You already know by now that coronavirus has been declared a Pandemic. The eyes of the world are currently set in Europe, especially Italy, where more than 15000 have been infected and 1000 died due to COVID-19. Borders are being closed and flights to Europe are being canceled.
However, we would like to point out a country where the situation is alarming but still going under the radar: United States. As of 13th of March, there are around 1300 confirmed cases in the country, but the real number is much higher than stated, and we would like to point out why through 5 recent cases:
1. Tom Hanks
Yesterday, 12th of March, Tom Hanks and his wife tested positive for coronavirus in Australia. They probably didn’t, however, get infected in Australia. They arrived from the United States before the 5th of March. Tom Hanks lives in California, which has been in a state of emergency since the 4th of March, with 50 official cases at that time. The state of emergency was declared after a man died from coronavirus in the state – he was infected during a cruise and had already disembarked with hundreds of other passengers by the time he tested positive at a local hospital. At least 2 other passengers who had also left the cruise were tested positive for coronavirus.
2. Fábio Wajngarten
Fábio Wajngarten, a Brazilian officer has been infected with coronavirus during a recent trip to the United States, where he even shook hands with US President Donald Trump on the weekend of 7th of March in Mar-A-Lago, Florida. There are 2 more Brazilian officials who were on the same trip who tested positive on the 13th of March. There were 17 confirmed cases in Florida on the 8th of March.
3. Coronavirus at the White House?
On the 5th of March, Peter Dutton, an Australian minister had a meeting with Ivanka Trump in the United States. He’s just been diagnosed with COVID-19. Seems like coronavirus has made way into the White House. That makes it the second known person in Australia who got coronavirus in US (The first being Tom Hanks).
4. From Colorado to Brazil
Brazilian influencer Gabriela Pugliesi has been tested positive after she attended a wedding in the state of Bahia, Brazil, on th 8th of March. One of the guests had spent the holiday of Carnaval (21st to 26th February) in Aspen Colorado were, at the time, there was a total of…0 confirmed cases in the state! This is a big indication that as what happened in the state of Washington, the virus has been silently moving inside the country unannounced.
5. From Texas to India
An Indian man who returned to India from the United States on the 1st of March has tested positive. He had been to Austin, Texas, and got a flight back with connections in New York and Dubai. On the 5th of March, when the man started showing symptoms, there were 5 ‘presumptive’ positive cases in Texas.
These cases are a mere indication that the number of real infected people have already been much higher than announced for weeks, with special attention to case number 4. A person got infected at a time when reportedly there were NO positive cases.
CORONAVIRUS TESTING IN THE UNITED STATES
Testing in the United States has been surprisingly extremely inefficient. There is currently not even precise data on how many people have actually been tested in the country, as many states have not mentioned officially how many people overall have been tested, or how many negative results they’ve had (which would provide a clue to the total number of tests conducted).
As this article from Vox mentions,
“Accurate testing is critical to stopping an outbreak: When one person gets a confirmed diagnosis, they can be put in isolation where they won’t spread the disease further. Then their contacts can be identified and put into quarantine so they don’t spread the virus if they’ve become infected, too. That’s particularly important for a virus like this one, which seems able to spread before people show symptoms, or when their symptoms are mild.”Vox
As of March 11th, it is estimated by The Atlantic that 7.000 people have been tested in the entire country. South Korea, in comparison, 20.000 people are being tested every day. Even if testing becomes widely available right now, the number of undiagnosed infected people have already made the infection widespread in the country.
Not only testing has been inefficient, but also sadly inaccurate, with tests delivering imprecise results in mid-February, which required them to be manufactured again. But perhaps, what is more concerning, is the several testimonials from people with symptoms who have been denied testing for weeks, as they hadn’t traveled to China or didn’t match the criteria.
HEALTHCARE WHILE TRAVELING TO THE UNITED STATES
The United States is a quite notorious country regarding the lack of a public health system. Currently, almost a third of Americans either do not have health insurance or have an insufficient one. In practice, it means that even if people are sick and potentially carrying the virus, they will avoid at all costs going to a doctor or hospital, as they cannot afford it.
For international travelers, this is also bad news. After coronavirus was declared a pandemic by WHO, most travel insurance stopped covering for international medical expenses related to COVID-19. If you get sick in the United States, you have to pay from your own pocket, and no reimbursements will be given. Since there is no public health system, it doesn’t give people much of a choice.
My personal experience with healthcare in the US
To illustrate this small scenario, last year I was in Florida for 2 weeks with my family, a group of 11 people. On the first few days, the teenagers got a very strong flu. After a week, almost everybody was sick. I thought that was odd for an entire family to get sick. I thought it must have been something new, to which none of us had immunity.
The last one to fall ill was my youngest brother, a 2-year-old boy. His condition depleted quickly, and we had to take him to a doctor in Orlando. To the shock of the entire family, he was diagnosed with H1N1! Apparently, there was an outbreak of Swine flu in Florida at that time, and most likely this is what the entire family had as well, although nobody else got tested.
A mere 3-hour treatment, including doctor appointments, tests, vaccines, and medication cost us a whopping 860 US Dollars! After almost a month fighting with the insurance company, we got that money back. But what if it was COVID-19, and the insurance wouldn’t reimburse us? What if we were forced to quarantine in a hotel room, having to bear all expenses? What if our flight back got cancelled, and we stood stuck in the country? Would you be willing to take that risk? I wouldn’t.