This blog is an update to my posting on February 27, 2020. Much has happened since then. In fact, we have been bombarded with significant developments daily, if not hourly. It is hard to keep up unless one is glued to the tv or internet continuously.
For example, as reported by various news outlets, such as CNN, Fox, NPR, Haaretz and others, in just the last few days the folIowing significant events have occurred:
- WHO declared the outbreak to be a “pandemic,” which means that it has spread across multiple continents or to a significant region of the world. The designation is not predicated upon the number of cases or deaths, as some people think.
- Unfortunately, pandemics have not been rare. Just in the 21st century we have had three, with SARS and the swine flu being the others.
- Corona is thought to have originated in bats, whereas SARS and the swine flu originated from pigs.
- According to the CDC the warning signs to be cognizant of generally include headache, shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, fever, coughing, lethargy or bluish lips or face. Unfortunately, some of these mimic the symptoms for the ordinary flu, so in the absence of testing one cannot be sure if one is infected. Anyone developing some or all of the above symptoms is urged to contact a doctor for guidance. Don’t just go to a hospital or clinic. If you do so and you have the virus you could infect others who don’t. If you don’t have the virus you could catch it from those who do.
- According to CNN in the US every state except for West Virginia has reported at least one case, although, by the time you read this it, too, may have reported one or more. Washington State has reported the most, nearly 600. Keep in mind, due to the shortage of testing kits, the number of reported cases is likely understated, perhaps, significantly so.
- President Trump has declared a national emergency and authorized $50 billion of federal funds to be allocated to fight the outbreak. President Trump asserted that “no resource will be spared, nothing whatsoever.” The significance of a NE is that the federal government can institute a variety of actions and policies that normally it would be precluded from doing. Typically, a NE is only declared during a natural disaster, an epidemic, or a war. The declaration also had a psychological benefit as witnessed by the strong rally in the stock market.
- The stock market has been bouncing up and down like a deranged yo-yo. I believe it has a great psychological impact on the populace, so I was glad to see it recover immediately after the president’s speech. I believe it is considerably oversold, and, as was the case following other disasters and pandemics, such as “9/11,” swine flu, and SARS, it will recover all of its losses and then some as soon as it becomes apparent that the danger has passed
- The president tightened travel restrictions, banning travel to the US from Europe, except for returning American citizens who had been screened.
- The House passed an aid package. The Senate is expected to do so in a few days. The President has stated he will sign it promptly.
- The president disclosed that the government will be pairing with the private sector to augment testing and medical supplies. The paucity of testing kits has received the most criticism. For instance, the NIT’s Dr. Anthony Fauci has repeatedly pointed out that the “US testing system was failing to meet the public’s needs.” He was particularly critical of the “incompetence” of the CDC, which he blamed for not being prepared for an outbreak of this magnitude. Consequently, we don’t have an accurate count of infected people. In contrast, there are reports that South Korea, which a week ago was cited as one of the hot spots, has been testing 10,000 or more persons per day, chiefly by drive-through and now appears to have the virus under control. Mr. Trump has been eliciting the assistance of retailers, such as Wall Mart and Target, to establish drive-in testing venues. The obvious advantage over walk-in testing sites is that the person being tested is isolated in his or her car and will not infect others or be infected by others. NY, IL, and Colorado have already commenced drive-in testing, and other states will likely follow. NY Governor Andrew Cuomo stated that testing can be set up by appointment. He called it “faster, easier, smarter and safer.”
- In a move that two months ago would have been considered unthinkable, a variety of public gatherings have been cancelled, postponed or curtailed. For example, in sports, the NCAA has cancelled the remainder of its games, including the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball championship tournaments, which are its biggest moneymakers; MLB is delaying opening its season; the NBA and NHL have suspended their remaining scheduled games; the PGA has cancelled many events and delayed the Masters Golf Tournament until the autumn; and NASCAR will be holding its races without fans in the stands. For many people who had had a cavalier attitude toward the virus this was a “wakeup call.” Moreover, many entertainment venues, including Broadway theatres, have cancelled scheduled shows; many colleges have closed and sent their students home; many public schools have suspended classes; movie theatres have begun to limit seating; theme parks, such as Disney, have closed; and weddings and Bar Mitvahs have been delayed. Many school classes, business meetings, and religious services will likely be held by virtual reality, rather than in person. Various businesses are encouraging employees to work from home. Furthermore, several states and foreign countries have passed laws limiting the number of persons in public gatherings ranging from 500 in NYC to ten in Israel. The adjustments to our lives seem to be endless and, in some cases, may prove to be permanent.
