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Monday, March 02, 2020

A Few Comments on COVID-19 Non-Medical Policies

by Calculated Risk on 3/02/2020 03:01:00 PM

Containment of COVID-19 has failed as was expected by most experts (but efforts delayed the onset). (examples: Washington, Oregon, California) I'll stay focused on the economic data, however, just as during the housing crisis, I will suggest some (non-medical) government policies that would probably help.

First and foremost, pay attention to the recommendations of the experts. Here is the CDC's Coronavirus Disease 2019 site. And here is the WHO's COVID-19 website.

Also pay attention to your state and local health officials.

Here is the CDC's site for Prevention & Treatment.

Note that flu activity is still high, but probably peaking. Getting a flu shot not only lowers a person's risk of getting the flu, but it lessens the burden on our healthcare professionals. There is still time to get a flu shot this year.

So what should the government do?

First, Let the experts brief the public, not politicians. In 1918, "happy talk" delayed action and cost lives. See: How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America

while influenza bled into American life, public health officials, determined to keep morale up, began to lie.

Early in September, a Navy ship from Boston carried influenza to Philadelphia, where the disease erupted in the Navy Yard. The city’s public health director, Wilmer Krusen, declared that he would “confine this disease to its present limits, and in this we are sure to be successful. No fatalities have been recorded. No concern whatever is felt.”

The next day two sailors died of influenza. Krusen stated they died of “old-fashioned influenza or grip,” not Spanish flu. Another health official declared, “From now on the disease will decrease.”

The next day 14 sailors died—and the first civilian. Each day the disease accelerated. Each day newspapers assured readers that influenza posed no danger. Krusen assured the city he would “nip the epidemic in the bud."
And from the SacBee on another health crisis: Long before coronavirus, bubonic plague panicked California. A cover-up toppled the governor
When the plague came to San Francisco, business and government leaders were afraid of undermining the city’s shipping trade with Asia. Gov. Henry Tifft Gage repeatedly tried to discredit the federal government scientist who was trying to curtail the pandemic — even accusing him of starting the crisis by planting plague bacteria on cadavers. At the same time, Gage helped suppress an independent medical report confirming that bubonic plague was present in San Francisco.

“It was pretty crazy. There was a widespread cover-up,” said Marilyn Chase, a UC Berkeley lecturer and author of “The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco.”

In its official history of the case, the National Institutes of Health called it “one of the most infamous chapters in U.S. public health history.”
Second, the government should take the advice of the experts at the CDC and elsewhere and increase funding immediately as required by the health professionals.

Third, testing should be increased dramatically, and testing should be free for all in the US with any symptoms (or closely exposed to an infected person). It should be free for the uninsured, and for illegal immigrants (there should be no citizenship test). This is critical or people will not get the test.

Fourth, for those that test positive (but don't need hospitalization), the experts should determine how to isolate them. If their employers will not pay for their time off, then the government should pay. We don't want people avoiding tests because of the costs or the fear of lost income. This is a public health emergency and getting everyone to seek testing (with symptoms - or close contact with an infected person), is important. For those uninsured that need hospitalization, the government should also pay for their care (at negotiated rates - like Medicare). We don't want these people wandering around.

Fifth, the government should have a program of low interest rate (or no interest) loans for otherwise healthy companies impacted by the epidemic.

These are the kinds of programs that the government could put in place fairly quickly, in addition to what the healthcare experts suggest.  In addition to the usual safety nets, these policies - well publicized - would lower the transmission rate and provide the proper stimulus to the economy (directed at exactly the right people).