Christopher Kirchhoff, a former Obama administration aide who wrote a report in 2016 on the lessons learned from the 2014 Ebola outbreak, told Stat News that the United States was on the path to preparedness for a pandemic like the current novel coronavirus situation after Ebola, but never finished the job.
In his report, Kirchhoff wrote that it wasn’t acceptable for the U.S. to “merely” maintain “the current scale of response activities.” He told Stat that Congress, during the Ebola outbreak, passed a $5.4 billion supplemental package with a down payment to strengthen the country’s pathogen surveillance and detection operations, as well as the preparedness of the health care system for an outbreak.
In terms of the latter, Kirchhoff said there were some initial investments to grow the system’s capacity, but now as the coronavirus threatens to overwhelm U.S. hospitals, he said “it’s pretty clear” that “we didn’t follow through on more investments that were needed.” Because of that, he doesn’t believe the country is in an ideal position to respond to the current crisis. Read more at Stat News. Tim O’Donnell
A change of plans
With 2020 Tokyo Games postponed, athletes re-think training, retirement plans
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Athletes around the world are changing their plans, now that the 2020 Tokyo Games have been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The official announcement came on Tuesday, with the International Olympic Committee saying the Games will be rescheduled “to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021.” U.S. soccer star Carli Lloyd told the Los Angeles Times that delaying the Olympics was “the right decision to make,” as this “unprecedented pandemic is bigger than sports. People’s lives have been lost, the virus continues to spread, and our health care systems are overloaded.”
Lloyd, 37, has played in three Olympics, and was going to wait until after Tokyo to “see where I was mentally and physically. I wasn’t sure when I would officially retire. So now I have the opportunity to stick around for another year and it would be a dream come true to win gold with my teammates. That would be satisfying enough for me to officially retire.”
U.S. swimmer and Olympian Ryan Lochte told the Times he was disappointed to hear the Games were postponed because “I’ve been training my butt off and I’ve been feeling great,” but “this whole thing is way bigger than me. It’s way bigger than the Olympians. It’s affecting the entire world right now.”
The 35-year-old, who was suspended after the 2016 Olympics for lying about an incident that happened in Rio, said this won’t push him into an early retirement. “There’s still so much more I want to accomplish in this sport,” he said. “I’m not going to let this get in the way of it. I guess I have to look at the positive side. I get another year of training and I can get stronger.”
His fellow U.S. swimmer Nathan Adrian, who studied public health at the University of California, Berkeley, said it would have been “tragic to hold the Olympics given the circumstances.” The 31-year-old has won gold before at the Olympics, and last year, he went through two surgeries for testicular cancer. He was looking forward to competing in the upcoming swimming trials, and will come up with a new game plan. “I am cognizant of the fact that public health and their interventions occasionally can be perceived to impinge on freedom,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that. But in a situation like this, the public health wins for me. Over and over.” Catherine Garcia
N.J. man charged with terroristic threats after coughing on grocery store worker and saying he had coronavirus
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A New Jersey man who coughed on a grocery store employee before telling her he had coronavirus has been charged with terroristic threats, harassment, and obstruction, authorities said Tuesday.
The state’s attorney general’s office said the man entered a Wegmans in Manalapan on Sunday night, and got into an altercation with the store employee after she told him he was too close to her and a display of prepared food, NJ.com reports. The man — later identified by authorities as 50-year-old George Falcone of Freehold — then allegedly “stepped forward to within three feet of her, leaned toward her, and purposely coughed,” before laughing and saying he had coronavirus.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) on Tuesday said this case makes it clear there are “knuckleheads out there.” In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Murphy on Saturday issued a statewide stay at home order. As of Tuesday afternoon, there are 3,675 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state, with the death toll hitting 44. Catherine Garcia
the coronavirus crisis
White House task force officials say anyone who left NYC should self-quarantine
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With so many new coronavirus cases coming out of New York City, the White House Coronavirus Task Force is asking anyone who passed through or left the city in recent days to enter a 14-day quarantine.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there are 25,665 confirmed coronavirus cases in New York state, with more than 14,904 cases in New York City. Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator, said roughly 60 percent of all new cases being reported in the United States are coming out of the metro New York City area.
