Soon we’ll see if the US can defend itself again COVID-19

Summary: The epidemic spreads across the globe, gaining a foothold in several nations, and America swings into action. Previous posts show what works against it and how well America has prepared. Soon we’ll learn if we have the social cohesion to take drastic actions (as China has) – if necessary.

US Epidemic-Dreamstime-171640971
Photo 171640971 © Anton Anton – Dreamstime.

On January 31, the Trump administration announced that they were blocking the entry of Chinese nationals and mandatory quarantines on US citizens returned in affected parts of China. China’s government and humanitarians protested. The Great and Wise condemned Trump’s actions as ignorant, bigoted, and fearful.

STAT (biomedical news) on Jan. 31: “Health experts warn China travel ban will hinder coronavirus response.

The Observer on Feb. 3: “How Trump’s Panicky Coronavirus Travel Ban Cost Me $4,000 in 2 Hours to Save My Job.”

The Guardian on Feb. 4: “Coronavirus: could the US government’s quarantine and travel ban backfire? Public health experts say restrictive policies could spread fear, weaken the global response and needlessly limit civil liberties.”

In his anti-Trump rant on Feb. 18 in The Atlantic, Peter Nicholas approvingly quoted Kent Brantley (an American doctor with the medical mission group Samaritan’s Purse).

“We MUST choose compassion over fear. We must choose to respond to people (even in deadly outbreaks of infectious diseases) with actions and words and attitudes that convey compassion and uphold the dignity of our fellow human beings.”

One month later, Trump’s action looks bold and prudent. China has proven that limitations on travel are effective when we lack drugs and vaccines: cordon sanitaires and quarantines. The former limits the movement of everybody in a region; they are powerful but expensive. The latter applies to people infected or who might be infected (eg, individuals, a household, or a ship); they are cheap and easy.

Of course, we see no apologies from the people who condemned Trump’s actions as imprudent and callous. The former has been proven false. The latter is true, and is the kind of hard-headed actions that can contain an epidemic.

Much depends on how many of the world’s leaders will take such drastic measures, and how many instead will listen to custard-heads – plunging the world into a hellish pandemic.

See this post for more about America’s large (and expensive) preparations for an epidemic. Also see “The Countries Best Prepared To Deal With A Pandemic” by Niall McCarthy at Statista, October 2019. America is by far the nation best prepared for an epidemic. This is based on the 2019 Global Health Security Index. Statista wrote more about this on 28 February 2020.

America’s Great and Wise object again

As they grow more powerful, America’s elites are increasingly dissatisfied with democracy, and giving power to elected officials instead of the loyal “interagency” (loyal to them). So they whined loudly when Trump appointed America’s Vice President to run the response to COVID-19.

They are, as usual these days, wrong. An elected official should be making these important decisions. The Vice President can command the attention and resources needed for a fast and powerful response.

CDC’s situation report as of February 29.

See the full report here.

“At this time, however, most people in the United States will have little immediate risk of exposure to this virus. This virus is NOT currently spreading widely in the United States. However, it is important to note that current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic. This is a rapidly evolving situation and the risk assessment will be updated as needed. Current risk assessment {is as follows} …

  • For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus at this time, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low.
  • People in communities where ongoing community spread with the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported are at elevated though still relatively low risk of exposure.
  • Healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19 are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Close contacts of persons with COVID-19 also are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Travelers returning from affected international locations where community spread is occurring also are at elevated risk of exposure.

“… At this time, there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and no medications approved to treat it. Nonpharmaceutical interventions would be the most important response strategy.

“About the test kits. {For more details, see the CDC’s Feb. 28 media briefing.}

  • Combined with other reagents that CDC has procured, there are now enough testing kits in the US to test more than 75,000 people. More are being rapidly manufactured.
  • In addition, CDC has two laboratories conducting testing for the virus that causes COVID-19. CDC can test approximately 350 specimens per day.
  • Commercial labs are working to develop their own tests that hopefully will be available soon. This will allow a greater number of tests to happen close to where potential cases are.”


The timeline of preparation

The US government has moved quickly in response to events.

30 December – An “urgent notice on the treatment of pneumonia of unknown cause” was issued by the Medical Administration and Medical Administration of Wuhan Municipal Health Committee. Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan tighten their inbound screening.

