World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was quoted this week as saying that some countries deemed the coronavirus threat “less worthy of the best efforts to contain it” because those who are most affected are senior or older people.
“If anything is going to hurt the world, it is moral decay. And not taking the death of the elderly or the senior citizens as a serious issue is moral decay,” said Ghebreyesus. “Any individual, whatever age, any human being matters.”
Ghebreyesus said the WHO declared a pandemic because of the speed and scale of transmission of the virus and the “lack of political commitment in some countries to control it, despite our frequent warnings.”
Ghebreyesus, a former health minister of Ethiopia, declined to name the countries that did not act quickly or drastically enough to contain the spread of COVID-19. However, the United States is thought to be among them.
The WHO recommends countries contain the virus by finding, isolating, testing and treating every person known to come into contact with an infected person. The WHO says mitigation, including social distancing strategies, is not enough.
It has taken weeks for the U.S. government to provide state and local public health authorities with test kits to identify those who are infected by the virus and people who came in contact with the infected.
Funding for Testing
The Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that it will fund two companies for the development of rapid diagnostic tests for coronavirus.
HHS also announced a new leader of COVID-19 testing efforts. Adm. Brett Giroir, a physician, will coordinate the testing efforts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, state and local authorities, and public and private labs.
In addition, the Federal Drug Administration tweeted that its general hotline is available for labs to call regarding difficulties obtaining test kits or other needs.
As of Thursday, 137 countries reported that 144,031 people have contracted Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, resulting in 5,397 deaths.
In the United States, just over 2,000 cases have been diagnosed and there have been 41 deaths.
Variances in Death Rates
A study by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention showed on Feb. 8 the mortality rate from the virus was much higher for people age 60 and above and for those with chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart problems. The death rate for people age 70 and older is ten times higher or about 15 percent as opposed to a general death rate of 2.3%.
Yet, officials in the Trump administration downplayed the threat of the virus until the end of February, when old people started dying in alarming numbers at Life Care Center of Kirkland, WA, a nursing home with 120 residents.
The first virus-related death at the Kirkland center was reported in late February but actually occurred earlier.
A spokesperson for Kirkland said 26 deaths have been associated with the Kirkland center since Feb. 19. She said the center typically has between three and seven deaths per month. Of the 26 fatalities, 15 patients were sent to area hospitals and 13 of them tested positive for COVID-19. She said it is not known whether the 11 patients who died at the center had been infected.
Additionally, 67 Life Care employees show symptoms of the virus.
Italy, which has the second oldest population in the world, is the country that is presently the worst-affected outside of China. It recorded 17,660 cases on Thursday and 1,266 deaths. It is estimated that 58% of those who died in Italy are over 80-years-old and 31 percent are in their 70s.
The virus probably originated in bats but was passed to people via an as yet unrecognized intermediary animal species. It is believed to have started infecting people in Wuhan, China, in late November or early December.