Clinlab Navigator

Early Days of the COVID19 Pandemic Part 4

On January 30, WHO reconvened its emergency committee, which finally declared China’s outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. There were 98 known cases of novel coronavirus in 18 countries outside of China.

On the morning of January 30, Alex Azar got a call from Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Robert Redfield and others announcing that WHO had declared a global public health emergency and American officials had discovered the first confirmed case of person-to-person transmission inside the United States. Azar called Mr. Trump on Air Force One and warned him about the possibility of a pandemic. Trump responded that Azar was being an alarmist.

Later on January 30, during a speech in Michigan, President Trump said: “We have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five. And those people are all recuperating successfully.”

On January 30 during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Senator Tom Cotton said, “This coronavirus is a catastrophe on the scale of Chernobyl for China. But actually, it’s probably worse than Chernobyl, which was localized in its effect. The coronavirus could result in a global pandemic.” He added, “I would note that Wuhan has China’s only biosafety level-four super laboratory that works with the world’s most deadly pathogens to include, yes, coronavirus.”

On Jan 31, Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar announced the outbreak was a national public health emergency, and the White House declared a ban on all non-U.S. citizen who had been in China during the preceding two weeks from entering the United States. Approximately 14,000 passengers arrived in the United States from China daily. By this time, approximately 380,000 people had already traveled to the U.S. from China during the previous month. Americans were exempted from this ban.

At a January 31 CDC briefing, Dr. Messonnier announced that 195 passengers from Wuhan would be involuntarily held for 14 days at a California air base. She stated, “We are preparing as if this were the next pandemic, but we are hopeful still that this is not and will not be the case.

On February 2, the first novel coronavirus death outside of mainland China was reported in the Philippines.

On February 3, China opened the 1000 bed Huoshenshan Hospital, that had been built in less than two weeks, in response to surging novel coronavirus cases in Wuhan.

On February 4, WHO held a technical briefing during the 146th session of the executive board of the United Nations. Tedros urged member states to take action, saying, "We have a window of opportunity. While 99% of cases are in China, in the rest of the world we only have 176 cases." He also said, "It is possible that there may be individuals who are asymptomatic that shed virus, but we need more detailed studies around this to determine how often that is happening and if this is leading to secondary transmission."

By February 5, funeral parlors and crematoriums in China were having problems keeping up with the disposal of the dead in Wuhan.

On February 5, during a briefing on Capitol Hill, five senators urged administration officials to take the threat more seriously.

On February 6, the first U.S. death from COVID19 occurred. Patricia Dowd, an otherwise healthy 57-year-old developed flu-like symptoms and abruptly died at home in Santa Clara, California.

On Feb 7, President Trump tweeted a vote of confidence for Xi Jinping, saying, “Just had a long and very good conversation by phone with President Xi of China. He is strong, sharp and powerfully focused on leading the counterattack on the Coronavirus. He feels they are doing very well, even building hospitals in a matter of only days. Nothing is easy, but he will be very successful, especially as the weather starts to warm & the virus hopefully becomes weaker, and then gone. Great discipline is taking place in China, as President Xi strongly leads what will be a successful operation. We are working closely with China to help!” 

On February 8, China opened the 1500 bed Leishenshan hospital Wuhan for critical care of COVID19 patients. Sixteen other makeshift hospitals were set up in converted gyms, convention centers and exhibition halls to isolate and treat mild novel coronavirus cases.

On February 10 President Trump told a campaign rally, “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.”

On Feb 11, the novel coronavirus 2019 was given the official name of SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses and the illness was termed COVID19. WHO announced that the disease caused by the novel coronavirus would be named COVID19.

On February 14, Egypt reported the first COVID19 case in Africa.