2 January – The WHO activated its incident management system at all three levels: national, regional, and headquarters.

6 January – The US CDC issued a travel watch at Level 1 (“Practice usual precautions”) for China.

7 January – CDC established a COVID-19 Incident Management System.

21 January – The first case reported in the US, in Washington State.

24 January – A second case was reported in the US, in Chicago.

21 January – CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center to help plan, coordinate, and support the nation’s response.

30 January 30, 2020 – The International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the WHO declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC, see Wikipedia).

30 January 30 – The CDC published guidance for healthcare professionals on the clinical care of  COVID-19 patients.

January 31, 2020 –  Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a “public health emergency” (PHE, see Wikipedia) for the United States. Also, Trump officials announced that, effective on February 2 at 5pm, the U.S. government suspended entry of foreign nationals who have been in China within the past 14 days. U.S. citizens, residents, and their immediate family members who have been in Hubei province and other parts of mainland China are allowed to enter the United States, but they are subject to health monitoring and possible quarantine for up to 14 days.

3 February – The CDC posted guidance for assessing the potential risk for various exposures to COVID-19 and managing those people appropriately.

27 February – To reflect what had been learned, the CDC updated its criteria to guide evaluation of persons under investigation for COVID-19.

28 February – As more information came in, the CDC issued a Health Alert Network (HAN): Update and Interim Guidance on Outbreak of COVID-19.

29 February 29 – The U.S. government announced it was suspending entry of foreign nationals who have been in Iran within the past 14 days.

It’s easy to follow the coronavirus story

The World Health Organization provides daily information, from highly technical information to news for the general public.

Posts about the coronavirus epidemic.

For More Information

Ideas! For some shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon. Also, see a story about our future: Ultra Violence: Tales from Venus.

Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also, see these posts about epidemics…

  1. See the ugly cost of the next big flu pandemic. We can do more to prepare.
  2. Stratfor: The superbugs are coming. We have time to prepare.
  3. Posts debunking the hysteria about the 2009 swine flu in America.
  4. Posts debunking the hysteria about the 2015 ebola epidemic in America.
  5. Important: A vaccine against the fears that make us weak.

Books about epidemics

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston (1994). A terrifying true story of an Ebola epidemic.

Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond by Sonia Shah (2016).

"The Hot Zone" by Richard Preston.
Available at Amazon.
Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond
Available at Amazon.

22 thoughts on “Soon we’ll see if the US can defend itself again COVID-19”

  1. From the latest WHO report, there are almost no new Chinese cases reported outside Hubei.

    Do you notice, by the way, that Taiwan is shown under China? Striking, that. It would be like reporting on Northern Ireland, the UK province, as if it were part of the Republic. Or reporting on the Ukraine as if it were part of Russia.

  2. Larry: “The time comes to fight COVID-19. Can we do it?”

    Your title sums up the situation perfectly.

    Larry: “The Vice Presdient can command the attention and resources needed for a fast and powerful response.”

    Miss-spelled president, otherwise I strongly agree. Looking at the disconnect between Trump’s ClownWorld twitter messages and the actions of his administration shows that the experts are currently in charge of everything except his Twitter account.

    We, the voters, need to hold our elected officials accountable for the actions of the government so they need to be in charge of the government response.

    I finally got around to bookmarking the WHO daily update page. That information is too valuable for tracking the progress of the disease to fumble around every day trying to find it.

    1. Pluto,

      It’s sad to read the news. Misinformation has pretty much displaced useful analysis in the mainstream news, and 10x that in the general media.

      Much as it has done in reporting climate change.

      America’s OODA loop (observation, orientation, decision, action) loop is shattered. This does not matter much (only incrementally) in daily life, but when we encounter a serious crisis …

  3. 3,000 deaths from coronavirus so far. The 2018-19 Flu Season killed more than 34,000 people.

    Like the flu, the elderly and already-sick are most vulnerable. Mortality rates among the general population are very, very low.

    Would this have even been newsworthy a hundred years ago? Is this an actual crisis like the media is screaming, or a routine incident that’s easily contained and will have exactly 0 long term impact? Will coronavirus be as deadly as the hundreds of billions of people killed by Donald Trump’s ruthless dictatorship and concentration camps?

