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Expert: Washington ‘potentially on cusp of Wuhan 2.0’ with coronavirus

A pair of workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Epidemiologist Dr. Eric Ding spoke with KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show, stressing the need for massively increased safety measures in Washington state.

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“I think the Seattle area in Washington state is potentially on the cusp off being a Wuhan 2.0,” cautioned Dr. Ding, epidemiologist, health economist, and nutrition scientist at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health.

Dr. Ding worries that the state is following a similar pattern to how coronavirus was first handled in Wuhan, China, where the country was slow to ramp up testing and containment.

A recent report from the World Health Organization concludes that “much of the global community is not yet ready, in mindset and materially, to implement the measures that been employed to contain COVID-19 in China.”

That’s backed up by conclusions reached by King County health officials, which recently stated that Washington state’s capacity for coronavirus is “inadequate for the number of people who want to be tested.”

It’s that testing Dr. Ding sees as crucial to limiting the spread of coronavirus, helping state and federal agencies devise the best way to contain the illness.

“The key to stopping an epidemic is contact tracing, and finding those infected as soon as possible, not three or four weeks after the fact, like the first few cases [in Washington],” he detailed.

As it stands right now, the WHO report says that the only proven measures to minimize coronavirus transmission are “extremely proactive surveillance to immediately detect cases, very rapid diagnosis, immediate case isolation, rigorous tracking and quarantine of close contacts, and an exceptionally high degree of population understanding and acceptance of these measures.”

Dr. Ding also notes that the possibility of shutting down large events like Emerald City Comic Con in downtown Seattle should be something under “urgent consideration.” The yearly convention brought in 98,000 people in 2019, and plans to go forward as scheduled this year. However, tickets are refundable.

“This is where the difference between us becoming a runaway epidemic and a contained epidemic is social distancing,” he noted.

In terms of tracking the virus, UW Medicine is increasing its capacity to handle 1,000 tests a day. But even that, Ding warns, may not be sufficient.

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“One-thousand tests per day is a good start, but it’s nothing like what they’re doing in South Korea,” Dr. Ding described.

In South Korea, measures like drive-through testing have been implemented, vastly increasing the country’s capacity to test and track as many people as possible.

Washington state health officials announced Thursday that the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Washington has ballooned to 70 people. That includes 51 in King County, 18 in Snohomish County, and the first case in Grant County.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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