[March 10] Don’t panic, but do be afraid enough to be very, very cautious. The novel coronavirus epidemic almost certainly will get a lot worse before it ever gets “contained.”

That’s my key takeaway from an interview Monday evening with John M. Barry, author of the definitive work, The Great Influenza, on the flu pandemic that began in 1918. Barry’s research is so well-respected that he was appointed to the federal government’s official Board of Experts on Infectious Disease, and he now serves on the faculty of the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

“I think this is going to be very, very bad,” Barry said. “This is not a strain of influenza, so nobody in the world has immunity to anything like it. Nobody in the world has seen it before. So it certainly has the potential to spread very, very widely.”

Acknowledging that he is making merely an educated guess, Barry predicted that 40% to 70% of the entire U.S. population would get “infected — not necessarily full-blown sick, but infected” as it spreads. Furthermore, because the United States was slower than some other nations to mass-produce tests for coronavirus, he said that there are “certainly hundreds of cases in the United States, maybe thousands, that we don’t know about.”

It’s tough to contain an epidemic when an illness is misdiagnosed in the first place.

Do the arithmetic, and if 40% of the U.S. gets infected, and 1% of those infected end up dying, this could mean well more than a million U.S. deaths from the contagion.

Barry urged President Trump to stop making pronouncements on the disease itself but instead to push public health professionals front and center to be the only official government spokespeople on the outlook for, and handling of, the virus….

[The rest of this column is here.]

 

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