By Robert A. Vella
I did some research for this post in order to help readers understand the evolving coronavirus pandemic now plaguing the world.
This infectious disease, technically known as COVID-19, is highly transmissible from person-to-person via respiratory inhalation of airborne droplets emitted by the coughing and sneezing of infected individuals. It is also transmissible via other means such as contacting contaminated surfaces and then touching one’s eyes, nose, or mouth. On average, an infected person will transmit the disease to 2.3 other people during the course of their illness. This transmission rate is higher than normal seasonal flu outbreaks in which infected persons transmit the disease to 1.3 others on average, and the fatality rate of COVID-19 is many times higher at 2-3% compared to just 0.1% for influenza (see: How does the new coronavirus compare with the flu?). Consequently, COVID-19 has the potential to spread through a population more quickly, infect more people, and cause many more deaths than ordinary flu viruses.
COVID-19 is also a more serious concern than both the SARS outbreak of 2002 in which 8,098 were infected and 774 died worldwide (a fatality rate near 9.6%), and the MERS outbreak of 2012 in which over 2,000 were infected and roughly 600 died worldwide (a fatality rate of about 30%).
So far, COVID-19 has infected over 85,000 and killed at least 2,900 globally according to the World Health Organization. However, WHO officials have been frustrated by the poor response to this pandemic by national governments – particularly by the Trump administration in the U.S. – which have been underreporting the number of cases for fear of political repercussions. Therefore, the actual number of infections and deaths is probably much higher.
The last time a similar global threat occurred was the influenza pandemic of 1918 which infected 500 million people around the world (approximately 27% of the human population) and killed a minimum of 40-50 million (a fatality rate from 8-10% to as high as 20%). However, the abnormally high transmission and fatality rates of that tragedy probably resulted from the densely-packed and unsanitary conditions of frontline infantrymen near the end of World War I which then spread the virus globally as the soldiers returned home. Additionally, medical treatments at the time were far less capable than today; so, it is very doubtful that COVID-19 could be as severe. Nevertheless, the current pandemic should not be underestimated. We should be fighting it with all necessary resources.
Note: In previous posts this week on The Secular Jurist, I incorrectly stated “consecutive days” of steep declines in the stock market. In fact, that description should only apply to the results of Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Wednesday’s losses were actually quite modest.
Here are the coronavirus updates, plus today’s other news:
Three new confirmed or presumptive cases of the coronavirus illness COVID-19 contracted from an unknown source were reported Friday, bringing the total number of what could be “community spread” cases in the United States to four.
The patients from these four cases have no known travel history or exposure to someone who had traveled or been infected. Not all four have been confirmed by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testing, but they tested positive locally.
New cases were reported in Washington state, Oregon and California on Friday. Earlier this week, a patient at a Sacramento hospital with no known source of infection was confirmed by CDC testing to have the illness.
Major companies are beginning to cancel conferences and travel plans within the United States due to the coronavirus, which analysts warn will have cascading impacts on the country’s hotels, airlines and convention centers.
International travel — particularly to Asia — has so far been the hardest-hit part of the industry, though analysts say that could soon change as fears of the coronavirus spread to Europe and North America. Hotels around the country have begun reporting a rise in group cancellations. Some air carriers, including Alaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways, are doing away with cancellation fees as jittery travelers rethink their plans.
Analysts said wide-scale cancellations — which so far have been concentrated in large cities such as New York, Washington and Los Angeles — are starting to hit smaller U.S. cities, as companies change their internal travel policies.
Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange swapped stories all week about the extreme trading conditions they witnessed — conditions that have not been this wild since the financial crisis in 2008.
For Virtu’s Matt Cheslock, it was the stunning move in bond yields: “As an equity trader, seeing over 10 basis point daily moves in the yield at these all-time extreme lows is astounding. The flight from equities to bonds even at these low yields was staggering.”
But traders are not sure they should act. Peter Tuchman from Quattro Securities tells me, “This has all happened over seven trading days. We were at record highs a week ago, but we now have the fastest sell-off in history. In a normal setting, this is a screaming buy. But there is so much we don’t know about this virus, I’m not sure these traditional indicators are reliable when dealing with something like this.”
Based on what is known about similar coronaviruses, disease experts say the new outbreak of the virus, named COVID-19, is mainly spread from person to person through coughing or sneezing. Contact with fecal matter from an infected person may also transmit the virus.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it may be possible for a person to become infected by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes.
An analysis of 22 earlier studies of similar coronaviruses, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) published online this month in the Journal of Hospital Infection, concluded that human coronaviruses can remain infectious on inanimate surfaces for up to nine days at room temperature. However, they can quickly be rendered inactive using common disinfectants, and may also dissipate at higher temperatures, the authors wrote. It is not yet clear, however, whether the new coronavirus behaves in a similar way.
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Parts of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s sweeping gun control legislation have won final passage in the General Assembly.
That includes a red flag bill to allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from people deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others, and legislation giving local governments more authority to ban guns in public places.
Lawmakers also approved legislation requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen guns to police and to toughen the penalty for leaving a loaded, unsecured firearm in a reckless manner that endangers a child.
They are the first pieces of Northam’s gun control agenda to reach final passage. Other bills, like universal background checks, are expected to pass in coming days.
A bill to ban the sale of assault weapons, which received the biggest pushback from gun owners, failed to pass the Senate.
A federal appeals court on Friday delivered two blows to the Trump administration’s immigration policy, ruling against a program to force migrants seeking asylum to wait in Mexico and against a rule severely limiting the number of migrants who were eligible for asylum.
President Donald Trump scored a major legal victory on Friday when a federal appeals court panel ruled Democrats have no right to hear testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn.
Typically buried in several feet each winter, Russia’s capital this year has remained mostly snow free as temperatures have barely dipped below zero.
Last December and this January were the hottest ever recorded in Moscow. Temperatures again soared in February, last week breaking records for warmth on five consecutive days, reaching 44 degrees Fahrenheit. The first heavy snowfall arrived mid-January, two or three months later than usual, and after just a few weeks, quickly melted away.
In February, usually the coldest and snowiest month of the year, there is barely a patch of ice to be seen. Instead of nose-biting cold — where below 5 degrees is ordinary– people have been marveling at spring-like weather.