Susannah Hills is a pediatric airway surgeon at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center. She also serves as assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.
(CNN)We fought Covid-19 in New York City and we thought that we won.
Dr. Susannah HillsAfter three months of a relentless cycle of breathing tubes, ventilators, organ failures and deaths, the rhythm gradually shifted to breathing, healing, recovery and going home. We thought we had stabilized the situation.But it hasn’t stopped. Now, more than 80% of my Covid patients have been discharged from the hospital. The ones that remain have mostly been in the hospital for months. We still have patients infected with the novel coronavirus coming. But they’re manageable enough that we, the health care workers, can focus again on the jobs we used to do before this pandemic took off earlier this year.We are still exhausted, still recovering, but we thought we were moving forward in a smarter and more prepared way to manage another surge.Our work had mattered. The 23,000 lives we lost had mattered. And the 8.4 million people of New York City cared about those lives. New Yorkers have sacrificed a lot with businesses closed and people sheltered in place. More than a third of New York City households lost jobs, and almost half struggled with anxiety and depression. And in our hospitals, my colleagues and I fought hard for our patients’ lives — and for our own lives. We had figured out how to stop Covid-19. Or so we thought.Read MoreWhy our brains are having so much trouble with Covid-19After going through so much, the numbers started to climb in California, Texas, Florida and Arizona. Now we have more than 5.6 million confirmed Covid cases in the United States. We are seeing thousands of new cases and more than 1,000 deaths daily. While this gruesome and devastating situation continues, President Donald Trump claims “we have the best” mortality rate in the world. Needless to say, we don’t.It’s enough to take your breath away, like a sucker punch.With the spike of coronavirus cases in other states, numbers, data and scientific facts are being manipulated, treated as political opinion. In June, Vice President Mike Pence said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Our public health system is much stronger than it was a month ago, and we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy.” This week, Pence appeared to back off somewhat from his position.In the two months since that statement, cases across the United States have more than doubled from 2.1 million to 5.6 million and we are still well below where we need to be on testing. Almost a quarter of public health laboratories are at risk of running out of supplies within a week, according to the Association of Public Health Laboratories. This shows our public health system is not where it needs to be to end this pandemic.The pandemic shows America can't afford its dysfunctional health insurance systemPublic health experts at the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization all agree that wearing masks saves lives by blocking the spread of droplets that transmit the virus. Projections estimate it could save about 70,000 lives by December 1. Yet the President has no plans to mandate masks at the White House or on federal property. Furthermore, mask mandates are drawing public lawsuits in states like Florida, Oregon, Washington and Missouri. In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp filed a lawsuit against Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over her plan to step up social distancing and mask mandates. The governor withdrew the suit earlier this month. The refusal to implement these critical measures feels like a denial of what we experienced firsthand here in New York. As if the lives that were lost here didn’t matter enough. As if the lives we continue to lose don’t matter enough.The parents of one of my patient asked me last month, “Is it really so bad in these other states?”It’s hard to know without clear and consistent information from the leadership at federal, state and city levels. What is the truth?Get our free weekly newsletter
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The truth is we are losing 1,000 lives in a day from a single cause. The truth is that we are all afraid. As a physician, I am afraid for everyone who will suffer from this virus when it should not be this way.The truth is that we know that face masks, physical distance and hand washing stop the spread of this disease — and these are all acts of love, not just for ourselves, but for each other, for people who are at greater risk, and for people with fewer resources.The truth is that these acts of love will save us. Without them, there will be more gut punches, and more lives will be lost.