It seems far too early to call it panic — the fact that every conversation spoken or overheard in recent days at some point includes a mention of coronavirus.
Sometimes it is someone asking have we heard the latest. Sometimes it is in an email inquiring how journalists should report it, or can stay safe reporting it. Sometimes it is about the Chattanooga-area couple quarantined after being evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.
But if all this conversation isn't panic, what is it? And if it isn't panic, should it be?
Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering on Thursday afternoon listed 82,557 cases worldwide with 78,497 of them reported in Mainland China. Among the total cases, the health group counted 2,810 deaths and 33,252 recoveries. So far, the U.S. has confirmed 60 cases or people in quarantine, including 42 Americans who were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan and brought home to be isolated in military hospitals in California and Texas.
Those numbers are sobering, but what is more a cause for panic in our view is that Donald Trump (and Mike Pence) will have anything to do with anything about this health crisis.
On Tuesday, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, warned Americans: "We expect we will see community spread in this country. ... It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness."
On Wednesday, Trump gave a wishy-washy contradiction of that and put Pence in charge. On Thursday afternoon, Pence, an evolution denier and climate-science critic, directed all agencies to route media requests about the coronavirus through his office.
To our ears, this combination of facts almost guarantees that Americans will not know the truth about anything — good or bad — about coronavirus in our midst.
Take for instance the case of America's first person to be confirmed with the virus despite having no known contact with anyone else who had it and no travel to regions hit by the outbreak. That person is a woman in Northern California who wasn't tested for the disease for days — despite an immediate request to the CDC.
Why wasn't she tested? Because she didn't meet the administration's strict criteria for the test, according UC Davis Medical Center, where the woman is being treated. The CDC could not respond Thursday afternoon to a Washington Post request for comment about the refusal to test her.
But the story gets more disturbing when you learn that the Solano County woman brought herself to NorthBay VacaValley Hospital, a 50-bed community hospital in Vacaville, Calif., with flulike symptoms on Feb. 15 — two weeks ago — and was treated there until her condition worsened and she was moved to UC Davis in Sacramento on Feb. 19. Even there, she wasn't tested until Feb. 23, according to reports in The Washington Post.
"Two UC Davis officials sent an email to employees Wednesday [Feb. 26] that said the patient arrived at the medical center Feb. 19 but was not tested until Sunday because they did not meet the criteria for testing. That includes recent travel to China or close contact with a confirmed case," The Post wrote.
The CDC, eventually confirming the case, said it "was detected through the U.S. public health system — picked up by astute clinicians."
Think of all the doctors, nurses, aids and patients or hospital visitors in those two hospitals who were in contact with this woman.
"Kris Concepcion, fire chief and acting public information officer in Vacaville, Calif., said county officials had issued a directive not to transport any new patients to two local hospitals — NorthBay VacaValley Hospital in Vacaville and NorthBay Medical Center in nearby Fairfield. Concepcion declined to say why those orders had been given," according to The Post.
The two hospitals are in Solano County, home to Travis Air Force Base, where hundreds of Americans repatriated from China and others brought home from the Diamond Princess cruise ship have been kept in quarantine. Many of them have been released.
That brings us to the local connection — a Chattanooga-area couple who also were evacuated from the Diamond Princess and are now in quarantine at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
John and Connie Buecker told WRCBtv and NewsChannel 9 this week that they have now been tested for the virus, and the tests were negative.
The Bueckers said CDC had initially said it had no plans to test them, despite the deaths of several people on the ship. Connie told Channel 3 that they found the initial decision odd, "because we hear our waiter came down with the coronavirus — the one at our dining table in the dining room," she said.
Now the two say that if all goes well and they remain symptom-free through Monday, they expect to be released to head home on Tuesday.
There are many questions about this virus, and many more about how our president and vice president will handle it.
One unequivocal answer is that we wish all the best to the Bueckers and hope to welcome them home soon.