Tuesday, March 17, 2020


Updated on March 17 at 8:21 a.m. ET
Since the first U.S. case of the coronavirus was identified in Washington state on Jan. 21, health officials have identified thousands of cases across the United States. By March 16, the virus had expanded its presence from several isolated clusters in Washington, New York and California to 49 states and the District of Columbia. To date, there have been over 80 deaths across the country.
Social distancing is widely seen as the best available means to "flatten the curve of the pandemic," a phrase that epidemiologists use to describe slowing the spread of infection. This approach can save lives by keeping local health care systems from being overwhelmed.
In response to mounting cases, states have begun closing schools, banning large gatherings and urging people to stay home when possible. On Monday, President Trump announced new guidelines recommending that Americans avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, discretionary travel and going out to eat.
To avoid spreading the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends basic precautions such as hand-washing and cleaning frequently touched surfaces every day.
Globally, the respiratory disease has spread to dozens of countries and has killed several thousand people since it was first reported in Wuhan, China, in December.
Warnings issued by the CDC recommend avoiding nonessential travel to dozens of countries with outbreaks of COVID-19, including China, Iran, South Korea and much of Europe. The U.S. government has banned travel from Europe, although the ban makes exceptions, including for U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

PELOSI'S OPEN BORDERS - "Government fails to respond as drones flown by people smugglers and drug runners swarm border, watching agents"

Government fails to respond as drones flown by people smugglers and drug runners swarm border, watching agents

SAN ANTONIO  Smugglers are busing drones in the sky to watch U.S. Border Patrol agents as they work along the southern border while separate drones fly small quantities of drugs into the country, but the government is so far refusing to deploy technology that can take them down.
The use of drones by cartels operating at the southern border is not new, but what started as a rare occurrence five years ago has become constant. Between October 2014 and last month, Border Patrol agents observed 170 drones watching them or moving something over the border through the air, according to a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the patrol.
Drones lurk above agents who are on foot, in their vehicles, on an ATV, or on a horse. Mexican smugglers who are moving drugs or people use the devices to determine where agents are not present and can then send something or someone across the border without being detected. Other drones may be loaded with a few ounces to a kilogram of narcotics and flown to the U.S. side, then the drone can drop it for the next mover to pick up and transport deeper into the country.
The problem for agents is that drones can fly hundreds of feet overhead, which allows the unmanned aerial systems to go unseen, especially at night, and unheard. The agency knows they are a growing problem, but it is impossible to shoot them down with a gun, and they do not have the legal authority to use other measures to seize them.
Last October, Border Patrol acquired six counterdrone systems that can force down a drone. But they can't use them because CBP has not developed a policy for how agents should respond to drones. Instead, the agency said it is presently focused on increasing its ability to detect them. While CBP said it may test other counterdrone systems in the future, it is not doing so at present.
Officials for counterdrone companies, which showed their products at the Border Security Expo in San Antonio this past week, said this environment has made the past few years challenging. Despite DHS obtaining a few billion dollars for border security operations during the Trump administration, minuscule amounts have been tossed at the drone or counterdrone industries.
“This isn't like anything else that any of us have sold before in the physical or IT security space because there were a whole bunch of legal hurdles and questions that even the government didn't have sorted out,” said Lisa Meserve, federal sales lead for Dedrone, which makes DroneDefender.
Counterdrone solutions available at the expo included products that detect, track, and force them out of the sky. Most of the companies in attendance have attended before, but several who have been here in the past did not show up this year. Meserve said the drawn-out federal process of deciding what kind of counterdrone systems it needs and the government’s legal concerns led competition to start drying up.
“The Federal Aviation Administration, and primarily Federal Communications Commission, still has a hammer on [agents] on who can use what, where, and when. DHS clearly doesn't know what they want to do, and I've met with a bunch of DHS people, and they don't even think they have the authority yet,” said Andy Morabe, vice president of sales and marketing at IXI Technology, which makes DroneKiller.
Morabe has shown DroneKiller at the expo three consecutive years since it was launched. His frustration was that agents come by the booth every year and like it but cannot purchase it.
Border officials say they first need to figure out what information they want to learn about that suspicious drone because that will determine the type of machine they need to use to respond. Do agents want to know the flight path, where it originated, or where it is going?
Second, when a drone is detected, how will it be tracked? Are radars that display coordinates, optics systems that show pictures, and radio frequency systems necessary in every part of the border? Will a third party or agents monitor those systems, and how many agents will typically respond to a drone incursion?
Phil Pitsky, vice president of U.S. federal operations for Dedrone, said he expects DHS and the Justice Department to release by this fall evaluations on some counterdrone systems they are testing in hopes of answering some of those questions.
“I think, in 2021 and beyond, you're going to see significant deployments of the systems on the border,” said Pitsky.


