We continue to learn that what we don’t know about the novel coronavirus eclipses what we do know.
That was reinforced last week in California’s Bay Area with separate findings for Santa Clara County indicating that the infection rate is higher than first thought; that more people have died from COVID-19 than previously known; and that the nation’s first death occurred here on Feb. 6, suggesting the virus could have been circulating in the United States as far back as December.
The findings add more information as medical experts struggle with limited data to determine the infection rate and lethality of COVID-19, warn against premature reopening of the nation, and work furiously to find treatments and a vaccine.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump swings wildly from words of caution to calls for civil disobedience while lacing his daily briefings with his personal, unscientific musings about the longevity of the virus and his reckless prescriptions for combating it.
As a result on Friday: Georgia’s governor, against the advice of public health experts, began rapidly reopening his state for businesses, something the president at first supported and then criticized. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned against use of a drug, which Trump has been touting, outside a hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems. And the makers of Clorox and Lysol felt compelled to issue warnings against ingesting bleach and other disinfectants.
Fortunately, most state officials across the country are ignoring Trump and listening to the medical experts. Unfortunately, some are not. And, as we know all too well, the coronavirus does not respect city, state or national boundaries.
It’s clear, despite Trump’s wishful, politically motivated thinking to the contrary, that the fight against coronavirus will almost certainly continue for the rest of this year. The more we distance, the greater the likelihood that we can tamp down the severity.
What we don’t know is how pervasive the spread will be nor how deadly the disease will prove. We know that it’s highly contagious and transmitted by people regardless of whether they show symptoms of their infections.
We don’t even know how widely the disease has already disseminated or how many people have already died from it. The Santa Clara County findings add new data points but probably don’t change the underlying point that the virus is more deadly and more contagious than the seasonal flu.
We probably won’t know the true death rate until the pandemic ends. In the meantime, as Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned, we face a likelihood of the flu and coronavirus striking simultaneously in the fall.
This is no time to lose our resolve. Polling across the nation shows Americans understand the importance of making public health the top priority.
They’re putting their trust in the science and the health experts, who continue to unravel the mysteries of COVID-19. That’s as it should be.
©2020 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
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