Coronavirus Response: Anxiety or Insanity?

Monday's Coronavirus Task Force press conference demonstrates the changed political, social, economic, and religious environment confronting USA.   President Trump unveiled a new recommendation protocol for the next 15 days, approved by the task force today:

  • Avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.
  • Avoid discretionary travel like shopping trips and social visits.
  • Avoid bars and restaurants and food courts — instead, use drive-thru, pickup, and delivery options
  • Do not visit aged care facilities.
  • If you work in health care, pharmaceutical, or food supply, "you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule."
  • If someone in your house has tested positive, the entire household should stay home.
  • Older people and those with underlying health conditions should stay home.
  • The guidelines also recommend that states with evidence of community spread should close all bars, restaurants, food courts, gyms, and indoor and outdoor venues.

These suggestions aim to compress the severe restrictions in an effort to reduce the time under restrictions.  It is hoped that these procedures will allow the peak infection period to be diminished.  But why did the CDC recommendation of limiting gatherings to 50 people become obsolete after only a few days?  The panic at the stores has pushed governors to take control.  The task force has given guidelines that exceed the majority of states' orders.  The feds now appear to be leading again.

School closings are a complicated situation.  Millions of children will stay home.  This is aimed at keeping the interactions to a minimum so transmission of the virus is reduced.  But in the haste to enact this change causes several issues.  Districts are concerned with getting food to underprivileged children.  In some areas, breakfast and lunch will be brought to the child's home; in others, third parties will provide food; while in some places, the children will go to the school to get food.  In these situations, communication between students will occur, increasing the spread of virus particles. 

In some families, grandparents will watch children at home, as parents must work.  This will spread the contagion to the elderly.  Daycare facilities are still open in most areas, so the virus will spread among that population and to their families.

The pressing problem facing our nation concerns medical facilities.  We have too few respirators, intensive care units, and hospital beds for the expected onslaught from ill people.  This is the experience in Italy, where the numbers have forced doctors to ration services.  States regulate medical facilities.  The president allowed each state to purchase respirators directly to bypass the federal bureaucracy, which is time-consuming.  The feds have ordered more respirators, but the need may exceed the supply.  Reducing the numbers of infected persons will minimize the shortage. 

What else can the federal government do?  The Army Corps of Engineers could help build hospital facilities, as it did in Africa during the Ebola crisis.  But this would be most effective in warmer states, where outdoor facilities can function during the colder months.  Beyond that, there are many closed hospital buildings that could be reactivated.  These include psychiatric hospitals shuttered through use of outpatient facilities.  Abandoned hotels could be temporarily turned into hospitals.  Abandoned factories could be used also.  They would require temporary electrical systems, generators, oxygen supplies, and lighting.  Isolated facilities have an advantage in that they keep infected people from spreading the contagion within hospitals.  This was the approach used to treat tuberculosis patients in the early 1900s.

The new guidelines were recommended in part to curb the interactions among Millennials.  This age group tends to be more irresponsible.  Partying and risky behavior are responsible for increased infectious spread throughout communities.  Voluntary self-imposed social distancing is preferable to imposed lock-down, utilized by Italy, France, Spain, and China.

Worldwide, over 182,000 cases have been diagnosed, with over 7,100 fatalities.   In the USA, over 4,500 cases with 85 fatalities shows increasing spread of this disease.  Over 80,000 recoveries have been identified, which should give many some hope.  Treatments are under trial, and this will lessen fear, but this takes time.

Trump hypothesized that the situation could extend to July or August, when the virus's impact would be insignificant.  Hopefully, actions now will limit the threat by May or June.  The stock market reacted negatively to this information, with the Dow falling about 800 points after Trump made this statement.  A loss of almost 3,000 points in one day is a new record.  The president indicated that he understands that a recession is possible.  The panic among investors increased quickly. 

Long-term, some small businesses might fail as their customers are shuttered, but most will survive.  The supply chain failure due to this virus must result in manufacturing our medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, and equipment within our country.  Border control is not just a national security issue; it is a health issue, too.  Perhaps the Democratic candidates missed this issue during the Sunday debate.

The infectivity of this virus exceeds that of the seasonal flu, with a higher rate of lethality.  While the average age of death in the USA is 80, the greatest risk includes underlying severe chronic illnesses.  Some actions may be counterproductive, but the most important act was to limit the influx of infected persons from China and Europe.

We owe gratitude to the delivery system, which is resupplying stores despite the panic-buying.  Restaurants have reorganized to allow take-out.  Unfortunately, the need for waitresses has diminished.  American ingenuity will reassign labor and capital to new uses.  The cost of this virus will be great, but our spirit remains strong. 

The wake-up call must involve moving away from national health care control.  Obamacare necessitated cost savings by hospitals and clinics.  The public health care system was unable to move quickly enough to provide enough COVID-19 testing kits.  Now the private-public partnership will solve this issue.  Other arrangements with private companies will guarantee better services for those infected.  Entrepreneurial skills lead to creativity and improved approaches.  Bureaucratic lethargy and red tape will always limit innovation.  Medicare for All would undoubtedly give the same results that Italy, Spain, and France are experiencing.  Americans deserve and expect better.

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