Daily COVID-19 Briefing: 3/13/20

  1. The U.S. has seen day-over-day increases in cases of about 30%. This is what we have seen in most countries including Italy. Only Iran and South Korea have seen more rapid spread of the disease. U.S. total cases now stand at 1,840+ with 41 deaths. Dr. Ashish Jha, Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, says today on CNN that the U.S. now has 5,000–10,000 Americans infected. More importantly, he says that the number of cases is now doubling every six days. He remains highly critical of U.S. response and the inadequacy of testing.
  2. Testing remains the Achilles heel of the U.S. response. Best estimates are that we have tested about 13,000 people so far. In contrast, 230,000 have been tested in South Korea. Testing kits and supplies are running low, although private testing firms are ramping up and increased production capacity is on the way. It is unclear if the supply will meet the demand.
  3. President Trump receives criticism from public health officials after his speech on Wednesday. The President continues to downplay the epidemic and to disseminate false information. Today, he erroneously stated that all travelers are being tested for COVID-19 when coming into the country. As Politico reports today, Tom Bossert, a former Trump homeland security adviser who has increasingly sounded the alarm on the readiness of U.S. hospitals, said: “We will regret wasting time and energy on travel restrictions and wish we focused more on hospital preparation and large scale community mitigation.”
  4. The President is due to hold a press briefing at 3 pm EDT today. It is expected that he will declare a national emergency. This may involve invoking the Stafford Act. Rumors are spreading fast that this will involve mass quarantine.
  5. The U.S. announced a travel ban on flights coming from 26 European countries on Wednesday. Despite having said on February 26th that such travel bans are not effective, Dr. Anthony Fauci is now defending the White House action. Criticism is mounting about Fauci’s role. Several news outlets reporting that cargo and travel restrictions from Europe will further hamper and slow U.S. response due to difficulty moving supplies and expertise.
  6. Italy remains a key country to watch; it may be a bellwether of where we are going in the U.S. As the New York Times reports, in less than three weeks, the virus has overloaded hospitals. There are reports that some triage is occurring. That means some patients are not being treated because the system is overwhelmed and cannot use scarce resources on patients who are not expected to survive. This is happening despite draconian control measures imposed across all of Italy. Reports indicate that about half of those testing positive for the virus require some form of hospitalization. That does not correspond to current understanding and portends greater system stress in the U.S. as the outbreak advances.
  7. Older men with heart disease (particularly high blood pressure) are at significantly higher risk than others. This is a markedly different risk profile compared to seasonal flu. The reasons are not yet clear but point to the potential for targeted therapies.
  8. As the first wave of the pandemic ebbs in China, focus is shifting in an alarming direction. The WSJ reports that new cases originating outside China have exceeded those from inside the country for the past six days. This has been following by increasing tension and scrutiny toward non-Chinese citizens. Travel restrictions and self-quarantine is being increasingly imposed on those coming to China from outside. Other news organizations report on rumors emanating from China, one of which claims the virus was introduced into China by the U.S. military.
  9. Podcaster Joe Rogan hosted Michael Osterholm, a public health scientist and biosecurity expert the University of Minnesota. The show now has 10.4 million views on YouTube. Osterholm suggested that the U.S. could see over 480,000 deaths and 48 million hospitalizations in the U.S. over the next 4–7 months. These numbers are in line with those of other trusted experts.

Updated 3/13/20 at 1:50 pm EDT.

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