Knowledgable health officials are telling us that a Coronavirus epidemic will not spare the US. It’s a question of when it will arrive, not if. They warn that we must not lose any more time in preparing for the onslaught of the disease.
[Update: scroll to end for tips on how to protect yourself]
As of now, we are grievously unprepared. We don’t have enough hospital beds to accommodate both the predicted large numbers of victims and the patients hospitalized for the usual reasons. We don’t have nearly enough masks and other gear to protect health workers constantly exposed to the disease; we lack testing kits to identify and confirm infection. These are indispensable for preventing or at least limiting the spread of COVID-19, as the new Coronavirus is now called.
There has been no concerted effort to remedy these and other deficiencies because two years ago Trump fired the global disease expert and eliminated the agency established by President Obama to deal with domestic epidemics and global pandemics. (Trump thought emergency preparation was a waste of money because without an epidemic, there would be nothing to do.) The President defunded the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), stripping away the infrastructure we now desperately need to deal with the crisis.
Instead, Trump assured Americans in a press conference on February 26 that he and his administration are doing a “great job” and have the situation completely under control. There are only 15 cases, he asserted, and there will soon be zero as those people recover. Actually, there were 59 cases in the US (now 60). Trump preferred not to count the 44 Americans infected with or exposed to the Coronavirus who were airlifted home from Asia. Despite the insistence of the CDC that they be isolated, the Trump political appointees with no medical expertise had them travel in the same plane with their healthy comrades. Even worse, A whistleblower today revealed that the personnel sent to welcome the 14 persons in quarantine were not trained or equipped with protective gear. Moreover, after being exposed to the virus, they went their separate ways across the country, possibly exposing an unknown number of other people.
As of today, 49 countries have reported more than 82,000 cases and more than 2,800 deaths from the disease. But Trump denies we have an imminent crisis, controverting the scientists’ warning that we cannot avoid the certainty of an epidemic.
Trump believes that his reelection depends on the continuing record-breaking climb of the stock market. The market has been tanking for six consecutive days since February 20, significantly eroding the gains of the Trump years. The decline is a reaction to the virus and its adverse effect on the global economy, but Trump blamed it on the Democrats’ debate (which took place on February 25, after four days of market free fall) and the media, which he accuses of exaggerating the seriousness of the situation.
To combat the horrible truths that emerge each day, as we learn of more cases in more places, Trump has decreed that the CDC and other medical authorities cannot advise and update the public without first submitting their comments to the vice president for his approval. From now on, with the experts muzzled, we’ll have to depend on leaks and sharp reporting to find out what is really going on. Shades of Stalin, as democratic norms continue to be shattered and totalitarian constraints and restrictions inexorably replace them.
People, products, food and disease-causing micro-organisms traverse the globe in unprecedented numbers and historic speed. When they were free to share their concerns, professional medics warned us to prepare by readying hospitals, testing and stocking medical supplies. But how can individuals prepare? What should we do? The recommendations for avoiding contagion are mostly common sense procedures, no different from what we already know.
- First of all, prepare, don’t panic. Healthy people experience what will feel like a cold or the flu. Children don’t seem to be affected. Seniors, however, are at risk, especially if they have chronic conditions like diabetes.
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, especially after touching handrails, doorknobs, elevator buttons, gym equipment— anything that others touch. Wash before eating and after using the bathroom. Use soap and hot water and scrub for at least 20 seconds: between the fingers, backs of the hands, under the nails. This video demonstrates the technique advocated by the World Health Organization as the best way to wash your hands. (It’s a little more complicated than what you’re used to.)
- Don’t touch your face! Most of us do it all the time, but infection enters easily through mouth, eyes and nose.
- For now, stop shaking hands.
- Avoid touching handrails, doorknobs, etc. away from home.
- Carry alcohol-based (at least 60 percent alcohol) hand sanitizer to use when soap and water aren’t feasible.
- Keep your distance (six feet, if possible) from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
- Get a flu shot.
- Avoid crowds. It follows that you should avoid public transportation whenever possible. Also sport events, theaters, conferences.
- Keep a 90-day supply of your medications on hand.
- Work from home if you can.
- Stock your cupboard in case you have to stay home.
- Avoid spreading your own germs:
- Sneeze or cough into your elbow.
- Stay home if you don’t feel well and see a doctor.
If you manage to follow these tips, you and your family will probably stay healthy. At least you won’t regret not taking the recommended precautions.