Health experts have been warning about a second wave of the coronavirus for months, and now it is here. The Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918–19 lasted about 18 months and occurred in three waves, with most of the deaths occurring in the second two waves. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the coronavirus is entering a second wave (or possibly a third wave—experts disagree) in the U.S. and especially in Europe, with numbers of cases approaching or surpassing the highest peaks of the spring.
According to the Johns Hopkins virus tracker page, U.S. positive cases at this writing number 1,263,089, with 238,251 deaths. That brings the U.S. to more than 10 million cases since the pandemic began. Previously lightly hit states like South Dakota are now seeing spikes. Parts of the U.S. are seeing hospitals and emergency rooms again filling up, with some nearing peak capacity. It’s possible that populations in many areas are relaxing their observance of precautions as the virus becomes normalized.
Last week, Pfizer announced preliminary results of a set of vaccine trials that indicate a possible 90 percent effectiveness. It’s unusual for preliminary results to be announced before final checking, but a 90 percent effectiveness rate is unheard-of. Still, it will be weeks or months before a vaccine is available to the public.
The bottom line is that the coronavirus story is far from over. On and off the vessel, precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing must stay in place. Remote working will continue. Now would be a good time (if you haven’t done so already) to view the outstanding series of webinars on COVID-19 precautions produced by the American Waterways Operators over the summer, still available on AWO’s website. Perhaps an especially relevant one to combat virus and restriction fatigue is Sharon Lipinski’s July 6 presentation, “But I Don’t Want To Wear My Mask!”
As an essential industry, the barge industry has done an outstanding job of protecting its workers, and the public, from the virus. This is no time to let up or relax. By the same token, we hope that if and when a vaccine does become available, barge workers will be prioritized along with first responders and other essential workers.
Although our numbers may be small, our industry has an outsized impact on the American economy. Whenever parts of our waterways have to shut down, whether for maintenance and repair of locks and dams or weather events, the economy feels the effects. So far, thanks to the industry’s vigilance, we haven’t had a COVID-19 shutdown of the waterways. Making the vaccine a priority for mariners in the inland waterways and ports is a no-brainer for both continuing to fight the virus and for keeping our economy running.