Viruses do not discriminate – we are all at risk
INTERNATIONAL – America’s first Covid-19 patient landed on January 15 in Seattle, Washington. But the novel coronavirus, described as the “Wuhan virus” for political expediency and labelled the “Kung” Flu for racist, xenophobic purposes, is unlikely to have spread in the US from the Wuhan visitor, according to a new study co-authored by researchers from eminent universities in the US, Belgium, Edinburgh, and Canada.
The research team said America’s first patient known as WA1 (Washington state patient 1) was attuned to messaging from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the new pneumonial disease circulating in Wuhan, so he pro-actively sought medical care as soon as he became symptomatic.
Efficient contact tracing measures were enacted by health authorities and no onward transmission was detected after what appears to be successful containment of the first known incursion of the virus in the US, according to the research led by Michael Worobey, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona.
Instead, they found the thousands of Americans who fled back to their country, mostly from Europe and Asia in the days after President Donald Trump’s travel ban was announced, were more likely to have helped Sars-CoV-2 take hold in February, demonstrating the window of opportunity to block its transmission remained open later than previously thought.
Worobey believes the state’s outbreak is unlikely to have started with WA1: He told Stat in an interview: “It started with some unidentified person who arrived in Washington state at some later point. And we don’t know from where.”
What we do know is US policy failure is to blame for its rapid spread: The Americas are now the epicentre of Covid-19 and the US the largest exporter of the virus, having already spread a reported 15 000 cases globally.
The earliest Covid-19 cases in South Africa all stemmed from Europe and the US. America squandered a critical window of opportunity: It ignored the science, delayed social distancing guidelines – which epidemiologists told the New York Times is responsible for 90% of US coronavirus deaths – conducted too few tests, failed to supply critical personal protective gear to front line medical workers, and now it’s hastening reopening the economy.
Yet the White House dithered over strategy while Trump flubbed through daily press conferences to attack his political foes. Federal states failed to cancel major sport and social events, so Americans continued partying during spring break and music festivals, attended their choir practices, mass religious events and theme parks, and the infamous Westport super-spreader soirée, where guests (including a South African) toasted the hostess on her birthday, sharing both a lavish feast and germs before they dispersed.
China’s response was poles apart: Its aggressive interventions and centralised quarantine measures actively suppressed the virus’ spread. Harvard statistician Xihong Lin’s extensive analysis of more than 25 000 Covid-19 cases in Wuhan shows how the Chinese “flattened their curve” not only with their initial interventions but also because of their centralised quarantine measures.
One of the takeouts of the study was that PPE in the US is significantly less comprehensive and consistent than what was implemented in Wuhan, which may be exposing health workers in the US to undue risk.
China’s been proactive from the start: After first documenting an unknown disease case in Wuhan on December 8, the Huanan Seafood Market was shut on January 1. On January 20, the first confirmation of human-human transmission was received: Three days later, a cordon sanitaire was implemented as infection control.
Within days, Wuhan initiated its mobile cabin hospitals, building temporary hospitals, opening field hospitals and utilising empty dormitories and hotels for bed space. After February 2, it centralised treatment, while isolation strategies helped to substantially reduce transmissions and incident cases.
Patients suspected of having Covid-19 were never seen in emergency rooms in Wuhan, they were sent to designated facilities. Early diagnosis and treatment are believed to have helped prevent symptoms from progressing into more severe cases. Community leaders were deployed to check every household for symptoms.
Wuhan tested more than 3 million residents over the past two months.
This medical regime, combined with a public united in the cause to overcome a common threat, and strict quarantine have helped China contain infections and allowed Wuhan to reopen.
Critically, China is not taking its foot off the pedals now: It’s ramping up efforts to avert a “second wave”.
The Chinese experience of Covid-19 should serve as a lesson to other countries in how to pull together to fight a global threat.
Instead of playing the blame game, China has ramped up support for other countries by sending medical staff, supplies and technical support to help domestic efforts.
Viruses don't discriminate, we're all at risk.