Coronavirus 19: Just the Facts

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.

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.

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.

However, according to the CDC there have only been 164 cases and 11 deaths.

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.


Padre Steve+




Filed under Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, News and current events, Political Commentary

12 responses to “Coronavirus 19: Just the Facts

  1. Good information, Padre! Thank you for taking the time to do all this research and give us the facts. I appreciate it.

  2. Great perspective yet again. 🙂 Coronavirus couldn’t have come along a more inconvenient time for Donald Trump. Perish the thought he might have to act presidential so soon after slithering out of impeachment. Surely the world knows hard truths conflict with election propaganda and perish the thought a global health crisis threatens to interrupt golf weekends in Florida.

  3. Steven

    Hey Padre,

    “This is a new form of Coronavirus, which can be transmitted from animals to humans.”

    Are you asserting that some strains of Coronoviruses (or virii) are transmitted by animals, or that COIVD-19 is?

    The data on whether or not COID-19 is spread by contact with animals is—to **MY** knowledge of the available facts, not in any way proved. So far as I know, the only animal testing has been “weak positive” with respect to dogs owned by those who were severely infected.

    In fact, so far as I know today, there is only one such verifiable case, and the dog was not seen as the vector to the human, but rather the human to the dog.

    Of course, Coronavirii (or viruses) DO ABSOLUTELY travel from animals to humans—the two you mention by their mnemonic—SARS and MERS—both did so. Others do not.

    I do not believe that “the problem” is that we live in a global economy; the issue is that the people upon whom the supply of JIT items relies are the people least well-protected and least-protectable from the virus. Like all working class folks, delivery workers cannot just “take a short vacation”; they do not get paid leave of any kind. They must be in serial contact with other wage-employees who also cannot take time off without ruinous results (what landlord would forgo a month’s rent, after all, or for-profit utility reduce a utility bill, for the sake of an ill wage-earner?

  4. padresteve

    I also did not state that it could be spread from humans to animals. There is no evidence of this and from everything I have read the are no cases of a Coronavirus jumping from a dog or cat to humans.

  5. As always.
    Fear is a bad advisor.

    Sensible, common sense information is not.
    Rare to find, so thank you for that.

    Humour is another way to deal with worry and anxiety.

    So in the words of the butcher mr. Jones in the British comedy ‘Dad’s Army”:

    • Steven


      Please do not speak down to me. My information is based on science, not fear. Your accusation—or assessment if I’m being generous—is baseless and lacks foundation.

      That the cases “came from a market” provides vector data, but DOES NOT establish origin or communicability. According to WHO, it is NOT an established fact that the vector was human consumption of “bush meat”.

      Maybe in your world open discussion is called “fear”, but around this blog, anyway, it’s called “sorting things out”.

      To be exactingly clear: SARS and MERS were animal-vector diseases. They were transmitted by close physical contact with the animal vector (for MERS it was Camels, for example).

      NO SUCH LINKAGE HAS BEEN FOUND for this strain of Coronavirus.


      • I’m sorry that I offended you.
        That wasn’t my intention at al

        English is a second language to me.
        To express my thoughts and opinions may be to harsh, lacking the finer sentiments.

        I was in fact complimenting you.
        Reading and re-reading what I have written before, I understand why you felt speaken down to.

      • Steven


        Apology accepted. I offer you **my** apology for my knee-jerk aggressive response.

        I could have responded with the same facts in a calmer, more thoughtful way. I chose not to, and that’s on me.


  6. padresteve

    Steven, I wasn’t specific as to which animals SARS and MERS came from, but the theory posited by the Chinese that people were illegally selling wild game in the fish market is a good starting point. They have to figure out what it came from. They know the epicenter, now it is time for some good scientific detective work to figure out how it came to infect humans and to develop a vaccine.

  7. Steven

    Hey Padre,

    Yes. In your defence, bush meat is infamous as a vector in Africa, and the Chinese believe that one of the factors making COID-19 so communicable is that it has a unusual means of attachment (something called a “cleavage site that involves tricking certain protiens in the attacked cell); one similar to that found in strains of Ebola (which is passed by contact with blood and blood byproducts like semen and mucus).

    My educated guess will be that the actual vector will turn out to be **handling** one of the species of bush meat (or whatever the Chinese call it) that carries the disease; like MERS and SARS, prolonged and close contact with the carrier animal.

    But not talking about (Mr. President) isn’t going to help **anyone**. Good on you for taking the snap.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s