The forecast for the coronavirus pandemic in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County seems to have been the same for quite some time now: grim with signs of hope. Both reason and faith tell us that we will, at some point, emerge from the devastation to build again, but it sure can seem far off.
The number of daily new cases seems to rise and fall like the tide: 74 were reported on Tuesday; 256 on Wednesday. But they’re both down from the all-time high of 430 reported on Jan. 9. We’ve likely passed “whatever bump we would have gotten over Christmas and New Year’s,” Public Health Director Joshua Swift told WFDD earlier this week; a conclusion that was echoed by Dr. David Priest, infectious disease expert at Novant Health Inc.
Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped from a record high of 3,990 on Jan. 14 to 3,740 as of Wednesday.
Unfortunately for us, the Triad has had the highest daily hospitalizations for most of the past 13 weeks.
Overall, 255 COVID deaths have occurred in Forsyth County as of Wednesday; 8,200 statewide.
There are encouraging signs that nationwide, coronavirus infections may have finally peaked. While surges are still possible, especially regionally, the high that followed the holidays — during which too many unwisely traveled — may be steadily declining.
"Yes, we have peaked in terms of cases," Ali Mokdad, who has been tracking the pandemic at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, told National Public Radio earlier this week. "We are coming down, slowly. This is very good news — very good news." Mokdad estimates that actual infections peaked around Jan. 16.
It would be grand if we could be part of that trend.
But Forsyth County still has a positive test rate of around 13.5% rather than the 5% that state Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen says she’d like.
We have the tools: the knowledge and equipment to protect ourselves, along with better access to tests and vaccines.
So what is holding us back?
Maybe President Joe Biden can help. On his first day in office, he revealed a plan to speed up the distribution of vaccinations — not just vaccines, but actual needles into arms — while passing a $1.9 trillion economic relief package. Not content to leave it to governors to "call their own shots," Biden intends to turn all available federal resources toward tackling the problem.
As we write, Biden is implementing an extensive group of federal actions that include invoking the Defense Production Act to accelerate the manufacturing, delivery and supply of vaccines and protective gear, including N95 masks. He’ll issue a federal mandate to require mask-wearing in airports and on some transportation. He’ll direct the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to create community vaccination centers, with the goal of adding 100 centers in the next month — and 100 million shots by the end of Biden's first 100 days in office.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will launch a federal pharmacy program making vaccines available in local pharmacies.
In addition, he’ll ask the departments of Education and Health and Human Services to provide guidance on safe reopening of schools, child care providers and higher education institutions.
And he’ll ease the burden on struggling Americans with an economic relief package that includes direct payments to Americans — which some Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio, have encouraged. On Wednesday, Biden extended moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.
This is an aggressive approach that some will interpret to be too much government interference.
But in the face of a deadly crisis that has lingered for far too long, taking the lives of more than 400,000 Americans, it’s hard to argue that it’s unnecessary.