Have I been training cannon fodder?

I teach a lot of students who plan on careers in medicine — doctors and nurses. I keep hearing, though, that medical staffing is hitting a ceiling. The people we rely on to treat COVID-19 are vulnerable.

The coronavirus pandemic has tightened its grip on much of Africa, where reported cases have more than tripled over the last month, jeopardizing overstretched medical teams as the need for care soars.

From the pandemic’s early days, leaders across the continent urged prevention and took aggressive action — sealing borders, tracing contacts and building extra isolation wards — asserting that many places lacked the resources to withstand unchecked outbreaks.

Now African health officials and medical professionals are raising concerns about cracks in a crucial armor: Infections among health-care workers have shot up 203 percent since late May, according to the World Health Organization’s Africa arm, following a spike in community transmission and a drop in access to protective gear.

Africa, you say? Who cares? (Well, I would hope my audience wouldn’t say that). But it also hits close to home, with hospitals in Alabama, for instance, reaching capacity. Of course, “capacity” in this case is partly a function of staffing, not just the number of beds. As the pandemic spreads further, that means that effective capacity is going to gradually decline. Everything is going to get worse.

My university is opening in August. We’ve got plans to minimize contact — I’m going to be teaching all of my classes, except the labs, over Zoom — but I’m expecting we’ll shut down the labs, too. We have to keep the flow out of our pre-professional programs going, don’t you know!


  1. wzrd1 says

    Anyone making the mistake of saying “Who cares?”, runs the risk of a serious trouting. With a fine sash weight to add rigidity to the limp fish.
    Even money these days, I’d trout the speaker and myself. Just as well that I’m out of sash weights. Got an old lead pipe from my old house’s bathroom drain, keep that to show people what was still in usage when I was young.

    On a more serious note, approaching the end of the 19th century, these upstart new doctors, who believed in that silly germ theory and hated such variability in qualities of physicians that were produced by the medical education system, set out to improve standards, restrict the number of physicians produced to ensure quality and had medical schools who refused to adopt modern medical views closed. They also changed the tuition system, previously the professors were directly paid by the students. No conflict of interest there, right?
    We retain that system, mildly expanded today. Downside is a limited number of physicians of high quality (usually, some still slip through the cracks) each year.
    Limited, while our population is still increasing, creating one significant problem.
    We can raise production at a cost of quality, but honestly, I really prefer that my physician knows gram negative from gram positive is. I do, so I prefer someone that does know more than I do, if I tried to prepare a slide using gram staining, I’d likely get a dozen pristine slides when I was done.
    OK, more like 8, maybe, it’s been a while since I prepared a slide. Around 40 or so years a while (I was in the microscope club and was one of the few high school students that knew how to prepare our aged transmission microscopes and operate them).
    In 8th grade I had a pet project, the teacher not realizing that I had isolated pneumococcus that was growing on the blood agar. Right until a peer fooled around with the dishes, exposed herself and a few other students and someone ran a culture. I had already ran antibiotic susceptibility tests, as we had a very well equipped lab.
    After that, supervision was a bit less lax.

    Anyone else have an amateur mad scientist story?

  2. magistramarla says

    Me! I had a wonderful honors chemistry teacher in high school, 1974. He taught us how to make a simple paste, that when dried, became a contact explosive. The honors physics class across the hall and our class had an escalating war going on that year. They would do something like building a catapult to throw objects through our door, and we would retaliate by pumping something foul smelling (but harmless) under their door.
    We made the contact explosives while they were on a library excursion, and painted the paste in thin layers on chairs, desks and other surfaces in their classroom. We sat back and listened when the physics class returned to their room. We heard a chorus of POP! SCREAM!, POP!, SCREAM! and then “We’re gonna get you guys!” It was very satisfying.
    A few years later, my husband and I were teaching in a small Catholic boys’ school. I was teaching Latin, he was teaching biology and chemistry. I shared our little contact explosives recipe with him, and he taught it to a few of his honors students. They very successfully used it as an example of their work on Parents’ Night. However, one joker had placed a large, wet glob on a lab desk, which the custodian accidentally set off, leaving a mark on the ceiling. The poor man lived in fear of cleaning my husband’s classroom again. (He was already terrified of the bugs, snakes, mice, etc. that the biology club kept in that room!)
    In those days, we got by with things that would never be allowed in a high school lab now.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Everything is going to get worse.

    Not just in public health.

    And we’re not even halfway through 2020.

  4. wzrd1 says

    @magistramarla @2, lemme guess, nitrogen triiodide?
    We’d put some between book pages, someone turns the page and a nice loud crack was heard.
    Then, one day, someone poured a beaker of it down the drain, ruining the fun and the lab plumbing.

    Yeah, can’t even try to do that these days. Our kids (now in their mid 30’s) used M&M’s in their chemistry lab, no live reagents were in the building.
    Well, there was the janitor’s closet, but heads would’ve rolled.