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Epidemiologist Argues, U.S. Must Mobilize Public Health To Face Novel Coronavirus

Feb. 13, 2020 (EIRNS)—American epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota and writer/filmmaker Mark Olshaker co-authored in a Washington Post op-ed today that the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is likely in the process of becoming a global pandemic, and that the United States must mobilize to produce public health resources it does not have, to meet it. Osterholm said the virus “is spreading like the influenza virus does each winter,” a spread which we have never been able to stop. Therefore healthcare workers must be protected and given the tools—which the U.S. healthcare system does not currently have—to care for patients and slow the virus’s spread.

One example is protective masks and suits, of which China is the leading world producer, but China is fighting to meet its own demand, they write. Another is special hospital facilities able to treat large numbers and to stop the virus’s spread to medical and other workers in hospitals. Osterholm and Olshaker write that

“orders over the past several weeks of N95 respirators—the tight-fitting face masks necessary for protection against the virus—would take many years of [existing] manufacturing capacity to fulfill.... Governments must support private-sector manufacturers in providing N95s and other equipment to front-line health-care providers and other essential workers.”

Dr. Osterholm and Olshaker co-authored Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs in 2017, in the wake of the swine flu, Ebola, MERS, SARS, and other epidemics, and explore the resources and programs necessary to defend ourselves, as they argue, the “threat of a disastrous influenza pandemic looms ever larger.”

The same day as Osterholm and Olshaker’s warning was published, China’s Hubei Province, where Wuhan is the capital, suddenly counted 14,800 more infections, triggering worldwide headlines that the epidemic is accelerating. In fact, Hubei officials, now having the facilities and manpower to treat far more patients, changed their metric to include “clinically diagnosed cases” and “suspected cases,” who were not previously getting treatment. They also reported 263 more deaths. The epidemic is not necessarily accelerating; but it is larger than previously reported. U.S. NIH Director of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci said he thought the COVID-19 mortality rate could come down to about 1% when all cases are found, particularly since children seem least affected.

China is continuing to mobilize resources effectively—2,600 more military medical personnel went to Wuhan today, the mask production rate has doubled, etc. A World Health Organization representative in China said, “the numbers that would have happened without such measures would have been much higher. These measures have reduced the peak of the epidemic.”

But voluntarily, Chinese businesses large and small are very slowly returning to work in the third week of complete or partial shutdown of 75% of the Chinese economy. Its first-quarter economic growth may be zero to 2%, which will impact—and is impacting—every economy in the world. The International Energy Agency has already reported world oil demand is contracting for the first time since the global financial crash.

U.S. new tariffs on Chinese goods should all have been lifted by now, at least provisionally. More important, the other major economies need to coordinate to mobilize investment in new infrastructure and manufacturing capability, domestically and in third countries.

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