On February 19, a soccer match between Italy and Spain. 75,000 spectators attended. The first COVID19 case was reported in Lombardy, Italy on February 20. Bergamo, Italy became the epicenter of the Italian outbreak. Another major outbreak started in Madrid and Valencia as the Spanish fans returned home. Gene sequencing indicated that Italy’s virus was introduced from China in early or mid-February. This viral line skipped from Europe to New York around February 20 and circulated throughout New York city in March. About this time, Dr Griffin, an infectious disease specialist at New York Presbyterian Hospital, started seeing patients he thought might have COVID-19.

On February 24, team leaders of the WHO-China joint mission held a press conference to report their findings. They warned that "much of the global community is not yet ready, in mindset and materially, to implement the measures that have been employed to contain COVID-19 in China." They also emphasized that "to reduce COVID-19 illness and death, near-term readiness planning must embrace the large-scale implementation of high-quality, non-pharmaceutical public health measures," such as case detection and isolation, contact tracing and monitoring/quarantining and community engagement.

On February 24, China’s national Legislature banned hunting, trading and transportation of terrestrial wildlife for consumption, but an exception permitted continued use of wild animals for fur, leather and traditional medicine.

On February 24, 2020, a high school student in Snohomish County, WA developed COVID19. He had never been in contact with the man who flew home from Wuhan and became ill long after that man was no longer contagious. Genomic sequencing of his virus suggested that this virus was introduced from China sometime between February 1 and February 13 and triggered the Seattle area outbreak.

This timeframe was a week or two after Mr. Trump banned most travelers from China. However, about 40,000 people traveled from China to the United States in the two months after those restrictions were imposed. Many were admitted under rules that exempted American citizens and others. They were funneled to a few international hubs, including Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

On February 24, Trump tweeted, The Coronavirus virus is very much under control in the USA,” adding, “CDC and World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

On February 25 during a roundtable in New Delhi, Trump said, “[China is] getting it more and more under control. So I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away.”

On February 25, Larry Kudlow, Director of the National Economic Council, said, “We have contained this. I won’t say airtight, but it’s pretty close to airtight.” He added that, while the outbreak is a “human tragedy,” it will likely not be an “economic tragedy.” However, hours earlier, Tomas Philipson, a senior economic adviser to the president told board members of the Hoover Institution that the outbreak could be worse than they were signaling to the public. William Callanan, a hedge fund consultant and board member then warned investors that a devastating virus outbreak in the U.S. was likely to occur. Investors with insider information began to short stocks, resulting in a stock market selloff on February 26.

On February 25, Redfield, Fauci and Hahn planned to confront President Trump about the pandemic. However, before they could meet with him, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, publicly issued a warning that community spread of the virus was a question of when, not if. She urged the nation to prepare for possible school closures, loss of work, and severe disruption of everyday life. Trump fumed as the stock market crashed and scolded Azar. Azar’s authority was soon diminished.

The next day, CDC director, Robert Redfield, reiterated that the risk was low and said that Messonnier could have been more articulate. Messonnier was subsequently sidelined.

On February 25, Italy locked down 11 towns in Lombardy.

On February 26, a patient in Solano County, CA tested positive for a SARS-CoV-2 virus that was related to isolates from China, but not the virus in Seattle, WA.

On Feb 26 during a White House news conference President Trump, commenting on the country’s first reported cases, said, “We’re going to be pretty soon at only five people. And we could be at just one or two people over the next short period of time. So we’ve had very good luck.” He also declared, “We’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up.”

On the evening of Feb 26, Trump announced that he had placed Vice President Mike Pence in command of the White House Pandemic Response. Statements and media appearances by health officials like Dr. Fauci and Dr. Redfield had to be coordinated through Mr. Pence’s office.

On February 26 during a Coronavirus Task Force Briefing Vice President Pence said, “And from the first word of a outbreak of the coronavirus, the President took unprecedented steps to protect the American people from the spread of this disease.  He recounted those briefly, but the establishment of travel restrictions, aggressive quarantine effort of Americans that are returning, the declaration of a public health emergency, and establishing the White House Corona[virus] Task Force are all reflective of the urgency that the President has brought to a whole-of-government approach.”

AddThis Social Bookmark Button