The Covid-19 pandemic: Two ruthless years in review
By Aurora Kohn
Two years and nearly 350 deaths later, we begin to brush the dirt off our shoulders. As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, we hope to heal soon and repair the rupture in the social fabric caused by debates over things we didn’t understand. We hope to recover the time that has been lost.
But our optimism is calculated. The new surges of coronavirus infections in China and South Korea underscore the fact that the coronavirus remains a threat. It will continue to evolve and change in its own quest for survival.
And in the face of a constantly evolving and deadly foe, the stakes remain exceedingly high.
More than 18 million people have died worldwide from Covid-19 and its variants in the last two years. That is a staggering number. By comparison, the Asian flu that appeared between 1957-1958 caused 4 million deaths worldwide while the Hong Kong flu of 1968 caused 1 million deaths worldwide.
Because the coronavirus was a new virus, it quickly cut a deadly swathe across the planet, aided by the ease of transmission of the virus from one human to another. It was undeterred by any boundaries. It struck all nations and afflicted people from all walks of life.
Governments around the world were stunned by the swiftness with which the coronavirus infected alarming numbers of their citizens. As governments scrambled to articulate and enforce prophylactic measures to stem the tide of infections, the pharmaceutical companies commenced a feverish race to develop a vaccine.
In Guam, the first case of Covid-19 was identified on March 15, 2020. No more than seven days after, Guam had its first Covid-19-related death. The Guam government quickly responded by ordering a general lockdown of the island.
While the system was as familiar as it was reminiscent of the system adopted by the government for the island’s typhoon warnings , the government-imposed restrictions on the daily activities of the island’s residents triggered an avalanche of protests and objections. The fear of having freedoms and rights “taken away” was palpable, and the restrictions on freedom of movement so alien that Guam residents tried to find “workarounds” against the lockdown, even if it only consisted driving their vehicles around the island.
The restrictions inevitably took their toll, not only on Guam businesses and the livelihood of Guam residents, but also on personal and family relationships. Fully aware that the island was not positioned to deal with a flood of Covid-19 patients, the government rolled out a host of restrictions and health mandates to avert a medical crisis. Suddenly, one could not celebrate birthdays and milestones like graduations with one’s friends and extended families.
Gone were the get-togethers that were such a vital and intrinsic part of the island’s culture. Grandparents could not see and hug their grandchildren. Residents whose parents were older and needed assistance struggled and worried about their parents who they were not permitted to visit physically.
There was disbelief that a mere virus could disrupt island traditions and tear the fabric of Guam’s family life and social life. After all, was it not just a virus like the virus that caused the flu?
This inevitably bred resentment toward the government’s perceived incursion into the realm of personal freedoms. As more restrictions and health mandates were announced by the government, there was not only resentment but an active pushback from members of the community.
Conspiracy theories were hatched and shared. The virus was a “hoax” that was being used to “control” residents. George Orwell’s “1984” was upon us.
Despite the apprehension that Guam’s democratic foundations were under attack, the tragic deaths from the coronavirus were a stark reality that could not be denied.
Guam’s island community was confronted with the necessity of choice. Does one abide with the restrictions to try and save lives or does one resist any restriction because it is a violation of personal freedoms?
Opinions differed, even within families, leading sometimes to the unfortunate rupture of relationships among family members and friends.
As of March 24, Guam has had a total of 46,942 confirmed cases of Covid-19, accounting for about 29 percent of the island’s population. This number, arguably, could have been substantially higher in the wake of the limited medical facilities on island and the prevalence of renal disease, hypertension and diabetes among the island’s population - diseases that exacerbate the effects of the Covid-19 virus.
Offsetting these conditions was the relatively high rate of vaccinations in Guam. As of March 19, more than 90 percent of Guam’s eligible population had received one dose, and more than 81 percent are fully vaccinated, which means they had received more than one dose. Guam placed 4th nationwide in the percentage of Covid-19 vaccinations.
“Vaccination is still the leading public health strategy to prevent severe disease and deaths from Covid-19. There is no substitute for that wall of protection for our island community.” Dr. Annette David, senior epidemiologist for the State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup,.
The high rate of vaccinations coupled with the local population’s willingness to abide with the health mandates and programs helped Guam control infections with relative success, avoiding a situation where its medical facilities and personnel were overwhelmed by the influx of coronavirus patients.
While the subject of vaccination received its share of controversy, Guam’s high rate of vaccination shows that Guam’s sense of community runs deep. One protects one’s self to protect others – in your family and in your community.
For Guam, as for the rest of the world, the work to prevent a resurgence of coronavirus cases is an unremitting challenge that requires constant vigilance and sustained effort in the areas of detection and testing accompanied by the expansion and improvement of facilities and resources for patient care.
Crucial to the government’s efforts to anticipate and prevent new surges is surveillance. This includes wastewater surveillance and genomic testing. The Guam government’s surveillance project has yet to get its footing. It bears emphasis that issues that have stymied its organization need to be resolved quickly.
The success quotient of any community endeavor is largely determined by the willingness of all sectors of that community to work together to achieve a common result.
The key to fostering cooperation between the government and the community is trust. To preserve this hard-won trust, it is imperative that the government deliver on its plans and promises to mitigate the effects of coronavirus on the island’s community.