In the last two weeks, we have seen a dramatic spike in the number of cases of coronavirus infection in the United States. The virus and the resulting illness, COVID-19, represents the largest public health challenge that the world has encountered since the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Making matters worse, there has been an appalling lack of leadership at the federal level.
Even Tucker Carlson recently said, "People you trust, people you probably voted for, have spent weeks minimizing what is clearly a very serious problem."
It's time for us, at the local and state level, to step up and take action.
The risk of doing nothing, of pretending that the disease is a hoax or not as serious as it's made out to be, creates a very realistic possibility that a majority of American citizens will be infected and that we will outstrip our health care system's ability to provide adequate care. When you add in the fact that, in North Carolina, hundreds of thousands of residents do not have access to healthcare and there does not seem to be a clear answer as to what will happen if they get sick (or what kind of bills they will incur), it becomes even more likely that there will be a massive outbreak.
People may not seek treatment, and that will lead to further infection.
I don't say this to scare anyone. The message that we're receiving from leaders around the world right now is that we should remain calm. I have heard that on multiple occasions, from very well-meaning people. While it is important to remain calm, it's also important to take actions that safeguard the public and our immediate families.
An article dated March 10 in the Atlantic Monthly refers to the truly exponential rate of the spread of this disease and states, "On the 23rd of January, China’s Hubei province, which contains the city of Wuhan, had 444 confirmed COVID-19 cases. A week later, by the 30th of January, it had 4,903 cases. Another week later, by the 6th of February, it had 22,112.
"The same story is now playing out in other countries around the world. Italy had 62 identified cases of COVID-19 on the 22nd of February. It had 888 cases by the 29th of February, and 4,636 by the 6th of March.
"Because the United States has been extremely sluggish in testing patients for the coronavirus, the official tally of 604 likely represents a fraction of the real caseload. But even if we take this number at face value, it suggests that we should prepare to have up to 10 times as many cases a week from today, and up to 100 times as many cases two weeks from today."
These are frightening numbers, but they also represent a worst case scenario. China has an extremely secretive society which initially denied that there was a problem. Italy was not proactive enough at the early stages, and neither was the United States. We have the ability to get back ahead of this and to at least minimize the impact through the ramping up of test kit production (according to State Senator Jeff Jackson, at this moment, there are 680 test kits in the entire state of North Carolina, so we are lagging far behind what we need). But testing won't stop infection, even when we get the kits.
The answer is social distancing.
We must follow Governor Cooper's advice and cancel all events where more than 100 people will be in attendance. Going further, we should cancel all events that are non-essential, and move to digital means of transmitting information. As mayor pro tem in Mills River, I've recommended that advisory committee meetings be cancelled and that town council meetings be live-streamed, to encourage people to watch in the comfort and safety of their own homes.
My campaign for NC Senate has canceled all in-person events until further notice. Instead, I will be live-streaming speeches that were going to be delivered at those events. Feel free to watch. I'll do those from either an empty venue, or I'll do it from home, but it's the right thing to do. Campaigning for the November election will be more challenging, and so will fund-raising (especially since I've pledged not to take any corporate PAC money and I rely on individual donations).
As important as this election is -- I've been saying it's the most important election of our lifetimes, and I still believe that to be true -- we must do what's best for public safety.
Let's utilize common sense. Be mindful to avoid public places whenever possible. Be aware of what you might have touched, and what other people might have touched as well. Wash your hands frequently (if you sing your ABC's twice while washing with soap, you're doing it right). If you own a business, encourage your workers to work from home if possible. Disinfect surfaces multiple times a day. Avoid unnecessary travel. Keep in mind that all of this is temporary and we will get through this.
Ultimately, the most important responsibility falls on each of us. "It’s hard to change our own behavior while the administration and the leaders of other important institutions send the social cue that we should go on as normal. But we must change our behavior anyway."