By Jamie Seidel
March 09, 2020 "Information
Clearing House" - Tainted test kits. Censored scientists. Mixed
messages. The US health system is struggling to come
to grips with COVID-19. Now, it's reporting the
highest fatality rate in the world.
United States medical workers are up in arms.
They know the world has had two months warning of a
highly contagious new virus. By all accounts, it's a
nasty one. It's certainly more deadly than flu.
They believe it has been "circulating unchecked"
within the US for weeks.
But there are almost no test kits to prove it.
Instead, they're seeing critical care patients
seemingly emerge from nowhere.
Now they're getting infected themselves.
A sick Californian nurse made a desperate appeal
She says the federal Centres for Disease Control
had been unwilling, or unable, to test her for
COVID-19. Her patients may have infected her. She
may have infected others.
She had volunteered to help.
"I did this because I had all the recommended
protective gear and training from my employer," she
wrote in an open letter. "I did this assuming that
if something happened to me, of course, I too would
be cared for."
She was wrong.
The protective gear did not work. She is sick.
But she's not getting any treatment.
"I'm awaiting 'permission' from the federal
government to allow for my testing, even after my
physician and county health professional ordered it.
I am a registered nurse, and I need to know if I am
positive before going back to caring for patients."
The first recorded case of COVID-19 in the US was
in Washington state. A month ago, a 35-year-old-man
from Snohomish County suffered what appeared to be a
setback while suffering from flu.
"He was day nine in his course, and he actually
started going downhill, started getting worse,"
chief clinical officer Compton-Phillips
After being given an experimental antiviral
treatment, the patient recovered. He's since been
released from hospital.
But the virus he was carrying won't go away.
Compton-Philips says doctors and nurses feel
powerless watching this outbreak unfold before them
in real-time. "This is coming. It's not if, it's
when. And we better get ready now," she said.
Elsewhere in Washington state, a worst-case
scenario is infolding.
A "cluster" of infections has been found in a
Seattle Life Care Centre nursing facility. About 50
of its patients and staff are sick. They're still
waiting for tests to confirm it is COVID-19.
That's the problem.
As of yesterday, the US had only identified some
300 cases. Only eight have so far recovered, and 17
The resulting death rate of 5.9 per cent is the
world's highest. But that is a statistical
aberration: the numbers are simply incomplete.
Epidemiologists know the actual number of
sufferers is likely to already be in the tens of
thousands. They just can't prove it.
That's because the test kits tailored to identify
this specific virus are unavailable. And the
government-run CDC has been imposing strange
conditions upon its distribution and use.
Notorious germophobe President Donald Trump is
proud of his COVID-19 response.
"I like this stuff. I really get it," he said
during a tour of a CDC facility yesterday. "People
are really surprised I understand this stuff. Every
one of these doctors said, 'How do you know so much
about this?' Maybe I have a natural ability."
Yesterday, Mr Trump was visiting his new CDC
appointee, director Robert Redfield.
The 68-year-old retired US Army colonel has a
patchy track record. His belief HIV was God's
retribution on gays produced some highly
controversial military policies during the 1980s.
But Mr Trump has every confidence Dr Redfield is
on top of COVID-19.
"We have very low numbers compared to major
countries throughout the world. Our numbers are
lower than just about anybody," Mr Trump said
His strategy is all about stopping the virus at
the borders. "The risk to the American public is
low," he said a week ago. " We have an aggressive
containment strategy that really has worked up to
The 'proof' of this, he said, was in the low
number of cases found within the homeland.
It turns out the cases were there. They just
weren't being reported.
Now New York has had to order 2500 residents to
self-quarantine. And it's just declared a state of
"There's something wrong here that the federal
government is missing and they must fix it," New
York Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "The fact that the
federal government cannot get tests out there is
But White House presidential advisor Kellyanne
Conway is sticking to the White House script:
yesterday she told reporters: "It is being
contained. Do you not think it's being contained?"
Redfield agrees: "This nation should not give up
on containment," he told Trump during the CDC tour.
"The National CDC would not initiate testing,"
the Californian nurse wrote. "They said they would
not test me because if I were wearing the
recommended protective equipment, then I wouldn't
have the coronavirus … What a ridiculous and
uneducated response from the department that is in
charge of our health in this country."
