Last night President Trump addressed the nation and indicated that all travel is being suspended from Europe for 30 days. The suspension covers 26 countries, including Italy, France and Spain, which have over 14,000 documented COVID-19 cases combined. The United Kingdom, which has fewer than 500 cases, is not included. Cargo and goods will also continue to be allowed here.
At the same time, the president announced plans to coordinate care and intervention “directly with communities with the largest outbreaks,” and to instruct the Small Business Administration to “provide capital to communities affected.” He is asking Congress to provide immediate payroll tax relief and he is instructing the Treasury Department to “provide $200 billion of liquidity to the economy.”
Did the president’s early restriction of travel from China in late January coupled with unprecedented quarantines of returning Americans help to staunch the spread of the novel coronavirus?
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Is the president right to now ban travel from Europe, which he indicated has more cases than we do because they did not restrict travel early on to China?
Is he correct to open the treasury to provide financial relief to those in quarantine and directly affected by the virus?
The answer to all three questions is a resounding yes.
The goal is to support the sick and those sidelined by the virus while at the same time fighting fear and panic by exhibiting calm resolve.
The goal, in the absence of a vaccine or ready anti-viral treatments, is to decrease the amount of circulating virus. The techniques for doing so may appear antiquated and draconian, but they also can be effective, especially when you consider that we have identified a population most at risk of severe complications who we need to protect – the elderly, and those with severe underlying health conditions, including cancer, emphysema and heart disease.
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Cutting off travel from Europe for a month may have severe economic consequences but it makes complete sense from a public health point of view, especially when you consider that we can’t account for the methods of identification or isolation employed in Europe. It is clear by the country-wide lockdown in Italy that they are having trouble containing viral spread. Considering that those infected may be asymptomatic or evade detection at our airports by suppressing symptoms, the president’s move is prudent and preventive. He is relying on public health information that indicates that many of our current emerging cases can be traced to recent European travel.
When I visited Dulles Airport last month for “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” I spoke to several earnest hardworking Custom and Border Protection agents who told me that their screening was based primarily on history taking. They acknowledged that it was too easy to lie in order to avoid detection, especially when a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quarantine could be looming. President Trump’s aggressive move will shut this down, halting the flow of traffic, but also the virus, as we attempt to control it here in the U.S.
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One danger of all this public health is that it unintentionally sends the message that there is more of the coronavirus here than there may really be. We must be certain that our actions fit the actual risk, that we don’t shut down our facilities or rope off our cities and towns prematurely. I believe this virus can still be contained, at least until a vaccine comes along to help us in the fight a year or so from now.
In the meantime, we need to remember that fear causes people to take fewer precautions, which helps spread more virus too. Social distancing must be accomplished calmly.
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