Easily overlooked issues regarding COVID-19

We read a lot in the news about the new Wuhan coronavirus and the illness it causes (COVID-19), but some important points often get left out.

[1] COVID-19 is incredibly contagious.

COVID-19 transmits extremely easily from person to person. Interpersonal contact doesn’t need to be very long; a taxi driver can get the virus from a passenger, for example. The virus may be transmissible even before an infected person develops symptoms. It may also be transmissible for a few days after a person seems to be over the virus; it is possible to get positive virus tests, even after symptoms disappear. Some people may have the disease, but never show symptoms.

[2] The virus likely remains active on inanimate surfaces such as paper, plastic, or metal for many days.

There haven’t been tests on the COVID-19 virus per se, but studies on similar viruses suggest that human pathogens may remain infectious for up to eight days. Some viruses that only infect animals can survive for more than 28 days. China is reported to be destroying paper currency from the hardest hit area, because people do not want to accept money which may have viruses on it. Clearly, surfaces in airplanes, trains and buses may also harbor viruses, long after a passenger with the virus has left, unless they have been thoroughly wiped down with disinfectant.

[3] Given Issues [1] and [2], about the only way to avoid spreading COVID-19 seems to be geographic isolation. 

With all of today’s travel, geographic isolation doesn’t work very well in practice. People need food and medical supplies. They need to keep basic services such as electricity and garbage collection operating. Suppliers of food and other services need to come and leave the area and that tends to spread COVID-19. Also, the longer a geographic area is isolated, the larger the percentage of the people within the area that is likely to get COVID-19. The problem is that the people need to have contact with others in the area for purposes such as buying food, and that tends to spread the disease.

[4] The real story regarding the number of deaths and illnesses seems to be far worse than the story China is telling its own people and the world.

The real story seems to be that the number of deaths is far greater than the number reported–perhaps 10 times as high as being reported. The number of illnesses is also much higher. At one point, facilities doing cremations in the Wuhan area were reported to be doing four to five times the normal number of cremations. Some of the bodies in the Wuhan area now need to be sent to other areas of China because there is not enough local cremation capacity.

China doesn’t dare tell its people how bad the situation really is, for fear of panic. They want to tell a story of being in control and handling the situation well. The news media in the West repeat the stories that the government-controlled publications of China provide, even though they seem to present a much more favorable situation than really seems to be the case.

[5] Our ability to identify who has the new coronavirus is poor.

While there is a test for the coronavirus, it costs hundreds of dollars to administer. Even with this high cost, the results of the tests aren’t very reliable. The test tends to produce many false negatives. The virus may be present somewhere inside the person being tested, but not in the areas touched by swabs of the throat and nose.

[6] Some people get much more severe symptoms from COVID-19 than others.

Most people, perhaps 80% of people, seem to get a fairly light form of the COVID-19 illness. Groups that seem particularly prone to adverse outcomes include the elderly, smokers, those who are obese, and those with high blood pressure, diabetes, or poor immune systems. Males seem to have worse outcomes than females.

Strangely enough, there is speculation that people with East Asian ancestry (Chinese, Japanese, or Vietnamese) may have a higher risk of adverse outcomes than those of European or African ancestry. One of the things that is targeted by the disease is the ACE2 receptor. The 1000 Genome Project studied expected differences in ACE2 receptors among various groups. Based on this analysis, some researchers (in non-peer-reviewed studies, here and here) predict that those of European or African ancestry will tend to get lighter forms of the disease. These findings are contested in another, non-peer-reviewed study.

Bolstering the view that East Asians are more susceptible to viruses that target the ACE2 receptor is the fact that SARS, which also tends to target the ACE2 receptor, tended to stay primarily in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore. While there were cases elsewhere, they tended to have few deaths.

Observational data with respect to COVID-19 is needed to determine whether there truly is a difference in the severity of the illness among different populations.

[7] China has been using geographical quarantine to try to hold down the number of COVID-19 cases. The danger with such a quarantine is that once the economy is down, it is very difficult to come back to the pre-quarantine state.

Data shows that China’s economy is not reopening quickly after the extended New Year holiday finished.

Figure 2. China daily passenger flows, relative to Chinese New Year. Amounts are now down more than 80% and have not increased, even as some businesses are theoretically reopening. Chart by ANZ, copied by WSJ Daily Shot Feb. 17, 2020.

Figure 3. China property transactions, before and after Chinese New Year. Chart by Goldman Sachs. Reprinted by WSJ Daily Shot, Feb. 17, 2020.

