The US Is Not Prepared For Coronavirus; We Need To Take Action

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) is in its very early stages in the United States so it is too early to predict its full impacts. The World Health Organization reports that COVID-19 has stricken more than 86,000 people around the world, killing nearly 3,000 and has spread to at least 60 countries. The global march of COVID-19 looks unstoppable.

On Friday, three new patients in California, Oregon and Washington State who had not traveled outside of the US were diagnosed with COVID-19, suggesting community transmission in the US has begun. The first death in the US happened this weekend in Washington State. The Times reports that “flawed test kits distributed to states by the CDC and strict criteria initially used for identifying potential cases may have slowed detection of the virus spreading within communities across the country.” The virus is likely to spread to every corner of the nation.

The economic impact of the COVID-19 virus, which has already wiped out $6 trillion in global wealth, $4 trillion in the US,  is beginning to take effect. On Wall Street, the Dow Jones index closed down nearly 360 points on Friday. The index has dropped more than 14% from a recent high, making this the market’s worst week since the 2008 global financial crisis. Europe’s economy is already teetering on the edge of recession. If COVID-19 becomes a global pandemic, economists expect the impact could be much worse, with the US and other global economies falling into recession. The White House is considering tax cuts and pressure on the Federal Reserve in response, but these are not likely to provide relief.

The real issue is health. COVID-19 will be a challenge for the fragmented US health system where tens of millions of people do not have adequate access to healthcare. The US is poorly prepared for an epidemic. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates the flu has resulted in between 9 million to 45 million illnesses, between 140,000 to 810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths annually since 2010. And, that is not an epidemic like COVID-19 could become. COVID-19 has a 2 percent death rate, 20 times higher than the influenza virus.

If the virus spreads, it will highlight the danger of healthcare inequality in the US as millions of people without insurance will delay seeking care and spread the disease to family, neighbors, and co-workers. The profit-driven system will make access to medicine expensive and out-of-reach-for many. And the lack of paid sick leave will make it impossible for workers, particularly in the service sector, to stay home and avoid infecting others. The demand for National Improved Medicare for all and other necessities must be stronger.

At a news conference at the Washington state Department of Health’s Public Health Laboratories on Tuesday, Dr. Satish Pillai of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention joined other health professionals to discuss what they know about the first confirmed U.S. case of 2019 novel coronavirus, discovered Monday in a Snohomish County resident. At left are Washington state Health Secretary Dr. John Wiesman and Gov. Jay Inslee. (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)

The US Is Not Well Prepared For A Viral Epidemic

A 2019 report by CSIS Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security found “the United States remains woefully ill-prepared to respond to global health security threats.” The report predicted what is occurring now in our globalized world: ” Outbreaks proliferate that can spread swiftly across the globe and become pandemics, disrupting supply chains, trade, transport, and ultimately entire societies and economies.”

The report recommended building the response to global health pandemics at the National Security Council and other agencies, increasing investment in preparedness, producing vaccines and other measures. Rather than heeding these recommendations, the Trump administration has done the opposite. In May 2018, Rear Adm. Tim Ziemer, the head of global health security on the White House’s National Security Council, left the Trump administration,  one day after an Ebola outbreak was declared in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This was part of the entire pandemic response chain of command being removed.  Also in 2018, Trump fired Tom Bossert, homeland security adviser responsible for coordinating the response to global pandemics. His job has remained vacant.

While Trump has made serious errors, the 2019 report points to successive administrations writing, “Over several successive administrations, the White House has seldom exercised sufficiently authoritative, high-level leadership, creating acute threats to U.S. national interests when dangerous outbreaks occur at home and abroad. U.S. programs on global health security are fragmented, scattered across diverse executive agencies, and not clearly prioritized.”

The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board  of the World Health Organization and World Bank found the threat from pandemics “is growing, and the world is not prepared.” In  October 2019, the Global Health Security Index concluded that “collectively, international preparedness is weak.”