“Everybody who was in New York should be self-quarantining for the next 14 days to ensure the virus doesn’t spread to others no matter where they have gone, whether it’s Florida, North Carolina, or out to far reaches of Long Island,” Birx said during Tuesday’s coronavirus task force briefing. She added that there are new infection hot spots across Long Island, which “appear to indicate that people leaving New York City are spreading coronavirus.” Catherine Garcia
the coronavirus crisis
1st ICE detainee tests positive for coronavirus
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Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Tuesday that a 31-year-old Mexican national is the agency’s first detainee to test positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus.
The detainee was being held at the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack, New Jersey. ICE said the person is receiving medical care and in quarantine, and ”those who have come in contact with the individual have been cohorted and are being monitored for symptoms.” The agency is also “suspending intake” at the Bergen County Jail.
ICE did not release any additional details on the detainee, including when they were taken into custody. Last week, the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office announced that a corrections officer working at the jail tested positive for COVID-19, and staff “determined that no ICE detainees were exposed” to the virus.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, immigration advocates have been warning that the virus could spread quickly in detention facilities, due to crowded conditions. The Nation obtained an internal Department of Homeland Security coronavirus report dated March 19 that says at the time, nine detainees were being isolated and 24 were being monitored at more than 10 separate ICE facilities. An ICE spokesperson told The Nation “detainees can be quarantined as a result of any variety of communicable diseases.” Catherine Garcia
New Oxford study suggests millions of people may have already built up coronavirus immunity
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A model predicting the progression of the novel coronavirus pandemic produced by researchers at Imperial College London set off alarms across the world and was a major factor in several governments’ decisions to lock things down. But a new model from Oxford University is challenging its accuracy, the Financial Times reports.
The Oxford research suggests the pandemic is in a later stage than previously thought and estimates the virus has already infected at least millions of people worldwide. In the United Kingdom, which the study focuses on, half the population would have already been infected. If accurate, that would mean transmission began around mid-January and the vast majority of cases presented mild or no symptoms.
The head of the study, professor Sunetra Gupta, an Oxford theoretical epidemiologist, said she still supports the U.K.’s decision to shut down the country to suppress the virus even if her research winds up being proven correct. But she also doesn’t appear to be a big fan of the work done by the Imperial College team. “I am surprised that there has been such unqualified acceptance of the Imperial model,” she said.
If her work is accurate, that would likely mean a large swath of the population has built up resistance to the virus. Theoretically, then, social restrictions could ease sooner than anticipated. What needs to be done now, Gupta said, is a whole lot of antibody testing to figure out who may have contracted the virus. Her research team is working with groups from the University of Cambridge and the University of Kent to start those tests for the general population as quickly as possible. Read more at the Financial Times. Tim O’Donnell
the coronavirus crisis
Greta Thunberg says she’s recovering from what she believes was ‘very likely’ a mild case of COVID-19
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Youth climate activist Greta Thunberg posted on her Instagram account Tuesday that she is quite certain she’s recovering from a mild bout of COVID-19.
The 17-year-old said she returned to Sweden from a trip to Central Europe and started feeling sick about 10 days ago, as did her father. They quarantined away from her mother and sister and are now on the mend, but Thunberg implored her followers to abide by their governments’ guidelines and remain as isolated as possible to help slow the pandemic even if they’re in lower risk groups like she is.
Thunberg was never actually tested because in Sweden only people in need of emergency medical treatment are able to undergo the diagnostic process, while others exhibiting milder symptoms are told to stay home and isolate. Still, she believes it’s “extremely likely” she contracted the virus because of the symptoms and her recent travel circumstances. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O’Donnell
Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally is now ‘the most notable victim’ of COVID-19
Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions
Four-time Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally died Tuesday in Florida from complications related to the novel coronavirus, Deadline reports. The author of Love! Valour! Compassion!, Master Class, and musicals Kiss of the Spider Woman and Ragtime — among many others — was 81.
McNally is to date the “most notable victim of COVID-19,” Deadline writes. The playwright was a lung cancer survivor and had chronic inflammatory lung disease.
“Heartbroken over the loss of Terrence McNally, a giant in our world, who straddled plays and musicals deftly,” tweeted Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. “Grateful for his staggering body of work and his unfailing kindness.”
Other notable victims of COVID-19 reportedly include Manu Dibango, the Paris-based 86-year-old saxophonist behind the hit “Soul Makossa,” and 89-year-old Italian actress Lucia Bosè. Jeva Lange
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The Week · by Authors · March 24, 2020