America’s CDC is being willfully ignorant about coronavirus spread.

Updated 2/28/20

Officially we only have 60 cases of covid-19 in the USA, but as of Wednesday, February 26, we have only looked for the virus in a total of a mere 445 Americans out of our population of 330 million. We just aren’t looking for it. See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no Covid19.  Why is nobody talking about this data from the CDC?

We have only tested a TOTAL of 445 Americans for covid-19 according to the CDC!  That sounds like the pandemic preparedness of a 3rd-world country in the face of a disease that is spreading exponentially.

We don’t know and we can’t know how widespread the virus is in the US because we aren’t testing people.  Why have only 445 people have been tested in the US when we have had 14 confirmed cases discovered in the US plus 45 repatriated Americans who got sick abroad?  Lack of capability is part of the problem.  Last week only 2 CDC labs had the capability to test for the disease and as of Tuesday, still only a dozen health departments in the USA had the capability to do the testing at all!!  Lack of testing was what caught Italy, Korea, and Iran off guard–they didn’t discover the virus until it had already spread out of control.

We only know of one case of covid-19 that isn’t connected to any known foreign contact.  This worrisome case was just announced last night, but there could be many more because we just haven’t been testing. In this recent case, “The person wasn’t tested for the disease for days, despite an immediate request to the CDC”. The victim was hospitalized for a full week before the test was finally finished. The CDC didn’t agree to do the test until the woman became so ill, she was intubated on a ventilator in intensive care.

Asian countries in particular are way ahead of the US in testing capability.  As of this week, China and Singapore have both already developed the capability to test for people who have been exposed in the past without having developed the illness whereas the USA barely has the capability to do the basic test for people who are currently infected with a high virus load. 

The number of people China has already tested has to be in the hundreds of thousands by now and in the city of Hong Kong alone they are testing a thousand people every day.  In Korea, the public health authority has set up drive-through testing facilities in parking lots where people can drive up to temporary mobile health offices in steel shipping containers and get tested.  Check out the aerial photograph at the NYT!  They are way more advanced than we are. 

In contrast, the US has only tested 445 Americans and our testing capacity is so limited that the CDC has been restricting testing to the very few people who both have symptoms AND have had direct contact with people from mainland China (even though the disease is also in 39 other countries too).  According to the CDC’s official criteria, they should never have tested the woman from California who was on a ventilator in intensive care due to the virus.  Such a limited investigation is going to miss a lot of killer viruses.

As of Tuesday, covid-19 had killed 2,700 people worldwide and infected more than 81,000 people in more than 40 countries. It is about twice as contagious as the ordinary flu with an R0 of 2 to 3.11 vs. only 1.3 for the flu.  R0 is the average number of new people each sick person infects.  And covid19 is about 15 times deadlier for those who get it than the flu. The flu has killed an average of over 37,000 annually since 2010 and JAMA reports that, “Influenza and pneumonia constituted the largest single [infectious] disease category, averaging 44.4% of all infectious disease deaths” in the USA during the 20th century.

Covid-19 is likely to be even worse than that, but data about coronavirus is surprisingly hard to come by (perhaps due to the “say no evil” attitude of our officials).  Here is the biggest data set on coronavirus mortality that I have found so far:

Young adults have a much lower mortality rate compared with any older age. Their mortality rate is 0.2% or one in 500. Suppose you have a group of 650 young adults who get the disease. The binomial probability of at least one person dying in that group of 650 is 73% given the mortality rates we have seen so far in China shown above. In people aged 80 years and older, the mortality rate has been 14.8%. If you had a nursing home with 20 residents who got the disease, the chance that none of them would die is only 4% and the most likely number of deaths would be 3 of them given the mortality data out of China so far.

In the face of those risks, the CDC is doing… not much.  I’d ordinarily predict that this would be Trump’s “heckuva job” moment, but scandals that would sink any other politician just don’t bother him because he has no shame nor empathy for people his actions hurt and he has has always succeeded at convincing his supporters that others should be blamed for every problem he has caused.

UPDATE:

I’m pissed. We are so woefully unprepared for a pandemic. 

Two days after the first “community spread” victim in the USA was discovered, I expected that the CDC would be dramatically increasing their testing rate because there are lots of people that Californian woman came into contact with before she was tested and she had to have gotten it from someone who is still out there.  The White House is in charge of the CDC and when they announced that they put putative second-in-command, Vice-President Pence, in charge of the response, I was thankful that they are finally taking covid19 seriously.  Plus, the situation is getting more serious because virus seems to be spreading exponentially around the world. 

So I fully expected that the rate of testing to dramatically rise over the past two days, but instead I see this morning that the number of new covid19 tests over the past two days was…. SIX!?!  We are in trouble when that is all we can do.  Meanwhile California was monitoring more than 8,400 people for the coronavirus yesterday and 83 New York residents are in quarantine and that is just some of the current number of Americans at risk in only two states. New York state is so frustrated with the CDC’s lack of testing that the state decided to develop their own test independently of the CDC’s efforts. 

After we discovered Wednesday that the disease is spreading in the general community of Americans, Trump put Pence in control and we actually SLOWED DOWN our testing regime?  I mean, the White House just put out a budget two weeks ago that intended to slash CDC funding 16% (and they have repeatedly made cuts in previous years too, including eliminating the the US Pandemic Response Team in 2018), but I thought that by now they would have reversed their attitude towards the NIH and CDC and the would be making a moonshot effort to slow the disease and prevent the worst case scenario. 

Instead, they are keeping us all in the dark by barely looking for the virus. Here is the updated chart with only six more tests since two days ago:

covid19-testing Why isn’t anyone else shocked by this? I hope I’m completely misinterpreting the seriousness of this apparent incompetence and I’ll be very happy to update this post if I’m wrong and there is nothing to fear here.  Can someone with more time and investigative journalism experience please look into this? 

Unfortunately, once the media examines how pathetic the CDC’s testing has been the White House will probably stop them from publishing the data every other day as they have been doing.  When Pence took charge, he immediately started restricting the coronavirus information that is being released and Trump’s chief of staff Mulvaney today advised the American people to just ignore news reports about covid19. 

Posted in Health
3 comments on “America’s CDC is being willfully ignorant about coronavirus spread.
  1. […] US three times every week, “on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.” Today they stopped. I predicted this last week because Trump responded to criticisms of his administrations’ public health efforts by […]

  2. […] a week after I first became alarmed at how shockingly inept America’s covid-19 testing has been, today I’m finally seeing a […]

  3. […] real work of pandemic preparation that he should have been doing all along rather than trying to slash the CDC budget 16% in the middle of the […]

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