China versus US on aggressive measures to stop the coronavirus

The World Health Organization made it clear: many countries are not preparing enough for COVID-19, and it’s become a global pandemic. There is some good news, they say, since more than 90% of cases are in just four countries we can get this thing under control.

According to the WHO, China and South Korea have used effective techniques to contain the spread of COVID-19, and there are lessons to be learned from their methods.

The WHO said that China’s “bold approach” had “changed the course of a rapidly escalating and deadly epidemic.” They added: “In the face of a previously unknown virus, China has rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile, and aggressive disease containment effort in history.” Over 3500 new cases a day were reported in late January; yesterday, they announced an astonishing drop to only 24 new cases.

China’s response to the virus has included strict social distancing, more than a month of city-wide lockdowns and extensive monitoring of citizens.

China’s most effective aggressive measures

aggressive testing

In China’s coronavirus hotspots, everywhere you go–into a building, or a train station, bus station, even your own apartment–your temperature is taken. If it is elevated, you are sent to a fever clinic.

fever clinics

Doctors in protective gear take your temperature, ask about symptoms and do a white blood cell count (which would mean you have bacterial pneumonia, not COVID-19) and a flu test (which would mean the seasonal flu, and, again, not the coronavirus).

If you are suspected to have COVID-19, you are quarantined to a gym or an auditorium, with beds and curtains set up for isolation. You are not allowed to go home, or to work, or anywhere else. You are separated from your family.

aggressive quarantines

China discovered that home quarantines weren’t stopping the spread of the disease. With 75-80% of infections occurring within family clusters, it became clear that being quarantined meant a nearly guaranteed spread to everyone living in the house. In response, they began an uncompromising separation of sick from healthy, which is probably the biggest contributor to the decline in infection rates.

a few obvious shortcomings in the US approach

early problems with CDC tests lead to less aggressive testing

Instead of using the already-developed WHO tests for coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decided to create its own test. Unfortunately, the test was flawed. In addition, since most states had to send their samples to the CDC for processing, early test results were slow, at best. Also, early on, sick people with virus symptoms could only be tested if they had also traveled overseas, which means we missed early cases of community spread.

The US Food and Drug Administration finally gave states permission to create their own tests on February 29, nearly a month after the first case was diagnosed.

still, not enough tests are being done

As of March 11according to the Atlantic, about 7,000 COVID-19 tests have been done.

By contrast, in South Korea–another hot spot for COVID-19–over 66,000 people were tested within a week of its first case of community transmission, and they quickly ramped up to testing 10,000 people a day. The UK, with a little over 100 positive cases, has has tested over 18,000 people for the virus.

travel ban on foreign visitors doesn’t address virus already in communities

President Trump announced a 30-day ban on foreign visitors from most of Europe in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Of course, the travel ban doesn’t address what we believe to be a heavy dose of coronavirus already present in our communities.

misleading information from White House

A vaccine is coming soon (officials say it’s at least a year off), COVID-19 is similar to the seasonal flu (we have therapies and vaccines for the seasonal flu), it’s a hoax (don’t we wish) are all assertions made by the President that have been contradicted by health officials in the CDC. When information is contradictory, misleading, or false, we feel more uneasy and that can result in panic-buying and hoarding, for example.

need for more information on possible future therapies

While we know that a vaccine is not likely to be developed quickly, there has been some talk of therapies that could come online much earlier. More information–and the hope it brings–would be helpful.

need to know if hospitals can handle the load of cases

China set up temporary “fever clinics” to rapidly address people with viral symptoms, and then to send them off to quarantine in designated areas. We are relying instead on the health infrastructure we already have in place, along with home quarantining. Are they adequate?

“The biggest risk we face right now is that our hospitals begin getting overwhelmed as we’re seeing in Italy,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development. “We didn’t hear a word about that: not a word about the risk to U.S. hospitals, not a word about how we’re going to keep mortality down in this country, not a word about testing.”

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