The pandemic has been brutal for health care workers who have to treat sick patients, but it’s also been extraordinarily tough for doctors and nurses who are a step or two removed from the front lines. According to a story this week in The New York Times, about 8% of practices have closed in recent months. Some of the causes include patients staying away, the costs of personal protective equipment, and the stress and mental exhaustion that have been COVID-19 byproducts. Dr. Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association, told the Times, “A lot of physicians were hanging on by a thread from burnout before the pandemic even started.” This is not good news for communities where those physicians are departing, and it could mean a reduction in primary care options for some people – something this country can ill-afford right now.
The pandemic has been tough on state and local budgets, and the federal government has made it just a bit harder for Pennsylvania. According to a story published this week by Spotlight PA, Uncle Sam turned down a plan hatched by the Wolf administration and Republican lawmakers in the General Assembly that would have used $300 million in federal dollars for property tax relief. It would have helped make up for the gambling revenue that would have gone to schools had casinos not closed for weeks and their capacity limited once they did reopen. The state still has $1.3 billion to spend that it received through the CARES Act, but that can’t be used to fill budget holes. The federal government shouldn’t have turned this down – after all, property tax relief allows money to be spent elsewhere, namely at businesses that are struggling as coronavirus numbers skyrocket.
Last week, the darkness of the coronavirus landscape was lightened by news that Pfizer is developing a vaccine that is more than 90% effective in combating COVID-19. This week, there was news that Moderna is developing a vaccine that equals Pfizer’s in effectiveness, if preliminary trials are any indication, and it has the added bonus of not needing to be placed in a deep freeze, as the vaccine Pfizer is developing apparently needs to be. Of course, even if a vaccine reaches the market late this year or at the beginning of 2021, it will first go to health care workers and the most vulnerable members of the population. That means that most of us will still be at risk for catching COVID-19 for several months, and will need to remain vigilant. As many officials have strenuously emphasized over the last several months, we need to avoid large gatherings, keep our distance from people outside our households and, above all, keep those masks on when we leave our abodes.
President Trump is clearly unhappy with how the 2020 general election came out, but Americans who believe a participating and engaged voting public strengthens democracy can be very pleased with how the election unfolded, particularly in the midst of a deadly pandemic. All told, 161 million Americans voted, which sets a record. A record-setting number of Pennsylvanians participated, with 70.9% of registered voters casting ballots. It exceeded the record set in the 1960 contest between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, when 70.3% of Pennsylvania voters participated. In Washington County, 77.5% of registered voters turned out, an increase of 3 percentage points over four years. Let’s hope the voters who were lured to the polls by the heat of the contest between Trump and President-elect Biden stay interested and cast ballots in the lower-profile elections that will be happening between now and 2024.