All businesses will be adversely affected by a lack of sales if they need to continue to pay overhead expenses. Small and medium-sized businesses will be especially adversely affected. Bloomberg reports that if a shutdown lasts for three months, there is a substantial chance that these businesses will run through their savings and fail. Thus, these businesses may be permanently lost if the economy is down for several months.

Also, restarting after a shut-down is more difficult than it might appear. Take, for example, a mother who wants to go back to work. She will likely need:

  • Public transportation to be operating, so she has a way to get to work;
  • School to be open, so she doesn’t need to worry about her child while she is at work;
  • Masks to be available, so that she and her child can comply with requirements to wear them;
  • Stores providing necessities such as food to be open, or she may be too hungry to work

If anything is missing, the mother is likely not to go back to work. Required masks seem to be a problem right now, but other pieces could be missing as well.

Businesses, too, need a full range of workers to restart their operations. If the inspector doing the final inspection is not available, the business may not really be able to ship finished products, even if most of the workers are back.

[8] A shutdown of as little as three months is likely to be damaging to the world economy.

Multiple things are likely to go wrong:

(a) Commodity prices are likely to fall steeply, because of low demand from China. Oil prices, in particular, are likely to fall steeply, perhaps to $30 to $35 per barrel. Besides cutbacks in oil demand from China, there is the issue of a general reduction in long distance travel, because of fear of traveling with other passengers with COVID-19.

(b) US businesses, such as Apple, will find their supply chains broken. They won’t know when, and if, they can ship products.

(c) Debt defaults are likely to become more common, especially in China. The longer the slowdown/shutdown lasts, the greater the extent to which debt defaults are likely to spread around the world.

(d) The world economy is likely to be pushed into recession, without an easy way to get out again.

[9] The longer the shutdown lasts, the more likely there is to be a major collapse of the Chinese economy. 

In the event of a long-term shutdown, it would seem likely that, at a minimum, a new leader would take over. In fact, there would seem to be a significant chance of major changes within the economy. For example, the provinces of China that are able to restart might attempt to restart, leaving the more damaged areas behind. In such a case, instead of having a single Chinese government to deal with, there might be multiple governmental units to deal with.

Each governmental unit might consist of a few provinces trying to provide services such as they are able, without the benefit of the parts of the economy that are still shut down. Each governmental unit might have its own currency. If this should happen, China will be able to provide far fewer goods and services than it has in the recent past.

[10] Planners everywhere have been guilty of “putting too many eggs in one basket.”

Planners today look for efficiency. For example, placing a large share of the world’s industry in China looks like it is an efficient approach. Unfortunately, we are asking for trouble if the Chinese economy hits a bump in the road. Using just-in-time supply lines looks like a good idea as well, but if a major supplier cannot provide parts for a while, then having inventory on hand would have been a better approach.

If we want systems to be sustainable, they really need a lot of redundancy. Redundant systems are not as efficient, but they are much more likely to be sustainable through difficult times. There is a recent article in Nature that talks about this issue. One of the things it says is,

A system with a single cycle is the most unstable because the deletion of any cycle-node or link breaks the sustaining feedback mechanism.

“A system with a single cycle” is basically similar to “putting all of our eggs in one basket.” “Deletion of any cycle-node or link” is something like China running into coronavirus problems. We probably need a world economy that consists of many nearly separate local economies to be certain of long-term world economy stability. Alternatively, we need a great deal of redundancy built into our systems. For example, we need large inventories to work around the possibility of missing contributions from one country, in the case of a problem such as a major epidemic.


The world economy may become very different, simply because of COVID-19. The new virus doesn’t even need to directly affect the rest of the world very much to create a problem. The United States, Europe, and the rest of the world are very much dependent on the continued operation of China. The world economy has effectively put way too many eggs in one basket, and this basket is now not functioning as expected.

If China is barely producing anything for world markets, the rest of the world will suddenly discover that long supply chains weren’t such a good idea. There will be a big scramble to try to fill in the missing pieces of supply chains, but many goods are likely to be less available. We may discover quickly how much we depend upon China for everything from shoes to automobiles to furniture to electronics. World carbon dioxide emissions are likely to fall dramatically because of China’s problems, but will the accompanying issues be ones that the world economy can tolerate?

