Alexander's Column

The Flu and You: COVID-19 Coronavirus Perspective and Preparedness

Your primary defense against such contagions is the capacity to shelter in place.

Mark Alexander · Jan. 31, 2020

The UN’s World Health Organization declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern in connection with the spread of the latest coronavirus mutation, formally 2019-nCoV or COVID-19, and concern about human-to-human transmission. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted, “The main reason for this declaration is not what is happening in China but what is happening in other countries.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, generally far ahead of the rest of the world regarding potential pandemic threats, is always watching this and other bugs for early warning signs of spread in the U.S. Taking additional measures, the Trump administration’s Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has empaneled a task force to ramp up preparedness and response to the spread of this contagion. Azar declared, “Americans should note this is a potentially very serious public health threat.” Accordingly, the U.S. has now established 10 COVID-19 quarantine sectors near major domestic airports in Hawaii, Illinois, Texas, California, Georgia, New York, Washington, Washington DC, New Jersey and Michigan. Americans and other international travelers on cruise ships are being held in quarantine.

The communist Chinese government’s “official” account is about 1,700 deaths and 60,000 infectious cases, with more than 50 million people now quarantined, primarily in Wuhan province, but now spending to other Chines urban centers. However, our sources indicate that the actual rates of infection and deaths in China are much higher, and, in fact, official reports may only represent 15-20% of the actual dead and infected. The so-called “popup hospitals” now being constructed in Hubei province where the COVID-19 outbreak originated double as isolation morgues. Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor in Wuhan who was punished by the Chinese government for his concerns about the spread of COVID-19, has now died.

Predictably, the Chinese communist politburo has been busy shifting blame for the outbreak.

In the U.S., the CDC is now reporting many domestic human-transmitted cases and is testing thousands of citizens suspected of COVID-19 infection. The CDC has increase the isolation period for those who are suspected of being infected to 14 days, and foreign nationals who have recently traveled to China are not permitted to enter the U.S. Accordingly, the State Department has issued a strong travel advisory for China.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says: “We all need to be mindful of the serious nature of the threat that is posed. [W]e are prepared to do everything that the United States can do to reduce the risk to populations,” adding that the biggest concern now is for countries “where there is not significant capable healthcare infrastructure. That presents a lot of risk and we are already doing our best.”

What do you need to know — and do?

First some perspective.

Global deaths from the Ebola epidemic originating in 2014 are estimated now at more than 13,200. But deaths from the the 2009 H1N1 Swine Flu outbreak, while officially put at 18,449, are now estimated by one CDC study to be as high as 284,000. The vast majority of these deaths occurred in third-world nations where containment and treatment are rudimentary. Most deaths were at both ends of the age spectrum — the young and old.

Notably, pandemic and disease in previous generations has taken far more souls, especially in times of war when people from vastly different geographical origins are brought together. More than 400,000 of the estimated 620,000 deaths in the War Between the States were due to “camp diseases.” In the 20th century, there were 5.1 million combatant deaths in the four years of World War I, but the 1918 H1N1 avian type influenza virus, commonly referred to as the “Spanish Flu,” infected an estimated 500 million people globally, including even those in remote Pacific and Arctic regions. Indeed, as many as 75-100 million people died in that pandemic – up to five percent of the world’s population, in two years. In World War II, disease in the Pacific campaign claimed far more casualties than combat.

While domestic concern about COVID-19 is certainly warranted, the current influenza B/Victoria viral strain in the U.S. is deadly. There have been more than 8,000 deaths associated with influenza across the country in this flu season. “Influenza is going to cause thousands more hospitalizations and I’m afraid many, many deaths that will make the COVID-19 impact on our country very tiny in comparison,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious-disease specialist. He added, “The risk from influenza is real and present.” (Did you get that flu shot this year?)

And, we are seeing the re-emergence of some diseases that were thought long gone.

In a 2019 report about the diseases festering in just one major urban center, Los Angeles’ 53-square block skid row, Eric Johnson notes, “Near-forgotten diseases are popping up on the streets that harken back beyond the Great Depression.” According to Dr. Drew Pinsky: “We have not seen conditions for humans like this since medieval times. Period. And that’s a fact. … Tuberculosis is exploding. Non-tuberculosis acid-fast bacilli, exploding. And then the rat-borne illnesses, plague and typhus… and then we had typhoid fever… Here we go, everybody. Everything you found in your history books, we got it! It’s coming.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Fransisco district is worse.

Additionally, a significant concern resulting from the current COVID-19 viral outbreak, is the realization that the United States if very dependent on the Chines government for many or our pharmaceutical supplies.

According to his recent Senate testimony, Scott Gottlieb, a physician who is also a former Trump administration Food and Drug Administration commissioner, outlined some of our strategic reliance on China for pharmaceuticals: “About 40 percent of generic drugs sold in the U.S. have only a single manufacturer. A significant supply chain disruption could cause shortages for some of many of these products. [In 2019], manufacturing of intermediate or finished goods in China, as well as pharmaceutical source material, accounted for 95 percent of U.S. imports of ibuprofen, 91 percent of U.S. imports of hydrocortisone, 70 percent of U.S. imports of acetaminophen, 40 to 45 percent of U.S. imports of penicillin, and 40 percent of U.S. imports of heparin, according to the Commerce Department. In total, 80 percent of the U.S. supply of antibiotics are made in China.”

Gottlieb noted further: “While much of the fill finishing work (the actual formulation of finished drug capsules and tablets) is done outside China (and often in India) the starting and intermediate chemicals are often sourced in China. Moreover, the U.S. generic drug industry can no longer produce certain critical medicines such as penicillin and doxycycline without these chemical components. Moreover, when it comes to starting material for the manufacture of pharmaceutical ingredients, a lot of this production is centered in China’s Hubei Provence, the epicenter of coronavirus.”

Researcher David Dayen, “In a dark irony, most of the world’s face masks – now ubiquitous in China as a precaution – are made in China and Taiwan, and even for those made elsewhere, some component parts are Chinese-sourced.”

A recent report from the US-China Economic Security Review Commission concludes: First, “Because of U.S. dependency on China as a source of many critical drugs, banning certain imports due to contamination risks creating drug shortages in the United States.” Second, “As a result of U.S. dependence on Chinese supply and the lack of effective health and safety regulation of Chinese producers, the American public, including its armed forces, are at risk of exposure to contaminated and dangerous medicines.” And third, “Should Beijing opt to use U.S. dependence on China as an economic weapon and cut supplies of critical drugs, it would have a serious effect on the health of U.S. consumers.”

So, as for the threat posed by COVID-19 and other emerging diseases which can mutate into forms which are readily transferable between humans, what can you do?

First and foremost, be prepared. As I noted in “The REAL Pandemic Threat,” “Clearly, there are significant pandemic threats posed by viral infections that mutate into much more contagious forms and can spread regionally, nationally, and internationally, causing significant loss of life. I have advised for years that the primary defense against such contagions is the capacity to shelter in place. What originates in China or Africa one week can be in your suburb the next.”

For that reason, years ago we developed a resource page on Disaster Preparedness Planning, including a Two Step Individual Readiness Plan and a section on how to shelter in place.

We encourage you to visit each of these pages, because national preparedness begins with individual preparedness.

P.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is not suggesting that COVID-19 was bio-engineered and then intentionally released, but he did make this connection: “We don’t know where it originated, and we have to get to the bottom of that. We also know that just a few miles away from that food market is China’s only biosafety level 4 super laboratory that researches human infectious diseases.”

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