15 days ago, the Czech Republic, where I’ve lived for nearly the past two years, had its very first confirmed case of COVID-19. Just last night Prime Minister Andrej Babis followed Thursday’s state of emergency declaration with a total nationwide quarantine. Many thought it was extreme, but European countries’ health systems have been falling like dominoes and people are dying. The European Union is failing with any collective action and Italy has been left to fend for herself. It is a bleak situation for many here, but only shows what I believe is only days away from the United States.
Here are the facts: COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease that can spread through the air via droplets from the mouths and noses of contagious people (though it is not properly airborne like, for example, the Measles). We’re not just talking from coughing or sneezing, but also breathing in some cases. The problem is that these people can be contagious without even knowing it. The incubation period, ie the time it takes for someone to experience symptoms, can be up to 14 days and often symptoms are mild (roughly 80 percent of cases). Most people probably won’t ever be tested because they will continue their days as normal, especially so in the United States which does not show any signs of being able to test at a massive scale.
Data from Italy suggested that it was mostly older folks catching COVID-19. However, South Korea, one of the countries testing people the most aggressively at around 0.026 percent of its population per day, suggests that it is healthy people, especially aged 20–29, that are the biggest carriers. Here’s the discrepancy: Italy simply doesn’t have the resources to test at a massive scale and the only people being tested are those in the hospital, typically older folks. We are learning on our feet about this disease but the indication, because mostly younger folks are carrying the disease, is that social distancing at the minimum will be a hugely important method to flatten the curve.
Here, the Czech Republic has nearly 300 confirmed cases — about half of which are in the capital, Prague. Given the fact that hardly anyone has been tested, we can assume a much higher infection rate. I went for a walk on Sunday after all establishments had a mandated shutdown and was shocked to see folks walking around in groups, playing in the park, restaurants selling food, and people loitering outside with their food and beer. I even saw one American tourist rubbing the famous “lucky statue” on Charles Bridge (one of Europe’s most notorious petri dishes). A vast majority of these people were young, healthy, and evidently selfish people.
In direct response to these folks, a government meeting that went five hours over and kept us reporters up late resulted in a total quarantine. As of this morning, 21 towns are now under direct quarantine with police monitors due to a rapidly deteriorating situation that public health officials estimate to have resulted in possibly 1,000 cases of the virus, though tests haven’t been done yet. Cases are increasing by over thirty percent per day. Mandatory social distancing of 2 meters is being enforced alongside a ban on all nonessential travel and totally closed borders.
At the same time, dear friends of mine in Italy are reeling from the fact that hospitals are now choosing who lives and dies because their health infrastructure has been exhausted. It turns out that China’s data has been reliable in assessing the risk of directly life-threatening illness to be roughly between three and four percent. However, one in five people will end up on a ventilator. No available ventilators equals exponentially higher deaths. This is where the curve comes in and why experts talk about flattening it — if we don’t, more people will die from previously treatable cases just like in Italy. When we talk about flattening the curve, we mean trying to not overload our health infrastructure. Medical technology is a scientific marvel that can save people from diseases otherwise thought to be death sentences but it’s useless to those who won’t have access.
These are the facts. This has nothing to do with a debate on immigration, some grand government psy-op to usurp power, or some Soros-funded conspiracy. Europe is the epicenter of this disaster right now, but I am afraid for the United States of America because of the lack of a response, the lack of adequate health care infrastructure and access, and how little people are acting. Hearing that some, due to some bizarre agenda, are telling people to live their normals lives to sneer enemies of the president is so willfully ignorant that I could scream. And to go a level further, open borders in the European Union meant Italy was essentially exporting COVID-19 for days on end — roughly 75 percent of cases in the Czech Republic originated from Italy.
I urge officials to disseminate factual information and dispel false information. We need straight talk more than anything. But there needs to be coordination and diligent monitoring between different levels of government. To give an example — French officials said that Ibuprofen appears to exacerbate the effects of the virus which has been widely circulated in Europe by now. Over the weekend, Czech public health officials told us this claim was “fake news” before the story spread like wildfire. This is alarming. Which government should we believe? Who has the answer? Officials in the United States need to monitor the situation abroad to learn now before the peak and give people the best possible information.
But more than anything, folks need to lose this idea that “only” the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions are affected. In fact, it is younger and healthier people that are propagating the virus the most as the data clearly shows. We cannot condemn tens of millions of people to a gamble for their life because healthier folks want continue as normal. Things aren’t normal here and they certainly won’t be in the United States soon. The fact is that this is just the beginning and action needs to be taken now.
Massive federal government action needs to be taken, pay out for all those affected by lost wages to get rid of any excuse for breaking social distancing, and people need to take this seriously, because simply ignoring public warnings and going on with the day for one person could result in weeks in a ventilator, or death, for someone else. Endangering the lives of our most vulnerable citizens so needlessly is unimaginably cruel.
And for the love of God, please check reliable sources such as the World Health Organization for best practices for avoiding exposure.
Brad Blankenship is an American journalist living in the Czech Republic.
Edit 9:46 pm: “A previous version of this article claimed that South Korea was testing 100,000 individuals per day. At current, South Korea is testing roughly 10,000 citizens per day or approximately 0.026 percent of the population per day with signs of increase.”