The CDC is facing intense scrutiny.
The production of US COVID-19 testing kits was
botched. The production facility was contaminated. A
large batch of the vital kits was found not to be
So they had to be recalled.
Instead, local doctors have had to ship samples
to the one CDC laboratory capable of testing for the
disease. The Atlanta facility was soon swamped.
Exactly how many US citizens have been tested is
unknown. The CDC has strangely ceased reporting such
vital statistics after Vice President Pence took
over as the health agency's public face.
Earlier this week he promised "roughly 1.5
million tests" would be available by the end of this
week. On Friday, he rolled that promise back: "We
don't have enough tests today to meet what we
anticipate the demand going forward," he said.
But a survey of regional health officials by
The Atlantic reveals a total of only 1900
suspected cases tested.
This is against the tens of thousands that need
such testing - every day.
Meanwhile, the virus had already jumped ship.
It's circulating within the communities of
California, Washington state, New York and North
Carolina. And that list is set to explode.
"I think it's one of the reasons we're seeing
these hot spots pop up around the country is because
we simply didn't know this had already hit our
shores," Compton-Philips told CNBC. "I do think that
this virus has been circulating now for several
weeks in the US ... Until now, it's been circulating
California is reportedly monitoring some 8400
people for the virus. But it can't test them.
New York has ordered some 2500 people to
self-quarantine. Limited testing has revealed 22 of
them are COVID-19 positive.
The upshot: Nobody has a clear idea of how far
the virus has penetrated US society.
CAUGHT OFF GUARD
Markets have collapsed. US Congress is up in
On Friday, President Trump signed a $US8.3
billion emergency aid bill. Congress had upped the
figure. The president had asked for $US2.5 billion.
It's being distributed among the states, to
medicare and research institutions. A substantial
sum is destined for small businesses suffering
It's set to get worse.
The famous Texas tech conference SXSW was
cancelled last night. It joins a host of similar
cancellations. Many more will follow.
An Ipsos poll found 37 per cent of US citizens
feel the COVID-19 threat is severe. That's a jump
from 28 per cent a fortnight ago.
It's set to get worse.
The lack of testing means US public and private
health facilities are unaware of the extent of the
Media reports reveal hospitals that have yet to
activate strict isolation protocols for sufferers
with COVID-19 symptoms. Others have been ordered by
state officials to relax quarantine rules because of
their inconvenience. Some have simply mistakenly
released infected patients.
Now, doctors and nurses on the front line are
appealing for action.
"We're going to need millions and millions and
millions of tests. That's what I feel, and that's
what many of my colleagues feel," says the head of
the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious
Diseases Dr Anthony Fauci.
"As a nurse, I'm very concerned that not enough
is being done to stop the spread of the coronavirus,"
the Californian nurse's statement reads.
It's a sentiment echoed by the World Health
"This is a reality check for every government on
the planet: Wake up. Get ready. This virus may be on
its way and you need to be ready. You have a duty to
your citizens. You have a duty to the world to be
Those are the stark words of the WHO's health
emergencies program head, Dr Mike Ryan.
"Shortages are leaving doctors, nurses and other
front-line workers dangerously ill-equipped to care
for COVID-19 patients, due to limited access to
supplies such as gloves, medical masks, respirators,
goggles, face shields, gowns, and aprons," a WHO
The wheels of industry within the US are finally
gearing up for a response.
The CDC says a production run of new test kits
will soon be rolled out. Rules keeping them from
local doctors and regional hospitals will be
Two private labs are also gearing up to test
samples. They're supposed to be online sometime next
"Our goal is to have every state and local health
department online, doing their own testing," the
director of the CDC's National Center for
Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said.
But the COVID-19 horse has already bolted.
"We knew from the onset that it's not the type of
virus that is amenable to containment," former White
House National Security Council biodefence advisor
Luciana Borio told Time. It's possible that the time
that it bought us wasn't used in the best possible
manner to help us get ahead of the curve in terms of
preparing the homeland for the eventual epidemic."
US WHO emergency committee member Jeremy Konyndyk
was blunter in his assessment.
"If you buy time, you need to use that time to
prepare. It's insane to me that they're still
harping on containment and travel controls and
keeping the disease out when that is not going to be
the driver of transmission at this point."
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer. Continue
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