The Politics of Disease and Coronavirus

I do have limited training in public health since I spent over a decade as a medic. Mind you, it hardly makes me an expert. It provides me with enough knowledge to detect unnecessary fear when I watch media coverage. It also makes me follow the experts. These would be the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control.

At this point, both expect a global pandemic with COVID-19. This is hardly a recipe for panic, though that is happening. Why? Partly this is a new virus that crossed from animals to humans. It is a zoonotic virus, and these happen from time to time. However, it is far less deadly than either SARS or MERS. It is also less lethal than the common flu.

In fact, it has some similarities as well:

Symptoms

* Both cause fever, cough, body aches, fatigue; sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.

* Can be mild or severe, even fatal in rare cases.

* Can result in pneumonia.

Transmission

* Both can be spread from person to person through droplets in the air from an infected person coughing, sneezing or talking.

* A possible difference: COVID-19 might be spread through the airborne route (see details below under Differences).

* Flu can be spread by an infected person for several days before their symptoms appear, and COVID-19 is believed to be spread in the same manner, but we don’t yet know for sure.

Incidentally, both can be prevented in the same exact way. Wash your hands often with warm water and soap. Carry alcohol-based hand cleaner in case you can’t find soap. Cover nose and mouth when coughing. In case of the flu get your shot. And if you are of a certain age get your pneumonia vaccine. Both have it as a common complication. In fact, this is what is killing people, who are known as secondary infections.

Now into the politics of it.

The virus emerged in China. This alone has led to a racialized popular response. Yes, people are avoiding Chinese restaurants because apparently the restaurant itself traveled through a portal to the heart of the epidemic. It has also led to attacks on Chinese Americans.

It is also having an effect on the Chinese economy, which lost $119 billion in January. The Dow Jones dropped close to 2000 points in two days because the supply chains will be affected. But there is more. For the Donald Trump administration, this is not a matter of public Heath. It’s all about politics. How will this affect the president? And since Donald Trump hates anything Obama…he dissolved the high-level pandemic team assembled by the previous administration after the much deadlier Ebola epidemic.

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You know things are becoming high comedy when Ken Cuccinelli (yes, even with my extremely limited training I am more qualified than he for his post in Homeland Security when it comes to infectious disease, but it’s a pattern. And I would refuse the appointment since I know my limits) start asking online about the GISS map John Hopkins has put together…which incidentally uses CDC data. It also collates Chinese data and WHO data, but shouldn’t Cuccinelli ask CDC for this? You would think they have it. Perhaps things are worst than we knew at CDC.

Overall, the administration is still playing it down. Never mind that CDC expects at least a bad outbreak at this point. We are now facing community level spread.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday warned that it expects the novel coronavirus that has sparked outbreaks around the world to begin spreading at a community level in the United States, as a top official said that disruptions to daily life could be “severe.”

”As we’ve seen from recent countries with community spread, when it has hit those countries, it has moved quite rapidly. We want to make sure the American public is prepared,” Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters.

”As more and more countries experience community spread, successful containment at our borders becomes harder and harder,” she said.

For the president, there is the impression that this would be perceived as a weakness politically. Given all the administration has done, from defunding CDC response to dissolving a response team, it could. It really depends on whether his political opponents understand this and can explain it to voters.

If we have a serious outbreak, with mandated quarantines, this could tip the economy into recession. The disruption to supply chains could as well. For the president, this is a clear and present danger to his argument for re-election. The stock exchange and economic growth are central to his argument.

This is why the administration requesting emergency money to deal with this. And make no mistake, Trump may go down the route of China, especially if outbreaks affect blue liberal cities. They have some room, but it would not be for the necessary reasons, but out of spite. I do not think there will be any logic to it. He is desperate to make it go away by the spring.

Should you panic? No. But you should get ready in case public health authorities decide to order quarantines as it has happened in other places.

Disease Control and Prevention warned Tuesday.

”It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country any more but a question of when this will happen,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

She said that public health officials have no idea whether the spread of the disease to the United States would be mild or severe, but that Americans should be ready for a significant disruption to their daily lives.

”We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad,” Dr. Messonnier said.

Take basic steps to protect yourself and your family. But be cognizant of how these outbreaks can be weaponized and racialized. Some of those steps may involve stocking up on some basics in case of quarantines, or earthquakes.

Wash your hands, cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze and get your vaccines when appropriate.

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