The time comes to fight COVID-19. Can we do it?

by Fabius Maximus

Summary: The epidemic spreads across the globe, gaining a foothold in several nations, and America swings into action. Previous posts show what works against it and how well America has prepared. Soon we’ll learn if we have the social cohesion to take drastic actions (as China has) – if necessary.

US Epidemic-Dreamstime-171640971
Photo 171640971 © Anton Anton – Dreamstime.

On January 31, the Trump administration announced that they were blocking the entry of Chinese nationals and mandatory quarantines on US citizens returned in affected parts of China. China’s government and humanitarians protested. The Great and Wise condemned Trump’s actions as ignorant, bigoted, and fearful.

STAT (biomedical news) on Jan. 31: “Health experts warn China travel ban will hinder coronavirus response.

The Observer on Feb. 3: “How Trump’s Panicky Coronavirus Travel Ban Cost Me $4,000 in 2 Hours to Save My Job.”

The Guardian on Feb. 4: “Coronavirus: could the US government’s quarantine and travel ban backfire? Public health experts say restrictive policies could spread fear, weaken the global response and needlessly limit civil liberties.”

In his anti-Trump rant on Feb. 18 in The Atlantic, Peter Nicholas approvingly quoted Kent Brantley (an American doctor with the medical mission group Samaritan’s Purse).

“We MUST choose compassion over fear. We must choose to respond to people (even in deadly outbreaks of infectious diseases) with actions and words and attitudes that convey compassion and uphold the dignity of our fellow human beings.”

One month later, Trump’s action looks bold and prudent. China has proven that limitations on travel are effective when we lack drugs and vaccines: cordon sanitaires and quarantines. The former limits the movement of everybody in a region; they are powerful but expensive. The latter applies to people infected or who might be infected (eg, individuals, a household, or a ship); they are cheap and easy.

Of course, we see no apologies from the people who condemned Trump’s actions as imprudent and callous. The former has been proven false. The latter is true, and is the kind of hard-headed actions that can contain an epidemic.

Much depends on how many of the world’s leaders will take such drastic measures, and how many instead will listen to custard-heads – plunging the world into a hellish pandemic.

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See this post for more about America’s preparations for an epidemic.

America’s Great and Wise object again

As they grow more powerful, America’s elites are increasingly dissatisfied with democracy, and giving power to elected officials instead of the loyal “interagency” (loyal to them). So they whined loudly when Trump appointed America’s Vice President to run the response to COVID-19.

They are, as usual these days, wrong. An elected official should be making these important decisions. The Vice Presdient can command the attention and resources needed for a fast and powerful response.

CDC’s situation report as of February 29.

See the full report here.

“At this time, however, most people in the United States will have little immediate risk of exposure to this virus. This virus is NOT currently spreading widely in the United States. However, it is important to note that current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic. This is a rapidly evolving situation and the risk assessment will be updated as needed. Current risk assessment {is as follows} …

  • For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus at this time, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low.
  • People in communities where ongoing community spread with the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported are at elevated though still relatively low risk of exposure.
  • Healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19 are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Close contacts of persons with COVID-19 also are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Travelers returning from affected international locations where community spread is occurring also are at elevated risk of exposure.

“… At this time, there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and no medications approved to treat it. Nonpharmaceutical interventions would be the most important response strategy.

“About the test kits. {For more details, see the CDC’s Feb. 28 media briefing.}

  • Combined with other reagents that CDC has procured, there are now enough testing kits in the US to test more than 75,000 people. More are being rapidly manufactured.
  • In addition, CDC has two laboratories conducting testing for the virus that causes COVID-19. CDC can test approximately 350 specimens per day.
  • Commercial labs are working to develop their own tests that hopefully will be available soon. This will allow a greater number of tests to happen close to where potential cases are.”
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The timeline of preparation

The US government has moved quickly in response to events.

30 December – An “urgent notice on the treatment of pneumonia of unknown cause” was issued by the Medical Administration and Medical Administration of Wuhan Municipal Health Committee. Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan tighten their inbound screening.

2 January – The WHO activated its incident management system at all three levels: national, regional, and headquarters.

6 January – The US CDC issued a travel watch at Level 1 (“Practice usual precautions”) for China.

7 January – CDC established a COVID-19 Incident Management System.

21 January – The first case reported in the US, in Washington State.

24 January – A second case was reported in the US, in Chicago.

21 January – CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center to help plan, coordinate, and support the nation’s response.

30 January 30, 2020 – The International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the WHO declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC, see Wikipedia).

30 January 30 – The CDC published guidance for healthcare professionals on the clinical care of  COVID-19 patients.

January 31, 2020 –  Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a “public health emergency” (PHE, see Wikipedia) for the United States. Also, Trump officials announced that, effective on February 2 at 5pm, the U.S. government suspended entry of foreign nationals who have been in China within the past 14 days. U.S. citizens, residents, and their immediate family members who have been in Hubei province and other parts of mainland China are allowed to enter the United States, but they are subject to health monitoring and possible quarantine for up to 14 days.

3 February – The CDC posted guidance for assessing the potential risk for various exposures to COVID-19 and managing those people appropriately.

27 February – To reflect what had been learned, the CDC updated its criteria to guide evaluation of persons under investigation for COVID-19.

28 February – As more information came in, the CDC issued a Health Alert Network (HAN): Update and Interim Guidance on Outbreak of COVID-19.

29 February 29 – The U.S. government announced it was suspending entry of foreign nationals who have been in Iran within the past 14 days.