Early US Coronavirus Patients Have Fully Recovered: Health Officials

March 16, 2020 Updated: March 16, 2020

Patients across the United States who earlier tested positive for the new coronavirus have fully recovered.
Maryland’s first three patients have fully recovered after becoming infected while on a cruise on the Nile River.
“I’m happy to report that the first three cases reported last Thursday have all been cleared to return back to their normal daily schedules,” Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said in a video update.
The trio included a couple in their 70s and another unrelated person in their 50s.
Health officials across the country have reported patients fully recovering. About four out of five patients don’t require hospitalization, according to data gleaned from cases around the world that’s been widely cited by U.S. health officials.
A Washington state resident who was the first person in the state to test positive for COVID-19, the disease the virus causes, “fully recovered” in late February, health officials said.
That man became infected after traveling to Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the new illness, in January. He was isolated at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett on Jan. 21 and released into home isolation on Feb. 3.
“He is now considered fully recovered and free to go about his regular activities. We cannot thank him enough for his patience and cooperation throughout the entire process,” the Snohomish Health District said in a statement.
The Tulsa Health Department in Oklahoma said last week that the state’s first confirmed patient recovered from COVID-19.
The patient tested negative twice, “which is the indicator of recovery,” the department said in a statement.
Officials in California, Nebraska, Illinois, and Arizona have also reported patients recovering from COVID-19. Experts recommend staying home if sick and contacting your doctor or health authorities.

Epoch Times Photo
People’s temperatures are checked outside a security checkpoint as they enter the White House in Washington on March 16, 2020. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Elizabeth Schneider, who lives in Seattle in Washington state, told AFP that she tested positive but later recovered from the illness.
Schneider, 37, said she had an experience similar to the flu and that her symptoms subsided after several days with the help of over-the-counter flu medications.
International health officials have emphasized that many people who contract COVID-19 will eventually recover.
“Among those who are infected, most will recover,” the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters last week.
Many of the patients in China have recovered and been discharged from hospitals, he said, though experts say the number of infected and deaths have been underreported by the Chinese Communist Party.
The WHO declared the outbreak of the new illness a pandemic earlier this month.
According to a website that tracks the number of infections and deaths worldwide, using data from WHO and other groups and agencies, more than 77,000 people around the world have recovered from COVID-19.
As of Monday, there were over 174,000 confirmed infections and over 6,700 deaths.
Most of the deaths have been among the elderly or those with underlying health conditions. The mortality rate is much higher for those groups, though the rate is still higher for nearly all age groups compared to the season flu.
Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber

Coronavirus Vaccine Trial Opens in US With First Doses

March 16, 2020 Updated: March 16, 2020

The first patients in a coronavirus vaccine trial in the United States received doses on March 16, about two weeks after recruitment for the study started.
Scientists at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute in Seattle jabbed Jennifer Haller, a 43-year-old mother of two who lives in Seattle, as several other volunteers waited in line.
“We all feel so helpless. This is an amazing opportunity for me to do something,”  Haller told The Associated Press.
After the injection, she left the exam room with a big smile: “I’m feeling great.”
The injections marked the beginning of a series of studies in people needed to prove whether the shots are safe and could work. Even if the research goes well, a vaccine wouldn’t be available for widespread use for 12 to 18 months, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

Epoch Times Photo
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, answers a question during a press conference about the coronavirus as Vice President Mike Pence (L), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma (2nd L), and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar (R) look on, at the White House in Washington on March 2, 2020. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

In a March 16 statement, he said that finding a safe and effective vaccine to block the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which started in China in 2019, “is an urgent health priority.”
The new trial launched in record time, Fauci said, calling it “an important first step toward achieving that goal.”
There are no vaccines for the new virus at this time. No proven treatments exist either, though a slew of drugs have shown effectiveness in some settings and are being tested by researchers.
The trial in Seattle is testing a vaccine called mRNA-1273 developed by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases scientists in collaboration with Moderna, a Massachusetts-based company. The vaccine uses a genetic platform called messenger RNA to direct the body’s cells to express a virus protein that is hoped to elicit a robust immune response.
The vaccine doesn’t contain the coronavirus itself.
“We don’t know whether this vaccine will induce an immune response, or whether it will be safe. That’s why we’re doing a trial,” Dr. Lisa Jackson, a senior Kaiser investigator who’s leading the study, told The Associated Press. “It’s not at the stage where it would be possible or prudent to give it to the general population.”