- Inevitably, some people have panicked. There have been several instances of “runs” on staples, such as milk and bread, even toilet paper as some people think they need to stock up. There have even been fistfights on some occasions. In my opinion, there is no reason for this, but it occurs all the time in a crisis.
- Some countries, for instance, Denmark, Poland, Israel and Czechoslovakia, have closed their borders. Mr. Trump had closed ours weeks ago. At the time, he was called a “racist” for doing so, but now it seems like a very prescient decision.
- Most of the victims have been elderly and/or persons with underlying health problems, such as respiratory problems, diabetes or heart problems. In a particularly poignant occurrence there was a report out of London of a newborn who had tested positive for the virus.
- There have been reports of a vaccine being ready for testing. I am aware of two – one in Israel and one by a company based in Boston. That is great news, but it is important to note that clinical trials can take several months.
So, how does the corona virus compare with the most recent pandemic in 2009, the swine flu, aka H1N1? Glad you asked. Read on.
According to WHO:
- There were 1.4 billion confirmed cases worldwide (61 million in the US) of the swine flu compared to 132,000 of the corona virus so far (some 1,300 in the US).
- Fatalities – 575,000 for swine flu (12,469 US) vs. about 5,000 for corona (36 and counting in the US).
- Of course, the Corona Virus has not yet run its course. Most experts predict a spike before it does, so beware.
- According to “Business Insider” the mortality rate for the swine flu was only .02%. Corona’s is estimated to be 3 – 4%. By contrast SARS mortality rate was 9.6%.
There is no doubt that the Corona virus is a serious outbreak. At first, it seemed to take us by surprise. Part of that was due to the Chinese government’s underreporting the severity of the outbreak and its laxity in dealing with it. However, as various governments and health organizations have begun to gear up, and people have begun to observe common sense precautions, it now appears that we will prevail. As I said above, we have prevailed over several pandemics in the past.
One disquieting note is that due to the shortage of testing equipment we don’t really know the extent of the outbreak. Additionally, we could develop a shortage of basic medical equipment, such as ventilators, and even hospital beds prospectively. Hopefully, we will rectify that soon.
Another potential problem is brewing in some cities, such as NY, LA, SF and Seattle, which have large groups of homeless people. They are living in dangerously unsanitary conditions. Many of them are in poor general health to begin with. These areas are a prime breeding ground for any disease, especially Corona. There is potential in these locations for a sizeable concentration of cases.
The other matter that irks me is that some have sought to politicize this outbreak by criticizing and blaming their political opponents. For example, (1) As noted above, President Trump was roundly criticized by his political enemies when he restricted travel into the US. Meanwhile, several other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, Spain and Italy have also done so, some early on and some later. (2) One of the “fake news” networks was complaining about a “lack of diversity” among the members of VP Pence’s task force. Really? Who cares? We need the best people whether they are white, black, brown or purple, male female or other, and it appears that we got them. (3) Furthermore, some were saying that referring to the outbreak as the “Chinese flu” was racist and insensitive. Another inanity. Where did the virus originate? China. In the past we have had the “Spanish flu” and the “Asian flu” based on the areas of origin. To me, the abovementioned criticisms were a totally irresponsible distraction.
Some politicians and members of the media have been engaging in fear-mongering. I believe that has contributed to the wild gyrations of the stock market and the “runs” on some products. Now is not the time for that. That is distracting and counterproductive. What the people need is to be reassured by calm, rational leadership. I think President Trump has struck exactly the right note. There is plenty of blame to go around. When this outbreak has been contained, then it would be appropriate to analyze what we did wrong and institute corrective action to guard against a recurrence. At this point, we have to all work together to solve the problem. Hopefully, we will.