The thing that is ironic is that it is possible that the West’s fear of the new coronavirus may be overblown–we really won’t know what the impact will be with respect to people of European or of African descent until we have had a better chance to examine how the virus affects different populations. The next few weeks and months are likely to be quite instructive. For example, how will the Americans and Australians who caught COVID-19 on the cruise ships fare? What will the health outcomes be of non-Asians being brought back from Wuhan to their native countries on special planes?


About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.
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2,589 Responses to Easily overlooked issues regarding COVID-19

  1. Covidinamonthorayearoradecade says:


    “SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday the state is monitoring about 8,400 people for the coronavirus, a day after a Solano County patient was identified as the first coronavirus case in the U.S. from unknown origin.”

    ah, CA… number ONE state in another category…

    “The 8,400 in California being monitored are returning travelers from China, according to the state health department. Those people have been urged to self-quarantine for 14 days and to limit their interactions with others.”

    “urged” to “self”-quarantine…

    • peatmoss says:

      The monitoring is what a survey mailed to them?

      • Robert Firth says:

        California Coronavirus Survey

        Note: completion is MANDATORY under penalty of
        Quarantine in a Sanctuary City (or Seppuku if you prefer).

        1. Do you have the corona virus? Yes, No, Don’t Know
        2. How sick are you? Not Sick, A Little Sick, Very Sick, Dead
        3. If you are dead, when did you die? mm/dd/yy
        4. How many others have you infected? None, Not Many, Quite a Lot, Hundreds, Don’t Know
        5. How did you acquire the virus? By voting Republican, From Donald Trump, Don’t Know
        6. Are you willing to donate your body to scientific research? Yes, No

  2. Covidinamonthorayearoradecade says:



    “Observers who are not employed by the Chinese government suggested it was more likely the Hubei city officials were responding to the usual perverse incentives of Communist bureaucracy by adjusting the numbers to make themselves look better:

    U.S.-based China affairs commentator Tang Jingyuan said that Chinese officials likely lowered the numbers because it shows to their superiors that they are doing a good job in combating the outbreak.

    After people complained, “provincial-level officials are asking city-level officials to take the responsibility for reporting irrational data,” Tang said. “It shows you how riddiculous the official data is.”

    how riddiculous the official data is…


  3. Covidinamonthorayearoradecade says:


    “Kenyans expressed outrage late Wednesday as their government announced it would allow China to resume flights into the country and request that Chinese citizens “self-quarantine” to prevent the spread of the Chinese coronavirus.”

    “Amid an already tense situation in which Kenyans are growing increasingly outraged by China’s behavior, the federal government announced it would allow China Southern to fly from Guangzhou to Nairobi four times a week (a Kenyan government statement claimed only one flight a week would arrive). Guangdong province, where Guangzhou is located, has documented 1,347 cases of coronavirus and seven deaths. It also claims to have 890 “recovered” coronavirus patients, though doctors in Wuhan, where the virus originated, have begun re-quarantining “recovered” patients who once again tested positive for the virus.”

    • The situation is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. With debt that Kenya must repay to China, it needs to get the project going again. Getting the project going again requires at least some Chinese workers, coming on planes from China. It sounds like there are huge other problems as well. The money from the project is going mostly to pay Chinese workers, not the Kenyans as hoped.

  4. blenheim3 says:

    This crisis will surely damage Boeing. Airlines looking to upgrade their fleets to the 737 Max will delay, at least for many months.

    • Robert Firth says:

      The 737Max will never fly again. It should never have flown in the first place. Indeed, the whole idea of computer controlled flight is absurd. A computer has no situational awareness, and if events push it even slightly outside its preprogrammed envelope of stimulus/response, it will inevitably fail.

      • Herbie R Ficklestein says:

        Yes, indeed, Robert. We need to go back to the basic fundamentals as seen here with Fast Eddie’s Airways from the Jerry Lewis film. The Family Jewels.
        Very funny movie and clip…classic

        As far as the Max 8, looks as if they got an Edsel on their hands.
        The Boeing company is the premier top US exporter manufacturing firm to the world markets behind the military weapons complex.
        Just another blow to the United States superpower status.

      • It sounds a lot like the ideas of computer controlled cars and trucks, “if only” the 5G network is big enough and reliable enough.

      • peatmoss says:

        Computers do things better than humans
        Computers make flight much much much safer.
        737 was a crappy physical design they tried to correct physical flaw with software
        The 737 max should not fly again but not because of computers and software
        Human response time not that good.
        one in a million humans 500 mseconds
        A computer has written a book and reviewed it in 500 mseconds

        • I presume you are kidding.

