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Infectious disease expert warns Joe Rogan: We could be dealing with this outbreak for six months

This is a deeply dispiriting clip, probably the grimmest I’ve watched since the crisis began, but Rogan deserves credit for making it happen. One of the tricky things about communicating the need for “social distancing” and thorough personal hygiene is the balkanization of American media consumers. A president who wanted to reach the entire population 40 years ago merely needed airtime on the three broadcast networks. A president who wants to reach it today can go on the air and only hope that the river of information that flows from TV will trickle down into more niche tributaries. Rogan’s audience skews young; the young doubtless have heard that coronavirus isn’t much of a threat to them personally. How you reach them and get them to worry about the disease?

You put on Michael Osterholm, a “medical detective” specializing in infectious diseases, like Rogan did. He sounds like the Grim Reaper in the clip below until the last 10 seconds or so of the clip, when he teases his reasons not to panic. I haven’t watched the full interview yet to see what those reasons are but I’ll do so later, after I’m heavily sedated.

The fatalism in his view is thick, as you’ll see, with Osterholm predicting a longer epidemic than some other health experts do and a renewed outbreak in China once the Wuhan lockdown is fully relaxed and Chinese workers are back on the job, passing the virus around. He also sees little use for wearing gloves or masks, unless it’s the N95 mask — which is scarce, of course. The latest studies show that merely sharing an enclosed space with infected people is enough to transmit the disease, notes Osterholm. That’s why cruise ships are such incubators. The air onboard is constantly recycled, ensuring a free flow of the virus through the cabins.

Is there any hope of mitigating the spread of the disease even if we can’t stop it? There is:

Slow it down and we buy some time for scientists to find antiviral treatments before hospitals are overwhelmed. The cascade of closures among high-density gathering places, from colleges to professional sports to events like SXSW, will help. Maybe the CDC will use the time to finally, finally, finally, finally increase testing around the country to useful levels. Lawmakers in Washington grilled them about that today in a pair of hearings and got a partial answer for the delays: It is indeed related to the supply chain, something Osterholm warns about in dire terms near the end of the clip.

Lawmakers emerging from the briefings said the U.S. is struggling to keep up with other countries’ capacity to test people for the virus due to issues with the supply chain. According to several attendees, the health officials said the slow pace was due to low availability of cotton swabs, gloves and other protective gear that is necessary for technicians carrying out the tests.

“These things are made primarily outside of the United States,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said. “Countries that are facing outbreaks are not going to be in the business of shipping out materials that they need themselves.”

But that doesn’t explain every CDC miscue, foremost their bungling of the initial development of the tests. They still can’t provide a straight answer for what went wrong, with even Republican congressmen complaining about the lack of clarity after today’s hearing and one Democrat calling it “simply the worst briefing I’ve ever received in seven or eight years in Congress.” The director of the Harvard Global Health Institute told Bloomberg today, “This is an unmitigated disaster that the administration has brought upon the population, and I don’t say this lightly. We have had a much worse response than Iran, than Italy, than China.”

Osterholm thinks the coronavirus epidemic has the potential to be 10 to 15 times worse than the annual flu epidemic. Annually the flu infects many millions of people.