By Jefferey Jaxen
Another week, another increase in reported cases of coronavirus in the United States.
The inadequacy of early measures and responses by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—combined with their continued, testing rollout failure—can be seen as a major contributor to coronavirus case expansion, beyond whatever virulence the coronavirus inherently has.
After weeks of delays and failures to create and distribute sound testing kits across America, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC News on March 12, “We have to admit that in the beginning we didn’t have what we needed but now we will fix it.”
Fauci continued explaining that the HHS,CDC and FDA were all busy “working to get this done.” When pressed for a timeframe, Fauci gave a weak at best and concerning at worst reply:
“We’re almost there. It’s gonna be within the next week or two. Probably even more like a week.”
Last week President Trump halted air travel to Europe, the continent some are claiming is the new China-like epicenter of virus activity. On Friday, the President declared a National Emergency, announcing, among other things, a new public-private partnership to expand coronavirus testing capabilities. The U.S. added further travel restrictions to the UK and Ireland.
The partnership would include drive-through testing in locations including Walmart parkings lots. Trump also announced that Google is creating an online portal to screen those seeking to get tested. A claim allegedly refuted by ‘a source’ inside Google according to Wired.com.
Considering the search algorithm abuses and overt censorship Google has directed towards multiple topics and segments of the American population, many questions arise. Is this new partnership from the President extending one last olive branch to the monopolistic organization? Or a last ditch effort after being backed into a corner?
President Trump’s recent declaration also initiates emergency operation centers in states, along with activating emergency preparedness measures in hospitals. Trump announced he would “… unleash the full power of the federal government in this effort” by opening up access to states and territories or localities to “fight against this disease,” up to $50 billion.
Hong Kong and Russia closed their borders to China on January 28 and 30 respectively. These were precautionary efforts to mitigate their population’s exposure. The U.S. began down the road towards similar actions, restricting entry into the U.S. from China on January 31. The White House received backlash from corporate media for doing so.
In Italy—the new ground zero we are told— on Wednesday Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte took restrictions which had been in place in its Northern regions and extended them to the entire country. Under the new restrictions, supermarkets and pharmacies will be the only retailers to remain open in Italy. Facing potential fines or even light jail time, the public was asked to stay at home unless they needed food, medicine or were conducting business [work]. Spain also recently followed suit.
Although China, Iran and South Korea had already imposed stricter measures upon their populations, Italy was most likely the first true look, with open reporting and transparency, the world received into such actions and their effects.
All eyes are now on the U.S. response. As the coronavirus fears butt up against the Constitution, many are watching to see if agencies will operate within their afforded checks and balances—or from a ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’ mentality.
What can the U.S. government, following the Constitution and Bill of Rights, do to stem panic and transmission?
Last week and continuing to today, many states began ordering mass actions of public closure and cancellation in the name of ‘social distancing.’ Events with large numbers, schools, places of worship, concerts and conferences were postponed. Quarantine notices and isolations were determined for those in contact with someone who tested positive or testing positive directly themselves. A National Guard deployment at the state level, still an anomaly just last week when it happened in New Rochelle, New York, has gradually become a regular state by state occurrence in hot zones.
Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, told McClatchy News that officials have a set of guidelines to follow when it comes to making these decisions — it has to be overwhelmingly in the public interest, rooted in rational, scientific ends and done by the least intrusive means possible.
There must also be a mechanism to challenge it, Stanley said. Officials can’t, for example, use COVID-19 as an excuse or pretext “to achieve illegitimate ends” like shutting down a protest or discriminating against certain groups, he said.
From previous reporting in China and now current accounts out of Italy, hard quarantine measures were initiated using the individual tendencies and means of each respected government. In the U.S., many are wondering if ‘social distancing’ will turn into shelter in place quarantine orders in specific hot zones.
Recently, The Tenth Amendment Center asked, Can state or federal government confine persons against their will in order to protect public health?
“The short answer is yes, but the Constitution requires procedural due process. That means a trial for every person confined. Thus, a government-ordered quarantine of all persons in a city block or a postal ZIP code or a telephone area code would be an egregious violation of due process, both substantive and procedural. Substantively, no government in America has the lawful power to curtail natural rights by decree.”
Yet they then continue,
“Procedurally, notwithstanding the fear of disease contagion, the states and feds may only quarantine those who are actively contagious and will infect others imminently. And it must present evidence of both at a trial at which it bears the burden of proof.”
Published on February 26, The Lancet medical journal looked at the psychological impacts of quarantine. The authors concluded,
“Overall, this Review suggests that the psychological impact of quarantine is wide-ranging, substantial, and can be long lasting. This is not to suggest that quarantine should not be used; the psychological effects of not using quarantine and allowing disease to spread might be worse. However, depriving people of their liberty for the wider public good is often contentious and needs to be handled carefully.”
John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute offers a different view of things asking, “How Will the Constitution Fare During a Nationwide Lockdown?” Whitehead concluded,
“…no matter how it starts, with a questionable infringement justified in the name of safety or a nationwide lockdown to guard against a global pandemic, it always ends the same: by pushing us one step closer to a future in which the government has all the power and “we the people” have none.”
With reports of the virus on the downturn in China, many, including Trump and Fauci, seem confident that the virus and its transmission will run its course sooner rather than later. Perhaps the bigger question is: What will America look like after coronavirus fear leaves us? What impact will it leave upon us in policy, practice and traumas.
Considering the changes America underwent after the 9/11 attacks, Zack Sorenson warned on February 8, “We should be wary of a Bio-Patriot Act” writing:
“No matter what else is going on…if a public health “PATRIOT Act” is proposed, fighting it should become the single unifying purpose…I can hardly imagine a more dangerous and insidious, invasive development in the law and politics than a “Bio PATRIOT Act”.”
Amazon Care announced it will work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to provide Gates-created testing kits to Seattle residents who suspect they have symptoms of the coronavirus.
For many, the U.S. government partnering with Google to collect and warehouse sensitive medical data is concerning. Furthermore, it appears that Bill Gates is falling over himself to capitalize on the current situation. Gates recently announced he is stepping down from Microsoft’s board to dedicate more time to his philanthropic activities of vaccine development and deployment.
How will the coronavirus response and the questionable public-private partnerships currently unfolding shape medicine and health care moving forward?