COVID-19 is starting to heavily impact areas that weren’t hard hit before. Many of these spaces are communities and states that are represented by Republican leaders. All of a sudden, these leaders are now recommending that their constituents wear masks, which is a complete reversal of their messaging. For the past several months, they haven’t been supportive of doing this despite overwhelming evidence suggesting that it can help reduce the spread of the virus.

The initial message from government officials at the beginning of the pandemic was to not wear masks because they needed to be reserved for medical workers, could provide a false sense of security, aren’t worn properly by most people and that, given the evidence at the time, masks wouldn’t offer much protection. However, by April, the guidelines had changed and officials were saying that everyone should be wearing cloth face coverings. According to Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said “When you want to rechannel a message, it’s always a problem.”

The other part of the problem is that many Republican leaders and other American citizens have been following the lead of President Trump, who has been resistant to wearing a mask. The president’s reluctance has turned mask wearing into a political issue. However, that’s changing. Senator Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky said that there must be “no stigma” about wearing masks because, “wearing simple face coverings is not about protecting ourselves, it is about protecting everyone we encounter.” Per Dr. Redfield, “We believe that wearing a face covering is a critically important tool. It’s our best weapon to intervene with human-to-human transmission right now.”

The good news is that majority of the public does wear a mask with only 22% of people in a recent poll done by the New York Times/Siena College saying they rarely or never wear a mask. In order to promote the reduction of virus cases, masks are mandated in many areas and will soon be required in at least 19 states. While this is being done to protect people, some are speaking out against this saying it violates their freedom and personal liberties.

As the debate continues over masks, the White House Coronavirus Task Force has stated that a new method of testing is going to be used in order to increase the volume of tests being done. The process involves combining test samples and running them together rather than one by one. A negative result would clear everyone in the group, but a positive result would require each sample to be individually retested. This type of testing works best with lab-run tests, which usually take hours to get results. The technique is known as pooling and has been used since World War II. It could help to extend laboratory supplies, decrease cost and increase availability of testing. Experts usually endorse the practice when less than 10% of people are expected to test positive.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the Task Force, stated, “Pooling would give us the capacity to go from a half-a-million tests per day to potentially 5 million individuals tested per day.” China used the method to test all 11 million residents in Wuhan. Nevertheless, at this point, regulators haven’t approved any labs or test makers to use the process. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants test makers to demonstrate that combining samples doesn’t diminish the accuracy.

The desire to increase testing is coming as the number of cases is starting to surge. Another concern many experts have is the health of individuals who are ill from conditions other than COVID-19. This has created a secondary death toll of thousands of people who might not have had to perish. According to experts, the majority of these people died as a result of delaying or not seeking care as the pandemic erupted because they were worried about contracting the virus.

In the early part of the pandemic, some hospitals were nearly empty of the heart, cancer, stroke and other patients who normally would’ve been there. Federal data indicates that five hard-hit states and New York City had over 8,300 more deaths from heart problems than would have been typical in March, April and May, which is an upsurge of about 27% over historical averages. The data also demonstrates that Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and New York state and the city having a collective 75,000 “excess deaths” during that period.

Experts say this happened despite hospitals not turning away anyone seeking medical care. A CDC report states that when compared to the previous 10 weeks, between March 15 and May 23, admissions to hospital emergency departments for heart attacks dropped 23%, strokes 20% and high-blood-sugar crises 10%. Doctors are additionally concerned that for there’ll be an influx of patients needing treatment for these conditions, and other conditions (ex. cancer diagnosis), once the virus is under control.