Wed. Jan 19th, 2022


A survey of Covid-19 implications from an international perspective

by Adolfo Quizon Paglinawan

Chapter 22

The chickens come to roost

As Covid-19 sends people of the world to unprecedented soul-searching and prognostication, there appears to be a nagging question to all this – why the scientists so late to put a finger on the disease and the virus that causes it.

In the first Chapter of this survey, I indicated that in 2019 “flu cases were being reported to have extended two months to July even when fall officially began on September 23.”

I confess that I was just quoting newspaper reports at that point and couldn’t put an honest finger to substantiate that claim.

What I later found out shook me to my core.

On July 11, 2019, ABC News affiliate WJLA-TV reported that two people have died and 18 others have been hospitalized after a “respiratory outbreak” at a Virginia retirement community, according to officials.

The Fairfax County Department of Health said that 54 individuals had become ill with “respiratory symptoms ranging from upper respiratory symptoms (cough) to pneumonia” in the last 11 days at Greenspring Retirement Community in Springfield. The symptoms described were “fever, cough, body aches, wheezing, hoarseness and general weakness.”

Benjamin Schwartz, director of epidemiology and population health in Fairfax County’s Health Department, told ABC News that the outbreak had been reported in the assisted-living and skilled-nursing sections. He said the outbreak began with the first case on June 30.

I repeat, June 30, 2019 was the first day of the outbreak.

Respiratory outbreak' being investigated at retirement community ...
The marker of the modern retirement community right beside the Fairfax County Parkway in Springfield, Northern Virginia, with zip code 22150.

The reason why I found this petrifying is because my residence in the United States is less than a mile away the Greenspring facility. I live in that neck of woods with my wife, my daughter and his spouse, together with three grandchildren. I have lived in Fairfax County since 1986, when I first came to the United States as a Philippine diplomat.

I asked myself, has my narrative come to roost?

The assisted-living and skilled-nursing facility in Greenspring is home to 263 residents. Schwartz said the two patients who died in the outbreak had been hospitalized with pneumonia but were “older individuals with complex medical problems.”

“One of the things about skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities is [that] when you have a lot of people in close proximity, who have underlying medical conditions, there is an increased risk for outbreaks,” he said.

“Seeing a respiratory outbreak in a long-term care facility is not odd. One thing that’s different about this outbreak is just that it’s occurring in the summer when, usually, we don’t have a lot of respiratory disease.”

The Fairfax County Health Department told ABC it is investigating the incident and that appropriate measures had been taken to reduce the risk of infection and keep residents safe, including closing the facility to new admissions, cancelling group activities, keeping ill residents in their rooms and increasing cleaning.

The next day, Washington Post picks up the story as the senior citizens residence has closed its assisted-living unit to new admissions.

Director Schwartz said swabs have been taken and initial tests have been made. Those infected have come back negative for common virus- or bacteria-borne respiratory illnesses, including the flu and Legionnaire’s disease.

The samples have been sent to the Virginia Health Department in Richmond and forwarded to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for additional testing.

“We don’t know the cause yet,” Schwartz said. “There are so many potential causes of respiratory illness that it’s possible a cause won’t be determined.

“It’s also difficult to know whether the illness played a role in the deaths of the two patients because both had preexisting medical conditions, he said.

Jonathan Falk, epidemiology program manager at the Virginia Department of Health, said the number of such outbreaks this year rose to 19, compared with the dozen or so that normally occur in the period outside flu season.

By July 15, a third person has died, 23 were hospitalized and dozens more fell ill. The infection also spread to Greenspring’s staff, affecting 19 employees at the complex, Fairfax County health officials said.

In the period since mid May, when flu season winds down, and October, when the number of cases picks up again, Virginia’s statewide reporting system has counted 19 outbreaks, including 13 at long-term care facilities.

That compares with 13 similar outbreaks outside of flu season in 2018 and 15 in the previous year, Falk said.

Virginia health officials noted that laboratory tests identified a variety of causes of the outbreaks, including pathogens for Legionnaire’s disease, flu, the common cold and pertussis, or whooping cough.

In early December 2019, people in the city of Wuhan in the Hubei province of China experienced similar symptoms like cough, fever, shortness of breath and complications related to acute respiratory distress syndrome. The immediate diagnosis was pneumonia, but the exact cause was unexplained.

Researchers led by Dr. Wang Jianwei at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Institute of Pathogen Biology, China, used next generation sequencing (NGS) to definitively identify the pathogen causing illness in Wuhan focusing on five patients admitted to Jin Yin-tan Hospital in Wuhan, most of whom were workers in the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan.

The scientists first obtained bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid samples taken from the patients, isolated the DNA and RNA, then sequenced the genetic material.

Most of the viral sequences belonged to the CoV family of viruses, which includes the SARS-CoV and the Middle East respiratory syndrome-related (MERS) CoV.