Epoch Times Photo
A syringe containing the first shot given in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, rests on a table at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle on March 16, 2020. (Ted S. Warren/AP Photo)

The vaccine has shown promise in animal models. The trial is the first to examine it in humans, the agency said. Prior studies on vaccines for related coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, contributed to the quick start of a trial.
The 45 participants, aged 18 to 55, will receive two doses of the vaccine via injection in the arm approximately 28 days apart. They’ll be examined at intervals across a year after the second shot.
“This work is critical to national efforts to respond to the threat of this emerging virus,” Jackson said.
Jackson said her team’s mood was “subdued” after working around the clock to prepare for the start of the trial but called the short timeline, around two months, in getting a vaccine to trial unprecedented.
If the vaccine proves effective in the phase-one trial, a much wider population will be tested in a phase-two trial.

Epoch Times Photo
Dr. Lisa Jackson, a senior investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, works in her office in Seattle on March 15, 2020. (Ted S. Warren/AP Photo)

Other vaccines are in the pipeline. Dozens of research groups around the world are racing to create a vaccine against COVID-19. Another candidate, made by Inovio Pharmaceuticals, is expected to begin its own safety study—in the United States, China, and South Korea—next month.
Because vaccines are given to millions of healthy people, it takes time to test them in large enough numbers to spot an uncommon side effect, said Dr. Nelson Michael of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, which is developing a different vaccine candidate.
“The science can go very quickly but, first, do no harm, right?” he told reporters last week.
The Seattle experiment began days after the World Health Organization declared the new virus outbreak a pandemic because of its rapid global spread, infecting more than 169,000 people and killing more than 6,500.
COVID-19 has upended the world’s social and economic fabric since the first case emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, with regions shuttering schools and businesses, restricting travel, canceling entertainment and sporting events, and encouraging people to stay away from each other.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber

Some Coronavirus Humility

The pandemic may prove as bad as some warn; it is also possible that our response could prove as harmful as the virus itself. March 16, 2020 
Health Care
The Social Order
There are two well-known themes, or topoi, in classical literature. One concerns the graphic descriptions in Thucydides, Sophocles, and Procopius of plagues—especially the human misery and despair that accompanies outbreaks that killed large numbers. The unknown plague at Athens (430–429 BC) killed one-quarter of the Athenian population during the Peloponnesian War, wrecking the social structure of the city. In 542 AD, during a virulent bubonic plague epidemic, millions perished throughout the Byzantine Empire, crippling and ultimately curtailing the emperor Justinian’s grandiose efforts to restore the Roman Empire by reclaiming its lost provinces in the West.
But just as frequently, we read of groundless mass panics that caused deadly harm. Thucydides’s description of the preparations of the Athenian armada on the eve of the ill-fated expedition to Sicily is a sort of fantastical bookend to the panic he previously described about the real plague. In 415 BC, a sudden public frenzy swept the Athenian demos to rule all of distant Sicily and get rich from promises of wealthy allies. Sicily was billed as a prequel to a Mediterranean-wide Athenian empire—at least until the money and the allies proved almost nonexistent and the scheme unworkable. Eventually, some 40,0000 Athenian and allied lives were lost in utter defeat.
In the United States, the collapse of the stock market and banks in 1893 and 1929 altered American life for generations, in part driven by panicked selling. One of cinema’s most dramatic scenes is the run on the Bailey Building and Loan in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life that threatens to turn idyllic Bedford Falls into a Potterville slum. I remember as a boy stomping on June bugs all summer long in 1962 to prevent their supposedly deadly contagion that was supposedly sweeping the nation—aping the behavior of those delusional at Athens who drew maps in the sand of Sicily, hooked on the fantasy of the riches to come from the extravagant 415 BC expedition.
In our current hours of COVID-19 despair, we must fight both the virus and the panic that the disease instills, given that the two can be equally deadly. All sorts of scary statistics about the coronavirus infection and lethality rates are being publicized, often to show contrasts with annual influenza strains and other viral epidemics. Some make the legitimate point that if the coronavirus has a lethality rate of over 1 percent to 3 percent in the United States, then perhaps 97 percent to 99 percent of those infected will survive the illness, albeit with varying degrees of seriousness. And for the vast majority of Americans under 50, it may be that 99 percent will recover from infection, in contrast with almost every known “pandemic” in history.
Others, more pessimistic—or perhaps realistic—retort that such an apparently low lethality rate shouldn’t be cause for relief. After all, COVID-19 will likely remain 10 to 20 times more lethal than annual influenzas (with their 0.01 percent to 0.02 percent death rates). Thus, in theory, it could kill not merely 30,000 to 60,000 of some 60 million infected Americans per year, as does an average flu, but rather 300,000 to 600,000, or even double that number. All too possible again.
But the problem with all such educated guesses is that we simply don’t have hard data, at least not yet. If we assume that around 43 million Americans got the flu in the 2018–2019 season and 61,000 died (for a lethality rate, say, of 0.14 percent), that figure is  arrived at by the more exact numbers of known deaths—determined by data from given hospitalizations and coroner reports, and past calibrations and experience.
Again, annual flu death rates are still not predicated on the actual number of known flu cases—given that the vast majority of Americans don’t visit the hospital for treatment (less than 2 percent, in most years). There is little way—other than through modeling, albeit often sophisticated and time-tried over years, and working backward from known fatalities due to the flu—to learn the number of flu cases necessary to determine a lethality rate. Of course, yearly flu strains also vary widely in death and hospitalization rates and models reflect differing lethality rates.
In contrast, most of the studies that provide statistics for the current coronavirus so far are based both on known deaths and a limited number of known cases. The former number is apparently arrived at from autopsies—in extremis treatment, testing, or coroner reports—and the latter data either by hospitalization, medical treatment, or testing. The result is that we legitimately assume that lots of coronavirus cases go unreported and untested, and thus that the likely death rate could be far lower than we imagine.
So, whereas it’s a good guess that the annual flu kills far fewer of those infected than does the coronavirus, we’re still basing those assumptions without any exact idea of how many Americans actually catch the flu every year—and thus, without certainty, that the flu is as proverbially nonlethal as assumed. Yet for COVID-19, currently we rely on pretty accurate known numbers on both ends when we arrive at a high rate of lethality that is likely exaggerated.
Pessimists point to Italy, where last week almost 7 percent of those infected had died. Optimists, meantime, note recent developments in South Korea, where the death toll dipped to less than 1 percent of known cases. But every country will be as different as they are with the flu. The percentages who die from influenza and related pneumonia, for example, in Saudi Arabia are over 16 times higher per 1,000 cases than in Finland.
From what we know, a nation’s prompt embrace of travel bans, quarantines, and public-health readiness matters a great deal. So do the average age of the population in particular areas; the quality and availability of existing health care; the degree to which a country rapidly stopped direct flights and travel from infectious areas; the percentages of the population who are smokers or engage in unhealthy behaviors, whether a country had hosted a large number of Chinese tourists, expatriates, or workers with likely greater odds of exposure in the early weeks of the outbreak; and, more controversially, perhaps even the relative temperature and weather conditions of particular infectious regions.