This week, National Nurses United sounded the alarm that the US is not prepared for the spread of the COVID-19 virus. They point to many problems including the lack of health care workers. In one case at the UC Davis Medical Center, a “patient admitted to the facility on Feb. 19 has now led to the self-quarantine at home of at least 36 RNs and 88 other health care workers.” One case resulted in 124 health professionals being unavailable.

National Nurses United is conducting a survey of registered nurses across the country on hospital preparedness and will be releasing those results next week. Preliminary results from more than 1,000 nurses in California are worrisome:

  • Only 27 percent report that there is a plan in place to isolate a patient with a possible novel coronavirus infection. 47 percent report they don’t know if there is a plan.
  • Only 73 percent report that they have access to N95 respirators on their units; 47 percent report access to powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) on their units.
  • Only 27 percent report that their employer has sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) stock on hand to protect staff if there is a rapid surge in patients with possible coronavirus infections; 44 percent don’t know.

Inadequate training and equipment are already a serious problem. A whistleblower reported that a dozen workers were “improperly deployed” to two California military bases receiving Americans evacuated from coronavirus-impacted areas. They were given neither training nor protective gear for handling the possibly high-risk patients. The whistleblower alleged that HHS officials shot down her concerns and on Feb. 15 threatened to fire her if she did not accept a reassignment. The workers who may have been exposed to the coronavirus were able to travel freely among the public, the complaint reportedly said.

The New York Times did an in-depth analysis of how prepared the US is for a coronavirus outbreak and found many areas of vulnerability including critical shortages of respirators and masks.  They note that a 2005 CDC report estimated that a severe influenza pandemic would require mechanical ventilators for 740,000 critically ill people. The US only has 62,000 full-featured ventilators available in hospitals across the country. They also report there could be acute shortages of health workers to operate ventilators and care for patients, hospital beds, masks, and other protective equipment.

Because of shortfalls, some hospitals are making provisions for rationing including removing some patients from ventilators to make way for others presumed to have a better chance of survival. Further, plans would limit access of some patients “from critical care or even hospitalization during a peak pandemic based on criteria such as their age or an underlying chronic disease.” Of course, rural and poor communities will be impacted the most by lack of resources.

The US has a total of 6,146 hospitals with 924,107 beds. There are 36,353,946 admissions annually. In rural towns across the US, communities are in crisis due to hospital closings. There have also been hospital closings in urban areas.  The Times reports Gary Cox, the Oklahoma health commissioner, said reopening rural hospitals that had closed in recent years was an option under consideration and the state was also exploring the idea of using recreational vehicles to house people who have tested positive for the virus but do not need hospital care. The DoD and CDC have approved at least 15 US military bases as quarantine camps.

Another major problem area is the accurate communication of information. The CDC has a 65-page manual on how the agency should communicate during a health crisis, which includes sharing scientific information “in an open, timely, and appropriate way.” But, the White House has taken over communication around COVID-19. The Washington Post reported that a government employee faced retaliation for raising concerns about unsafe assessment of potentially-infected individuals. The New York Times reports that public communications about the virus from CDC scientists will need “clearance.”  Anthony Fauci, a senior NIH official and physician-scientist, had to cancel several television appearances after the vice president gave him a gag order.

COVID-19 Demonstrates the Need for Improved Medicare for All

Universal access to healthcare through National Improved Medicare for All (NIMA) would make a tremendous difference in both controlling the spread of the virus as well as making sure people receive the treatment they need. Today, more than 27 million people in the US do not have insurance.  Tens of millions more are underinsured – 45 percent of working-age adults, or 87 million people, were either underinsured or had no coverage for at least part of the last year. 

People with inadequate insurance have financial barriers to healthcare. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports the average deductible among covered workers is $1,500 for an individual and $3,000 for a familyTwenty percent have high deductible plans that cost $3000 for an individual or $5000 for a family. Half of US adults say they or a family member put off or skipped some sort of health care in the last year. Even for people who obtain insurance through the Affordable Care Act, the average deductible is $4,000.