          • peatmoss says:

            Uh no. Very very very fast reaction time to visual inputs is half a second. 500ms. Half a second before the event is registered. Once its registered how fast a response is initiated depends on training. Im talking about response to unexpected events. If the events are normal response time is much faster across the board say catching a baseball or applying brakes in the car. An average of 250ms. But when say a bear enters your livingroom it takes a while to upload. Response to variations in balance are much much faster which is why you can respond in martial arts so much more effectively with physical touch with your opponent. Here are some examples. Note that all of the individuals have very strong cues that a punch is coming but the punch takes under 500ms with predictable results. In some cases they can start a response because they have already preprogramed it and have cues to initiate it. Sucker punch- unexpected event- not a chance. Compare that to a computer response time of 1-10 ms.

        • Rodster says:

          “The 737 max should not fly again but not because of computers and software
          Human response time not that good.”

          A common saying regarding computers is “garbage in, garbage out”. The problem with the 737 Max was the software and stall sensors and Boeing’s stupid decision not to adequately train the new pilots. New pilots learned about MCAS for 1-2 hrs on an iPad because Boeing told all the commercial airlines that a 737 Max was like a 737.

          During the two fatal crashes, MCAS overrode the pilots corrective procedures and pulled the nose down because it thought it was going into a stall when it was not. Every time the pilots pulled up, the MCAS software brought the nose down.

          Boeing should be put out of business for this because they did not adequately train commercial pilots and ensured the Airlines that the 737 Max was the same to fly as the 737. The hid this information when dealing and getting safety clearance from the FAA and held that information from the NTSB until pressured.

          Now, because of the 2 air disasters, Boeing has decided to allow override features for the MCAS and stall sensors if they produce false states.

          tldr; Humans did nothing wrong in those air disasters, it was the computers and software who did it.

          • Robert Firth says:

            Thank you, rodster, that was near enough my analysis; the one I wrote up for my class at the National University of Singapore. There were three separate, independent sensors on those craft, any of which could have told the computer they were not climbing. It was connected to none of them. As I said, no situational awareness.

            • One of the things I have seen in most software that I use is “cumulative error” problems. The software developer focuses first on immediate function limiting issues. If you examine PC or Mac software issues – you will note that often problems can be solved by rebooting/restarting your commuter – a lot of these problems are “cumulative error” issues in the software that were not solved before the software went to market and remain as legacy bugs.

              Unlike a word processor where these issues are just time and frustration issues – when the plane or car is in a critical situation where fractions of a second can mean life or death outcomes – you don’t want to reboot the autopilot or FSD system. Neither aircraft or car control software companies have adequately addressed “cumulative error” issues in their products – nor has the technophilic public accepted the reality of these issues in there expectations of the limitations to performance and safety of these products and or their related investment returns.

            • We have gotten used to the reliability of oil-based engines. We don’t have to reboot these from time to time. Human pilots don’t need rebooting either.

            • peatmoss says:

              Thats not the computers fault. The computer was blind. If it wasnt it could have taken action much faster than the pilot. But point taken. If a pilot is blind its pretty easy to tell. A computer or PLC not so much.

              When a technology fails we condemn it. Is it appropriate? Is it appropriate to condemn all virologists because of CV19? No IMO. its obvious they have saved many lives and alleviated much suffering. With technology comes power. Responsibility and competence must guide that power. Two examples of failures the max and cv19. In neither is the technology going away. That would be stupid. Power omost always allows greater safety if used with responsibility and competence.

              It is however a good question. It would seem we have entered a time when multiple events are occurring that are proving that we as a species do not have the skills to cope with the power we have created for ourselves.

              The software wouldnt even have been needed if they hadnt slapped a existing engine on a existing chassis to save $ while competing with a competitor. That decision is what I see as the root cause not any inherent safety issue with using computers in aircraft design.

            • JesseJames says:

              Again, every system designed by man will fail. Add on top of that the excesses of inept and corrupt management, such as at Boeing allowing an unreliable computerized design to be marketed and flown. Mankind, guided by technology companies fixated on profit motive, has been brainwashed into thinking ever increasing automation and computerization is good, usually marketed in terms of “convenience”. Imagine the convenience of a fridge connected to internet. We really have gone overboard on automation and computerization.
              Boeing should pay a steep price for their corrupt practices.

  5. Support Coal Power says:

    China’s manufacturing industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus epidemic. Many factories are unable to resume production because of a shortage of workers, disrupted supply chains and sluggish demand, leaving manufacturers facing huge losses in sales as they struggle to ramp up production.



