Coronavirus: Why We Are 3 Weeks Behind Italy

Mike Ryan, head of the World Health Organization Emergencies Program, WHO

“Until [containment] is impossible, we should keep trying.”

–Dr. Mike Ryan, Head of WHO Emergencies Program

I think it would help today by starting this post with a few quotes that reveal the path of thinking from health experts around the world as this global crisis has unfolded:

“The more we learn about it, the greater the possibility is that transmission will not be able to be controlled with public health measures” (Dr. Allison McGeer; Director of Infection Control, Mt. Sinai Hospital, 1/28/20).

“Increasingly unlikely that this virus can be contained” (Dr. Thomas R. Friedman; Fmr. Director CDC, 2/2/20).

“This looks far more like H1N1’s spread than SARS, and I am increasingly alarmed” (Dr. Peter Plot; Director, The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 2/2/20).

“The tipping point–after which our ability to prevent a global pandemic ends–seems a lot closer after the past 24 hours” (Prof. Paul Hunter; Professor of Health Protection, University of East Angola 2/23/20).

This past week on Wednesday, 13 March 2020, in testimony to Congress, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease stated that coronavirus (COVID-19) is 10X deadlier than the flu; the first public declaration of the true lethality of coronavirus. But it begs the question: How serious must the situation be for a public declaration like that after the very same officials have spent weeks downplaying the significance of the disease? What has changed?

On the same day, President Trump addressed the nation again, except this time gone were fantastic words of optimism. The very same disease he said would “just go away” days ago was now something serious and deadly. He announced a travel ban from Europe to the United States in an effort to slow outside infection. What has changed?

Governors across the country have been on television admonishing the public to change their day to day routines, to stay away from others as much as possible, and to be aware of ways to reduce one’s chances of infection. What has changed?

I’ll tell you. Our officials have realized it’s no longer possible to spin the narrative. It’s painfully obvious by now to even the most ostrich-head-in-the-sand individuals that coronavirus has spiraled out of control globally, and is extremely contagious and deadly.

What’s alarming to me is that many Americans have yet to grasp the significance of what the world is facing. This was on painful display last week. I watched interviews on the world news with young Spring Break revelers in Florida, and every one of them said they weren’t the least bit concerned about coronavirus. I watched as a Utah Jazz basketball player mocked the coronavirus emergency by theatrically wiping his hands all over the press microphones and tables of the post game press conference. A few days later this same individual tested positive for coronavirus, causing the NBA to suspend the entire season. The ignorance on display is unfathomable.

We’re a nation of the spoiled. I guess that’s to be expected when you sit atop the world order, but it’s truly sad. It’s sad because so many people are going to die from their ignorance. It’s sad because no matter how much you may want to believe that all is fine, it simply isn’t. I don’t know what it’s like right now in stores overseas, but here in the U.S. people are literally hoarding supplies. Even grocery stores are beginning to see a run of food.

On Monday’s 2 March 2020 post “Coronavirus: What World Governments Know and Aren’t Saying,” I broke down the then publicly available CDC data. It’s funny the difference two weeks makes. Health officials have now begun breaking down figures in similar ways. On Saturday, 14 March 2020, Dr. Fauci on Fox news stated that coronavirus is especially deadly for individuals 50 and above. For that age group, the rate of death may reach upwards of “25 percent” (!), especially if there’s an underlying condition. Those under 50 have a lower but still high probability of death for such an infectious disease, with those under 8 having the lowest risk of death. It appears that the younger you are, the better your chances.

As of Saturday, 14 March 2020, coronavirus has killed 3.6% of everyone infected–a staggering percentage. This data point exposes the deception the Chinese government fed the world about coronavirus, its lethality, and containment. It’s a testament to the failure and shortcomings of authoritarian regimes.

Why We are 3 Weeks Behind Italy

I know this is a dramatic statement, but consider carefully what I am about to say. Cases in Italy first began appearing in the same manner as they are in the United States. Italian authorities moved quickly to test the populace and discovered that coronavirus had been spreading in Italy for weeks. Worse, it was infecting others at a very fast and high rate.

