CHICAGO – When the coronavirus began to cover the entire globe this spring, people from Seattle to Rome to London canceled weddings and vacations, interrupted visits to grandparents and chased each other in their homes to think it would be a short but significant period. of insulation.
But the summer did not extinguish the virus. And with the fall came another dangerous, uncontrolled influx of infections, which in some parts of the world is the worst since the pandemic.
Last week, the United States surpassed 8 million known cases and reported more than 70,000 new infections on Friday, the most in a single day in July. Eighteen countries added more new coronavirus infections during the seven-day period ending on Friday than in any other week of the pandemic.
In Europe, cases are rising and hospitalizations are happening. Britain is imposing new restrictions, and France has put cities on high alert, ordering many to close all bars, gyms and sports centers. Germany and Italy set records for the latest everyday cases. And leaders in the Czech Republic have described their health care system as “in danger of collapse”
The virus has taken different paths through these countries as leaders have tried to limit its spread with a number of restrictions. However, what is shared is public fatigue and a growing tendency to risk the dangers of coronavirus due to desire or necessity. Without seeing the end, many people flock to bars, family parties, bowling alleys and sporting events as before the virus, and others have to go back to school or work as communities seek to revive economies. And unlike spring, the rituals of hope and unity that helped people withstand the first tide of the virus gave way to exhaustion and disappointment.
“People are ready to put hearts on their windows and teddy bears to hunt cleaners,” said Katie Rosenberg, mayor of Wausau, Wisconsin, a city of 38,000, where a hospital has opened an additional unit to treat patients with COVID-19. It was enough for them.
In parts of the world where the virus is reviving, outbreaks and a growing sense of apathy collide, creating a dangerous combination. Health officials say growing impatience is a new challenge as they try to slow the latest outbreaks and it threatens to exacerbate what they fear is turning into a devastating autumn.
The issue is particularly striking in the United States, where there are more known cases and deaths than any other country and it has already overcome two major jumps in coronavirus; infections jumped in the spring to the northeast and again this summer through the sun belt. But such a phenomenon is causing alarms across Europe, where researchers at the World Health Organization estimate that about half of the population experiences “pandemic fatigue.”
“Citizens have made huge sacrifices,” said Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “It came at an extraordinary price that exhausted us all, no matter where we live or what we do.”
If spring was characterized by horror, the fall became a strange combination of resignation and carelessness. People who would never leave their homes are now considering eating indoors for the first time – some lose patience after so many months without, others slip into a fancy meal before the coming winter months, when the virus is expected to spread more. easy. Many people still wear masks to support their neighbors and keep others safe, but sidewalks decorated with chalk messages of encouragement to health workers and others at Easter are likely to be naked on Halloween.
“In the spring, it was a fear and a feeling of being together,” said Vale Wright, a psychologist with the American Psychological Association who studies stress in the United States.
“Things are different now,” she said. “Fear is really replaced by fatigue.”
In New York, 60-year-old Indra Singh took the young child she was looking at to a playground recently this morning.
“I’m so tired of everything,” she said, pulling on her black face mask and worrying about what she would do when the weather got cold. “Will it end?” She said. “I want it to end.”
Drug treatment for the virus has improved significantly since the spring, and deaths remain lower than at the worst, but the recent rise in coronavirus infections has worried public health officials. More than 218,000 people have died in the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, and daily reports of deaths have remained relatively constant in recent weeks, at about 700 a day.
In some parts of the world, behavior has changed and efforts to curb it are difficult and effective. Infections have remained relatively low for months in places such as South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and China, where the virus is spreading for the first time. After a dozen cases were discovered in the Chinese city of Qingdao, authorities tried last week to test all of its 9.5 million inhabitants.
“We have very little reaction here against this type of measure,” said Siddhart Sridhar, an assistant professor of microbiology at the University of Hong Kong. “If nothing else, there is a lot of repulsion against governments for not doing enough to control the virus.”
The answer in the United States and much of Europe is far different. While residents voluntarily reunite in the spring, the weather is frustrating and rebellious.
Hotspots appear in the southern and mid-Atlantic regions of the United States and are rapidly spreading to the Midwest and Mountains. Last week, Illinois recorded its highest daily number of confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic and the highest number of deaths in a single day since June.
