Like pretty much everyone else (apart from those who have been living under a rock), I’ve been watching the developing situation regarding COVID-19, a.k.a. “2019 novel coronavirus” or just “coronavirus” for short. A few things that really made me think are as follows…
I saw a news report from Germany in which they noted that testing for coronavirus was performed by their health service for free. They also mentioned they had heard that a lot of people in the USA were reluctant to go to a doctor for testing because they couldn’t afford the fee.
This is, of course, true. Isn’t it sad that people living in the wealthiest nation on Earth — one that spends more on healthcare per person than any other country — can’t get tested for something like coronavirus because they can’t afford it, even though testing them would be of benefit to the whole country in terms of spending and overall public health?
There’s also the fact that we are woefully behind the curve in the USA with regard to having testing kits. Just a few days ago, someone on the local news said, “There are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Alabama.” Well, that’s true enough (or it was when it was said), but one reason for this was that NO ONE IN ALABAMA HAD BEEN TESTED at that time!
According to this article in The Atlantic, as of Monday March 9 at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, a grand total of 4,384 people had been tested for the coronavirus in the USA. By comparison, according to this report on CNN, South Korea has already provided free and easy testing to more than 230,000 people.
Some countries and people act proactively in a crisis, while others are somewhat slower to rise to the occasion. It’s sad to discover that the USA has become a follower rather than a leader. For example, the aforementioned CNN report notes that, as early as January 16, South Korean biotech company Seegene started focusing its attentions on coronavirus, which was four days before the first case in the country was even confirmed. By comparison, as reported in an article by NBC News, back in 2016, after years of research, a team of scientists in the USA had helped develop a vaccine for coronavirus. They were ready to start testing on humans when… funding dried up.
It makes you want to cry.
My wife (Gina the Gorgeous) and I subscribe to the BritBox streaming service. For only $6.99 a month, we get access to news, dramas, comedies, mysteries, documentaries, etc. One such program is Good Morning Britain (GMB), which starts at 6:30 a.m. every weekday in the UK. Gina and I occasionally watch an episode in the evening, and then binge-watch any of the week’s remaining episodes at the weekend.
We were watching an episode last night. One of the items was a hospital in Edinburgh, Scotland, that had set up a drive through testing station for coronavirus. Admittedly, the nurses were working out of a cargo container that looked to have been dumped in the middle of a building site, but the principle is “as sound as a pound.”
The idea is that you drive up to the testing station and wind your window down. A nurse, sporting the latest and greatest in biohazard fashion, takes a couple of swaps by sticking a cotton-tipped twig up your nose (it made my eyes water to watch) and another in your mouth. Then you drive off and they call you with the results no more than 5 hours later (or first thing in the morning if you get tested in the late afternoon).
I just had a quick Google (while no one was looking) to discover that drive through testing stations are now being opened across the UK. It also turns out that the South Koreans have been doing this for a while. How about the USA? Don’t make me laugh. Almost a week after President Trump said, “Anyone who wants a coronavirus test can have one” (and two weeks after he said, “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear”), this article in the New York Times reported patients describing “Kafkaesque quests for tests.”
If you have one-and-a-half hours to spare, my chum Aubrey Kagan just sent me a link to this video of Josh Rogan interviewing an internationally recognized expert in infectious disease epidemiology. Aubrey accompanied this link with a short message saying, “This is both really fascinating and really depressing.”
The thing is that, much like our recent experiences with the effects of climate change (droughts, fires, floods, etc.), I fear the coronavirus is but a taste of things to come. We should consider ourselves lucky that it’s not more communicable and more lethal. Things are bad enough as they are. The world’s health systems are barely able to cope with coronavirus. How well do you think they would cope with a disease that had the communicability of measles and the lethality of Ebola?
As Mark Twain famously said, “Good judgement is the result of experience and experience the result of bad judgement.” What I think we should do is to regard coronavirus as a “test run” and start looking to the future. Wouldn’t it be nice if some good were to come out of the current crisis in the form of a planned, streamlined response to any future pandemics? I’m thinking of things like having a government-funded biotech lab that was constantly at work developing vaccines to emerging diseases whenever and wherever they appeared.
It also wouldn’t hurt to have a number of warehouses located around the country storing thousands of mobile testing stations that could be dispatched to towns and cities within a few days’ notice, thereby supporting drive through testing that should be free to all. They could even do a test-run once every couple of years with a free drive through test for the flu, for example.
I must admit that I feel a little miffed, some might say peeved, that I live in most advanced and technological nation on Earth, but that we have put up such a poor showing thus far. We can only hope that we learn from what we’ve done wrong and do better next time (and there will undoubtedly be a “next time”).
As an aside, I would like to say how fortunate we are to have President Trump at the helm. Seriously. I really would like to be able to say this without laughing or crying, but I’m learning to live with disappointment.
What are the odds that, at the time of this crisis, we would be so fortunate as to have a commander in chief who knows more about almost every subject on Earth than anyone else on Earth? We know this because the president has managed to overcome his natural reticence and share a few of his skills with the rest of us, including, for example, trade (“Nobody knows more about trade than me”), technology (“Nobody knows more about technology than me”), and economic theory (“I think I know about it better than [the Federal Reserve]”).
Now, there are always naysayers and the spreaders of fake news, such as those malcontents who would claim that President Trump talks and writes at the level of a fifth grader. Happily, once again we have the sage himself to refute these despicable accusations when he tells us in his own words that he is “like, really smart” and “a very stable genius.” And for those who still doubt, he also informs us that, “I’m very highly educated. I know words. I have the best words.”
Of course, coronavirus is a biological and medical issue — although it does have effects on trade and we rely on technology to address the problem — but we need not fear. According to the official transcript from the White House titled “Remarks by President Trump After Tour of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | Atlanta, GA,” our Commander in Chief noted:
I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, “How do you know so much about this?” Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for President.
Well, I would like to state for the record that I for one am quite prepared to accept that the doctors were astonished and confounded by the depth of the president’s knowledge. One can only imagine how bad things might be were we unfortunate enough to find ourselves with a blithering idiot in charge. As we all know, that’s how covfefe’s happen, and none of us wants that.