WASHINGTON DC — With the number of reported coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) infections up to 90,000 around the world, 88 of which are within the United States, the country is bracing for signs of the disease.
Washington state reported its second death, the only two to die from the outbreak in the U.S. The second victim was a man in his 70s who was a patient at a nursing facility that now has at least six confirmed cases of the virus. The first was a man in his 50s with underlying health conditions as well.
More deaths as a result of the coronavirus could be coming. That's according to Vice President Mike Pence speaking Sunday on CNN's State of the Union. Pence said the average American is still at a low risk of contracting the respiratory illness.
It appears the COVID-19 coronavirus circulated for weeks in Washington state before it was detected by testing. One of the concerns is that this version of the coronavirus is as resilient as previous strains, it could survive for up to nine days outside the body.
Cold, low-humidity environments are ideal for the disease. “The most important thing is for everybody to relax right now,” says Dr. Sophia L. Thomas, President, American Association of Nurse Practitioners, speaking with 104.7 Wonk FM. “We do have a few cases in the United States, we do anticipate that that is going to go up.”
Past strains include SARS and MERS. “Hopefully we won’t see it to the degree that we’ve seen in China, but the coronavirus is in a family of viruses called coronaviruses and this is the same family of viruses actually that cause the common cold. The strain that causes the coronavirus is one strain that’s particularly deadly and dangerous, if you will, and it’s right up there with SARS and MERS that we saw in years past,” Thomas says.
She recommends we step up our hygiene practices to combat the spread of the virus, “We should really do the same precautions everyday regardless if there’s the current virus going around or not. Obviously, the most important thing we recommend is good hand-washing, for 20 [seconds] with soap and water, that’s one of the most effective ways at preventing the spread of disease.”
A full interview with Dr. Sophia Thomas can be heard here:
Transmission can take place when a person touches a contaminated surface and then touches their mouth, eyes or nose. Because of this, Thomas recommends “coughing into your arm, sneezing into a tissue, throwing that tissue away, preventing those droplets from getting released into the air is probably the most important thing we can do, and of course staying home if you’re sick, that goes for keeping the children home, as well as adults. If you’re sick, don’t go to work, because avoiding others prevents the spread of any disease."
President Trump said last week he'll do whatever is necessary to keep people protected from coronavirus. Speaking at a press conference, he said he's ready to spend whatever is needed.
The White House has requested 2.5 billion dollars though some lawmakers are asking for up to eight billion. He's also put Vice President Pence in charge of the response. Pence says he's working with health experts and state leaders daily and will add more staff to help.
The President is expected to visit the CDC later this week. His trip to the Atlanta facility is scheduled for Friday. It's unclear if Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading a coronavirus task force, will accompany Trump.
The White House has also said the flu is a bigger risk to Americans than the coronavirus.
Thomas agrees. She says, “the flu is very widespread right now, and it’s very virulent. Of course, we’re going to be seeing more cases of corona[virus] I would think, but so far, the flu this year has caused 29 million illnesses, about 280,000 hospitalizations and so far, 16,000 deaths, according to the CDC. Now we don’t see those numbers, anywhere near like that right now with the coronavirus in the United States, and I certainly hope we don’t."
A national health insurance association responsible for insuring one in three Americans, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), is also preparing for virus.
“We are taking many steps to make sure that Americans are safe. We are pacing with the government, we are monitoring the COVID-19 virus along with them, and we are responding to the needs that are being asked of us by the federal government,” Dr. Vincent Nelson, Vice President of Medical Affairs and the Interim Chief Medical Officer at BCBSA said, speaking with 104.7 Wonk FM.
“I also set up [a] task force within the [BCBS] association so that we disseminate the correct information that pertains to the COVID-19 virus, and the next steps, should we have persistent transmission within the United States,” Nelson said.
The Surgeon General is warning Americans that running out to buy masks to protect them from the COVID-19 coronavirus, they are not effective. Jerome Adams tweeted that the shortage caused by the panic buying could actually hurt the nation's health because the medical professionals who need them to care for patients may not be able to get them.
Hear the full interview with Dr. Vincent Nelson:
"Face masks are to be used by persons who are infected so they can reduce their transmission of the disease that they have and healthcare workers who are working directly with those that have the virus," Nelson echoed.
The fear has also affected sales in beer. A new survey suggests some Americans aren't drinking Corona beers due to the coronavirus outbreak. The survey, conducted by 5W Public Relations, says 38 percent of beer drinkers in the U.S. are actively avoiding Corona beers. There is no link between the virus and the alcohol other than sharing a name.
“Well with anything, when you have a certain amount of anxiety in the public, people are naturally searching for solutions and answers, and so frequently people with partial information and what they’ve read and different sources and they’ve pieced it together to these irrational types of solutions to either treating this disease or preventing it,” Nelson said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is expanding travel restrictions as the coronavirus spread worldwide. New bans are in place for people who have traveled to Iran as reports emerge today that an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has died from the coronavirus.
A travel advisory is in effect for parts of South Korea and Italy, where the number of reported infections has grown rapidly. President Trump on Sunday said there would be new screening procedures for people coming from "high-risk" countries.
Delta and American are both suspending flights between JFK International Airport in New York and Milan's Malpensa Airport in Italy for the next seven or eight weeks. American is also suspending service between Miami and Milan. There are nearly 1,700 COVID-19 cases in Italy and 34 deaths, with Northern Italy hit especially hard.
As far as the virus infecting the markets, a major economic organization is urging governments to act "swiftly and forcefully" against the coronavirus for fear of it cutting global growth in half. The Paris-based group OECD warned that coronavirus could shave up to 1.5 percent off the GDP growth this year alone.
OECD said restrictions on travel and factory closures in China is disrupting the tourism industry, as well as supply chains and commodities. The organization also called on governments to implement temporary measures to help "the most vulnerable social groups."
When it comes to developing a vaccine and curing those who have been diagnosed, the biopharmaceutical industry has been working with the federal government.
"We're collaborating seamlessly with the government and other stakeholders, so we work very closely with NIH, which has expertise in this area, but also has access to the patients that are already affected, and we're working with other government agencies like HHS and the White House to ensure that we're doing everything we can to help in this situation," Steve Ubl, President and CEO of PhRMA to 104.7 Wonk FM.
Listen to the full interview with Steve Ubl here: