The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) on Thursday morning raised the projected mortality rate of the coronoavirus known as COVID-19, to 3.4 percent. In Colorado, at least two individuals are being tested for the virus; one a visitor to Summit County, the other in Aurora in metro Denver. Test results are not yet available.
The virus has spread around the world; there are now more than 95,000 cases identified in nearly 80 countries. Italy has surpassed 3,000 cases, with 100 deaths. W.H.O. says that while the virus is deadlier than the seasonal flu, it may not spread as easily. With a mortality rate more than six times higher than the mortality rate of seasonal flu (.5 percent) some might say that is not reassuring.
In response to the announcement by WHO, President Donald Trump seems to have downplayed the news. In an interview with Fox news Wednesday, night he appeared to counter health experts, saying “my hunch” is that “the 3.4 percent is a false number.”
The president, who appears to view most world events through a lens of how it affects him personally, is rightly concerned with the impact of bad news on the financial markets and U.S. economy. Yet history has shown that U.S. and global markets appear more likely to respond negatively to uncertainty, than to statements of fact – even if the facts are sobering.
The real risk to the public may be downplaying the threat, and failing to prepare for what could happen. Preparations do not mean that something will happen; it is simply prudent policy to be ready — to be ahead of an emergency — just as global business leaders are now taking drastic actions to prepare for business interruptions due to the spread of COVID-19.
This afternoon, in a rapid move to provide resources to prepare the U.S. to respond to this global health emergency, both the U.S. House and Senate have approved a $8.3 billion emergency COVID-19 bill.The bipartisan package came together quickly. It includes nearly $7.8 billion for agencies dealing with the virus, substantially more than the White House initially proposed in late February.
Although the full bill isn’t yet available for viewing, it is said to include an important component for counties with higher numbers of retired and elderly residents. When implemented, the bill authorizes roughly $500 million to allow Medicare providers to administer tele-health services, so that more elderly patients at greater risk from the virus, can receive care at home.
The country appears to be at the cusp of understanding that this isn’t just a “narrative crisis”. The country faces real “crisis management.”
That said, it is important for people to realize that reporting facts is more important than ever and some information already in the public conscience should be clarified. For instance: when the Center for Disease Control (CDC) said a few days ago that it sent out 2,500 test kits, many were alarmed at what appeared to be a low number. But the CDC has explained that 2500 test kits isn’t “2,500 tests” – its 2,500 kits x 500 individual tests in each kit. That constitutes 1.25 million individual tests. Which is way better than 2,500 – but probably just the beginning of what will be needed.
On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention broadened the guidelines for coronavirus testing. It is allowing doctors to order a test for any patients who have symptoms like fever, cough or difficulty breathing. However they are being encouraged to first rule out other causes of respiratory illness, including seasonal influenza. Officials also say that the decision to order a COVID-19 test should also take into consideration whether there are other local coronavirus cases, officials said.
The second fact is that the public needs to remember that the risk in Chaffee County remains low. As in so many other places, it is best for what could be called the “worried well” not to flood doctor’s offices right now. Even those who may have some symptoms, remember the Type A and Type B flu strains are circulating here. Beginning with staying home and ‘self-quarantining’ is the best first step for those feeling ill; a formal request made by the state health commissioner.
This morning the New York Times put out a run-on series of stories about developments on the COVID-19 virus.
The World Health Organization also has a rolling update page regarding the spread of COVID-19.
USA Today has also created a statistical tracking center on the spread of the COVID-19
Cover Photo: Coronavirus outbreak worldwide. Image courtesy of CDC.