- - Thursday, March 5, 2020

The feared, little known coronavirus has struck our world with a vengeance, including parts of the United States, plunging the stock market to lows not seen since the 2008 financial crisis.

It has torn through China, South Korea, Japan, parts of Europe, including Italy, and sickened nearly 90,000 people in at least 67 countries where more than 3,000 have died,” according to The New York Times.

“The virus could exact a heavy economic toll, as it leads to quarantines, shutters factories, and hits investor and consumer confidence,” The Times reported this week.

The virus is a little-known disease “named for the crownlike spikes the protrude from its surface,” The Times reported. It can “infect both animals and  people and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to lung lesions and pneumonia.”

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus rose to six on Monday and numerous patients were being treated in at least 15 states. Two more cases were reported in Florida.

Cases were reported in Washington state, California and Oregon. “The United States has dozens of other confirmed infections, the majority of them people who were among the passengers on the cruise ship Diamond Princess,” The Washington Post reported.

In Seattle and King County’s public health department, Jeff Duchin was among health care officials who pointed to the need for increased health care testing facilities to stem the rise of the virus.

“The risk for all of us of becoming infected will be increasing,” he told The Post.

“We’re going to see a lot of sick people and we’re going to have a tremendous challenge on our health care system, he said, adding that “it’s impossible for me to predict what the peak of this outbreak will be.”

“We expect the number of cases will continue to increase in the coming days and weeks, and we’re taking this situation very seriously,” he said.

In San Antonio, Tex., health care officials “lambasted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “after the agency released a woman who later was found to have the novel coronavirus.”

“The city unsuccessfully sought a temporary restraining order to prevent the release of dozens of people scheduled to leave quarantine in the San Antonio area and demanded another round of tests be performed,” it was reported.

“We simply cannot have a screw-up like this from our federal partners,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

Meantime, the House was feverishly working on an emergency $7.5 billion coronavirus spending package.

The bill far exceeds the $1.25 billion spending request that President Trump sent Congress last week. The larger spending package is expected to be passed by the House before being taken up by the Senate.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has been pushing the pharmaceutical industry to  develop a vaccine to combat the coronavirus. Human trials could begin in April.

But Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said a vaccine would take up to 12 to 18 months to develop.

Meantime, the growing concern, and scandal, in all of this is that the federal government has failed prepare for this kind of nationwide medical crisis that threatens our country.

“The amount of federal funding given to state and local officials to prepare for health emergencies has been cut in half or more over the past couple of decades,” Crystal Watson, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Top government health officials say the two biggest federal programs created to deal with such emergency funding have been slashed from $1.4 billion in 2003 to only $662 million this year.

“Every administration has made cuts to these programs,” Ms. Watson said.

Testing kits and ventilators in health care centers across the country are woefully in short supply.

A survey of nursing homes in the United States by the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2008 found that over half of them lacked enough supplies needed to deal with the crisis.

That is the situation our country finds itself in today.

• Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.

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