Why Washington health officials fear novel coronavirus may have been quietly spreading

Why Washington health officials fear novel coronavirus may have been quietly spreading


JUDY WOODRUFF: The toll from the coronavirus
is edging up tonight across the United States. So far, there are six known deaths, all in
Washington state, but there are fears the virus is considerably more widespread than
previously known. Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage LISA DESJARDINS: In the greater Seattle area,
health officials now question if the coronavirus might have been spreading there undetected
for weeks. If so, there could be scores of undiagnosed cases. DR. PETER RABINOWITZ, U.W. MetaCenter for
Pandemic Preparedness: What this means is that, almost certainly, the virus is in our
community, it’s circulating, it’s exposing people, it’s infecting people, and we have
not been able to totally contain it. LISA DESJARDINS: The state of Washington is
now under a state of emergency as it ramps up its testing. DR. JEFFREY DUCHIN, Seattle Public Health
Official: Many people will have it. Most people will not be seriously ill. But we want to
do two things. We want to protect those who are most at risk from becoming seriously ill.
And we want to prevent many people, as many as we can, from becoming sick at the same
time. LISA DESJARDINS: Most of the patients who
died in that state lived at a nursing facility in Kirkland, a place where over a dozen other
people are now sick. Across the country, so far, the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed cases in 10 different states, most on the
coasts, with more than 90 cases total. As the number of infections in the U.S. ticks
up with each day, so too has the level of anxiety, including in states with no confirmed
cases, like Hawaii, where residents are already flocking to stores to buy health supplies
like masks and gloves or essentials. These shoppers at a Costco in Honolulu braved
long lines to buy toilet paper and paper towels. At the White House, President Trump sought
to allay any fears. He also met with pharmaceutical companies this afternoon. DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States:
We’re working very hard to expedite the longer process of developing a vaccine. We’re also
moving with maximum speed to develop therapies, so that we can help people recover as quickly
as possible. LISA DESJARDINS: The number of virus-related
deaths around the world has now topped 3,000, with infections confirmed in more than 60
countries. There was some good news today out of China,
the original epicenter of the outbreak. The number of new infections there dropped to
its lowest level in six weeks. And more than 2,500 patients were released from hospitals
in the city of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged. In Switzerland today, the head of the World
Health Organization warned that focus must now move elsewhere. TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, Director General,
World Health Organization: In the last 24 hours, there were almost nine times more cases
reported outside China than inside China. LISA DESJARDINS: South Korea now has more
than half the total number of cases reported outside China, with over 4,000 infections. Meanwhile, Italy’s infections surged 50 percent
over a 24-hour period to well over 1,500. But the fastest spread currently seems to
be in Iran, where the caseload more than tripled in just 24 hours. Still, officials with the
World Health Organization remain optimistic. TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS: Containment of
COVID-19 is feasible and must remain the top priority for all countries. We can push this
virus back. Your actions now will determine the course of the outbreak in your country.
There is no choice but act now. LISA DESJARDINS: Meantime, the virus is striking
at business and the global tourism industry. In France, the doors of the famed Louvre museum
in Paris remained closed for a second day over fears of spreading the virus in its often-packed
hallways. The economic blow may be far wider. The Organization for Economic Cooperation
and Development warned, the coronavirus outbreak could cut global growth in half and threatens
to plunge several countries into a recession. Despite the economic warnings, Wall Street
roared back today, on hopes that central banks will act to boost growth. The Dow Jones industrial
average gained nearly 1,300 points, 5 percent, to close at 26703. The Nasdaq rose 384 points,
and the S&P 500 was up 136. Now let’s take a closer look at some of the
latest health concerns about the outbreak in the United States and the efforts to contain
its spread. Dr. Sheri Fink is covering this for The New
York Times and joins me now. Thank you for joining us. I know you have
been going without sleep on this story. And I want to ask you, first of all, to help
us understand the growing health concerns. Something we seem to be understanding about
this virus is that it can infect, but then go undetected, show no symptoms for days. So, given that, how well do we really understand
how far it has spread, including especially in Washington state, where it seems to be
the biggest concern right now? DR. SHERI FINK, The New York Times: I think
we don’t understand quite how far it’s spread for two reasons. One is, as you said, there can be mild illness.
In fact, 80 percent of people have a really mild illness and some people may have no symptoms
at all. So, that does make it hard to detect. And that’s why, when you have the ability
to sort of have a lot of test kits and you can test more broadly in a community, you
will get a better sense of how far that virus has gone. The other reason is, until last week, there
wasn’t a lot of testing capacity in the U.S. So, just late last week, some of the states
have been able to run those tests themselves and not have to send the samples all the way
to Atlanta and wait for those test results. They have also opened up the criteria and
are able to test more people. Those criteria were really narrow. You had to have traveled
from China in the last 14 days, or have had contact with a known sick person before to
get a test. And now there is a much broader criteria for being able to test people. So we should be getting a better handle. LISA DESJARDINS: As states start to ramp up
their ability to test, there’s also a concern about the next phase, which is hospitalization. What do we know, in Washington state, for
example, about whether they have the capacity for all the potential patients who may be
coming? DR. SHERI FINK: So they have said in a press
conference today that some of the hospitals are already feeling stressed by this. And, certainly, we know that there’s no perfect
preparedness. Our hospitals are pretty busy during flu season all over the country. So
that’s not a surprise. Today, the World Health Organization suggested that countries really
look at hospital capacity. How will you free up more capacity? Sometimes,
hospitals in Seattle area may be looking at how can they maybe defer certain types of
procedures to help make space for — if they’re going to have a lot of people who have a more
severe illness who will need intensive care. So these are things that our hospitals need
to be thinking about. And they all should have a plan for the so-called surge. They
are starting to see this, they have said, in Seattle. LISA DESJARDINS: I want to also ask about
concerns for individuals. This is described as a flu-like virus. But
do we have more specifics now about what it really looks like? And when someone dies from
this virus, what is it that is actually the problem? Is it respiratory failure? DR. SHERI FINK: So, we do have some pretty
good information coming out of China. Again, that’s their population, their health care
system. But for those people who are very severely
sick, we know two things. One is, yes, it often is this — something called ARDS. It’s
a very bad respiratory complication, like a very complicated pneumonia. And that seems
to be what is leading to people’s — to people dying. We also know, from the experience of China,
which people are most at risk, so the people who should be taking more precautions, who
should be handwashing and really making sure, if the virus does spread in your local community,
to try to protect yourself. And those are people who are older. And by
older a lot of people who would consider young ages, I mean, 60s, for example, 50s, even,
or if you have an underlying health condition, like many people do, chronic health conditions.
Those are the people who have been most at risk of having this severe illness. LISA DESJARDINS: Dr. Sheri Fink from The New
York Times, very important information. Thank you. DR. SHERI FINK: Thanks.

Daniel Yohans

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