How to Control Covid-19’s First Wave
Where’s St. Patrick when we need him?
Perhaps he decamped to the countries, like Singapore and South Korea, that have most successfully dealt with coronavirus.
They learned from what came before.
In 2003 SARS came out of Guangdong province, southern China and caused a fatality rate of 8%. It left people, especially in places like Hong Kong, terrified. The quarantined citizens of Amoy Gardens were left to stay in their apartments and wait to die; 10% did.
From that experience Hong Kong quickly realized that basic measures were required that a similar disaster would not occur soon. It was necessary to quickly identify and isolate cases, then trace and closely watch their contacts; stop schools; exchange information quickly at the highest and lowest levels; test as fast and as widely as possible; screen temperatures of travelers; and as rapidly as could be managed educate the public (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC539564/)
South Korea was able to decrease its case rate from about 770 a day to in the 20-40s in two weeks by adapting many of these measures and using the internet to educate the population quickly. Not travel bans, but thermometer guns. Once a case was found, people in the area were messaged regarding age, sex, and what places the infected person had visited in the past several days, whether it was restaurant or hardware store, all obtained from cellphone data. Surveillance and treatment were coordinated nationally.
There was lots of testing, perhaps one in two hundred in the whole population.
Compare that with the U.S. On February 2nd, Rachel Chu at the University of Washington, running an influenza study, knew something was amiss. People were coming in with symptoms that turned out not to be flu. She asks the CDC to allow her to test for Covid-19.
No, she can’t. She’s a research, not a clinical lab. It’s illegal. Don’t test. Other research labs have similar experiences.
Three weeks later on February 25th when she breaks the law and tests, she realizes Seattle has experienced Covid-19 for six weeks.
What if procedures had been set up on February 2nd to track and quarantine the virus?
The story of how this epidemic was handled will be written later. Let’s hope we learn what to do when we face the second wave of Covid-19, the next pandemic, and the predictable effects of global climate change.