Coronavirus For Dummies

Reading time – 3:41; Viewing time – 5:30  .  .  .

Imagine that in your town nobody has smoke detectors. The only way the fire department knows to come out and battle a fire is when they can see flames shooting through a roof. But when another house goes up in flames somewhere else in town and the flames are shooting through that roof, the firefighters have to divide their forces to battle the second blaze. Then houses catch fire on either side of both houses that were already aflame, because fire is very contagious. Then those fires spread to even more houses and the firefighters are soon stretched beyond their limits.

There was no early warning of any of these fires because there are no smoke detectors anywhere in the entire town. Yet with quick notice of a small fire from a smoke alarm in the kitchens of those first two houses, all those houses could have been saved. In fact, most would never have even become warm. Too bad nobody anticipated the obvious need and purchased and installed smoke detectors.

So it is with coronavirus. We don’t have the test kits, the immunological version of smoke detectors, so the fire of COVID-19 continues to spread, our people are falling victim to this deadly disease, we’re running out of places to store the body bags and our healthcare workers are stretched beyond their limits.

On April 16 Dr. Birx was once again on the president’s nightly circus sideshow and she smiled and happily told America that we have over a million test kits. Three days later on Meet The Press Vice President Pence proudly proclaimed that we have over 2 million test kits. But go to any hospital or doctor’s office and ask them if they have test kits for their patients and you’ll find out that they don’t have any or they have only a very few to ration for special circumstances.

Even if it’s true that we have two million test kits, they aren’t where they’re needed, and there are way too few of them to test sufficiently in order to protect 330,000,000 Americans. Indeed, in a report published last week by the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University they wrote,

“We estimate that steady-state testing levels that would permit replacing collective stay-at-home orders as the main tool for disease control with a testing—tracing-and-warning—supported-isolation, or TTSI, methodology will eventually need to reach a capacity to test 2 to 6% of the population per day, or between 5 and 20 million people per day.“[emphasis mine]

Please stop complaining about stay-at-home.

Simple math tells us that Vice President Pence’s proud declaration of our having 2 million test kits means that the total number of kits available in the entire country is enough to meet our national needs for between 2 – 9.6 hours. Then we’ll be out of testing capacity completely. We’ll be left solely with stay-at-home as our only prevention tool, except for those states where their governors refuse even that and, back to the metaphor, they instead encourage playing with matches.

You can read a most accessible review of the Harvard report here or download the full report here. The key point is the difference between what is actually needed in order to protect us and the pitiful efforts of our federal government.

The brother of a dear friend was in a memory care facility. He had some underlying health issues as well, so when he became infected with coronavirus, it only took a few days for him to waste away and then die alone. There had been no visitors allowed in the facility for weeks, so he must have been infected by a member of the staff. We may never learn who was carrying the virus that killed him because no tests were or are available to identify carriers, so the infecting goes on to yet others to become sick and perhaps to die.

So, I say with dripping, angry sarcasm, “Thanks a lot, Mr. President, for your intentional refusal to make coronavirus testing our national priority and available everywhere, rejecting the very thing all the experts have insisted for months was mandatory if we were to curb this pandemic. We might have been able short circuit the spread of this awful disease and spare my friend’s brother’s life had you done your job.”

Mixing metaphors, Russian roulette virus dodging is all we’re left with because of the failure of our national leadership. This has already sickened additional hundreds of thousands of Americans and killed more of us, infected by others who don’t know they’re carriers. But they would know if there were robust testing protocols in place. We would all be safer, but we aren’t safer.

This is what happens when those we count on to promote the welfare of all of us instead put on a daily circus sideshow, complete with monkeys in suits doing tricks and a magician spouting lies to distract us. This is what happens when a president abdicates his responsibilities to the American people in favor of blaming others and wailing about imagined grievances, most of which have nothing to do with our critical national need. This is what happens, back to the metaphor, as our houses burn to the ground and the president refuses to make smoke detectors available and even waits for weeks to send out the fire trucks, all this as my friend’s brother died alone.


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2 Responses to Coronavirus For Dummies
  1. Walter Szempruch Reply

    This article has a little bit of a confusing logic. First of all, you can’t create a test kit for a virus that you don’t even know about. Second, the very nature (pun intended) of viruses are to mutate. Some only in minor way and some in a major way that can cause a pandemic. I’m sure very smart people recognize that COVID19 is the major one and have set on a course to create many, many, “smoke detectors.” It would be likely impracticable with the current creation, manufacturing and approval system we have now to expect quicker, faster and the safer availability test kits. Maybe in the days of some futuristic Star Trek technology, this would be possible. But realistically, not now. Too bad. That would be great if possible to have that technology, something to strive for. Otherwise, this smoke detector logic is false and only true to the beholder. IMHO

    • Jack Altschuler Reply

      Walter, thanks for your comments. And since I’m the “beholder” of the smoke detector metaphor, let me offer this.

      Other countries have managed to find and use gazillions of test kits to screen citizens and protect all. The WHO had a useful kit to detect COVID-19 that the U.S. refused to use – no clue why. Our CDC put together a kit, but it had a faulty reagent. I’m sure they could have and probably did fix that a while back.

      The whole point is that there were useful testing materials available months ago and our president sat on his hands refusing to use them to join the fight. That has left all of us more vulnerable and surely many more have become sick and some have died because of that refusal, including my friend’s brother.