The growing coronavirus outbreak in the United States is revealing serious gaps in the health system’s ability to respond to a major epidemic, forcing hospitals and doctors to improvise emergency plans daily, even as they remain uncertain how bad the crisis will get. Federal funding for emergency preparedness in health care has been in a slow, steady decline for more than 15 years. The crisis also reveals how ill-prepared Trump is to deal with an emergency.
There are not enough hospitals and clinics to handle new cases and locations to quarantine the infected. Nationwide, worries are growing about a lack of hospital beds to quarantine and treat infected patients. Major medical centers are typically full even without a flood of coronavirus patients.
Despite weeks of preparations, health planners continue to fret about shortages of masks and gowns for hospital staff, as well as lifesaving mechanical respirators for patients with severe cases of the disease.
There are no enough tests to determine who is infected or not! One of the particular challenges at nursing homes, aside from the vulnerability of residents, is that one worker, if infected, can become a “super-spreader,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has studied infectious-disease surveillance.
Front-line providers are dusting off old protocols for handling previous global health threats including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), H1N1 and Ebola. But the coronavirus is spreading rapidly and, with mild symptoms that mimic the flu, difficult to detect.
The World Health Organization warned that panic buying and hoarding were creating a dangerous global shortage of protective equipment. China, where the outbreak began, has stopped exports.
Federal officials estimated in 2005 that in the event of a severe pandemic, such as the 1918 flu, more than 740,000 people would require ventilators for breathing. But there are only about 200,000 ventilation machines in U.S. medical facilities and a national stockpile, according to experts.