  6. Harry McGibbs says:

    “Hopes the coronavirus would be contained to China vanished on Friday as infections spread rapidly around the world, countries started stockpiling medical equipment and investors took flight in expectation of a global recession.

    “Share prices were on track for the worst week since the global financial crisis in 2008 as virus-related disruptions to international travel and supply chains fueled fears of recession in the United States and the Euro zone.”


    • Harry McGibbs says:

      “Contagion. It’s the word the world’s top health authorities dare not utter. But it’s the medical term that has transitioned to the finance world that now lurks in the thoughts of most senior central bankers and treasury officials across the globe.

      “The coronavirus COVID-19, once contained in China’s industrial heartland, has now spread to Europe and the Middle East, spawning a climate of panic that threatens to undermine not just financial markets, but the global economy…

      “Even under ordinary circumstances, the outbreak of a major global health pandemic such as this would hit commerce and industry hard and rattle financial markets… But, with so much debt, the impact will be magnified. Just as debt amplified the rises, it will exacerbate the falls.”


  7. Harry McGibbs says:

    “The market clamor grew louder Friday for the Federal Reserve to step in with interest rate cuts to stem the damage from the coronavirus outbreak.”


  8. Harry McGibbs says:

    “Chinese banks are taking extraordinary measures to avoid recognizing bad loans, seeking to shield themselves and cash-strapped borrowers from the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak.

    “Some of the measures, which include rolling over loans to companies at risk of missing payment deadlines and relaxing guidelines on how to categorize overdue debt, have the explicit approval of regulators in Beijing.”


  9. Harry McGibbs says:

    “…if you want to start grappling with these [coronavirus] costs now – in real-time – look to any of China’s main airports. They are normally among the busiest in the world: by itself, Beijing Capital International Airport receives about 100 million passengers a year, dispatching them to almost 150 international destinations and just as many domestic ones.

    “But now they are places of terrible inactivity. In the month to February 13, the number of departures from Chinese airports fell by 87%, from about 14,250 to 1,900.”


    • Harry McGibbs says:

      “Over the past three weeks, some 30% to 60% of weekly outbound [shipping] capacity has been withdrawn from the Asia-Europe and transpacific trade, as well as from intra-regional routes.”

      “…According to the shipping analyst, the inactive container fleet reached a massive 2.04 million TEU on 17 February, 8.8% of the global containership fleet.”


      • Harry McGibbs says:

        “Tanker charter rates have torpedoed more than 80 percent as the coronavirus outbreak continues to slam the brakes on large economies, costing the shipping sector hundreds of millions in lost business, an industry official told Reuters news agency.”


        • Harry McGibbs says:

          “The slowdown has sent volumes plummeting this month at the Port of Los Angeles, the largest U.S. gateway for seaborne imports from China…

          “U.S. shipping demand [and indeed global trade] already was faltering before the coronavirus restrictions began disrupting global supply chains.”


        • Many problems at once:

          Separately, the German shipowners’ association VDR told its annual news conference in Hamburg that terminal operations in Chinese ports were not going smoothly because truck drivers and port workers were missing.

          Quarantining everyone, or a large share of migrant workers staying in their home province, doesn’t really work. All parts of the supply chain need to be present.

      • What a mess! Shipping is way off. Business as usual cannot operate the way it has in the past. Stores won’t be able to restock shelves. Fewer long haul trucks will be needed.

        • Harry McGibbs says:

          Gail, it is a mess. I must confess I am unnerved as I have ever been – we’re experiencing simultaneous and severe supply and demand shocks on top of an already wobbly global economy, awash in unprecedented and dangerous amounts of debt, and there is only so much the central banks can do.

          Are you going to go ahead with your flights, do you think? I might be tempted to stock up on food and hunker down instead…

          • Xabier says:

            I’m not ashamed to admit that I got a bit wobbly over all of this the other day, but it’s over – it does no good and there are things to do.

            ‘Steady, hold the line!’ as they said on the Somme. Or was it Waterloo?

            • Harry McGibbs says:

              If we can somehow muddle through the defaults and the supply-chain disruptions and the psychological impact of the recession and of the disease itself then I can imagine there being a self-reinforcing, relief-fuelled rebound (until of course other limits to growth encroach once more) but those are some pretty big ‘if’s.

              But you are right, Xabier – nothing to be gained by succumbing to negative emotions. Action is the antidote to despair!

          • That has been an idea. But I don’t think that approach works for the economy as a whole. Also, if I get the virus, presumably I get over it and get on with my life. We have to deal with it in that way.

