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Back in the middle of May, I wrote an essay titled “If the United States were my patient,” pondering what it would be like if the United States were a flesh-and-blood person who had gotten sick with an ongoing infection.

Seven weeks later, as we approach the patient’s birthday — July 4th — I thought it would be a good time to check in and see how the patient’s doing.
It turns out the answer is: not well at all.n fact, with daily infection rates breaking records on many days during the last couple of weeks, we are arguably worse off today than at any point earlier in the pandemic. Consider: This week, 15 states saw their highest seven-day averages, and the country is seeing around 50,000 new cases a day. We have less than 5% of the global population, but about 25% of coronavirus cases and deaths. Several states, including Texas and Arizona, are on the verge of having recently infected patients overwhelm hospital capacity.

As a doctor, I’m frustrated. I feel our patient’s deterioration didn’t have to happen and there were many unforced errors.
I really thought that we’d be having a different conversation in the country at this point; I thought that along with the fireworks, we’d be celebrating the progress we’ve made so far. Instead, I have to say to the patient, “The infection has returned with a vengeance. It has spread and risks tipping out of control in some parts of your body.”
And I’m worried — worried that we’ll get to the point where the existing treatments that we have, the medicines we carry in our little black bag, are no longer going to be effective and we will have to resort to the big guns, the more aggressive measures.
But at the same time, I still hold out some hope; we still have a little bit of time to turn the situation around, to restart our medicine, take it faithfully –but we can’t afford to waste another minute.

“If the country, like the human body, were to get sick or infected, it should seek the best medical guidance and follow it, as hard as that might be,” I wrote back in May.
Well, throughout the illness, this patient has had the benefit of excellent medical care. This country is home to some of the most creative minds, finest doctors and most experienced public health officials the world over. And they, along with equally talented international researchers, jumped into action, trying to decipher the genetic make-up of the virus, learning how it spreads and how to mitigate that spread, discovering all the ways the disease manifests, figuring out how to treat symptoms and desperately trying to develop a vaccine that will prevent new cases of infection in the future.

But after a few short weeks of following doctors’ orders, our patient — our country — has chosen to turn its back on the advice of these health experts. It didn’t like what the doctors were saying and it stopped taking the prescribed medicines because they were unpalatable.
Some of the prescriptions, like social distancing and curtailing our daily activities, tasted bad and were hard to swallow. Others, like wearing a face mask, created a bit of physical discomfort and a lot of political friction. And the most aggressive medicine of all, the stay-at-home orders, triggered never-before-seen mass layoffs across many sectors of the economy and the fallout just rippled outward from there. In other words, very real pain.

But difficult as it was to put the patient in a medically induced coma with the stay-at-home orders in order to get the infection under control, it appeared to have worked.
When I first wrote the piece, just before Memorial Day, the time of another national holiday, it looked like the patient was moving in the right direction. Infection rates had significantly dropped in some of the hardest hit areas, like Michigan, Massachusetts and New York, and were holding steady in much of the country.

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