  4. The Man Who Laughs

    I agree with much of what you say, especially that having Mike Pence take charge of the response is a good idea. Pence is a competent guy, and yes, elected officials should be in charge.

    And you’re right that this will be a test of social cohesion. We can meet it.

    But here’s a hypothetical. Suppose this thing gets loose in Mexico in a bad way, if it hasn’t already. A cordon sanitaire might involve using the military to close that border. Now imagine the lawsuits and the cries of racism. I’m not going to speculate on how that might play out, but trying to control the spread of the virus might require doing some things that one faction or another would rather not do, or has so far resisted doing.

    My thanks to Pluto for the link about the Electoral College. I did not know how that had originally been intended to work. Fascinating stuff.

    1. The Man,

      Yes, that’s the kind of scenario in which America’s loss of social cohesion fails. It might be when Democrats hate Trump more than they care about America. Or people are more concerned about their ism’s or identify group than America. Lots of ways to fail the kind of tests America has so well passed in the past. Both groups might use Lawfare to cripple our response.

      If that happens and we get a severe epidemic, the consequences will be interesting. People might turn against those who caused the disaster (that’s how authoritarians take over). Or we might fragment further.

      Let’s hope we don’t go down that path.

    2. A cordon sanitaire might involve using the military to close that border. Now imagine the lawsuits and the cries of racism.

      Doesn’t take much imagination. The left has made it clear that equality and social justice outweigh prevention of disease and public health. If any health law or policy makes some designated minority group feel unwelcome or marginalized, it has to go. I was amazed that the prohibition against “men who have sex with men” donating blood lasted as long as it did, but eventually the progressives tore that down.

      Some states still maintain laws against knowingly transmitting HIV, but liberals and progressives have been working in earnest to end those as well.

      If a disease afflicts the lower or underclasses, the “global south” countries, or some designated victim class, leftists seem to think the middle and upper classes are obliged to put themselves at equal risk in honor of equality.

  5. I have been using a mental model which assumes a considerable amount of corruption(perhaps erroneously) between WHO and the CCP

    You appear to have been using a mental model which assumes that the WHO stance on this potential pandemic has given us access to some of the best data/information available in order to better understand the nature of COVID-19.

    I believe in one of your more recent posts you also mentioned that after 30 or so years in this game you have come to the conclusion that many of the data points collected and released by established institutions ( financial, economic, environmental, etc) should be given more positive weight, rather than the often skeptical dismissal–because, from your perspective, such dismissal usually takes place on the basis of rigid ideological doctrine/beliefs–that tend to incapable of dealing with the inevitable uncertainty of things.

    In your world-view what is the point at which you might become more skeptical of WHO pronouncements or begin to see them in a less positive light?

    Could you say a little bit more about how your acquired your faith in experts.

    1. James,

      “I have been using a mental model which assumes a considerable amount of corruption(perhaps erroneously) between WHO and the CCP”

      You are using a made-up model with no factual foundation. I stopped reading there.

      1. I said “perhaps erroneously,”

        Why the apparent dismissive response?

      2. James: “In your world-view what is the point at which you might become more skeptical of WHO pronouncements or begin to see them in a less positive light?”

        Since Larry isn’t available to answer this one, I’ll take it. Let’s turn this question on its head.
        a) Why be skeptical of experts?
        b) Where do the number not add up?
        c) What benefit (other than self-image and entertainment) do you get from not trusting WHO?

        When you answer those questions to my satisfaction, with supporting documentation from reputable sources, I will see reason to not trust WHO.

        James: “Could you say a little bit more about how your acquired your faith in experts.”

        Speaking strictly for myself here, not Larry. Let’s say you’ve got a hypothetical situation like a potential Pandemic. Who should you trust? Your options boil down to two choices:
        1) People who have been trained to deal with the situation and who have to justify their actions to their peers and face the consequences of their actions in possible court actions around the world (experts)
        2) Rumors, fears, and innuendo

        I don’t know about you, but the choice is easy for me.

      3. Pluto,

        I wasn’t interested in going down that rabbit hole, but since you and SF have ably responded – I’ll add a few more details.

        Making stuff up about WHO-China “corruption” isn’t skepticism. It’s making stuff up.