    • Wow! This big cutback in flights slows down the speed with which the virus spreads. It doesn’t stop it, however. The virus keeps spreading within China and outside, unfortunately. All it takes is a few very small number of individuals with the virus to start the chain going.

  10. Xabier says:

    Fairly jaw-dropping: the Basque government has just rushed 8 students back from Milan. No quarantine precautions, no masks. Choice quotes:

    ‘They all showed no symptoms, and only one wore a mask so they went straight to their homes.’

    ”It’s all exaggerated, we’ll just stay at home for a few days and go back when it’s all blown over’.

    ‘Lots of Asians in Milan are wearing masks, but not many Italians -it’s just a cultural thing.’

    ‘If you are young and healthy it’s no big deal.’

    ‘Life was normal, apart from lots of shops being shut,all restaurants and some supermarkets are empty of food.’

    Ah, to be young and clueless, trusting implicitly what one is told. ….

    I hope not, but Mum dad and granny might be getting a little gift from those kids soon enough.

    • Harry McGibbs says:

      Xavier, I worry about my parents, too, as they are London-based and in their seventies.

      • Xabier says:

        My elderly mother is also in London, with the very oak table under which she sheltered -with the family cat – during the Blitz.

        ‘Dangerous?! Life’s dangerous!’ is her latest quote on all of this.

        I’m stocking her up with lots of long-life food stuffs, (against her will, and she flatly refused to move here) but if her medication runs out…..

        • Harry & Xabier, if spending extra money at all (besides medicament) put it mostly on fruits, they come in many forms of preservation methods and varieties. The Wuhan bug is not accustomed to such potent natural fruit power from his depraved homeland (or at least designated landing-deployment site) so that’s your advantage to fight him where it hurts.

    • An endless supply of masks and disinfectant will at most slightly slow down the spread of the coronavirus. They won’t stop it.

      Spending all of our resources on masks and disinfectant looks appealing, but ultimately, I don’t think it gets us very far. We cannot get the R0 down low enough, regardless of what we do. All it does is slow down the spread, perhaps by a month or two. If we could miraculously get a solution in that time, it would be great. But if we don’t, it doesn’t buy us much. We just spend our resources on stuff with limited impact and adverse consequences of other types. For example, disinfectant kills good germs as well as bad.

      • Herbie R Ficklestein says:

        Right again , Gail, this just in…
        U.S. health officials say Americans shouldn’t wear face masks to prevent coronavirus — here are 3 other reasons not to wear them
        Elisabeth Buchwald
        MarketWatchFebruary 28, 2020, 9:02 AM EST
        becomes pandemic
        The CDC said last month it doesn’t recommend people use face masks, making the announcement on the same day that first case of person-to-person transmission of coronavirus was reported in the U.S. The CDC recommendation on masks stands, a spokesman told MarketWatch Wednesday, even with the first reported case of a COVID-19 infection in an individual in California who had not been to China or been exposed to a person diagnosed with the virus.
        “The virus is not spreading in the general community,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a Jan. 30 briefing. “We don’t routinely recommend the use of face masks by the public to prevent respiratory illness. And we certainly are not recommending that at this time for this new virus.”
        HHS Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday, “Our advice remains as it has been that the average American does not need a N95 mask. These are really more for health care provide
        N95 masks are tighter-fitting than surgical masks and protect against small particles and large droplets, according to the CDC. Azar said that there are only 30 million N95 masks in the national stockpile, adding that there are “as many as 300 million masks needed in the U.S. for health care worker.

        Adalja applauded the CDC’s recommendation on face masks. “Even during H1N1 [flu epidemic], there was no recommendation to wear face masks,” he said. They “end up creating a false sense of security and most people don’t wear them appropriately,” he said.
        People who are not in the medical field who wear the masks often come in contact with germs when they lift the mask up to eat or slip their fingers under the mask to blow their nose, he said.
        Panic-driven demand for face masks, Adalja said, is particularly worrisome because it could have “a negative supply shock” effect on hospital personnel who need these masks more than the general public.
        “The best ways [for the general public] to protect themselves are the basic hygienic measures,” he said. That includes washing your hands regularly and covering sneezes and coughs. But if you are “sick and need to go out you should wear a mask.”
        Instead of wearing face masks, the general public should “be vigilant to the symptoms and signs of this novel coronavirus, that is, a fever and cough, and if you have those symptoms, please call your health-care provider,” Messonnier said last month.

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