Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Update on coronavirus in the U. S.

Olivia Messer at the Daily Beast reports on The Terrifying Reality of Trump’s Coronavirus Promise. “Now is the time for businesses, hospitals, communities, and schools to be preparing,” a top U.S. health official said.

As U.S. officials worked to shatter international records by sending a vaccine for the new, deadly coronavirus to phase one clinical trials, they also urged Americans to prepare for the worst.

Meanwhile, experts poked new holes in the federal response so far to an illness that appeared to be on the cusp of a major national outbreak.

There were 57 total confirmed cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus in the United States at last count on Tuesday morning, according to Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That tally included 14 patients picked up through the American health system and 43 more repatriated to the United States from the Diamond Princess cruise ship or State Department-chartered flights.

Messonnier said in a call with reporters that community spread—when cases are detected in an area but the source of the infection is not known—was inevitable in the United States, despite what she described as an ongoing “aggressive containment strategy.” The disease, which originated in Wuhan, China has sickened 80,000 people globally and killed at least 2,663 people in mainland China and a growing number of other countries.

The CDC’s approach, as Messonnier reiterated Tuesday, has been primarily to slow the introduction of the virus into the U.S. by identifying cases as early as possible and then isolating those patients and tracking all of their contacts. But that will only go so far, as experts on Tuesday pointed to the potential for a major surge in new cases of the deadly illness, as well as a larger domestic crisis that could upend millions of lives.

“This whole situation may seem overwhelming, and disruption to everyday life may be severe, but these are things we should be thinking about now,” Messonnier said. “You should be thinking about what you would do if schools or daycares close. Is telecommuting an option for you?”

“Now is the time for businesses, hospitals, communities, and schools to be preparing,” she added.

President Donald “Nero” Trump fiddles

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump on Tuesday played down concerns about the outbreak, suggesting once again that he believed “that’s a problem that’s going to go away” in the warmer months and promising the American public that “we are very close to a vaccine.” (White House officials later claimed he was referring to a vaccine for Ebola, rather than the novel coronavirus.)

In the morning email, Judd Legum weighs in at about the “Political Infection.”

The coronavirus has killed thousands of people worldwide and is threatening to sabotage the global economy. But Trump and his allies view the coronavirus primarily as a political problem. They are worried that concerns about the virus will cause an economic slowdown that will damage Trump’s prospects for reelection. So Trump is eager to downplay the threat to Americans.

Trump tweeted that the coronavirus is “very much under control,” citing the Center for Disease Control (CDC), as the authority.

But just hours later, the CDC made it clear that the coronavirus is not under control, and urged Americans to prepare for a major outbreak.

In these circumstances, chaos and confusion are dangerous. Americans are receiving conflicting messages from their government at a time when they need accurate information, based on the best available science.

Trump, however, does not listen to experts. He listens to the right-wing media.

Biomedicine at breakneck speed

True, but likely it’s not fast enough. Back to the Daily Beast …

It is true that a possible vaccine for the virus is set to enter a phase one clinical trial in April after authorities learned the virus’s genetic sequence in January. That would break global records even with the likelihood for a real-world use remaining 12 to 18 months away. Biotech company Moderna said on Monday that it had shipped the first batch of potential vaccine samples to government researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to start human trials on 20 to 25 healthy volunteers. But even if the first study of Moderna’s possible vaccine is positive—which is not a given—one still may not be widely available until next year after more studies and regulatory clearances, according to the Institute’s director, Anthony Fauci.

“I am frustrated—as I know many of you are—that we have had issues with the tests,” said the CDC’s Messonnier. “As important as speed is, it is more important that we make sure the results are correct.”

Economic and Political Effects

John Cassidy writes in The New Yorker As Coronavirus Spreads, Stocks Fall Again and the White House Frets about a Black Swan. He highlights some consequences of the possible spread of the coronavirus in the U. S.

Behind the scenes, [Trump] has “voiced his own anxieties, rebuking public health leaders over last week’s decision to fly home 14 Americans who tested positive for the virus while aboard a cruise ship in Japan,” as Politico reported on Friday. According to the Washington Post, Trump “again became irate after learning over the weekend that federal officials planned to house some coronavirus patients in an Alabama facility despite protests from local officials.”

From a political perspective, the virus presents two threats to the President. If covid–19 spreads inside the United States, the White House could be held responsible for botching its response to the virus’s outbreak. Democrats are already sharpening their knives. “The Trump Administration has been asleep at the wheel,” Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, said on Monday, on the Senate floor. “President Trump, good morning! There’s a pandemic of coronavirus. Where are you?”

The other threat to Trump is an economic one. If the stumble in the stock market is a one-off event, it won’t have much impact politically. But, if Wall Street goes into an extended slide, or if the broader economy gets hit badly as the virus spreads, it could change the political environment going into the election.

BTW - the “black swan” is “a term for low-probability events that have hard-to-predict effects.”

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