The Morning Jolt

Health Care

You Cannot Spin a Pandemic. You Can Only Deal with It.

Descending to the subway in Beijing, China, March 10, 2020 (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

This morning arrives: “Hey, I’m Friday the 13th, I’m scary, because bad things happen when I arrive.”

Monday through Thursday respond, “You’ve got a heck of a bar to clear, kid.”

The Morning’s Good News Regarding the Coronavirus

Testing is going to get faster, thanks to smart minds in several important institutions.

One is Roche Holding AG, a Swiss pharmaceutical and diagnostic company:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted an “emergency use authorization” to the test, which runs on Roche’s cobas 6800/8800 systems. The tool also is available in Europe and countries that accept its CE marking for medical devices, Roche said.

The 8800 version is capable of testing 4,128 patients a day, and the 6800 can test as many as 1,440, the Basel, Switzerland-based company said.

“We are increasing the speed definitely by a factor of 10,” Thomas Schinecker, head of Roche’s diagnostics unit, said in an interview.

Another is the Mayo Clinic: 

Mayo Clinic announced Thursday that it has developed a test capable of detecting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Mayo began making the test available to its clinicians on Thursday. In the coming days, the Clinic will begin offering the test to other providers. The Star Tribune reports Mayo’s lab currently has the ability to handle 200-300 tests per day, though that number is expected to grow.

The University of Washington and Amazon:

Amazon Care, the company’s virtual medical clinic for employees, is in talks with local public health organizations about using its logistics expertise to help deliver at-home coronavirus testing kits to people’s homes in the Seattle area.

Specifically, Amazon Care has offered the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation its assistance with a project that aims to provide kits to Seattle residents who suspect they have symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The test kits include nose swabs that can be mailed to the University of Washington for analysis.

The goal is to process thousands of tests per day, and ideally to keep sick people out of doctor’s offices or clinics where they could expose others.

The Cleveland Clinic:

Local hospitals are taking new steps amid coronavirus, including starting their own testing to provide results within hours instead of days.

The Cleveland Clinic announced it began testing patients internally on Thursday.

It has the capacity to test about 500 samples per day and that is expected to double by late next week, according to Chairman of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Dr. Brian Rubin. Capacity could increase with additional equipment and testing automation.

“We didn’t invent a new test,” Rubin said. “We’re using an assay developed by the CDC, but we brought it online locally so we can serve our patients faster. And we will be working around the clock until further notice testing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week here.”

Rubin said the tests provide results in about eight hours, compared with a three to four-day wait for results from outside labs, such as LabCorp.

If a thorny, complicated problem hits Americans, they will respond with ingenuity, innovation, hard work, dedication, and courage.

Well, most Americans. Some will run out and buy as much toilet paper as they can.

The Morning’s Bad News Regarding the Coronavirus

China’s Foreign Ministry has stepped up its public argument that the coronavirus is a U.S.-made bioweapon. This is why it isn’t racist to refer to it as the “Wuhan Virus” or “Chinese Coronavirus.”

When we get through this, there is going to be one hell of a reckoning about our relationship and interaction with China. Scientists and health authorities have been warning about China’s live-bird markets for years — note this article from 2017 — pointing out that they are the perfect petri dish to develop new strains of the flu. “Millions of live birds are still kept, sold and slaughtered in crowded markets each year. In a study published in January, researchers in China concluded that these markets were a ‘main source of H7N9 transmission by way of human-poultry contact and avian-related environmental exposures.’”

Coronavirus isn’t just a public-health issue, it is a national-security issue. China and Iran are among the worst-hit countries, and we simply don’t know much about how North Korea is responding. (The North Korean government claims it has no cases. They certainly don’t have many international travelers.)

At this point, it seems fair to wonder just how stable the Chinese and Iranian governments are.

“This outbreak in Wuhan was covered up. There’s lots of open source reporting from China,” Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Wednesday at the Heritage Foundation. “Doctors involved were either silenced or put in isolation so the word of this virus couldn’t get out. It probably cost the world community two months.”

