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A Look Back At The Pandemic Can Help Us Improve Our Planning.  

2020 has experienced an event not seen for a century—a pandemic widespread and deadly enough to affect every nation. Most, including the United States, were thrown into a “new normal,” in which thriving economies were shut down, and you couldn’t enter many stores without wearing a face mask.

The last time this happened was the Spanish Flu pandemic from 1918 to 1919. (The “Spanish Flu,” by the way, didn’t originate in Spain. It received that name because during World War I, that neutral country didn’t have the strict censorship that combatant nations imposed. Bad news was harmful to the war effort, so the only way you heard about the virus in Europe was from Spanish journalists.)

I’ve been monitoring and writing about emerging viral threats since the Swine Flu arrived over a decade ago. In fact, it was, along with Hurricane Katrina, one of the main reasons I joined the preparedness community. I became one of those “bug-hunters” who scoured reports of food contamination and small-scale epidemics to identify a possible society-changer. Indeed, a few (such as Ebola or Zika) became widespread enough to cause international concern but failed to reach the official pandemic level set by the World Health Organization in 2009.

Bats are known to be natural reservoirs for many viruses and have spread them in the past. (Photo: Getty)

This version of my COVID-19 event timeline shows the highlights of the event, along with some articles written and lessons learned about the pandemic over time. It begins in early January and runs through mid-August in order to meet the deadline for submission to my editor.

January 7, 2020

I become aware of a mysterious new pneumonia in Wuhan, China. A January 5th report identifies that a total of 60 people had been sent to the hospital, but there were no fatalities yet. I write an article titled “A New Pneumonia” at my survival medicine website at DoomAndBloom.net. In hindsight, Chinese officials admit to a possible origin a month or so before.

Lesson Learned: A ripple can become a tidal wave over time.

January 11, 2020

The first death from the new coronavirus pneumonia occurs in China.

January 22, 2020

The virus is identified as a member of the coronavirus family, with likely human-to-human transmission. They give it the name, “2019-nCoV.” Coronaviruses are pretty common: Of the six previously known coronavirus strains, four are the source of perhaps a quarter of the world’s common colds.

Common cold coronaviruses didn’t concern me as much as the other two: SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). These are deadly coronaviruses, with 10 percent and 35 percent death rates, respectively. Both of them have caused epidemics since 2003.

(Photo: Getty)

I write the article, “Coronavirus: The Next Pandemic?” However, I have to amend it as cases start to mount. In the morning, there were 440 cases and nine deaths (up from 200 cases the previous week). A few hours later, 555 cases and 17 deaths have been verified. Other provinces in China report cases, and similar pneumonias appear in other countries. Quarantines are instituted for travelers, and U.S. airports begin health screenings.

Lesson Learned: Infectious disease, if contagious enough, can spread like wildfire.

January 23, 2020

The first U.S. case is reported in a 30-year-old man recently returned from China.

Worldwide, there are 631 cases and 17 deaths.

January 25, 2020

In the interest of preparing U.S. citizens for a possible pandemic event, I begin a multi-part video series on face masks. Followers of my work knew to have a good supply in their medical kits. Few ordinary citizens, however, are aware of the proper way to fit them.

Worldwide, there are 1,350 cases and 41 deaths.

Lesson Learned: It’s important to have supplies, but you must learn how to use them properly.

January 27, 2020

I write an article asserting my opinion that the new coronavirus will soon become a pandemic, placing it at the phase 4 alert level of the WHO’s (World Health Organization) categories. Phase 6 is full-blown pandemic.

Worldwide, there are 3,000 cases and 81 deaths.

Even among older Americans, not everyone realizes the importance of wearing face masks in crowds. (Photo: Getty)

January 29, 2020

I write the article, “Coronavirus Update,” which discusses the concept of the R-Naught (R0) number as an index of infectivity, as well as social distancing and face mask strategies. I also express some frustration about the reluctance of WHO to declare future pandemic status. It calls the virus a “public health emergency of international concern” instead. I express suspicion about the accuracy of Chinese reporting (18 different countries report cases).

Worldwide, there are 6,000 cases and 132 deaths.

Lessons Learned: Don’t wait for the authorities to sound an alarm to become medically prepared; and don’t expect transparency from authoritarian regimes.

January 31, 2020

Foreign nationals are first denied entry into the United States from China.

Worldwide, there are 9,800 cases and 231 deaths.

