I doubt we’ll get a better case study during this nightmare of how a single person’s cavalier denialism about the threat from the disease can put entire industries at risk. This happened two days ago. Gobert apparently thought it was silly that the NBA had set a new rule requiring reporters to stay six feet away from players at all time. So, as a goof, he decided to touch all of their microphones after his Q&A ended.
Word leaked last night that he had tested positive for COVID-19. The game between his team, the Utah Jazz, and the Oklahoma City Thunder was immediately canceled minutes before tip-off. Five NBA teams are now in self-quarantine. The season is on hiatus and may not resume in time for the playoffs. Reporters in the room for Gobert’s Q&A are worried that they have the illness too.
Because of one guy. Who thought it was a big joke.
At least he hasn’t infected anyone else yet, right? Wrong:
Jazz star Donovan Mitchell has tested positive for the coronavirus, league sources tell ESPN. Jazz players privately say that Rudy Gobert had been careless in the locker room touching other players and their belongings. Now a Jazz teammate has tested positive.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 12, 2020
The entire reason there’s a panic about coronavirus is that it’s spreading undetected thanks to the federal government’s criminal failure to facilitate early aggressive testing. Maybe we’re about to find out that 20 players have it. Or 50.
I wish I could tell you that non-celebrities are taking the disease more seriously. Some are. Look at the decline in air travel. But others have decided that their plans can’t wait, even if those plans involving visiting a giant international petri dish and then bringing the virus back home with them to their far-flung communities.
Even as demand for flights and cruises has fallen, travel agents who plan trips to Disney parks report that business is as high as usual, if not higher. Visitors to Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando last week said that they felt safe at the parks and weren’t going to allow fear to force them to cancel their vacations…
“I have been in the Orlando parks everyday for the past week and a half and they are as crowded as ever,” Mr. Antonelle said. “From the business-side what we’ve seen is business as usual. We’re not getting cancellations because of coronavirus and from being in the park, you wouldn’t know that anything is different.”…
“Me and my husband have been monitoring things, but didn’t feel like we needed to cancel our plans,” [one mom] said. “We have wipes, we have hand sanitizer, we aren’t elderly and honestly, if you’re going to get it, you’re going to get it. If I’m going to get sick and die, I might as well do it at Disney World.”
We have no natural immunity against a novel virus. A vaccine is at least a year away. It’s uncertain at this point whether any antiviral drugs will work or whether rising temperatures will slow the disease down. The one and only weapon in our arsenal against an epidemic that will infect millions within a few months if the spread isn’t reduced is “social distancing.” And these people are milling about in giant crowds to ride Space Mountain because “If I’m going to get sick and die, I might as well do it at Disney World.”
How about all the 70- and 80-year-olds who are going to die because they end up infected by people like this who couldn’t bear to put off their vacations? Do they get to ride the teacups at least before having to go to the ER and be told by doctors there that there’s no room?
Disney’s and Universal’s refusal to close the parks is borderline criminal. But then, I guess it’s not like there’s a glut of vulnerable senior citizens at risk of dying in [checks notes] Florida.
I saw well-meaning but naive people last night on social media musing that Gobert’s and Tom Hanks’s infections by COVID-19 are tragic on a micro level but salutary on a macro level. If you want to convince average people to take this seriously, let them watch some of their favorite celebs come down with it. That’ll prove to them in a stark way that it can reach them too. Which is fair enough, but young pro athletes like Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are among the least vulnerable people on Earth to coronavirus. They’re in an age group that’s unlikely to suffer serious consequences from the disease and they’re in much better physical shape than we normies are. They may recover without a hitch, within days. What message will that send to people looking to them for cues about how seriously to take the disease? Hanks is in much greater peril due to his age, but of course he has unlimited financial resources to get the highest quality care. He may make it through this relatively unscathed, which will be good news. But may inadvertently underline the very incorrect belief that this really is nothing more than a flu.
Then again, those perceptions can’t last long. A doctor in northern Italy whose hospital is overwhelmed told the Wall Street Journal that he feels like he’s in Afghanistan or Vietnam, performing battlefield medicine by having to make split-second decisions on which patients to try to save and which to sacrifice. An Italian medical college recently published grim ethical guidelines to try to assist them in those decisions:
Those who are too old to have a high likelihood of recovery, or who have too low a number of “life-years” left even if they should survive, will be left to die. This sounds cruel, but the alternative, the document argues, is no better. “In case of a total saturation of resources, maintaining the criterion of ‘first come, first served’ would amount to a decision to exclude late-arriving patients from access to intensive care.”
In addition to age, doctors and nurses are also advised to take a patient’s overall state of health into account: “The presence of comorbidities needs to be carefully evaluated.” This is in part because early studies of the virus seem to suggest that patients with serious preexisting health conditions are significantly more likely to die. But it is also because patients in a worse state of overall health could require a greater share of scarce resources to survive: “What might be a relatively short treatment course in healthier people could be longer and more resource-consuming in the case of older or more fragile patients.”
These guidelines apply even to patients who require intensive care for reasons other than the coronavirus, because they too make demands on the same scarce medical resources. As the document clarifies, “These criteria apply to all patients in intensive care, not just those infected with CoVid-19.”
Read that last paragraph again carefully. Someone who needs hospital care for reasons unrelated to COVID-19, like heart disease or cancer, doesn’t get to jump the line just because they’re not infected. Once care is rationed, it’s rationed for everyone.
And yes, we’re getting closer to that here. The Times has a story today about a hospital in Kirkland, Washington, the hottest coronavirus hot spot in America, that’s already caring for 44 suspected cases of infection. They’ve had 65 patients overall; 15, many from a nursing home, have already died. “The past few weeks have seen medical workers operating at the very edges of their capabilities,” the NYT notes. Imagine it a month from now.
There are small signs of progress out there but nothing systemic. This is evidence that many New Yorkers are taking this seriously:
The West Side Highway is usually packed with cars 24/7. pic.twitter.com/6rSwlx0SAB
— Noah Shachtman (@NoahShachtman) March 12, 2020
Denver rolled out a drive-through spot for coronavirus testing yesterday, free of charge, provided that you have a doctor’s order. The Cleveland Clinic announced that it’s opening an in-house testing facility that can provide results within eight hours. Which is great, but none of this addresses the chronic, disgraceful inability of the CDC to ramp up testing nationally during a window when aggressive testing might have changed our trajectory towards an epidemic. Enjoy Space Mountain while you’re able, I guess.