Yesterday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement on the COVID-19 coronavirus, warning that the highly infectious respiratory illness could spread to the United States. The disease, which has a long latency period and can be spread without people knowing it, continued to defy efforts to contain it in China, and now has erupted in South Korea, Japan, Italy, and other countries. In the absence of any mechanism yet to accurately detect the virus, it seems inevitable in today’s globally connected world that the bug eventually will inundate the U.S. Based on the limited data available, the mortality rate could run as high as 2% (although there are reasons to think that figure may be high). As investors absorbed the implications of the global pandemic for the economy, the DOW Jones Industrial Average shed 2,000 points yesterday.
There is a thin line between taking basic precautions and engaging in fear-mongering. There is no need (yet) to panic. But it would be prudent to give some thought to how we might prepare for the inevitable.
Americans instinctively turn to the federal government for leadership in a crisis like this. But the CDC makes it clear that state and local governments must play an important role in containing the spread of the disease. It is not too early for Virginians to begin asking Governor Ralph Northam what measures the Commonwealth is preparing to take when the virus reaches the Old Dominion.
According to yesterday’s CDC statement, the federal government is taking multiple measures to “slow and … contain transmission of COVID-19 in the United States” so state and local health departments, health care systems, schools, businesses and the public will have more time to prepare should widespread transmission occur. Let me repeat that: so state and local health departments and health care systems will have more time to prepare.
Local officials have a critical role to play in combating the virus, says the CDC.
Community-level nonpharmaceutical intervention might include school dismissals and social distancing in other settings (e.g., postponement or cancellation of mass gatherings and telework and remote-meeting options in workplaces). These measures can be disruptive and might have societal and economic impact on individual persons and communities. However, studies have shown that early layered implementation of these interventions can reduce the community spread and impact of infectious pathogens such as pandemic influenza, even when specific pharmaceutical treatments and vaccines are not available. These measures might be critical to avert widespread COVID-19 transmission in U.S. communities.
The idea is to buy time until the National Institutes of Health and the pharmaceutical industry can develop vaccines and therapeutics. In other words the state-local response is an integral piece of any national strategy.
Needless to say, the time to begin thinking about such things as school dismissals, remote working, event cancellations and other “social distancing” measures is now, not when the pandemic is upon us.
I have yet to see much reporting on what preparations Virginia is taking. Governor Northam has yet to issue a public statement on the subject.
The Virginia Department of Health does maintain a COVID-19 page providing limited date local information. The department, we are informed, has investigated seven persons to date. Six have been found to test negative for the virus; one case is pending. Another 179 travelers have been/are being monitored. Eleven have been classified as “low risk” and 92 as “medium risk.”
Meanwhile, a missive from James F. Lane, superintendent of public instruction, indicates that the Virginia Department of Education is urging schools to adopt basic hygienic measures.
Schools can implement health promotion strategies to reduce disease transitions within the school setting. These include good hygiene practices such as handwashing, management of cold symptoms, proper rest, and nutrition; enhanced facilities monitoring (bathrooms, buses, cafeteria, and media/library centers); sanitizing classroom toys, frequently used classroom equipment/manipulatives; and monitoring school absences and communication with parents regarding the local policy for students who are ill and/or returning to school.
So, that’s something. Is it enough?
If the pandemic peters out, perhaps it is. But if the spread accelerates, the response would seem woefully insufficient. There is no indication from what I have seen that Virginia is remotely prepared to implement “community-level interventions” to slow the transmission of the disease. Aside from schools, remote working and public events, shouldn’t the state also be thinking about public transit? Shouldn’t hospitals be thinking about virus-containment protocols?
I would feel far more reassured if I knew that Virginia’s government leaders were actively conferring with leaders in the fields of education, health care, public transportation, public safety, and industry to develop plans of action should a China-scale pandemic make its way to Virginia. Hopefully, the COVID-19 panic will recede, and the most intrusive precautions will prove unnecessary. But as the Boy Scout motto says, “Be prepared.”There are currently 1 comments highlighted: 141809.