February 2, 2020

In “Coronavirus: A Cure?” I discuss the first of many combination drug treatments put forth as a possible cure for the new virus (this one fell by the wayside). I also mention my first misgivings about the “live market theory,” noting the close proximity of China’s biosafety level-4 lab and the Wuhan CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) facility to the animal market that was claimed to be the origin of the virus.

Worldwide, there are 15,000 cases and 305 deaths.

Lesson Learned: Origins of a disease are often uncertain, if not downright murky.

February 10, 2020

The death toll surpasses that of the SARS coronavirus epidemic of 2003.

Worldwide, there are 40,000 cases and 910 deaths.

For many, speculation continues about the origin of COVID-19 being a live market or a lab. (Photo: Getty)

February 11, 2020

2019-nCoV virus is now known as “SARS-CoV2” because of its similarity to the previous SARS virus. The disease caused by SARS-CoV2 is given its own name: “COVID-19.” According to the World Health Organization, this was done to avoid calling it the “Wuhan virus” and offending the Chinese government.

Worldwide, there are 45,000 cases and 1,018 deaths.

Lesson Learned: Politics can easily invade public health decisions.

February 16, 2020

I explore bats as the reservoir of the new coronavirus and methods by which humans could have become eligible hosts in my article, “Do Bats Play a Role in the Coronavirus Epidemic?

Worldwide, there are 69,000 cases and 1,669 deaths.

February 22, 2020

Fearing hospitals will be overwhelmed, the WHO and CDC both endorse strategies for home care of the milder cases. I write “Home Care for COVID-19 Patients: WHO Guidance.”

Worldwide, there are 77,000 cases and 2,359 deaths.

Lessons Learned: Having a plan and supplies for an epidemic sick room is a wise policy. In addition, wash your hands frequently with soap and water or hand sanitizer.

February 26, 2020

My frustration boils over as WHO fails to regard COVID-19 as a pandemic. The organization won’t officially recognize it as such until March 11. I write the article, “If COVID-19 Isn’t a Pandemic, I Don’t Know What Is.”

Worldwide, there are 81,000 cases and 2,762 deaths.

Lesson Learned: Delays by health officials could cost lives.

Medical expert Dr. Anthony Fauci recommends using face shields in addition to masks and also observing social distancing. (Photo: Getty)

February 28, 2020

The first U.S. death is reported in the Seattle, Washington, area. Post-mortem testing by CIDRAP (Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy), however, confirms that there were likely deaths in the San Francisco Bay area weeks earlier.

Worldwide, there are 84,000 cases and 2,867 deaths.

Lesson Learned: The first case report of an infectious disease is often not the first case.

March 2, 2020

Concern builds as more U.S. cases are identified. I publish the article, “Expect U.S. Outbreaks, But Don’t Panic” (of course, everyone panics anyway). Snohomish County, Washington, is the first community in the nation to declare a local outbreak shortly thereafter. Commercial masks are reserved for medical workers, so nurse practitioner Amy Alton, A.R.N.P., C.N.M., makes a video on how to improvise masks.

Worldwide, there are 90,000 cases and 3,046 deaths.

Lessons Learned: Once the steamroller gets moving, it’s hard to stop. Also, do what you can with what you have.

March 8, 2020

The lack of reliability of COVID-19 testing receives widespread news coverage. I post the video, “Are COVID-19 Statistics Reliable?

Worldwide, there are 107,000 cases and 3,585 deaths.

Lesson Learned: Medical test results are not infallible.

March 15, 2020

Face masks, hand sanitizers and personal protection gear become scarce, leading to nationwide shortages.

Worldwide, there are 161,000 cases and 5,777 deaths.

Lesson Learned: Have supplies on hand before the disaster occurs.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, 15 percent or more of cases ended up in intensive care. (Photo: Getty)

March 27, 2020

Reports of “mask-shaming” ordinary citizens for wearing commercial masks lead me to point out that the CDC endorses home care for mild COVID cases. That makes home caregivers “medical workers” who should have the right to access high-quality items to protect against infection. I post a video: “Who Should Use Face Masks?”

Worldwide, there are 550,000 and 24,308 deaths.

Lesson Learned: Peer pressure is no reason for your family to go without personal protection items.

March 30, 2020

The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) authorizes emergency use of the anti-malarial Chloroquine drug family to treat rising cases of COVID-19.

Worldwide, there are 743,000 cases and 34,500 deaths.

