US COVID-19 numbers ‘tip of iceberg’

By GT staff reporters Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/6 0:28:41 Last Updated: 2020/3/6 5:28:45

CDC’s lack of transparency ‘time bomb’ for US politics

A passenger at a New York City subway train wears a face mask. At least 13 people across New York were infected with coronavirus as of Thursday morning. Photo: Xinhua

 The US government and officials, who have harshly criticized China's response to the coronavirus epidemic, are caught under heavy fire for their response to the coronavirus outbreak in the country, as citizens frustrated over the persistently rising number of new cases are criticizing the country's inefficient and bungled efforts to contain the outbreak and are demanding full transparency from officials. Some have even dubbed the US government's response a "national scandal" that puts the fundamental interests of Americans in jeopardy.  

The "retarded response and incompetence" of the Trump administration has placed several states in a state of emergency, with a significant spike in infections forecast in the coming weeks, Chinese analysts predicted.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stopped reporting the number of people tested for the novel coronavirus pneumonia (COVID-19) since Monday, while the reported numbers so far could only be the "tip of the iceberg," which may not accurately reflect the situation in the US, analysts said. 

"How big is this iceberg, it's hard to say," Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at China's CDC, told the Global Times on Thursday. The US CDC's slow response is politically driven, totally ignoring the public interest, Zeng noted. 

Some US media also took aim at the US CDC by claiming that the data released by the country's top epidemic prevention and control body is deeply flawed as the testing procedures have missed a large number of cases, and some projections came up with real numbers far higher than those reported.  

Flawed testing 

Trevor Bedford, a Twitter user who claims to be a scientist at the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center who studies viruses, said in a tweet on March 1 that collected data and analysis suggest that there has been "cryptic transmission in Washington State for the past six weeks," and people are facing a substantial outbreak in the state. The state is the first in the US to announce a death from COVID-19 on Saturday, where the governor declared a state of emergency.

Given the delayed response and lack of testing, observers in the US and China said the estimated coronavirus patients in the US would reach in the thousands, but the White House has left those untested as community spread continues in the country.

The total number of confirmed cases in the US stood at 129 as of Wednesday, according to the CDC, but some US media quoted data from Johns Hopkins University as saying that there were at least 137.  

Many are wondering how bad the outbreak really is in the US, speculating that the actual situation might be worse than what US authorities have described. 

California declared a statewide emergency on Wednesday after its first fatality from the novel coronavirus, bringing US deaths to at least 11. 

Robert Murphy, an infectious diseases professor in the US and executive director of the Institute for Global Health at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told the Global Times in an email on Wednesday that he agrees with those who say the CDC has been making the same mistakes as Wuhan at the beginning of the outbreak, which included narrow testing criteria, slow testing speed and lack of testing capacity resulting in the delayed response. 

He said that the delay has been problematic for the US, and the consequences are exactly the same as those experienced by China: community spread of the virus. But he believes it will probably not be as severe. However, "the mistakes are being addressed quickly now and the US has a more resourceful medical infrastructure."

However, there are fundamental differences between how Chinese central government and the Trump administration adjusted their policies amid the outbreaks. When local authorities in Hubei mishandled this public health crisis, the central government quickly stepped in and adjusted responding measures. In contrast, it has now become shift-blame-tactics between the White House and US CDC, according to analysts. 

But some frontline doctors and Americans called what the US CDC is doing "completely scandalous" as the Trump administration is trying to play down the impact of the COVID-19, which has caused over 95,000 infections in about 80 countries and regions so far. 

 The problem is with the US CDC, as "they are really strict with whom they test, which is retarded," a resident of New York City told the Global Times. 

This was about a malfunctioning chemical and the US CDC would not allow other labs to do their own tests, he said, citing some posts circulating on social media suggesting that the largest outbreak is now in Seattle because local researchers were able to develop their own tests and found the cluster. 

"NYC likely has hundreds of cases already," he said, as the city authority has only reported 11 confirmed cases. 

The CDC first set strict criteria on who can be given the nucleic acid test, then later said the test kits weren't working as expected, leading to inconclusive results.

What the US CDC has been doing has slapped the US Embassy in China and State of Secretary Mike Pompeo in their faces, some Chinese netizens commented while posting the screenshot of the embassy's Weibo post, which posted a photo of Pompeo and highlights of his statement in February "We hope that every country that has information, this includes China, will be completely open and transparent."

Meanwhile on Twitter, a netizen called Frenando said in a recent post, US President Donald Trump wanted "more transparency from China" about coronavirus, but he has put Mike Pence in charge and asking the scientists to be quite. 

"Consequence: Trump will be responsible for thousands of deaths in the US very soon…" the post showed. 

As many Americans struggle with costly healthcare coverage, and some avoid  undergoing tests at clinics due to expensive fees, the Chinese central authority said it would ensure that patients will be treated before being billed during major outbreaks, according to a statement released on Thursday.

A notice showing "facial masks are out of stock" is seen on a door of a pharmacy in New York, US, February 29, 2020. Photo: Xinhua

Playing politics 

Some Chinese and Americans interviewed by the Global Times in recent days said though there has been no panic buying in the US amid the outbreak, some people are worried about this new disease and its high contagiousness, particularly as politicians are focused on campaigning for elections in November, but fewer have shown signs of adjusting their event schedules, media reported. 

Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Thursday that the US CDC's independence has been strictly restricted by the US government, and how the government controls the CDC is unknown, leading to its opacity in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. 

"CDC's lack of transparency is a time bomb for US politics, as US politicians don't want the COVID-19 outbreak to affect their polls, but if the Trump administration fails to contain the spread of the virus in the next two or three months, it would face a huge backlash from Americans," Li said.

Withholding information by the US CDC and government will undermine the global effort in containing the spread of the virus, as it's very difficult for the US government to restrict Americans from traveling around the world, Li said. 

China and the US, the largest two major countries in the world, are expected to share the responsibility and work together in overcoming difficult times amid the outbreak, and it may lead to a global pandemic that would force factories, companies, schools and transport to shut down if not handled well. 

Chinese analysts have urged the US to act like a superpower that shoulders its responsibilities. 

Wang Guangfa, a leading Chinese respiratory expert at Peking University First Hospital in Beijing, urged the US CDC to share information on developments in the COVID-19 outbreak in the US and take concrete steps to contain the spread of the virus with health departments of other major countries plagued by the virus, and also provide regular reports to the World Health Organization. 

"It should also step up its screening and quarantine at ports to prevent the exportation of cases," he said. 

Posted in: POLITICS

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