In face of ‘tripledemic’ we must band together again

We know many of our neighbors, coworkers, friends and family members have already shoved COVID-19 into their mind’s attic crawlspace, hoping to never have need of that dusty old box again. Unfortunately, when it comes to this particular pandemic, it seems the only way to protect those we love from even more harm is to plant that spiky little COVID bug in a well-lit spot on our mind’s front porch, where we can keep a close eye on it.

Our society has given up on nearly every ounce of COVID prevention. Few people mask indoors anymore. Even fewer think to avoid large gatherings or test for COVID infections before meeting up with vulnerable friends and family.  

And while relaxing many of these restrictions may have made sense before the omicron variant showed us our vaccinations would not prevent a COVID infection, continuing to stick our heads in the ground while increasing COVID, flu and RSV infections devastate pediatric intensive-care units across the nation is simply a recipe for disaster. 

So how bad is the current wave of illness among American kids? 

A recent article in The Atlantic called it “the worst pediatric-care crisis in decades.” As one Connecticut Children’s Hospital pediatric intensive care specialist told The Atlantic: “This is our 2020. This is as bad as it gets.”

And we have only ourselves to blame. 

On Nov. 14, the National Nurses United union, which represents nearly 225,000 registered nurses nationwide, issued a press release calling out those who would have us believe the current pediatric crisis is due to some mythical “immune deficiency” caused by stay-at-home orders issues nearly three years ago. 

So-called immunity debt is a flawed conjecture that is not based on science,” National Nurses United stated. 

Instead, they place the blame squarely where it belongs — on a society that willingly tossed aside most of its proven COVID precautions even in the face of surging infections throughout early 2022. 

“RSV and other respiratory viruses are significantly more severe this year due to a complete abandonment of public health measures that have helped protect the public from COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses,” said National Nurses United President Deborah Burger, who also is a registered nurse. “The lack of public health protections and the impact of COVID infections, reinfections and long COVID are likely contributing to the significant impact of RSV on young children and infants. Promoting the idea of ‘immunity debt’ is not only unscientific, it is harmful to the public’s health.”

Burger added that not only is there “no evidence that the rise in pediatric RSV is due to so-called immunity debt,” but that “some infections, such as COVID, can disrupt the immune system, even with an initially mild or asymptomatic case.”
“We know that children and adolescents can also develop long COVID,” Burger said, adding: “To protect the public’s health, we need a multilayered approach to infection control.” 

National Nurses United said it will continue to “fight for the strongest protections for health care and other frontline workers,” including “masking, social distancing, vaccination, testing, contract tracing, staying home when sick and paid sick leave for workers.”

We know that we are not safe until everyone is safe,” Burger stated. 

A few years ago it may have been easy to ignore some of the scarier facts about COVID’s long-term health impacts, but three years into this pandemic, we have to start facing some of these facts head on.

We know the often debilitating effects of COVID have already impacted Americans in the prime of their working years. As the Brookings Institute noted in August 2022, “new data shows long COVID is keeping as many as 4 million people out of work.” 

We also know that repeated COVID infections put all of us — young and old, healthy and not-so-healthy — at a much higher risk of dying

Just this month, on Nov. 10, researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis released data showingrepeat SARS-CoV-2 infections contribute significant additional risk of adverse health conditions in multiple organ systems. Such outcomes include hospitalization; disorders affecting the lungs, heart, brain, and the body’s blood, musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal systems; and even death.”

The research paper’s senior author, a clinical epidemiologist at the School of Medicine noted: “During the past few months, there’s been an air of invincibility among people who have had COVID-19 or their vaccinations and boosters, and especially among people who have had an infection and also received vaccines; some people started to referring to these individuals as having a sort of superimmunity to the virus. Without ambiguity, our research showed that getting an infection a second, third or fourth time contributes to additional health risks in the acute phase, meaning the first 30 days after infection, and in the months beyond, meaning the long COVID phase.”

And how did these researchers, who studied the medical records of nearly 6 million people in coming up with their data, suggest we prevent catching COVID over and over again? Masking, getting eligible boosters, staying home when sick — all of the normal public health measures we used to practice prior to the omicron surge in early 2022, and what seemed to be a collective shunning of simple things proven to keep people safe from COVID. 

As we watch our hospitals and urgent care centers become overrun with ill children, Americans should take a close look in the mirror and ask themselves if we could benefit from a new point of view.

Perhaps we should look to Japan, where practicing public health measures like masking during flu season — or throughout an ongoing pandemic involving a disease known to cause strokes and heart attacks even in previously healthy young people — is not viewed as a hardship or act of “tyranny” from an overreaching government but, rather, seen simply as something a good person does to help protect their community