        The degree of skepticism is warranted based on previous behavior. WHO has a good rep. Not, of course, like that of govt agencies in Heaven – which seems to be a standard often used. On the other hand, US govt officials have a well-documented history since (roughly) 1960 of lying – and doing so in consistent ways.

        I was an arbitrator for many years. We used to joke that we should rate witnesses like they do Olympic gymnasts for their acting ability. Pretty much everybody lied. Attorneys tell me that’s true in court, as well. Why shouldn’t they? Perjury is seldom prosecuted. In our post-Christian society, the “oath” before “god” means nothing. So a second factor is the potential gain from lying. Govt officials lie to support policy or help themselves. There is no reason for WHO to irrevocably trash their reputation with inevitably-proven lies that provide a fleeting benefit to China.

        Certainly not for the Director-General to do so, since that would mean he will be fired in disgrace soon.

        Third, look for supporting actors. The WHO team to China was from many nations, most of which had no tie to WHO (ie, their own professional reputation is probably more important to them than WHO’s).

        A last point: James said “Could you say a little bit more about how your acquired your faith in experts.”

        I’ve been at this game in some form for almost 40 years. I have found experts – ie, the mainstream or consensus of experts – to almost always be correct (ie, representing the best available knowledge). I’ve found the know-it-all confident amateurs to be almost always wrong. I don’t include govt officials as experts, as they are representing their institutional interests.

        This is doubly so when amateurs are saying that experts’ numbers are wrong. A classic example are the right-wing wackos who for decades have said that inflation is far higher than reported (claims which time have disproven, since that would have put other numbers – such as GDP – grossly out of wack).

        Of course, in the real world counting is often difficult. Calculating GDP and inflation is not like counting apples. Counting cases of COVID-19 in Hubei, a province in a poor nation whose health care systems are overwhelmed, is little more than making best guesses. Just determining who has COVID-19 and who has the flu is difficult or near-impossible in overloaded hospitals with no labs available for screening.

        One last point – much of the criticism of experts comes from people with delusions about their own capabilities – fueled by hindsight and arrogance. “If I had been running things there as King, then all would be well.” Those claims should, imo, be met with mockery.

    2. Is there a point where you would begin to reduce your mental discounting of this arbitrary level of “corruption”? (Which I assume in this context means ‘you think they are lying or at least massaging their disease data’)

      1. Yes, at this point I still tend to think that China is massaging their disease data.
        That is because of assumptions I hold about truth and how it is generally dealt with in Leninist structures of power.

        However, some of the WHO commentary, for example, on platform innovations in China did not correlate with my biases and sort of snapped by head back as did Larry’s initial acceptance of WHO pronouncements as being largely accurate.

      2. James,

        “Yes, at this point I still tend to think that China is massaging their disease data.”

        Since you know absolutely nothing about the situation and are guided purely by your biases, I suggest that your opinion is chaff and should be ignored. The only useful response is to express sympathy for you and hope for a recovery.

        More broadly, my posts are a rebuttal to people like you – who are representative of America’s broken OODA loop. There are so many like you, so that as a nation we no longer can either see the world clearly or take effective action. It is a disability that no amount of power and wealth can offset.

  6. Thanks for responding Pluto:

    I tend to be skeptical of experts because of life experience/interactions were many such individuals who have refused to acknowledge their own areas of ignorance or who do not have the courage to evaluate their own assumptions.

    My fundamental assumption here is that you can’t have knowledge without ignorance and hence whatever perspective you adopt you must acknowledge that a great deal of uncertainty is contained within it.

    The refusal to acknowledge such uncertainty is, from my perspective, a warning signal–I might be dealing with someone who is a phony, someone who primarily interested in prestige and status rather than understanding the limits of their own rationality and willing to acknowledge it publicly.

    I presently don’t have the data to support my own assumptions about the numbers and am therefore throwing my own mental model into question as I indicated in my previous post.

    The initial benefit I get from maintaining my knee jerk distrust of WHO is the temporary preservation of my own ideological biases.

    I have tended to be skeptical of experts who rise to the top in professions in which I have some familiarity with the literature (economics/politics/psychology/culture. More often than not their wrong predictions only seem to increase their status and prominance.

  7. I wonder what happens when it gets to a san Francisco with its large homeless population?

    How will society treat the down and out?

  8. Pingback: Some good news about COVID-19 - Fabius Maximus website

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