Dr. Ashish Jha is a physician, health policy researcher, and dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

By Peter White

 NASHVILLE, TN — Republicans who don’t wear masks and think Biden stole the election are the same delusional individuals who will have a big Thanksgiving dinner with extended family members—and end up creating COVID-19 clusters all over the country. 

Dr. James Hildreth, president of Meharry Medical College, told a WPLN audience last week that people should forego family get-togethers this Thanksgiving so everyone will still be around to enjoy them next year. 

“We are in the moment of exponential growth and so by all expectations, while we have 1000 deaths a day now, we will get to 2000 deaths a day and my estimations are that we going to have an additional 100,000 Americans die of this disease between now and the day Joe Biden gets inaugurated as president,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, a researcher and Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. 

Jha said testing for COVID-19 is inadequate—he said the number of reported positive cases are around 150,000 per day but the real number could be 500,000. Those who are not identified are spreading it to others and that has brought on a third wave of coronavirus. 

Jha said most of the companies that make coronavirus tests could ramp up production significantly but have gotten no guarantees of payment for the increased testing capacity. So with no more orders, test-makers are not gearing up production. 

This is not the message Gov. Bill Lee and Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey have been giving to Tennesseans. In their frequent briefings to the press, they acknowledge positive case numbers are up and hospital ICU capacity is down but they do not mention any problems with test availability or turnaround times. They claim contact tracing is adequate. State officials keep saying things are under control but they aren’t. There were 4,662 new cases reported Saturday, November 14. 

Surrounding states are not doing any better. More than 3500 people have died from COVID-19 in Tennessee, Mississippi, Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt a moment where there’s a bigger disconnect between how bad things are and how little attention we as a country are paying,” Jha said. 

Jha has been following the pandemic closely since it began in March and he said it feels like we’re giving up right at the last minute. “We can largely prevent it,” he said.  Jha said he was “simply baffled” by the Trump administration’s lack of engagement and its willingness to let the pandemic just spread.

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the CARES Act provided $395 billion to fight COVID-19 but only $215 billion was pledged to healthcare providers and agencies to test, track, and quarantine coronavirus patients. As of November 13, Tennessee had spent just $375 million of the total $2 billion of its federal funds to fight the virus. 

“Sufficient testing across the country is one part of the solution but it isn’t the whole solution. We also need sufficient tracing capacity and ability after we get enough cases down under control,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, senior scholar at Stanford University’s Clinical Excellence Research Center.

“You can’t trace every case when there are thousands of cases to trace on any given day. But once you get it down to a manageable

Dr. Nirav Shah is a senior scholar at Stanford University’s Clinical Excellence Research Center.

number you can actually trace them and self-quarantine and do all these things we need to do,” Shah said.

He said there is no silver bullet so a coordinated strategy is needed to stop the pandemic. “Testing alone won’t work, tracing alone won’t work, physical distancing alone won’t work, wearing masks alone won’t work. All of these together will collectively bring us to where we need to be and start bringing transmission below 1 so we actually see cases go down,” Shah said. 

Last week Moderna and Pfizer with its German partner, BioNTech, announced coronavirus vaccines that are 90% effective, meaning one of ten people would not develop an immune response to the disease. That is very good news since researchers first thought they would only be about 60% effective. They will be available perhaps as early as December.

Vice President Mike Pence claimed support from the Trump administration’s Warp Speed program accelerated the development of the Pfizer vaccine. According to Bloomberg News, it was the German government who pumped $445 million into the vaccine’s development, not the U.S.

But Americans are first in line to get the vaccine once it is approved. The Trump administration agreed to pay $2 billion for 100 million doses with an option to buy 500 million more. 

While effective, both vaccines have drawbacks. Moderna’s vaccine must be stored at -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at -94 degrees Fahrenheit. Immunization requires two shots and they hurt.

Dr. William Schaffner is a professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt professor of infectious diseases, said the new vaccines will cause some aches and pains, headaches, and possibly fever. “That’s the immune system working with the vaccine,” he said.  Distribution will be the same as with testing. Healthcare providers and first responders will get vaccinated first. After them, high-risk people, essential workers, and then the rest of the population will get inoculated.

Schaffner said that since one out of ten people won’t get immunity, masks will still have to be worn. They will be in our lives for the foreseeable future. 

“Modeling has shown we could save 100,000 lives if 70-80% of the population wore masks,” said Dr. Tung Nguyen, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

Dr. Tung Nguyen is a professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)

“We have to convince people that it still works,” he said. Until the vaccine kicks in Nguyen urged people to wear masks and understand where they have been and where the people who they are with have been.  

“It would be a real shame if someone dies from COVID between now and the time we have complete vaccination. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t know exactly when it’s coming but there’s light at the end of the tunnel and we have to get everybody thru that tunnel and we don’t want anybody to die on the way to that light,” Nguyen said.