US futher tightens public health protocols, social distancing norms

WASHINGTON: Amid rising concern about the durability and lethality of the Covid-19 coranavirus, including its professed ability to transmit through even regular breathing/exhalation, American health and public safety mandarins are further tightening public health protocols and social distancing norms, even as toll from the pandemic neared 7,000 in America.
New guidelines recommending wearing of masks in public places at all times are expected anytime now, overriding suggestions that only sick people are needed to wear masks. Because of the shortage of masks and the need for higher grade N95 masks by medical personnel, people are being asked to wear any kind of mask, including home-made masks, scarves, bandannas, handkerchiefs etc., under the principle that something is better than nothing.
The updated guidelines follow research results that purportedly show the coronavirus has extraordinary durability and stealth features, including ability to transmit asymptomatically and to stick around in the air and surfaces longer than normal. While a majority of infected people still appear to show mild symptoms and its mortality rate is now thought to be closer to one per cent or even less, compared to the 3-4 per cent that was initially feared, the transmissibility of the virus is something that has surprised scientists.
A leading infectious disease scientist on Wednesday wrote to the White House in response to its queries that “currently available research supports the possibility that [coronavirus] could be spread via bioaerosols generated directly by patients’ exhalation” – in other words, the simple act of breathing normally (not just coughing or sneezing) by even asymptomatic carriers could transmit the virus. Ergo, facemasks for everyone when venturing out.
“If you generate an aerosol of the virus with no circulation in a room, it’s conceivable that if you walk through later, you could inhale the virus. But if you’re outside, the breeze will likely disperse it,” Dr Harvey Fineberg, chairman of a committee with the US National Academy of Sciences, explained in a CNN interview, adding how long coronavirus lingers in the air depends on several factors, including how much virus an infected individual puts out when breathing or talking, and also on the amount of circulation in the air.
“I’m not going to wear a surgical mask, because clinicians need those,” said Fineberg, who is also a former dean of the Harvard School of Public Health. “But I have a nice western-style bandana I might wear. Or I have a balaclava. I have some pretty nice options.” President Trump backed that up by claiming a scarf would be even better.
Some zealous US officials have gone so far as to recommend that families practice social distancing even within the confines of their homes because the virus can spread asymptomatically – that is, an individual could be carrying the virus without showing any symptoms. Others are asking people to flush toilets with the lid down. Amid a growing backlash against states, cities, communities, and individuals who are not shut down and practicing social distancing, officials in Laredo, Texas reportedly voted to fine residents who venture out in public without covering their faces.
Meanwhile, wrangles continued between the Trump White House and state and city officials over limited resources even as the US President continued to boast about how his quick action on stopping travel from China very early helped contain the pandemic in the US (his other boasts during the week in the middle of the pandemic include being $1 on Facebook and his evening briefing having high television ratings).
However, data from the US Customs and Border Protection reported in the local media shows that nearly 4 million travelers entered the US during December, January, and February when the outbreak was taking a foothold across the world. Of them, 759,493 people entered the US from China, while 343,402 travelers arrived from Italy, 418,848 from Spain, and about 1.9 million more came from Britain.
Trump is also getting panned for his on-and-off expressions of confidence in China and its leader Xi Jinping, with multiple leaks of how the US defense and intelligence establishment had warned him about possibility of a pandemic and why he should not trust China. But the US President repeatedly deploys his stock, go-to expression (“He’s a good friend of mine”) to express personal confidence at variance with the reservations from rest of the establishment.
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