In the middle of November, as Americans were preparing for Thanksgiving, someone in Wuhan, China got sick. For a few weeks, one to five people a week contracted the same illness. Either no one at that time recognized this as a new disease, or someone did and that information was suppressed; we may never know. But on December 31, China reported cases of pneumonia from an unknown source to the World Health Organization (WHO.) By January 7, that source had been identified as a new coronavirus and the medical world began to pay attention.
On about January 12, China shared the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus with WHO for countries to use in developing specific diagnostic kits. This fact becomes very important as we look at the record of United States testing for the disease.
By mid-January cases were reported in other Asian countries, and on January 21, the first case was reported in the United States. I don’t think I was aware of this on January 21, which was a very bad day for me. It was the 40th birthday of my daughter, Giana Natali, who died on 1/3/14 from a heroin overdose. I cried most of that day, and visited her memorial bench with my son.
On January 23 China quarantined Wuhan, a city of 11 million, shutting down all public transit and stopping all transportation out of Wuhan by air, train, car etc. On January 30, WHO declared a “global public health emergency” as there were 9,000 known cases worldwide in nineteen countries. If you follow the news, you were probably aware by now of the virus.
The next day, January 31, President Trump banned travel into the United States by foreign nationals who had traveled in China in the past fourteen days. But by this time, the virus had been detected in 19 countries including the United States, and American citizens and permanent residents and foreign nationals who had not been in China could still enter—so how effective could this have been?
On February 1, the great cruise ship saga began, increasing publicity. By mid-February, 1500 people had died, including a few outside China. Was the world taking notice? Maybe, but the idea of quarantine or a radical change to daily life was not in the minds of most Americans. A few weeks later, a case popped up in CA that had no known origin—no links to someone who traveled, and no links to an active case in the US. Thus we were introduced to the term “community spread.”
On February 24, the stock market tanked. Now that woke some people up.
This weekend my brother and I are planning to take our niece and nephew to New York to see a Broadway show, hit some museums, maybe do the Empire State building, where they’ve never been. As I watch CNN’s non-stop coverage, I wonder momentarily whether going to New York is safe, but canceling the trip seems like panicking.