It took 54 days from the time the first Covid-19 case appeared in Wuhan Dec. 1 to the complete lockdown of the central China city of 14 million people Jan. 23.
It also took 54 days from the report of the first American case in Seattle Jan. 20 until U.S. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency Friday.
That’s about where the parallels end, according to public health experts. While China mobilized its 1.4 billion people over the past two months to successfully fight the burgeoning coronavirus pandemic, the American government has come under fire for a dithering response, even with a head start.
The strategy the U.S. is taking on Covid-19 is basically in line with its approach in the H1N1 flu epidemic of 2009 and the H7N9 bird flu of 2013, focusing on care for seniors and people with underlying illness, said Zhang Zuofeng, dean of the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Public Health.
Are the actions being taken now too late, and what needs to be done? The answers will depend on whether newly expanded testing capability shows how extensive the U.S. epidemic really is in the next couple of weeks, public health experts say.
Amesh A. Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security cited the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
“Hospitals were stressed, but we didn’t run into a situation where there were no beds,” he said. It is hard to know exactly how many hospital beds will end up occupied by coronavirus patients, but proactive management of patient surge with creative use of hospital bed space might be part of the solution, he said.
But Adalja warned that the Covid-19 virus has proved uncontainable.
“There is no specific action the U.S. could take to contain the virus,” he said. “The stress must be on medication, hospital preparedness, increasing diagnostic testing, vaccine development, antiviral trials, and public health communication.”