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Haynes: Coronavirus concerns weigh on US health and economy

President Donald Trump with Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Alexander Haynes is an aspiring journalist raised in the northwest with a background in investigation and policy. He is a graduate of an internship program at KTSW 89.9 in San Marcos, Texas and will always have a new book recommendation for anyone who asks. He has been reporting on the ground from Hong Kong during the city’s recent protests and time of civil unrest.

On Dec. 12 in Wuhan, China, the first patients of coronavirus, at that time an unknown pathogen resembling SARS, began to linger in clinics and hospitals. After a month of dismissing the presence of nCoV-19 (with the disease known as COVID-19), China took precautionary measures in late January, as almost all of China went into lockdown for the duration of February.

Now in late February, the virus has become a pandemic, infecting 82,164 people globally (of which 32,831 are recovered) and resulting in 2,800 deaths (2,641 of which are in Hubei Province where Wuhan is) throughout 49 countries.

After Codogno Hospital mishandled patient zero, 438 active Italian cases have been discovered in four days – twelve people have already died. The first patients in Latin America have originated in Brazil from a man who had traveled to Italy, showing signs that travel bans may have to extend beyond China.

Iran has seen 139 cases arise officially, but has refused to lock down provinces for a week as officials are adamant the virus is under control. This is despite a member of parliament and the Deputy Health Minister both being infected.

South Korea has seen exponential growth in the span of a week, going from a handful of cases last week, to 1,595 active cases, including a member of the United States military.

Note: The numbers reflected are current as of 2/26/20 at 8:34 p.m. PST. South Korean cases are still increasing due to 200,000 people undergoing tests.

From a United States perspective, nCoV-19 has been mostly a disruption in the global supply chain, resulting in the Dow Jones drop 2,030 points Monday through Wednesday. The concern will soon spread beyond financials, and to public health as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced Tuesday that people should prepare for outbreaks across the United States.

As testing resumed on Wednesday, the first case with no known origin was confirmed in Northern California on Wednesday evening. Early reports appear that the CDC measures may have been insufficient, leading UC Davis Medical to mishandle patient zero.

Although the United States has only sixteen cases, people have not been tested for the past two weeks due to bad test kits, with the total number of tested people remaining at a dismal 445.

Only six labs nation-wide can test for nCoV-19, with strong concerns that a high cost of the test – possibly running in the thousands of dollars – will keep those without adequate health insurance from bringing concerns to their doctor. The United Kingdom has shown a model of prevention, with all patients presenting flu like symptoms undergoing testing as of Wednesday.

There are also may be inadequate facilities to control or quarantine an epidemic in several cities. Washington state’s pandemic influenza plan has not been updated since March 2006. The plan estimates that 35 percent of Washingtonians could need, “special medical care” in the worst-case pandemic. Systems could be stressed within a week – total beds, not even isolation units, at Valley Medical Center, Overlake, Swedish, and Providence roughly equal a mere 1,200.

With 80 percent of cases presenting mild symptoms (fever, headache, cough, mild pneumonia), the key is to prevent cases from developing into severe symptoms (pneumonia that requires intensive care respiratory aid).

Critical cases stress the medical system, and lead to an increase in deaths as well as an influx of exhausted doctors and nurses being infected. The overall recovery time – two weeks for mild cases, up to six weeks for severe – can add additional long-term strain as a second and third wave of patients hit.

National preparedness thus far may be inadequate, as lawmakers cite the White Houses’ $2.5 billion request for emergency preparedness as not enough. In a Tuesday hearing, White House officials were chided by Republicans and Democrats for appearing to be lackadaisical with concern and information on nCoV-19.

In a Wednesday evening White House press conference, it was announced Vice President Mike Pence would be appointed czar of the country’s nCoV-19 response. President Trump did comment that more aid may be requested, but has come under further criticism for stating community spread is not inevitable; moments later, the mishandled California case was declared.

The urgency for funding is not only to prepare for a 2020 outbreak, but for a cure and vaccine. Epidemiologists are now predicting that nCoV-19 will return alongside the yearly flu and cold. The virus will be particularly difficult to curtail in west China due to the Pangolin, the world’s most illegally smuggled animal, testing positive as an animal host.

In response to these findings, China’s National People’s Congress has adopted a definitive ban on the illegal trade of animals.

Although one company has already begun animal testing one vaccine, human testing will not begin until late 2020, and not for consumption and worldwide packaging until summer 2021. In the meantime, U.S. and Washington state doctors will have to prevent spread and treat any cases with the utmost care.

A sudden resurgence of the devastating disease measles in 2019 tested Washington state’s resources, giving health providers confidence they can readily apply lessons and principles to a COVID-19 outbreak.

On Wednesday, Governor Jay Inslee announced he is working to create a surveillance system to monitor contacts of confirmed cases; further, that he is willing to take drastic measures to ensure public safety.

If anyone has symptoms or questions, they are urged to call the CDC at 1-800-525-0127.

You can follow Alexander Haynes’ reporting from China on Twitter, at @ACLHaynes.

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