The researchers then constructed the whole genomic sequence of the new virus—now known as Covid-19.

The question is why did it have to wait until December 2019 and the Chinese to do the genomic sequencing of the virus to identify the pathogen?

The frightening complication is that from July to December, this lethal virus was already circumnavigating the world.

The French disconnection

What is coming out of France is equally disturbing, as it disengages from the American line that Covid-19 originated from China.

NBC News said French doctors have made a breakthrough in the race to establish where and when the corona virus pandemic first hit Europe, by establishing that the virus was already in France much earlier than anyone thought.

A team of researchers in the city of Colmar in northeastern France announced in a release last week that it had identified two X-rays, from November16 and 18, showing symptoms consistent with the novel corona virus.

NBC News has exclusively obtained these scans.

This is now evidence that the virus was spreading in Europe two months before France declared its first cases January 24 and well before Covid-19, the disease caused by the corona virus, had been officially identified in China.

Scientists believe mapping the spread of the disease in its early stages is key to understanding how to protect people and prevent a second outbreak. “We can only manage the future if we understand the past,” said Dr. Michel Schmitt of Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Colmar, who led the research.

Schmitt led his team in examining almost 2,500 chest X-rays taken from November 1, 2019, to April, looking for patterns. They identified two cases in mid-November, 12 in December and 16 in January.

Meanwhile in Italy, Reuters noted the first corona virus infections date back to January, according to a scientific study presented shedding new light on the origins of the outbreak in one of the world’s worst-affected countries.

Italy began testing people after diagnosing its first local patient on February 21 in Codogno, a small town in the wealthy Lombardy region. Cases and deaths immediately surged.

Stefano Merler, of the Bruno Kessler Foundation, told a news conference with Italy’s top health authorities: “We realized that there were a lot of infected people in Lombardy well before February 20, which means the epidemic had started much earlier, in January for sure, but maybe even before.”

Research in Spain, which has the most confirmed corona virus-linked cases in Europe – above 200,000, and the third-highest death toll worldwide after the US and Italy – also suggested the virus was present in that country long before health officials had realized, at least a month before Madrid imposed a lockdown on the country in mid-March.

Radio France Internationale, reported that doctors in the French Haut-Rhin region, hit hard by Covid-19, say they’ve detected several cases dating back to 16 November 2019 –confirming long before the disease is believed to have surfaced in France, and before it was even announced in China.

These timelines refute the rhetoric of the American leadership, and brings more understanding of the cruelty of the world’s unseen enemy and consolation to the families that have been hit hard by this plague.

Managing the future by understanding the past

By May 15, 2020, in Dinuba, California many gravesites still has no markers.

No grass has grown over the dry ground here, in a flat cemetery surrounded by some of the richest citrus groves in the country, where Hortensia Sosa and her husband, Luis, are buried together.

The grave is too new for that.

After she died of the novel coronavirus last month, Sosa’s body was kept for 10 days in quarantine. At first, family members were not allowed to leave their cars during her burial. They finally received permission to do so, but only if they stood well away from the tiny patch of ground as Hortensia’s coffin was lowered slowly on top of Luis’s casket.

“There was no rosary, no Mass,” said Olivia Lopez, the oldest of the couple’s three children. Her only contact with her 92-year-old mother in the final months of her life was through FaceTime. “I could see for two weeks how badly she was deteriorating just over the phone. But I couldn’t help her. I felt like my hands were tied.”

Sosa is among the 1,058 residents of skilled-nursing facilities who have died in California as of this week as a result of the corona virus, a quickly escalating toll that accounts for about 40 percent of the state’s deaths from Covid-19.

The disease also has ravaged front-line workers at skilled-nursing homes, the majority of whom earn little more than minimum wage. According to state public health statistics, at least 23 nursing-home workers have died of Covid-19 and more than 3,600 others have been infected.

There are more than 1,100 licensed nursing facilities in California, and according to the 83 percent of them reporting to the state right now, 6,600 residents are infected with the corona virus.

All have been closed to visitors — family or otherwise. The misery is not uncommon.

The story just repeats itself.

To be continued…



Ado Paglinawan is a broadcast anchor at Radyo Pilipinas1, president and a regular columnist at the country’s newest daily news website and its partner magazine The Sovereign. He is a former Philippine diplomat, serving in the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York as press attaché, spokesman and special assistant to Ambassador Emmanuel N. Pelaez. He has served a strategic consultant to Agriculture Secretary Luisito Lorenzo, Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon and Finance Secretary Roberto de Ocampo. He studied for 15 years at San Beda College from grade 1 to 4th year college majoring in English and Philosophy, minor in political science and history. He is a veteran of the First Quarter Storm, participating as president of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines.  Ado has taken continuing studies in world politics and diplomacy, international public relations, information technology and remote sensing, and Eastern Christianity and Islamic studies, from various universities in Washington DC.


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