In Spain, the summer of travel and dancing led to a new surge this fall. In Germany, health authorities on Thursday registered 7,334 infections in a 24-hour period, a national record. Even Italy, which imposed one of the largest closures in Europe this spring, is now seeing alarming new growth and is considering a curfew at 10pm across the country.
The virus has penetrated communities, rural and urban. In Chicago, public schools remained closed to students for the sixth week in a row, as the percentage of positive coronavirus tests in the city rose by nearly 5%. In Gove County, Kansas, a population of 2,600 people, nine people have died from the virus in recent days, health officials said. Clusters of infections have sprung up from a spa in Washington State, the Hockey League in Vermont, a Baptist church in North Carolina and a Sweet 16 party on Long Island.
Sick people tell follow-up contacts that they have taken the virus while trying to return to normal life. Beth Martin, a retired school librarian who works as a contact finder in Marathon County, Wisconsin, said she interviewed a family who fell ill from what is common today – a relative’s birthday party in early October.
“Another case told me, ‘You know what, it’s my adult son’s fault,'” she recalled. “” He decided to go to a wedding and now we are all sick. “
Mark Harris, governor of Winnebago County, Wisconsin, said he was disappointed with the “loud minority” in his county, which has successfully opposed any public health measures that need to be taken against the pandemic.
They have a special attitude, he said: “This has been bothering me long enough and I have finished changing my behavior.”
In the Czech Republic, a politically divided nation, people have fulfilled an initial order to take shelter at home this spring with an unusual display of unity. They launched a national campaign for sewing masks, recognized worldwide for their ingenuity. Confidence in the government to deal with the crisis has reached a record 86%.
Since then, support for the government’s response has plummeted and the country is currently experiencing the fastest increase in virus cases in Europe. Approximately half of the more than 150,000 cases registered in the Czech Republic came in the last two weeks, and more than half of the nearly 1,300 deaths in the country came this month.
Poland is not lagging behind, with an explosion of new cases and declining interest in volunteering. The country of 38 million has the lowest number of doctors per capita in the European Union, and some doctors are now refusing to join coronavirus teams concerned with safety protocols.
“We are on the verge of a catastrophe,” Pavel Grzeszewski, a prominent Polish immunologist, told Polish radio station RMF FM.
There are growing signs that continued stress is taking its toll. In the United States, store alcohol sales rose 23 percent during the pandemic, according to Nielsen, a figure that could reflect the nation’s anxiety as well as the decline in beverages sold in restaurants and bars.
Overdose deaths are also on the rise in many cities. In Cuiahoga County, Ohio, which includes Cleveland, there were recently 19 overdose deaths in one week, far more than most weeks.
“Like many other people, I will be glad to see the end of 2020,” said Dr. Thomas Gilson, a county medical expert.
In the early days of the pandemic, 47-year-old Shana Groom was busy spreading sublime messages in her neighborhood in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. She drew smiling faces with chalk in her alley, waved the school flag as teachers visited the neighborhood, and placed a teddy bear on her window as part of a “bear hunt” for neighborhood children.
The bear, who was dressed as a nurse, wore a mask and mint green scrubs, sat in her dining room window for months. This month, Groom finally removed the bear to paint the room.
“It made me a little sad,” said Groom, who is a nurse. “In the beginning we did sprints, and now it’s a marathon. We’re a little tired. “
In many states, businesses are open and often open without restrictions, although hospitalizations have been increased. Last week in Wisconsin, a field hospital at the state fair with a capacity of 530 beds was reopened for patients with coronavirus.
Dr. Michael Landrum, who treats coronavirus patients in Green Bay, Wisconsin, said the use of masks is more widespread than in the spring, it is easier to obtain personal protective equipment for hospital workers, and the treatment of the virus is more complicated.
At the time, it was not so difficult to understand where sick patients became ill with coronavirus. There were outbreaks of meat processing plants in the city and many cases were related to them. It’s more complicated now.
“The scary scenario is the number of patients who really just don’t know where they got it from,” Landrum said. “This suggests to me that it spreads very easily outside.”
The challenge for him, he said, will be to convince people that they need to take significant steps – at first – to slow the spread, which could be even worse than before.
“We’re trying to get people to change their behavior to be more socially distant and more restrictive in their contacts,” Landrum said. “She had a false sense of complacency. And now it is much harder to do that. “