As a result, even if you are among the small percentage of the population that has very robust health insurance, you are at risk for getting COVID-19 because people with symptoms will not go to the doctor to be tested and treated because they fear the risk of bankruptcy. Healthcare costs are the major cause of bankruptcy in the United States with 530,000 bankruptcies annually linked to medical illness. 

The signs of COVID-19 are highly non-specific and include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and viral pneumonia. A diagnostic test is a key tool in determining whether someone has the virus along with clinical observation, the patient’s medical and travel history, and contacts. At the low end, the cost of the test is $250, and at the high end, it’s $1,500 or more. 

The case of a Miami man shows why underinsured people will not seek healthcare. He had viral symptoms and went to be tested. He tested negative but received a bill from his insurance company for $3,270.   He would be responsible for $1,400 of that bill, but the insurer required additional documentation: three years of medical records to prove the flu he got didn’t relate to a preexisting condition. This individual is typical of many people in the US. He earns about $55,000 a year working for a medical device company that does not offer health insurance. He purchased an inexpensive policy that cost $180 per month for a limited plan.  

NIMA would ensure that every person had access to necessary tests, care, and medications including a coronavirus vaccine when one is developed. The government is going to invest at least $1 billion in the development of a vaccine but Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, said they could not ensure it would be affordable saying, “we can’t control that price because we need the private sector to invest.” Azar served as the top lobbyist for Eli Lilly before becoming president of the drug company’s US operations in 2012. Azar earned nearly $2 million during his last year at Lilly at a time when the cost of its drugs went up significantly, e.g. insulin sold by the company more than doubled in price The actions of Lilly during his tenure resulted in lawsuit filed in 2017.

Azar is emblematic of the pharmaceutical industry, one of the most profitable sectors of the economy. He is one of many people on President Trump’s coronavirus task force who has conflicts of interest due to ties to for-profit healthcare. Another task force member is Joseph Grogan, a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences before he joined the Trump administration as director of the Domestic Policy Council.  Gilead announced last week that it would be starting two clinical trials of an antiviral drug that could be used to treat the virus and the company’s stock price surgedOf the task force’s 16 members — 17, if you include Vice President Mike Pence, only four have any training in science or medicine.

Another member of the task force, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, said the coronavirus virus created business opportunities as it “will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America.” The first action of Pence, who leads the task force, was to go on the Rush Limbaugh show to praise the actions of President Trump and to reassure the financial markets. It is evident from Pence’s actions and the make-up of the commission that the response to COVID-19 is more about politics than health. 

When a public health system like NIMA is put in place, then other policies change. Employment policies would make a tremendous difference in stopping the spread of the virus. A study of 22 countries by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found all countries offered at least nine sick days with full pay, the US does not require any paid sick time for workers. On average, Americans who do have paid sick days are entitled to up to seven days per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, nearly four in 10 workers—43.5 million people—don’t have any paid sick leave.

Research shows that flu rates fell by about 40 percent in US cities that mandated sick pay. People who cannot stay home when they have symptoms spread illness to co-workers, customers, and others they come into contact with. People in the US want paid sick leave and family leave, but corporate America blocks it. With the potential of COVID-19, the country will pay a heavy price for that greed. The US and other nations have implemented mandatory 14-day quarantine measures for returning travelers and residents who may have been exposed to the virus in China. Without sick leave, how will workers tolerate being quarantined?

The Fate Of COVID-19 In The United States Is In Our Hands

COVID-19 is expected to be widespread in the United States by mid-March. Without competent leadership and a universal healthcare system, it is up to us to take action in our communities. One of the simplest things to do is to make sure people are aware of how the virus spreads and how to protect themselves. It is spread by droplets that land on surfaces when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus can stay alive for several days on surfaces. If someone touches a contaminated surface and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes, they can become infected.

