As of this writing, COVID-19 (the coronavirus) has spread to 118 countries. Approximately 165,000 people have been infected, ~6,300 have died and another ~5,600 are in serious condition (~76,000 have recovered).
In the United States, there are ~3,100 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 62 patients have died and eight have recovered. Unfortunately, the number of cases in the US (and possibly other nations) may be grossly understated as we are in the early stages of this pandemic. In part, this is a result of early inaction and complacence. Earlier this week an expert with the Harvard Global Health Institute, Ashish Jha, asserted that the
to the coronavirus outbreak has been "much, much worse than almost any other country that's been affected…I still don't understand why we don't have extensive testing. Vietnam! Vietnam has tested more people than America has…Without testing, you have no idea how extensive the infection is…we have to shut schools, events, and everything down, because that's the only tool available to us until we get testing back up. It's been stunning to me how bad the federal response has been..."
Renowned virologist, HIV/AIDS expert and Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci
to lawmakers this past week: “The system is not really geared to what we need right now - what you’re asking for - that is a failing…It is a failing. Let’s admit it.”
He makes a valid point. As the human tragedy unfolded at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China in late 2019, government officials around the world were given a head start to prepare for and implement practical measures to help contain the spread of the virus. South Korea was exemplary. Given its proximately to China, COVID-19 quickly permeated its borders. However, South Korean authorities learned from China’s experience and took quick, decisive action. They moved swiftly and tested tens of thousands of people, isolated infected patients and aggressively disinfected public places around the country. They curtailed travel, shut public gathering places, closed schools and limited the number of people who could loiter together. The result: Data suggests the epidemic has already peaked there with ~8,200 cases, 75 confirmed deaths (a mortality rate of ~.01%) and 834 recovered.
In contrast, our government’s initial “response” was unconscionable. One of the basic functions of a government is to take all reasonable measures to keep its citizens safe. The US government fell well short of that responsibility. We had a 6-week head start to prepare (longer than South Korea) but instead took a lackadaisical approach. The fact that there aren’t even enough testing kits to go around after witnessing the outbreaks overseas is a gross abdication of responsibility to American citizens. Now Americans find themselves in a defensive, reactive stance.
Using back of the envelope math, if ~165,000 people are officially infected and 6,300 have died, that equates to an average mortality rate of ~4%. In nations whose demographics lean older and developing countries, many of which have underfunded and or rudimentary healthcare systems, the death rate might be higher. In many westernized nations, the mortality rate will probably be lower; but only if their respective healthcare systems are not overrun.
The United States has an excellent healthcare system, but very little spare capacity. And because we are playing catchup, the math tells a particularly disheartening story. Consider the following: there are ~950,000 hospital beds throughout the nation, 2/3rds of which are typically occupied at any one time. This leaves just ~300,000 beds available to be utilized. Measures can be enacted to help free up space including canceling all non-essential and elective surgeries. But the stark reality is that we have very little buffer to absorb an acute influx of patients. Furthermore, because of the infectious and highly contagious nature of this disease, coronavirus patients require a tremendous amount of medical resources. They must be isolated, many will require round the clock monitoring, ventilation machines and other medical gear, many of which are in short supply. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals must take extra precaution to ensure they themselves are not infected (The hero doctor who rang the alarm bell in China was infected and subsequently succumbed to the virus).