Preparing for the worst: U.S. military prepares for massive coronavirus epidemic

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Military bases in Texas and Southern California have already geared up and mobilized to combat coronavirus cases.

And in an announcement this week, the U.S. Northern Command is executing plans to prepare for a potential pandemic of the novel coronavirus, now called COVID19, according to Navy and Marine Corps service-wide messages.

An executive order issued by the Joint Staff and approved by Defense Secretary Mark Esper this month directed Northern Command and geographic combatant commanders to initiate pandemic plans.  That includes ordering commanders to prepare for widespread outbreaks and confining service members with a history of travel to China.

The Navy and Marine Corps messages issued Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, reference an executive order directing U.S. Northern Command to implement the Department of Defense Global Campaign plan for Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Diseases 3551-13.

The document serves as the Pentagon’s blueprint for planning and preparing for widespread dispersion of influenza and previously unknown diseases.

U.S. Northern Command said Wednesday it was directed the Joint Staff Feb. 1 to commence “prudent planning” in their assigned role synchronizing the department’s plans for pandemic flu and disease.

But in no way “does the planning indicate a greater likelihood of an event developing. As military professionals, planning for a range of contingencies is something we owe the American people,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Mike Hatfield said.

“We coordinate with other combatant commands to assess potential impacts in the event of a pandemic and we ensure the U.S. military is poised to respond as required,” Hatfield said in a statement.

“The military profession fosters a culture of planning, and the fact that we are coordinating planning efforts across the geographical combatant commands is consistent with how we prepare to respond, if directed.”

CNN reported this week that the 15th case of the novel coronavirus in the United States is one of the evacuees at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The patient has been under federal quarantine since arriving in the US from China on a chartered flight on February 7, the CDC said. The person has been isolated and is receiving medical care at a hospital.

This is the first case of the coronavirus confirmed in Texas.

Eight cases have been confirmed in California, one in Massachusetts, one in Washington state, one in Arizona, two in Illinois and one in Wisconsin. There are two instances of person-to-person transmission, one in Illinois and one in California. Two California cases are among evacuees from China.

Earlier this week, 195 evacuees were released from federally mandated quarantine at March Air Reserve Base in California. No one in that group had tested positive for the novel coronavirus

According to the CDC, more than 600 people evacuated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, remain quarantined in the US.

 

Several countries have evacuated their citizens from China, primarily from the city of Wuhan, which is at the center of an area where some 50 million people are prevented from leaving in an effort to contain the virus.

South Korea and India flew hundreds of their citizens out of the country.

While officials with the WHO were initially simply expressing caution about the virus, by declaring that countries needed to prepare for “domestic outbreak control” it escalated the preparation among many countries.

Most cases of the virus thus far have been people who visited China or their family members. The agency said they acted out of concern for poorer countries who have less ability to respond to such an emergency.

By doing so, a more coordinated international response can be put forth and it can also bring additional money and resources.

“Countries need to get ready for possible importation in order to identify cases as early as possible and in order to be ready for a domestic outbreak control, if that happens,” said Gauden Galea, the WHO representative in Beijing.

President Trump has commissioned a coronavirus task force, which on Friday announced a number of actions aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus outbreaks, including declaring a public-health emergency in the United States.

The task force said that starting Feb. 2, all returning U.S. citizens who traveled to Hubei Province, China over the past 14 days will undergo a mandatory quarantine for 14 days. Wuhan City, the epicenter of the viral outbreak is in that Chinese province.

In addition, the U.S. will no longer allow foreign nationals who have traveled to China over the past 14 days and “pose a risk” of spreading the disease into the U.S., according to Alex Azar, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have traveled to the area will face quarantines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that 195 U.S. citizens who were evacuated out of Wuhan earlier this week have been placed in federal quarantine over concerns about the virus.

Nancy Messonnier, director of the Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory diseases said that this was the first time in 50 years the CDC had issued a quarantine.

Health officials said that the patients are currently being housed at the March Air Reserve base in Riverside County, California. One individual apparently tried to leave the facility but was held on the base.

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Several countries including the U.S. and Singapore have implemented stronger travel recommendations and border closures in light of the WHO declaration of a public health emergency and a surge in coronavirus cases world-wide.

On Friday, the U.S. State Department advised Americans not to travel to China in a Level 4 warning, its highest level. Singapore has said that any visitors who have traveled to mainland China within the last 14 days will be allowed to either enter the country or travel through it. Mongolia and Russia have closed borders and Pakistan banned all flights to and from mainland China.

Starting Sunday, Feb. 2, incoming U.S.-bound flights from China will be restricted to seven airports: John F. Kennedy International in New York, Chicago O’Hare International, San Francisco International, Seattle-Tacoma International, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Los Angeles International and Daniel K. Inouye International in Honolulu.

“We worry that the market underappreciates the duration of this crisis in China,” said Raymond James; Chris Meekins, a former DHS official in a Jan. 30 note. “We believe the travel advisories are likely to continue for the next few months.”

On Thursday, pilots for American Airlines filed a lawsuit against the airline, seeking to halt flights between the U.S. and China. Delta Airlines and British Airways have halted all flights between the U.S. and China, while United Airlines has suspended some flights.

The viral outbreak is also claiming another victim…peoples 401-K’s. On Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted by 2.1%, the S&P 500 by 1.8% and the Nasdaq by 1.6%. The drop was the largest single-day drop since August 2019, and the fifth-biggest drop ever.

Stocks hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak are airlines, due to China travel restrictions, casino companies, travel and cruise stocks also dove due to canceled trips.

Financial experts do not know what the long-term impact on the markets will be, but note that the virus outbreak, especially in China, could have a significant effect on China’s already slowing economy. In 2002-2003 when the SARS outbreak occurred, estimates are that $40 billion was wiped out from world markets according to one study.

It is expected that this outbreak could last months, which could have a serious impact on what had been a robust U.S. economy, which recently passed the 29,000 mark on the Dow and set a record high.

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