Tuesday, March 17, 2020

“The U.S. is a special case:”Why the U.S. Could Be Worse Off Than Italy With the Coronavirus

U.S. was facing an even bigger challenge than Europe in limiting the spread of the virus. It appeared that far fewer tests were being carried out in the U.S. than in other affected countries in Europe. “There’s very little testing; it’s lagged quite badly behind.There’s a lot of unknowns” :Balloux, director of the University College of London's Genetics Institute





Italy is implementing radical new measures against COVID-19, and that could soon be the new normal for other countries fighting the virus.


But experts say that a number of unique factors in the U.S. — a sluggish approach to testing, and a lack of public healthcare and paid sick days for some workers — are likely to make its battle to contain the outbreak even more difficult than in Europe.



“The situation is even worse for the U.S.,” Francois Balloux, a professor of computational systems biology at University College London, told VICE News. “The U.S. is a special case.”

Italy, battling the deadliest coronavirus outbreak outside China, announced Sunday it was putting an emergency quarantine on 16 million people — a quarter of the population — living in the economically powerful north, including the entire Lombardy region, as well as Milan, Venice, and 14 other provinces.


7th Avenue Times Square is seen nearly empty during a regular day in New York City on March 14.--EDUARDO MUNOZ—REUTERS

Under the strict new rules, residents are banned from traveling outside or within the quarantined areas, with exceptions only made for “proven professional needs, exceptional cases and health issues,” according to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Previously, about 50,000 people in badly affected towns in the region had been under lockdown.

Balloux, director of the University College of London's Genetics Institute, said it was likely that other governments could impose their own regional lockdowns or social distancing rules in coming weeks, as the scale of their crisis caught up with Rome’s.

United States' challenge


Employee Myra Luna Antonio closes French Quarter restaurant Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans on March 15. The 24-hour restaurant discontinued it's seating service to comply with COVID-19 related restrictions.

JONATHAN BACHMAN—REUTERS

But he believed the U.S. was facing an even bigger challenge than Europe in limiting the spread of the virus, due to several factors.

Despite the U.S. government’s pledges to ramp up testing capacity, it appeared that far fewer tests were being carried out in the U.S. than in other affected countries in Europe.

“There’s very little testing; it’s lagged quite badly behind,” he said. “There’s a lot of unknowns.”

Exact figures are difficult to establish since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that it would no longer provide an official tally of tests conducted or under investigation, because states and private institutions had been authorized to conduct their own tests.

But an analysis by The Atlantic published Friday could only confirm 1,895 tests carried out in the U.S., where the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases passed 550 Monday. By contrast, in the U.K., where 319 cases have been confirmed, health authorities have conducted more than 20,000 tests

Balloux said the lack of a public healthcare system, and of guaranteed paid sick leave for all workers, would also hamper efforts to respond to the outbreak in the U.S. “It will make it much more difficult to convince people to self-isolate, and impose the required social distancing methods,” said Balloux.

Coronavirus-Retail Closings-Brookside Place
A pedestrian passes through Brookfield Place, a retail hub at the World Financial Center in New York, on March 16. New York joined with Connecticut and New Jersey to close bars, restaurants, and movie theaters starting Monday night.

JOHN MINCHILLO—AP IMAGES

Sick leave

U.S. federal law does not require employers to grant paid sick leave, and In some industries, like food service, only about a quarter of workers get paid sick days, forcing many of them to continue working when they’re ill. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five food service workers have reported working in the past year while sick with vomiting or diarrhea.

"These conditions create a near-guarantee that workers will defy public health warnings.”

"These conditions create a near-guarantee that workers will defy public health warnings and trudge into their workplaces, regardless of symptoms,” Karen Scott, a PhD student at the Institute for Work and Employment Research at MIT, wrote last month.

"In this way, a manageable health crisis can spiral out of control."

“Containment is probably not an option any more.”

Balloux said he believed the Italian lockdown had come too late to prevent the spread of the virus to other regions, and had doubts as to whether it would be as effective as the government hoped

The belated Italian response has had its share of problems. A leaked report of the government’s plans for the mass quarantine sent thousands fleeing the region late Saturday ahead of the lockdown, potentially spreading the virus with them. Reports have emerged from the excluded zone that there are few visible controls on people entering or leaving, while residents have spoken of confusion about what they can and can’t do.

The lockdown has also triggered violent protests in Italian prisons, with inmates rioting over restrictions on face-time meetings with relatives during the outbreak.

“The cost to the people of northern Italy is immense,” said Balloux. “The decision was taken too late, but I don’t think anyone should be blamed for that, because these are measures you would only take when you are really desperate.”--- Vice






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