When we put all these diverse criteria together, we are left only with likely parameters, not known facts, other than the conventional wisdom that the vast majority of Americans will likely recover from the infection in the coming days or weeks. So far, we seem to believe that less than four in 1,000 will likely die of those infected younger than age 40. Likewise, coronavirus lethality rates are weighed by much higher deaths of those above age 65, but especially above 80 (nearly 15 percent)—and not just to advanced age alone, but comorbidity from heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. For the general public, when we talk about supposed degrees of lethality, and then apply those numbers to the population under 40 or 50, the optimistic absolutes that 99 percent will likely recover are seen as more relevant than scary comparisons that far, far more—likely 99.8 percent—will survive the flu. Is that a legitimate concern? Bees and wasps kill about 10 times more people per year than do spiders. Does that mean we should fear walking among pollenating hives (our 40-acre almond farm has about 80 of them), at least far more so than fixing pipes under the house in the spider-infested dark? Or, not at all—given that spiders kill six Americans per year and bees and wasps ten times more so, adding up to about 60 fatalities out of some 2.9 million yearly deaths in the U.S.?  The point is one of perception: to what degree do we inadvertently panic the population and wreck the economy by driving home the fact that a possible 98 percent to 99 percent survival rate still means thousands more dead than a conjectured 99.8 percent survival rate?
With new draconian measures of containment, we are entering the realm of cost-benefit analyses, given that for every drastic action there is an equally radical reaction—calibrated by everything from physical and mental health issues to economic, financial, security, legal, and political upheavals. Whether we like it or not, the current sweeping measures to curb the virus come at a huge cost—and the tab isn’t just financial or economic, as is sometimes alleged, by both advocates and critics of quarantines, cancellations, and radical social distancing. It involves health issues as well.
If the country goes into a serious recession or even depression; if trillions of dollars more of investment and liquidity continue to be wiped out while businesses crash and jobs are lost; if millions of unemployed cut back on their scheduled health care; if they increase their use of drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, and get less exercise and suffer depression holed up in their homes or must borrow or scramble to find daycare for their school-age children; if they even contemplate suicide—then the human toll spikes in concrete terms of life and death. In the long term, arming ourselves against the virus could be as serious as the virus itself, though to suggest that in these dark days of plague is heresy.
It’s easy to criticize decisions, speeches, news conferences, or commentaries of our policymakers. Mistakes abound and are evident; wise choices are rarely recognized and appreciated. But every tough decision made about the pandemic hinges on finding some perfect, but largely unknown, mean to limit impoverishment, illness, and death. We have relatively recent examples both of failures of doing too much and of too little.
In 1976, also an election year, the country overreacted to the threat of the swine flu, when the press and “experts” warned of a likely return of a 1918 Spanish flu epidemic that this time around could kill “500,000 Americans” and infect “50 million to 60 million.” By early 1977, Americans were panicked and ready for mass inoculations of a rushed and unproven vaccination. Some 45 million were vaccinated; many had adverse, but limited, reactions, and about 450 reportedly ended up with crippling Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome. The current popular creed that critical vaccinations are dangerous grew in part from the well-publicized 1976 mishap—with unfortunate, and in some cases lethal, consequences in convincing citizens not to get their necessary flu shots. In the end, there were about 200 cases and one death due to the great swine flu pandemic. I remember as a student at Stanford waiting in a campus line for the vaccination, then driving home for spring break and ending up in bed with a bad reaction to the shot.
In 2009, the U.S. was probably too lax in not issuing travel restrictions following rapid spread of the H1N1 swine flu that this time really was virally similar to the agent of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. The border with Mexico, where the contagion probably began, was never really closed. For months, no national alarm was sounded. Even today, we still don’t know how many were infected or died, given overlaps with other strains of annual flu, early lax reporting and monitoring, and general public nonchalance. Later government guesses of infection ranged from 43 million to 89 million cases and deaths between 8,870 and 18,300. Children were especially vulnerable; perhaps more than 1,000 died. Are we then to think that, either by act of commission or omission, knowingly or unknowingly, a decision was made that the economic vitality of the country was more critical to the nation’s health than the real chance (in retrospect) of the H1N1 virus infecting, say, 50 million Americans, and killing perhaps 12,000, including 1,000 children?
The point isn’t to blame Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, or Barack Obama for their responses, but to realize that what we are first told about an epidemic—even from “experts” armed with “data”—is not always accurate and will likely be later radically readjusted.
Last week, Ohio governor Mike DeWine, in heartfelt worry and with understandable concern, tweeted a statement from his state Director of Health: “I know it is hard to understand #COVID19 since we can’t see it, but we know that 1 percent of our population is carrying this virus today—that’s over 100,000 people.” In translation, that would mean that DeWine and the director already also “know” that somewhere between 1,000 to 2,500 elderly Ohioans of that infected 100,000 right now, at a minimum (if the case load stays at the static figure of 100,000 and the current death ratios are accurate), are infected and will die in the next one to three weeks. At the time of the governor’s disclosure, there were five known cases of corona virus reported in the state.
Let us hope that the governor proves to be sober and judicious in preventing by these dire warnings such mass death in the next two weeks, but also let us understand that by making such a declaration of fact about 100,000 existing cases (“we know”), DeWine took a risk and is also terrifying 2 million of Ohio’s most vulnerable residents over 65. And their resulting fears may prevent them from visiting doctors for vital scheduled appointments for other illnesses, surgeries, and chronic conditions, or prevent them from going out to shop for needed food, medicines, and health supplies, or put undue stress on those least able to endure it.
Issuing dramatic warnings can be as much about life-and-death decisions as not issuing them. Not going to work for those under 65 can pose as much a collective societal risk as going, and panic may be as deadly for a country of 330 million as infection is for those not in high-risk groups—and all such suppositions can change by the time this essay is read.
Humility, not certainty—much less accusation and panic—should be the order of the day.