxers” and people not in the routine of getting vaccinated who would skip inoculation. Now though, with President Donald Trump vowing to have a vaccine out by October, a much greater number of people will likely refuse, Carlson said.
Many doubt whether it’s possible to manufacture a safe and effective vaccine within that time, she said. Normally, they take anywhere from 10 to 15 years to develop, according to The College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s educational website, The History of Vaccines.
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“You’re seeing educated health professionals saying that they won’t take this vaccine,” Carlson said. “So our herd immunity, even if there’s a vaccine, is just dismal unless we have a different approach.”
In order for the virus to stop spreading and reach “herd immunity,” between 60% and 80% of people would need to become vaccinated, Carlson said. But public trust in a coronavirus vaccine is waning; around 49% of people said that they would not accept a vaccine if it were available today, according to a study published last week by the Pew Research Center.
Vaccine or not, most coronavirus deaths are preventable so long as everyone continues to wash their hands, wear a mask and maintain safe distances, Carlson said.
“One of the reasons that this is so sad is that at this point in the disease, we know how we can prevent its transmission,” she said. “And yet people are still getting infected and dying. These are preventable deaths.”