March 31, 2020

Peoples’ reluctance to wear masks in crowded public spaces leads me to write, “If You’re Not Wearing a Mask, You’re Nuts.” New York City becomes a hotbed of new cases and deaths from COVID-19.

Worldwide, there are 807,000 cases and 38,520 deaths.

Lesson Learned: If you’re going to live in a big city, have a big supply of personal protection items.

April 2, 2020

I post the article, “Chloroquine for COVID-19 Patients.”

April 8, 2020

The Trump administration endorses the use of inexpensive hydroxychloroquine. This leads opponents in a polarized nation to begin a campaign against the drug.

Worldwide, there are 1,420,000 cases and 83,800 deaths.

April 11, 2020

A public service message by former L.A. Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda shows him in a mask with his nose uncovered—revealing how many people aren’t acquainted with proper safety procedures.

Worldwide, there are 1,680,000 cases and 105,000 deaths.

Lesson Learned: You can lead a Dodger to water, but you can’t make him drink.

April 26, 2020

The CDC adds a number of new symptoms for COVID diagnosis in addition to the classic fever, cough and shortness of breath. These include loss of the senses of smell or taste, headache and others.

Worldwide, there are 2,840,000 cases and 206,000 deaths.

Lesson Learned: Infectious diseases often present with different symptoms in different individuals.

Lung damage is just one effect of COVID-19. (Photo: Getty)

April 29, 2020

Studies on the experimental drug Remdesivir show promise against COVID-19.

Worldwide, there are 3,060,000 cases and 221,000 deaths.

May 1, 2020

Remdesivir receives FDA emergency-use authorization. The cost of the therapy is later estimated to be approximately $3,120 per patient.

Worldwide, there are 3,222,000 cases and 233,500 deaths.

May 12, 2020

Medical expert Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), warns against the relaxation of social distancing and says he is “cautiously optimistic” that a vaccine will be effective and achieved within one or two years.

Worldwide, there are 4,130,000 cases and 286,000 deaths.

Lesson Learned: The FDA approval pipeline is often full of sludge.

May 14, 2020

The CDC sets a series of complex rules for reopening the nation in phases. Some states will try to reopen, but they then fall back to lockdown status. I publish the article, “Reopening After a Pandemic.”

Worldwide, there are 4,300,000 cases and 297,000 deaths.

Lesson Learned: The recovery process is going to be slow and painful.

May 20, 2020

Studies come in that report on the failure of hydroxychloroquine to improve the conditions of COVID-19. Closer examination reveals that zinc, the antiviral agent activated by chloroquines, wasn’t included in almost all the research. Is the science being manipulated? On May 24, I publish the article, “The Missing Zinc.”

Worldwide, there are 4,850,000 cases and 323,000 deaths.

Lesson Learned: “Science” is sometimes manipulated to meet an agenda.

May 28, 2020

The United States surpasses 100,000 deaths. The CDC asks that Americans continue following prevention strategies, such as social distancing, good hand hygiene and wearing a face mask while in public.

Worldwide, there are 5,640,000 cases and 356,000 deaths.

Lesson Learned: Face masks, hand-washing and social distancing are part of society’s “new normal.”

There are more options and supplies available than ever, but the reliability of COVID-19 tests remains questionable (Photo: Getty)

June 4, 2020

Two prestigious medical journals, the New England Journal of Medicine and British journal The Lancet, issue retractions of results critical of hydroxychloroquine. Despite this, the FDA rescinds emergency-use authorizations for the drug in hospitals on June 15.

Worldwide, there are 6,460,000 cases and 386,000 deaths.

June 18, 2020

The World Health Organization halts most trials involving hydroxychloroquine. The FDA follows two days later.

Worldwide, there are 8,300,000 cases and 449,000 deaths.

June 22, 2020

Studies show that up to 80 percent of people seeking medical care for flu-like symptoms could have COVID-19.

Worldwide, there are 8,900,000 cases and 468,000 deaths.

Lesson Learned: The real numbers of COVID-19 cases are wildly underestimated due to the number of milder cases.

June 29, 2020

Dr. Anthony Fauci recommends the use of goggles or face shields when someone is out in public.

Worldwide, there are 10,100,000 cases and 501,500 deaths.

July 12, 2020

The World Health Organization reports a record 230,370 positive cases confirmed in a single day, worldwide.

Worldwide, there are 12,700,000 cases and 569,000 deaths.

