Every six hours or so, the Atlantic Ocean’s tide changes.
It sweeps in for about six hours, then sweeps out again.
So too did the coronavirus sweep into the United States, an airborne pathogen coming from China into California and from Europe into the northeast in early 2020.
“Massachusetts Department of Public Health today (March 2) announced its first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 since testing started Friday, Feb. 28, at the State Public Health Laboratory,” read a press release posted on the state Department of Health’s website as the virus found its its way here. “The woman is in her 20s and lives in Norfolk County. She recently traveled to Italy with a school group and was symptomatic. She is recovering at home.”
That case was the leading edge of the turning tide that came in more like a tsunami, at such a rapid rate that federal, state and local health officials were caught unprepared and overwhelmed. By March 11, The World Health Organization would declare the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.
Then came sudden and shocking change to every aspect of life.
Schools and businesses were shut down to prevent person-to-person transmission. In Massachusetts, mask-wearing indoors became mandatory May 1, per an executive order from Gov. Charlie Baker.
As the summer wore on and people spent more time outdoors — including at restaurants with sidewalk dining — the COVID-19 caseload dropped. The tide, it seemed, was going out.
At that time, it wasn’t uncommon for fewer than 200 new cases to be reported on any given day. And on Aug. 23, according to a New York Times chart, 0 cases were reported in the Bay State.
But just as the tide changes again, so too did COVID-19 return. This time with a vengeance.
As Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted, the weather turned cold and people spent more time indoors with friends and family. Air travel became more popular around the holidays.
The disease took hold again.
Daily cases in Massachusetts began to rapidly increase, with 761 cases Oct. 2; 6,675 on Dec. 3; and 7,677 on Dec. 26.
The only glimmer on the horizon — and conceivably the only way to stem the tide — is a vaccine, which began rolling out across the country in mid-December.
But with about 300 million people in the United States needing it, only about 2 million had received it by the end of the month.
Here in Massachusetts, where 12,158 people have died and more than 357,000 have been infected, just 34,957 doses had been administered as of Dec. 22.
As with much of the health crisis, finger-pointing has already begun about who is responsible for the lag in getting the vaccine and where it is needed most — in the arms of susceptible people.
And again, the federal government has been feeling the heat. Just as it failed to lead the way for more testing and supplies of personal protective equipment, or PPE, the federal government, some say, has failed to lead the way in distributing the vaccine.
Once more, many of those decisions have been left to individual states in what could be described as a “Lord of the Flies” kind of free-for-all where, in a worst-case scenario, only the strongest will survive.