August 10, 2020 Corona Update

Consider the following excerpts from print and television media over the last 24 hours:

1) New Zealand on Sunday marked 100 days without any new reported cases of local transmission of the coronavirus, a milestone as the pandemic continues to devastate countries across the world. New Zealand, a nation of five million people, reported in March that it had stamped out the virus after strict lockdown measures were implemented. Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, the country’s top health official, said “we can’t afford to be complacent.”

2) Despite the coronavirus pandemic, tens of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts converged over the weekend outside the small South Dakota community of Sturgis, South Dakota for the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Officials said about 250,000 enthusiasts were expected this year

3) Text of interview with Dr. Scott Gottlieb, guest on Face the Nation August 9, 2020:

…the other thing to think about here is that this (coronavirus) has now posed an asymmetric risk for the United States. Other countries looking in now can conclude that a respiratory pathogen poses a greater danger to the United States than perhaps other nations that have been grappling with this more successfully. And so, it was always thought that a rogue nation would never unleash a pathogen deliberately… that can blow back on them. That thinking might have to be adjusted now that this is such an asymmetric risk to the United States relative to other nations that some of which are our adversaries.

So, in New Zealand, where no new cases of the coronavirus have appeared in over 3 months, the health minister is worried that the country will become complacent. And in South Dakota, a state in a country with over 5 million coronavirus cases and over 160,000 deaths, a quarter of a million people are converging in bars, and shops and restaurants, without masks. After they converge, they will take the virus home with them on their Harleys to every state in the nation, for some old fashion community spread. And we are not surprised, that the apparent recent topic of discussion among National Security types, is that the United States, based on our “can’t fix stupid” response to the Covid-19 pandemic, now has to consider itself a potential target of deliberate biological attack. Because the first thing we will do after the attack will be to have a party with 250,000 people. And after that we will open all the schools up in case we missed anybody.

As I have said previously, this is not rocket science. The economy in Maryland is open, though not to its full capacity. But Maryland has kept the viral load down. (This week less than 4% of tests were positive, an improvement over the week before). We have done this by avoiding events like Sturgis, South Dakota, wearing masks, and washing our hands.  The science on this is now clear. By taking common sense precautions, businesses can stay open, and we can have some semblance of normal life. Common sense does not equal Sturgis, South Dakota.

On the brighter side, new cases of the coronavirus have declined in the United States in the last week. Total cases are now averaging around 55,000 a day, down from a peak of 65,000 a day two weeks ago, but still almost three times the daily average in June. Hotspots in Florida, Arizona, and Texas have tallied about 1/3 fewer new cases now than 2 weeks ago. Deaths from the virus have averaged over 1000 day for about 2 weeks, up from 500/day in early July. Deaths are a lagging indicator of the new cases that occurred a few weeks ago and should begin to decline in the next week. That said, it is expected that 300,000 people will have died of the virus in the US by the end of 2020. Experts are worried about a new surge of cases in the Midwest and in rural areas, which have seen a recent uptick.

There is also some positive news on the medical front. It appears that people are contagious for only 10 days after the onset of symptoms, not 14. Studies have shown that people can test positive for the virus for weeks after the infection, from the fragments of RNA picked up on a nasal swab. But after 10 days, the virus is no longer viable, and the disease cannot be transmitted to others.

The science of the effects of the virus on long term health are still preliminary. There are indications that the severity of symptoms at the outset portends the severity of long-term illness from the virus. Patients have reported prolonged exercise intolerance, headaches, mental fog, peripheral neuropathies and fatigue as common symptoms after the virus, which can last from weeks to months. These symptoms seem to occur in a small minority of patients. There is emerging evidence that the virus causes myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle in some patients. This is a newer discovery, and this condition may be associated with congestive heart failure, and arrythmias.

Lastly, a shout out to healthcare workers on the frontline in emergency rooms, intensive care units and hospital wards, of whom about 1000 have died from Covid-19 in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic. I would hope that it would give the attendees of Sturgis pause, to think that not only do they put others’ lives at risk by attending a totally unnecessary event in the midst of a global health crisis, but they place at risk the doctors, nurses and technicians who without thinking twice, will do their best to keep them alive.

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