We’re all In This Together
Reports about the coronavirus offer hugely differing opinions. That the facts are in dispute isn’t surprising, since this is a novel virus that health systems around the world are fighting for the first time.
Still, some facts are agreed on.
As of March 1, the World Health Organization reported 87,000 confirmed cases, 2,989 deaths, and cases in 60 countries. 80,000 cases are confirmed in China with the death toll approaching 2,800. Still, the growth rate of new cases in China has slowed, likely due to highly restrictive quarantines the government has in place. The next most effected countries are South Korea (3,736 cases), Italy (1,128), Iran (593), Japan (239), Singapore (106), France (100) and the U.S. (62). This was on March 1, but by now the numbers will have grown.
China is in internal travel lockdown. Germany says it faces a coronavirus epidemic.
Italy, Iran, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, and France are taking massive preventative measures, including closing public spaces, some travel restrictions, and checks of people on the move.
The first coronavirus case was reported to the WHO in Wuhan, China on Dec. 31, 2019. The WHO declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on Jan. 30, 2020. At that time there were already known cases outside of China – Germany, Japan, Viet Nam, and the U.S. One month later, the first American death occurred in Washington State. There the virus has spread undetected in about six weeks and hundreds of new cases are expected. A first case has been confirmed in both New York City and Rhode Island, with health officials bracing for more.
Which brings up our national preparedness for the pandemic.
To head the government’s response Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence, who has no expertise in the area, and who as Governor of Indiana worsened an AIDs epidemic for political and fiscal reasons. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex M. Azar II, a lawyer, lobbyist, and also of Indiana, seems to be a typical Trump toady, saying of Trump’s appointment of Pence, “that’s genius.”
Trump has also muzzled Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, because Fauci publicly contradicted Trump’s downplaying of the situation. Fauci must now clear public statements through Pence, an act that replicates the public health disaster of official censorship in China, when early in the epidemic the state silenced doctors after they discussed the outbreak with colleagues. This not only enabled the virus to spread, it also took the life of Li Wenliang, one of the first doctors to speak out, who subsequently died from the virus.
Trump recently said that the virus “could get worse or better in the days and weeks ahead, but that nobody knows.” That’s not true. It will get worse and the U.S. is unprepared. Ignore for now budget cuts Trump proposed at the CDC. Ignore the firings of staff of the National Security Council pandemic team. Ignore the total chaos in our national response. Ignore that Trump’s entire administration is reminiscent of the Inquisition that tried and convicted Galileo for speaking scientific truth.
But don’t ignore this: The U.S. has made and sent out 15,000 coronavirus testing kits to cover the entire nation. That’s one kit for every 22,000 people in the U.S. Which means if an outbreak started now in Otsego County we’d have access to three kits.
Some 60,000 more kits are supposedly being made, meaning an upgrade to one kit for every 4,600 people. Even so, the odds of seeing a single kit here are unlikely. The kits are going to fifteen key cities where testing is now officially approved by the government. Since these are port-of-entry cities the risks there are obvious, but what about everyone else?
Why has this administration done almost nothing for two critical months? The answer is that it’s willfully ignorant of science and contemptuous of our citizenry. It only became concerned when the stock market started tanking. The one thing it can relate to is losing its own and its big donor money.
Should we be afraid? It appears to depend on which we value more: life or money.
Larry Bennett, recently retired Brewery Ommegang
creative director who is active in local causes, lives in East Meredith.