July 18, 2020

“Second waves” of pandemic cases show up in various parts of the United States. In reality, they’re first waves for almost all the areas affected. History shows that the 1918 Spanish Flu had three waves: spring, fall and the following winter/spring. I post the video, “Pandemic Waves.”

Worldwide, there are 14,000,000 cases and 597,000 deaths.

Lesson Learned: In a country as big as the United States, outbreaks won’t occur simultaneously.

A masked airline passenger passes a notification in London’s Heathrow Airport about the new virus discovered in Wuhan, China. (Photo: Getty)

July 24, 2020

A new worldwide daily record of almost 10,000 deaths is recorded.

Worldwide, there are 15,500,000 cases and 633,000 deaths.

July 29, 2020

Vitamin D deficiency is linked to poor outcomes in COVID-19 cases. It’s produced in the skin via sun exposure, so countries near the equator seem to have lower death rates. I write the article, “Vitamin D Deficiency and COVID-19.”

Worldwide, there are 16,700,000 cases and 660,000 deaths.

Lesson Learned: Some simple, inexpensive strategies could make a difference in COVID-19 outcomes.

July 31, 2020

The World Health Organization reports a record 291,000 positive new cases confirmed in a 24-hour period.

Worldwide, there are 17,300,000 cases and 673,000 deaths.

August 6, 2020

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine tests positive for COVID-19. He has no symptoms.

Worldwide, there are 18,810,000 cases and 707,500 deaths.

August 7, 2020

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine tests negative—twice—for COVID-19.

Worldwide, there are 19,100,000 cases and 714,000 deaths.

Lesson learned: Lab tests for COVID-19 are less than reliable.

The “new normal” includes wearing personal protective equipment, maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between people in public places and families reducing the number of people who go shopping (Photo: Getty)

August 8, 2020

Everything about COVID-19 becomes politicized—whether to reopen access to businesses, acceptable treatments, vaccines and even whether to wear a mask. The real science becomes nearly impossible to tell from the agendas of everyone involved. I publish the article, “The Problem With ‘Following the Science.’” U.S. case totals surpass 5,000,000.

Worldwide, there are 19,370,000 cases and 721,000 deaths.

August 17, 2020

The Milken Institute’s COVID-Tracker identifies 315 treatments and almost 200 vaccines in development.

Worldwide, there are 22,000,000 cases and 770,000 deaths.

Statistical Trends

As time has passed, my initial alarm over SARS-CoV2 has tempered somewhat. Although the press still reports record numbers of cases in various areas, the rate of severe disease seems to be dropping. According to WorldOMeters.info, only 1 percent of active cases is reported to be in “severe” or “critical” condition—down from 10 to 15 percent early in the pandemic. Active cases comprise about 6,500,000 cases out of the total 22,000,000 as of August 20, 2020.

The loss of smell is one of the symptoms of COVID-19, but this can also be attributed to other temporary or permanent sensory disruptions. (Photo: Getty)

Closed cases, documented whenever a patient either recovers or dies from the disease, are another story. Among more than 15,000,000 closed cases, COVID-19 still has a 5 percent death rate, but it’s down from the 21 percent recorded a few months ago. If, as I suspect, the true number of COVID-19 cases is underestimated by a factor of 10 or 20 (due to mild or asymptomatic cases), the death rate drops to well under 1 percent—still much worse than a bad flu season, but not the apocalyptic event I was worried about. Despite this, medical experts and media sound daily alarms unlikely to subside until after the presidential election.

(Editor’s note: The following statistics, as of September 28, 2020, are presented for the sake of comparison with those stated above, according to the WorldOMeters.info website:)

                                                         August 20, 2020        September 28, 2020

Total Cases                                                22,889,482                                33,476,219

Active Cases                                                6,590,798                                  7,690,727

Closed Cases                                            15,000,000                               25,785,492

Deaths                                                              801,206                                 1,004,669

Death Rate (of closed cases)                         5.34%                                          3.9%

“Following the Science”

The public is always told to “follow the science,” but there are many ways to manipulate outcomes to meet the purposes of the researchers. Even randomized, double-blind studies can be skewed by changing the parameters: Use higher doses than usual to increase the incidence of side effects. Omit one drug of a combination therapy to see less of an effect. The statistics might possibly be presented so as to make a proposed treatment seem more or less effective, based on the agenda of the researchers.