That is where the intelligence community comes in. The CIA and ODNI have been providing daily coronavirus updates and briefings to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, according to the panels’ respective spokespeople, also focused primarily on whether other countries are truthfully reporting the number of cases to the World Health Organization.

“Operationally, we’re going to task our sources to ask whether the data coming out of China, North Korea, and Iran is accurate because that is really important,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, a veteran CIA operations officer who retired in 2019. “So much of what the government does in response to this kind of pandemic depends on the data coming out of these closed societies.”

The article goes on to note, “the official coronavirus statistics released by Iran in recent weeks seem at odds with the number of Iranian government officials who have been infected — with several top officials even dying from the virus.”

Graeme Wood — the guy who wrote that masterful investigative piece on ISIS — has been tracking the discrepancy, and pointing that either the coronavirus just happened to hit prominent government leaders hard, or it is way more widespread than the government is willing to admit:

If COVID-19 is so rare — fewer than 400 cases had been reported in Iran by the day she announced her diagnosis — what are the chances that one of the afflicted would be a famous politician? Soon we learned of three other senior officials who not only contracted the virus but were killed by it: Mohammad Mirmohammadi, a member of a senior advisory council to Iran’s supreme leader, and Hossein Sheikholeslam and Hadi Khosrowshahi, both former high-level diplomats. Mohammad Sadr, another member of the council, announced his infection last week, as did Ebtekar’s fellow cabinet member Reza Rahmani. Recently, the speaker of parliament said 23 of his fellow members of parliament had tested positive. Two of them, Mohammad Ali Ramezani (February 29) and Fatemeh Rehber (March 7), have died.

As of March 8, Iran’s government said it had 6,566 cases. (The updated number this morning, as of this writing, is 10,075.) Wood examines outside virologist estimates ranging from 586,000 to 8 million. (The population of Iran is 81 million.)

Yesterday the Washington Post had a fascinating article with satellite photos indicating Iran is now using mass graves for coronavirus victims.

A senior imagery analyst at Maxar Technologies in Colorado said the size of the trenches and the speed with which they were excavated together mark a clear departure from past burial practices involving individual and family plots at the site. In addition to satellite imagery, videos posted on social media from the cemetery show the extended rows of graves at Behesht-e Masoumeh and say they are meant for coronavirus victims.

Get Off of Twitter until the Coronavirus Crisis Passes, Mr. President

Finally, President Trump really needs to put aside his reflexive favorite statementsI am the greatest, that good thing that happened was because of me, it’s not my fault, Trust me, my critics are terrible people, etc., — and just work the problem of coronavirus. So far, in the past day on Twitter, Trump has ripped the Centers for Disease Control’s preparedness, called the Obama response to swine flu a disaster, declared “Sleepy Joe Biden was in charge of the H1N1 Swine Flu epidemic which killed thousands of people,” and kept to his usual tone.

Just work the problem, Mr. President. The American people don’t care about what happened with swine flu in 2009. They’re worried about the here and now. They’re worried about whether they or their loved ones will get sick, whether the hospitals will have the room and equipment needed to treat them, and how many Americans will die.

From the first reports of this crisis, the president’s statements have suggested he simply did not grasp the severity of the problem. On January 24, Trump tweeted, “it will all work out well.” On February 26, he said, “Because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low. . . . When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.” (As of this writing, the United States has 1,701 cases.) March 9, he tweeted, “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!” Two days later, Anthony Fauci declared that the coronavirus was “10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu.”

You cannot spin a pandemic. You can only deal with it.

ADDENDUM: A laugh amidst our grim moment: Life just keeps giving us new warnings about how dangerous it is to travel with Tom Hanks.

Judging from Hanks’s Instagram, he and Rita Wilson are dealing with quarantine pretty well: “We are taking it one-day-at-a-time. There are things we can all do to get through this by following the advice of experts and taking care of ourselves and each other, no? Remember, despite all the current events, there is no crying in baseball.”

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