Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
I have been working on this article for two days in order to check sources and facts and to try to find the best sources of information for my readers.
The novel Coronavirus, or COVID 19 is now spreading at a rapid rate around the world, after beginning in and wreaking havoc in China, especially Wuhan City and Hudei Province where it began. The first death was reported by China to the World Health Organization on December 31st 2019. By the end of January the total number of infections numbered nearly 12,000, with 259 deaths. The Chinese Communist leadership tried to minimize the outbreak in its official communications, and finally, after delaying, enacted draconian measures to contain the spread of the virus, slowing its advance and buying time for other nations to take action. Even so the outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public
Coronaviruses can range from the common cold to more serious diseases, This is a new form of Coronavirus, which can be transmitted from animals to humans. Two of the more recent Coronavirus are were the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Since the World Health Organization declaration at the end of January the total number of cases number nearly 110,000, with over 3800 deaths. Cases have been reported in 103 countries on every continent. However, the numbers are certainly under the actual totals, as many countries, including the United States do not have enough testing kits to detect every case and the incubation period where an asymptotic infected person (someone not showing symptoms but who is infected) can be up to 14 days, and in a few outlying cases 19 days or more. Depending on the country the average incubation period is 5-6 days. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
Politics and inept actions in Washington, beginning with the President’s refusal to treat the outbreak as anything serious, and the administration’s initial response to ban non-U.S. residents from China from entering the country helped squander the time bought in China, despite that travelers from the infected region had been traveling around the world for weeks.
This was compounded by flaws in the CDC’s test kits which were discovered by clinicians which led to inconclusive results. It took most of February to troubleshoot the issue and begin deploying the CDC kits. The administration promised a million kits by the beginning of March, but fewer that 100,000 have been issued. Likewise, outside of the CDC the only a dozen research medical centers had the capability to produce their own kits, and the FDA, which is in charge of quality control standards for commercially produced kits and medicines was not brought into the effort until the end of February.
The delay meant that a very stealthy and hard to discover virus, 1/70th the size of a human blood cell, was loose in the United States without means to test for it in the midst of cold and flu symptoms, many of which it mimicked. It is highly contagious and there is no vaccine for it, and most experts don’t believe that there will be one for some time.
The only way to stop the spread is to keep people apart, for weeks because of the slow incubation period. The draconian measures to contain the virus by quarantining a large province have been the only thing that has slowed the rate of new infections. Italy, which has seen a massive spike in infections and deaths has quarantined Lombardy and the 12 nearby provinces. This is the industrial heartland of Italy, and the effect on the Italian economy will be great, as well as on companies which rely on the region for vital products.
As of today the United States has tested less than 2000 people for the virus, but the CDC removed numbers tested from their website on March 2nd. This was probably a political move as it occurred shortly after Vice President Pence was designated to lead the fight against the virus. Shortly after Pence was named, it was announced that no Federal Government Health agency, civilian or military should release any information without clearing it with the Vice President first. The optics of this make it look like the administration is deliberately withholding information that could prove damaging to it and the President.
Even as the virus spread exponentially over the past week the President and the CDC are underplaying it. According to EU data, COVID-19 has been confirmed in 32 American states. According to CDC, it’s 19. According to Johns Hopkins tracker, there are 516 confirmed cases and 21 deaths. This is in large part due to the few tests conducted in the United States. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map
However, according to the CDC there have only been 164 cases and 11 deaths. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-in-us.html
The President still speaks as if there is no threat and downplays warnings from scientists and doctors. He surrounds himself with yes men who dare not cross him. He has done that in almost every branch of the Executive Branch, and now lives are at stake, as he, as he always does, knows more about the subject than experts. On Friday, Trump commented at Mar-a-Lago:
“I’m not concerned at all,” the president said when asked about Coronavirus getting closer to White House. “We’ll hold tremendous rallies,” he said — rallies will continue.“
Such rallies, while they boast the President’s ego, will endanger the lives of his supporters.
A report by a research group in Washington State suggested that based on genetic similarities between the first person diagnosed in the state and the United States, who had traveled to China, and a teenager in the same county who tested positive recently, that the virus could have been spreading undetected in Washington for up to six weeks. They considered their results “statistically significant.”
The spread of the virus has not been good for the global economy, and after over a month and a half of living in denial the world financial markets have taken major hits. The Dow Jones is down almost 4000 points; and other U.S. and foreign exchanges are losing similar amounts of their value. Likewise, bonds are down, oil is down, and the Federal Reserve dropped the Prime Rate by a quarter of a point to try to prop up the economy and prevent a recession, but there is little else they can do. The rates are nearly as low as they can go, and the Trump tax cuts when the economy was good have ballooned the budget deficit and national debt, so there is little wiggle room to pump up the economy.
However, the real problem is that we now live in a global economy, which is linked via supply chains dependent on the rapid movement of parts, materials, and manufactured goods, because most companies now rely on “just in time” supply systems rather than maintaining large inventories. Supply disruptions will be a major part of any recession, because they will lead to closed factories, stores, and put many people out of work. It will be a recession unlike any other we have experienced. Commerce is based on people coming together, and if governments “pull out all the stops” to contain the virus as the World Health Organization has urged, countries will have to do what China did and Italy is doing. Factories will shut down, entertainment venues will close, stores dependent on delivery of goods from across state or international boundaries will shutter as interstate travel and movement is banned with exception of absolutely essential items, and people will stop going to restaurants. Based on his actions so far I cannot see President Trump taking those kinds of actions.
There are also national security concerns, the virus could hurt American military readiness, and ability to train and deploy forces. Depending on how bad things get, it could cause social and political disruptions in countries where economies are on the edge, and where race based populist movements enjoy significant influence. Such movements often repress racial and religious minorities at home, and seek conflicts with their neighbors to settle old scores, or to take control of contested areas.
Hard decisions have to be made if this outbreak is to be stopped from becoming a major epidemic. The number will certainly be safe.
I will write about my experiences during the AIDs outbreak and dealing with it as both a Medical Service Corps officer in 1987-88, as a civilian hospital chaplain at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas from 1993 to the end of 1995, as well as as an ICU Chaplain during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2008-2009.
So until tomorrow, be safe, stay informed, and prepare. If you are sick, try not to expose others and seek medical treatment, and by the way, wash your hands.