We should all avoid coughing or sneezing openly. Use a tissue or your clothing if that’s all you have. Wash your hands frequently. Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes. Stay in if you have symptoms of a cold and avoid people who have cold symptoms. Contact your doctor if your symptoms worsen. While most people who contract COVID-19 will recover from it, the death rate is much higher than the flu virus, which has already killed 14,000 people in the US this season, and so we must do what we can to limit its spread. People who are older and have compromised health are the most vulnerable. Check the CDC for up to date information.

We must also be prepared for a possible recession. It is time now to reach out to others in your community to make plans for mutual aid to reduce the suffering that will occur. This time, it may be much worse because we have high debt and a weaker economic foundation. But together, we can get through this and use it as an opportunity to demand more such as National Improved Medicare for All, public banks, a stronger social safety net and diversion of military spending to transition to a green energy economy.

NOTE: The article was edited on March 2, 2020 to reflect that while President Trump has consistently proposed major cuts in funding to the CDC, Congress has not approved those cuts. However, prior to President Trump, plans were put in place to cut grants to states and local areas for disease management.

  • voza0db

    Ok! You guys need to get serious… Talking about a weak flu virus like he is some kind of real threat to umankind is just to funny.

    I’m going to copy/paste in the ORIGINAL language (Italian) so don’t be sad.

    «Dal 14 ottobre 2019 al 9 febbraio 2020 abbiamo avuto 5 milioni e 18.000 casi, ovvero il 9% della popolazione italiana, con 300 morti dirette e da 4.000 a 10.000 indirette. Non voglio sminuire l’attenzione che c’è attualmente sul Coronavirus, ma la problematica è rappresentata da una casistica appena superiore all’influenza stagionale. Il problema è più di organizzazione sanitaria perché stiamo avendo in un periodo molto breve molti casi critici». Lo ha detto Maria Rita Gismondo, direttore del laboratorio di Virologia dell’ospedale Sacco, a Sky Tg24.

    Regular FLU (even with vaccines) KILLS A LOT MORE than this miserable CoViD-19!
    Even in the USofT…
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2799b4dbae70dd1a765b116ce8ac7abbadcfb918cfaf3a4c802dfe528bbe1a58.jpg

    I’m just wanting to see what are the actions the SRF & Friends are making behind the scenes using this lovely distraction.

    By any chance do you guys know what is the rate of false positives for the tests they are using?!

  • voza0db

    You guys should be happy about this “The economic impact of the COVID-19 virus, which has already wiped out $6 trillion in global wealth, $4 trillion in the US, is beginning to take effect.

    Financial Terrorists “losing” [fake] wealth is a good thing for POPULAR RESISTANCE…

  • ari9999

    NPR has reported that the US has so far tallied 36 deaths from this new virus. I wish corporate media at the same time would remind audiences that:

    >> Congress members’ refusal to enact single-payer universal healthcare (such as HR 1384) is killing 37,000 to over 68,000 people a year. That’s well over 100 men, women and children a day.

    >> Similarly, Congress does nothing while gun violence costs us another 100 lives a day. The body bags keep piling up.

    The blood, vomit and spittle of every victim is on the hands of every Congress member who refuses to act NOW.

    We don’t know who will needlessly perish next, which families will be grieving, which communities will be holding funerals. Only that they will. This is called stochastic murder — a type of homicide for which no one is charged with a crime but, arguably, should be.

  • Steven Gaylord

    Youtube has been blocking videos having to do with this coronavirus and Vitamin C. So what does this tell you?

  • Thank you for this important information. I’m not seeing important information anywhere else!

  • pajarito

    So timely and practical, thank you Margaret and Kevin for your leadership and commitment
    to NIMA . Preparing for and practicing pandemic social protocols from hand shaking to being in enclosed spaces with many people will take time and practice. As you have pointed out in past writing, the Chinese are leading the way in containment of the virus.

