Wicker: U.S. is well-prepared to address new health concern
Published 10:07 am Friday, March 6, 2020
Americans are right to be concerned about the coronavirus, which has affected parts of China, Japan, South Korea, Iran, and Italy, as well as the United States. Health experts believe the virus will continue to spread around the world.
Government at every level is taking this problem seriously. However, as our country deals with a very real threat, it is important for us not to allow emotion to obscure the facts. The U.S. is well-prepared to address this challenge.
Public alarm about a potential outbreak is nothing new. In recent years, Americans have had cause to worry about the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, bird flu, swine flu, and Ebola. These diseases were contained and now pose relatively low risks to human life and health. With an appropriate response, the coronavirus can fall into the same pattern.
There is no need to panic. Among the known cases, the overwhelming majority of patients recover.
Regrettably, the virus has led to death in a significant number of cases. As with many other illnesses, those at greatest risk are elderly or have underlying health conditions. Many of those infected by the coronavirus have few if any symptoms and may never even be reported.
It is vital that the spread of coronavirus be contained while in its early phase.
In China, where the virus is most widespread, only a tiny fraction of the population has been infected. By comparison, since last October, 32 million people in the U.S. have been infected by the seasonal flu, leading to 18,000 deaths. What makes coronavirus particularly troubling is that it is new and in many ways still unknown.
Humans have not built up resistance to this virus as we have other infections, and health professionals are still in the beginning stages of developing treatments and vaccines.
Federal government is taking decisive action
The Trump administration has taken decisive steps to counter the spread of this virus. Vice President Mike Pence has assembled a team of health policy experts, led by Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci, who can use their expertise and credibility to provide clear information to the public.
President Trump quickly imposed travel restrictions from China and other affected areas. Passengers from high-risk regions are being screened for symptoms before they arrive in the U.S., and those who have been exposed to the virus are being quarantined for an appropriate period of time.
This past week I attended a subcommittee hearing on the role of global aviation in containing the spread of infectious diseases. Witnesses from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Transportation, and Customs and Border Protection agreed that the President’s efforts are working.
Congress is also providing additional resources to support the response. The funding package passed by the House and Senate will give health-care workers the tools to treat patients safely. Additionally, the bill will expedite the development of effective tests, treatments, and vaccines for the coronavirus.
Prevention, not panic
Health experts recommend taking the same standard precautions that are used to avoid the seasonal flu and the common cold: wash your hands regularly with soap, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, cover your coughs, avoid touching your face and mouth, keep surfaces sanitized and stay home if you feel sick. And it is not too late to get a flu vaccine.