CDC

Is America Ready For a Possible COVID-19 Pandemic?

With coronavirus dominating the news, how ready is the United States for a possible COVID-19 pandemic? An expert explains what you need to know.

Though challenges remain in fighting the spread of coronavirus, the United States government has tools ready to face a potential pandemic, an expert explains.

The CDC issued a statement this week stating that “Americans should brace for the likelihood that the coronavirus will spread to communities in the US” and to “prepare for the expectation that this might be bad.”

With estimates of infection worldwide now exceeding 80,000—and about 2,600 now dead—what are the legal tools in place for the US and world to deal with a pandemic?

Here, Michelle Mello, professor of law and professor of health research and policy in the Stanford University School of Medicine, discusses the virus and the development of policy to contain its spread:

Q: How carefully is the US tracking the coronavirus within our borders? There is some speculation that the virus has been under-reported in the US because the diagnostic kit sent to states was flawed.

A: There have been problems with both the test itself and its dissemination to labs across the US, and it’s possible that these circumstances may have led to missed diagnoses. We know they have led to late diagnoses in at least a few cases.

The problem with the test itself had to do with one of its ingredients and is now solved. The other problem was that originally, labs didn’t have permission to perform the text locally, which slowed things down.

That has also been addressed: the number of labs performing tests will exceed 90 by next week.

Q: What are the other challenges to getting accurate estimates about the number of infected?

A: A remaining challenge is who should get the test. COVID-19 symptoms look a lot like those of other respiratory illnesses. To date, the criteria for who gets tested have been quite narrow, but the CDC and state and local health departments are actively working on whether and how to tweak those criteria.

Although there are probably undetected cases out there, it’s important to keep things in perspective. This infographic using data through late February shows that this season we’ve had about 29 million cases of seasonal influenza, resulting in at least 16,000 deaths.

We’ve had about 60 cases of COVID-19 and 0 deaths. About 80% of people with COVID-19 have only mild symptoms, and the latest data suggest about 98% survive.

Q: Do we have the legal and regulatory tools in place to deal with a pandemic here in the US?

A: Yes. For the past two decades the federal government, the state, and the international community have been updating and augmenting the web of laws that authorize government action in response to outbreaks of infectious disease and other public health emergencies.

Here in the US, both the states and the federal government have broad, everyday powers to intervene to stop disease transmission through measures such as isolation, quarantine, and mandatory vaccination. Then there are a suite of special powers that are triggered when a designated official declares an emergency, and they are even broader.

In addition to coercive powers like quarantine, at the federal level they include powers to release strategic resources, such as stockpiled medical supplies and pots of money, that have been socked away. Congress can also appropriate additional resources to be directed to outbreak response, and the president has some power to reallocate money within health agencies’ budgets.

Q: How about global cooperation in halting the spread of this virus?

A: Globally, each country is in charge of its own response. But they have pledged cooperation through the International Health Regulations. Adopted in 2005, the IHR are an agreement among 196 nations to ensure that they have capacity to detect and report public health events in their own countries and to adhere to certain measures at borders to limit the spread of disease across countries.

These are voluntary commitments and nations have different capacities to implement them, but the legal framework is in place. Adherence is facilitated when wealthier countries provide aid to low-resource countries to help them carry out these functions.

Q: How closely are countries working together to develop policy to understand this virus and to contain its spread—and to develop better testing and a vaccine? Who is leading that effort?

A: Cooperation evidently got off to a rocky start in terms of the degree of transparency the Chinese government practiced when it first became aware of the problem. But on the scientific front, things have been very encouraging.

The World Health Organization has led efforts to assess what we know and don’t know, set research priorities, and identify funding. WHO has also kept the world informed about the global march of the virus. Researchers, mostly within China, have vigorously studied and published data on the numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and other researchers have swiftly built models projecting the course of the epidemic, which medical journals have made public with amazing speed. WHO and other organizations are also facilitating coordination on matters like travel and tourism.

Q: What weaknesses in the government’s ability to control dangerous health threats is this virus highlighting?

A: I see two. First, the Wuhan quarantine dramatically illustrated the challenges of maintaining a mass quarantine over an extended period of time. What the government did there is highly unusual; typically, isolation and quarantine orders are far narrower and better tailored to the people who have actually been exposed to the virus. It’s virtually impossible to maintain a mass quarantine for a long period because critical supplies will run out and social unrest will grow.

A scenario like that in the US is highly unlikely, but it’s striking to me that there has been so little discussion of how to make it feasible for people to stay at home for extended periods of time, whether under a government order or voluntarily. How can workers be kept afloat economically when they lose pay? How can continuity be maintained in children’s education and in supplies of necessities? When we need to ask people to self-isolate, there should be reciprocity—expressions of support and caring that make it feasible for them to do the right thing.

Second, our government has a short attention span. We have an outbreak of a novel virus, we throw a lot of resources at it, it abates, and then we pull the resources back and use them for something else—before our work is done. As a result, promising research to bring vaccines and therapeutics to market isn’t followed through on; capacity-building in low-resource countries (such as building hospitals and testing facilities) stops; and we’re no better prepared for the next outbreak than we were for the last one.

For example, as soon as the 2014 Ebola outbreak subsided, we diverted resources earmarked for Ebola response to Zika virus. It’s entirely predictable that outbreaks will recur, so we need to keep working on prevention and response planning during the inter-pandemic period.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: The CDC has a helpful webpage with FAQs about COVID-19, and it’s far more informative than the lurid coverage on TV news. I flew cross country yesterday and can report that there were many more people wearing masks (not recommended) than washing their hands properly (recommended)!  A little refresher on how to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses is the best medicine right now.

Source: Stanford University

This article was originally published in Futurity. Edits have been made to this republication. It has been republished under the Attribution 4.0 International license.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.