  • NOTgaltHouse

    When I hit 86,000 times 2% I get 1720. 86,000 times 3.5% gives me 3010. Is my calculator wrong ?

  • voza0db

    The same old… Keep the dumb slaves away from a balanced Health!

    Enjoy the following


    Here is a verified official statement from China’s Xi’an Jiaotong University Second Hospital:

    “On the afternoon of February 20, 2020, another 4 patients with severe coronavirus pneumonia recovered from the C10 West Ward of Tongji Hospital. In the past 8 patients have been discharged from hospital. . .

    [H]igh-dose vitamin C achieved good results in clinical applications. We believe that for patients with severe neonatal pneumonia, and for critically ill patients, vitamin C treatment should be initiated as soon as possible after admission.

    Numerous studies have shown that the dose of vitamin C has a lot to do
    with the effect of treatment. High-dose vitamin C can not only improve
    antiviral levels, but more importantly, can prevent and treat acute lung
    injury (ALI) and acute respiratory distress (ARDS).”

    Here is a report from Korea:
    “At my hospital in Daegu, South Korea, all inpatients and all staff members have been using vitamin C orally since last week. Some people this week had a mild fever, headaches and coughs, and those who had symptoms got 30,000 mg intravenous vitamin C.

    Some people got better after about two days, and most had symptoms go
    away after one injection.” (Hyoungjoo Shin, M.D.)

    There are at least three high-dose intravenous vitamin C studies underway in China. Literally by the truckload, tons of vitamin C has been sent into Wuhan.

    Here is a report from a physician in China:

    “We need to broadcast a message worldwide very quickly: Vitamin C (small or large dose) does no harm to people and is the one of the few, if not the only, agent that has a chance to prevent us from getting, and can treat, COVID-19 infection.
    When can we, medical doctors and scientists, put patients’ lives first?” (Richard Z. Cheng, MD, PhD, International Vitamin C China Epidemic Medical Support Team Leader)

    News media attacks on vitamin C are centered on false allegations of dangers with megadoses. This tactic lets the media ignore the truth that even LOW doses of vitamin C reduce symptoms and death rates. Do not let the media spin this issue. Advocates of vitamin C are medical doctors, not spin doctors. They are experienced, credentialed clinicians who have read the science, a small
    sample of which follows:

    Even small supplemental amounts of vitamin C can keep severely ill patients from dying.
    [Hunt C et al. Int J Vitam Nutr Res 1994;64:212-19.]

    Infants with viral pneumonia treated with vitamin C had reduced mortality.
    [Ren Shiguang et al. Hebei Medicine 1978,4:1-3]

    Moderate doses of vitamin C shortened ICU stay by 97% in a subgroup of 1,766 patients
    [Hemilä H, Chalker E. Nutrients. 2019 Mar 27;11:4.]

    200 mg of vitamin C reduced duration of severe pneumonia in children. Oxygen saturation was improved in less than one day.
    [Khan IM et al. J Rawalpindi Med Coll (JRMC); 2014;18(1):55-57]

    I’ve made myself several tests and I’ve been taking at least 1gr/day of Vit.C for years now. Since this simple action I’ve never again add fevers or the need to remain in bed due to viral infection. Before this action every single year in the Winter I had an infection with fever and at least two/three days of bed time.

  • voza0db

    Never mind the numbers! Scoundrels enjoy playing with them… If just from October 1, 2019 to February 15, 2020 the CDC says (estimate) that the FLU killed between 16,000 – 41,000 and up there one reads “… and between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths annually since 2010.” clearly the scoundrels aren’t good at math!