We depend greatly on “medical experts” to determine our public health policy. But what’s their goal? The medical expert is concerned with preventing every bad outcome that can occur from a disease. That means they’ll recommend measures strict enough to achieve that goal, even if it means putting every citizen in their own personal “bubble.”

Social distancing has become part of the “new normal.” Whether it’s a green circle or a red “X,” the key is to maintain a 6-foot distance from others. (Photo: Getty)

What doesn’t seem to concern medical experts much is the effect their recommendations have on a society’s economy and other collateral damage. Most medical experts you see in the news are academics and administrators. Few are involved in the day-to-day care of real people, nor are they much affected by their missteps. So far, the medical experts haven’t eliminated the pandemic, even with strict measures. They have, however, deeply affected the nation’s economy and the very fabric of society.

Most people think “the science” is a wholesale agreement among the entire medical community. This couldn’t be further from the truth. For example: One New England Journal of Medicine article in July cast doubt on the effectiveness of chloroquines, while another in the International Journal of Infectious Disease the month before claimed they were a viable option. Which is correct?

Other studies were halted or aren’t due to conclude until the end of the year. The real science seems elusive.

Regardless of what you might hear, a worldwide pandemic isn’t an event that can be magically stopped. We can only “flatten the curve” enough to avoid overwhelming the medical infrastructure. We’ve done a good job with that, but the outbreak has to run its course. It took 18 months before the Spanish Flu outbreak finally disappeared. It would be naïve to think COVID-19 will be much different.

During “stay-at-home” orders, even massive cities such as Los Angeles, California, became ghost towns. (Photo: Getty)

Due to the virus’s mutations, Science Daily recognizes six versions of SARS-CoV2 at the time of this writing. It appears that the predominant strain in the United States is very contagious but perhaps less deadly than the original virus.

The bad news is that we should expect continued outbreaks, second waves and losses significantly worse than the seasonal flu.

On the bright side, it’s unlikely we’ll see a global death toll of 50 to 100 million as we saw with the Spanish Flu. We can also expect some of the 315 treatment and 200 vaccine trials listed on Milken Institute’s COVID-Tracker to prove effective.

Guests at Hotel “X” in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, practice yoga within personal domes to ensure they’re social distancing safely. How much oversight is too much? (Photo: Getty)

There will always be natural disasters, epidemics—and yes, pandemics—on planet Earth. If I’ve learned anything over the last decade, it’s that preparing for the worst-case scenario gives you a head start to succeed, even when everything else fails.

World Health Organization Phase Alerts

The WHO phase alerts for infectious disease outbreaks are—

Phase 1: The disease is found circulating in animals; there are no known infections in humans.
Phase 2: The disease has caused proven infection in humans.
Phase 3: Small clusters of disease occur in humans but do not affect entire communities.
Phase 4: The disease affects entire communities. The disease now qualifies as an epidemic, but the risk for a pandemic, although increased, is not certain.
Phase 5: The spread of epidemic disease between humans is occurring in more than one country in a region.
Phase 6: Community-level outbreaks exist in at least one additional country in a different region.

Epidemic Sickrooms

Home caregivers should choose a room farthest away from well-trafficked common areas. The room should have a door or at least plastic sheeting to serve as a barrier. You’ll need good ventilation and light, but no carpeting or upholstered furniture.

Useful items to consider: 

  • Personal protection items such as face masks, gloves, gowns, face shields, goggles, aprons and boot covers
  • Donning/doffing stations for personal protection equipment with basins, soap/water and hand sanitizer
  • Cots or beds, linens, plates, utensils and toiletry items dedicated to the patient
  • Waste bins with biohazard bags to safely dispose of items used by the patient
  • Exam table and work surfaces
  • Chlorine solution or other product to clean surfaces
  • Alcohol, Chlorhexidine or other antiseptic
  • Thermometer
  • Stethoscope and blood pressure cuff
  • Noisemaker to allow the patient to call for help

World Health Organization Phase Alerts

The WHO phase alerts for infectious disease outbreaks are—

Phase 1: The disease is found circulating in animals; there are no known infections in humans.
Phase 2: The disease has caused proven infection in humans.
Phase 3: Small clusters of disease occur in humans but do not affect entire communities.
Phase 4: The disease affects entire communities. The disease now qualifies as an epidemic, but the risk for a pandemic, although increased, is not certain.
Phase 5: The spread of epidemic disease between humans is occurring in more than one country in a region.
Phase 6: Community-level outbreaks exist in at least one additional country in a different region.

 

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the December, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.

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