The Italians, like all other nations of the European Union, have relied upon test kits provided by private industry and made widely available. These kits are accurate and allow local municipalities and hospitals to test patients on the spot. This is partly the reason that the number of known Italian cases jumped so quickly. It wasn’t because the cases suddenly appeared–most had been there for some time–but because the authorities were able to detect them en masse.

As the weeks progressed, Italian authorities quickly understood the gravity of the situation. Being able to detect so many cases so quickly enabled them to make the most informed decision possible: lock down the country. It had to be done if they were to have a chance of staving off collapse of the medical system and preventing far more deaths. This action may have literally saved Italy from a nightmare unseen since the days of the Black Plague.

Here in the United States the situation is eerily similar. Community spread cases first appeared in a single location (Washington state), and then seemingly within a week appeared unexplained across the country in nearly every state. Just like in Italy. However, there is one major key difference between Italy and the United States. The government of Italy put into action a decisive plan of action early, relying upon a testing regime unencumbered by outdated rules and restrictions, and allowed local hospitals and governments to test for coronavirus from the very start.

For weeks, American officials required that all COVID-19 testing be done by one entity, the CDC. Local hospitals and municipalities were barred from conducting their own tests, and no private sector test kits were allowed. Everything came from the federal government and had to be certified by federal authorities.

In the time since then, government officials came to realize that they had made a serious mistake. Federal authorities engaged in a weeks long mad scramble to undo federal rules hindering mass detection, to procure millions of testing kits, and to decentralize testing and handling of individual cases.

On Friday, 13 March 2020, President Trump declared a national emergency, marshalling the full resources of the federal government in partnership with the private sector. Is it to little too late?

In my state alone, the governor and the top health official have stated that based on computer modeling, the number of infections is likely around 1% of the populace. We simply don’t know who they are because they don’t have enough test kits. Ohio has approx. 11 million citizens, so this equates to about 110,000 infections. That’s a staggering amount because the total known number of infections worldwide as of Saturday was around 160,000 people.

Consider that the situation in Ohio is no different than most the rest of the country. If Ohio has about 110k unknown cases, how many more are there nationwide? There are 50 states in the United States, and Ohio is but one. Worse, Ohio is far from the epicenter of infection in the U.S. The most heavily known infected states reside on the East and West coasts, thousands of miles apart from each other. This is an indicator of how widely spread coronavirus is in this country. Even if you assumed a rate 1/2 of 1%, it means that there may be a staggering number of cases in the U.S. alone.

Every six days the number of cases in the country will double. It’s just the nature of coronavirus. I contend that the United States is about three weeks away from becoming the #1 epicenter for coronavirus infections in the world. The total number of infections in other countries will pale in comparison to the situation we are about to face.

By the end of this week we will begin to have an idea of the true situation we face, as hundreds of thousands of test kits finally make it to the local levels. The number of known cases will spike dramatically. As in Italy, this will not be due to cases suddenly emerging, but due to our ability to detect cases that have been spreading for weeks now. The United States is the most populous Western nation (5x more populous than Italy) to contract coronavirus, and the United States has fumbled critical early detection and containment. Come this time next week, there will be tens of thousands of cases.

Actions To Come

In the coming weeks there will be attempts at containment of ‘hot zones’ throughout the country, in Washington, California, and New York initally before more dramatic actions are taken. National guards will be mobilized and very restrictive measures will be enacted. Unfortunately, there’s a high probability that it’ll all be too late, because the window for early detection has been squandered. We are weeks behind the curve. The strain on emergency services will force the federal government to choose between economic loss or the collapse of emergency services and the loss of thousands and thousands of additional American lives.

The best anyone can do at this point is to be prepared. Ideally, be prepared for several weeks of home self-confinement. Models indicate that the virus should peak here in the United States around mid-April to the middle of May. While the United States has the best medical care systems in the world, it’s a numbers game now.

*Coronavirus is “the most serious health crisis in a century” (French President Emmanuel Macron). If you haven’t, prepare now there’s still time.


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