  • inihuaren

    Margaret and Kevin, what can we, American citizens, do when our government is so pathetic in protecting its people from this soon to be pandemic? I live in Las Vegas NV and just got an email from a 91 year old friend. Rice is sold out in many supermarkets on the rumor that people must stock up against the virus. She finally got to buy a bag at hiked price! ! Maybe Americans should petition each state to issue clearer guideline on how to avoid infection, provide protective suit for health care workers (we don’t have enough of them), guidelines on how to self quarantine even a whole building when infection are confirmed, and issue severe punishment for price hikes of basic preventive equipment, medicine and food. We need to mobilize ourselves to avoid an epidemic that will kill our own economy. This is not the time to play politics nor debate ideological differences between us and China. Whether we like it or not, China’s drastic measures really lower the number of new infection in less than 3 months. If we learn from its success and mistakes we could also save our country fast.

  • squanto pilgrim

    the Zionist Jews who control Palestine are responsible for this virus, why is no one mentioning this?

  • voza0db

    My other comment… WENT TO THE SPAM category! Just another way of deleting comments!

    Here it is in picture format…
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/582e62618e6c38e8c8ed3f6057c6eeaf62e4aae5d8aa6e190d6516c265a467ac.jpg

  • jwreitter

    These deadly viruses start in Asia because people have close contact with animals like ducks and geese in their homes, and from eating dead animals. We need to rethink our relationship with animals for food. All animals have rights, just like cats and dogs. They are not for us to eat. Animals are carriers of viruses that they are immune from. It is bad enough when we catch these deadly viruses. But when viruses mutate and adapt to humans and migrate from human to human this causes pandemics that may one day become unstoppable.

  • Helen4Yemen

    America had for many decades been looking around the globe looking

    for vulnerable victims to bomb and destroy. The bombings and the

    destruction were always proceeded by very scary and menacing

    statements such as: all options are on the table, “locked and

    loaded”, shock&awe. I’m hoping that this virus will be humbling to

    the arrogant American empire and they may want to think before being

    so menacing to the rest of the world.

  • chetdude

    Probably because that isn’t true.

    It’s more likely that the global Forever Wars to steal resources for the few is primarily responsible…

  • chetdude

    “what is the rate of false positives for the tests they are using?!” for Covid-19.

    Very good question…

  • voza0db

    When I read studies stating the following I just don’t trust the tests!

    “Results

    All 4 patients were exposed to the novel 2019 coronavirus through work as medical professionals. Two were male and the age range was 30 to 36 years. Among 3 of the patients, fever, cough, or both occurred at onset. One patient was initially asymptomatic and underwent thin-section CT due to exposure to infected patients. All patients had positive RT-PCR test results and CT imaging showed ground-glass opacification or mixed ground-glass opacification and consolidation. The severity of disease was mild to moderate.

    Antiviral treatment (75 mg of oseltamivir taken orally every 12 hours) was provided for the 4 patients. For 3 of the patients, all clinical symptoms and CT imaging abnormalities had resolved. The CT imaging for the fourth patient showed delicate patches of ground-glass opacity. All 4 patients had 2 consecutive negative RT-PCR test results. The time from symptom onset to recovery ranged from 12 to 32 days.

    After hospital discharge or discontinuation of quarantine, the patients were asked to continue the quarantine protocol at home for 5 days. The RT-PCR tests were repeated 5 to 13 days later and all were positive. All patients had 3 repeat RT-PCR tests performed over the next 4 to 5 days and all were positive. An additional RT-PCR test was performed using a kit from a different manufacturer and the results were also positive for all patients. The patients continued to be asymptomatic by clinician examination and chest CT findings showed no change from previous images. They did not report contact with any person with respiratory symptoms. No family member was infected.

    source: February 27, 2020 “Positive RT-PCR Test Results in Patients Recovered From COVID-19

    But it seems clear that the Herd is in FULL PANIC MODE so their brains can’t even Think!

  • The US is not even prepared for the Flu. According to the CDC: “CDC estimates that so far this season [2019-2020] there have been at least 34 million flu illnesses, 350,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths from flu.”

    And what about the homeless and those whom don’t have “insurance” or are “under” insured?