Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Speculation on Coronavirus III - The San Antonio Error

My planned discussion of the Wuhan lockdown will have to wait for another day.  I live north of San Antonio, and yesterday, the CDC released one person from Lackland Air Force Base that had supposedly finished quarantine with two negative tests for COVID-19.  Then a third test came back positive.

I don't know whether the person had recovered, or was never ill.  But he/she went to the Holiday Inn Express, then on to one of the city's bigger malls. The individual ate at the food court and shopped in several stores.  The individual was then sent back to Lackland.  The mall was closed and 'disinfected.'  The city and county declared medical states of emergency and forbade any quarantined or formerly quarantined individual from entering the city or county.

I thought it was peculiar when the CDC distributed returning citizens at various military bases across the U.S.  I figured they must not have sufficient quarantine capacity at any one facility.  But it sure seemed like a recipe for causing multiple contagion points.  And Lackland is awfully close to the center of San Antonio.

I've been telling my wife to stock up in case there are runs on food and other materials, and she's been effectively ignoring me.  That's a polite way of describing her reaction.  Then late yesterday, she went to the store to get some things.  Apparently, most of HEB (the Texas grocery monopoly) and Walmart were both nearly empty of food and overrun with people hauling water and other stuff out.  She was pretty upset.

Most of the conservative bloggers I read are saying the coronavirus is nothing more deadly than a new strain of flu.  And they may be right.  But that doesn't take into account the panic the public will show from all of the 'world ending' news reports.  And San Antonio's state of emergency is sure to rile up everyone down here in south Texas.

FYI San Antonio is a true democratic hotbed.  The surrounding counties are republican, but San Antonio and it's county, Bexar, are democrat.  So a democrat mayor issued a state of emergency.

I don't like panic inducing news and actions.  I do advocate being sure you have a reasonable water and food supply.  But don't overdue it.  Make moderate purchases and keep a good long-term capability that you can use for storms and long electricity outages.

On the other hand, I do agree with the city's actions at forbidding previously quarantined people entry into the city.  Unless they happen to live here.  Since the subject individual went to a Holiday Inn, I presume the individual is not a resident of south Texas.  That agreement would change if the CDC could show that it's testing and isolation procedures were reliable.

But having two tests showing negative, followed by a positive (after release of an individual) indicates one of a few possibilities.  First, illness from the COVID-19 might be recurring.  It appears to go away, but you still have the virus, and it takes hold again.  Since the individual seemed one of the first to be released, I think it likely he/she had shown no symptoms.  So this possibility likely didn't happen in this case.   [Update: I've read news accounts where this individual initially tested positive, so this might be the situation with this individual.]  Second, the quarantine process is not very effective.  The individual probably got exposed sometime in the 14-day no-symptom period, and the density of the virus did not increase to a detectable level till the last test.  This seems the most probable situation and suggests an extended quarantine period and better isolation procedures are needed.  The third possibility is that the test is just not reliable.  That could easily be the case.

Any of the three possibilities are worrisome.  I don't think they can contact all of the possible people that were exposed.  It probably numbered in the hundreds.  I guess we'll find out just how contagious COVID-19 is, a little sooner than I expected.

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