WHO Elevates Coronavirus Threat to Highest Level
By Jessica Corbett
The World Health Organization on Friday raised the global risk of the new coronavirus to its highest level and reiterated the necessity of worldwide containment efforts as U.S. President Donald Trump continued to face widespread criticism over how his administration has handled the public health crisis so far.
Since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak began in Wuhan, China late last year, it has infected more than 83,000 people globally, killing over 2,800, according to the Associated Press. A large majority of the cases have been in mainland China; however, the virus has reached more than 50 countries, with hundreds of confirmed cases in South Korea, Japan, Italy and Iran.
"Our epidemiologists have been monitoring these developments continuously, and we have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at a global level," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explained Friday during a press conference in Geneva with other officials from the United Nations agency.
"What we see at the moment are linked epidemics of COVID-19 in several countries, but most cases can still be traced to known contacts or clusters of cases. We do not see evidence as yet that the virus is spreading freely in communities," Tedros said. "As long as that's the case, we still have a chance of containing this virus, if robust action is taken to detect cases early, isolate and care for patients and trace contacts."
@DrTedros @WHOWPRO @pahowho @WHO_Europe @WHOAFRO @WHOEMRO @WHOSEARO "🔟 it’s normal & understandable to feel anxious… https://t.co/6mOTB32F4L— World Health Organization (WHO) (@World Health Organization (WHO))1582904766.0
Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO's Health Emergencies Program, told reporters Friday that "this is a reality check for every government on the planet: Wake up. Get ready. This virus may be on its way and you need to be ready. You have a duty to your citizens, you have a duty to the world to be ready."
Ryan added that it "unhelpful" to ask whether the outbreak is now considered a pandemic, because doing so would mean "we're essentially accepting that every human on the planet will be exposed to that virus. The data does not show that." However, he warned, "if we don't take action ... that may be a future that we have to experience."
As Common Dreams reported Tuesday, Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch has predicted that the virus could ultimately infect between 40 and 70% of the global population, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is encouraging U.S. residents to prepare for "significant disruption in their daily lives."
The CDC is tracking COVID-19 cases in the U.S. on its website. The federal agency has also published information about the virus and the national containment response, which includes deploying CDC staffers to dozens of sites across the country.
Despite the agency's efforts, Trump has come under fire for his administration's response to the outbreak. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted Friday that "we're looking at a serious economic downturn because of coronavirus — and the Trump administration is bungling every aspect of this crisis."
Trump announced Wednesday night that he was appointing Vice President Mike Pence to lead the administration's coronavirus task force — a move that was pilloried as "utterly irresponsible" by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). The congresswoman and other critics highlighted Pence's problematic track record on handling public health issues, including while he was the governor of Indiana.
Trump's plan for the coronavirus so far: -Cut winter heating assistance for the poor -Have VP Pence, who wanted to… https://t.co/pNUJzEBmRr— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders)1582763521.0
Pence announced early Thursday that he was appointing a global health official, Ambassador Debbie Birx, as the "White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator," a decision which Politico described as "installing a czar-like figure under him to guide the administration's response to the outbreak after a protracted public dance around how to display the power of the federal bureaucracy to the American people."
The New York Times reported late Thursday that the White House moved to "tighten control of coronavirus messaging by government health officials and scientists, directing them to coordinate all statements and public appearances" with Pence's office, citing multiple unnamed sources. According to the Times, "Officials insist Mr. Pence's goal is not to control what experts and other officials say, but to make sure their efforts are coordinated, after days of confusion with various administration officials making contradictory statements on television."
However, the news generated concerns among individuals and watchdogs groups — and came amid reporting that a whistleblower from the Department of Health and Human Services has accused the Trump administration of attempting to cover up possibly exposing federal workers to coronavirus by sending them to process Americans evacuated from Wuhan without providing essential training or equipment.
1. Trump is now requiring PUBLIC HEALTH EXPERTS and SCIENTISTS to clear their statements about the Coronavirus wit… https://t.co/NCFmdirAFW— Judd Legum (@Judd Legum)1582834446.0
"There's nothing wrong with a coordinated process inside the federal government to make sure it is sending out clear, fact-based information about the widening coronavirus epidemic," said Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group. "But there's every reason to suspect something else is happening — that public health experts are being instructed to stay silent because they are sharing truthful information that the Trump administration finds inconvenient or that contradicts the random musings of the president."
"As we have seen in China's response to the outbreak, muzzling public health experts at a time of a potentially emergent public health crisis is reckless and endangers the public," Carmone added in his statement Thursday. "It should be obvious to the Trump administration, though perhaps it is not, that silencing truthful information about the coronavirus is likely to speed — not stop — its spread."
Trump and his allies, meanwhile, continue to tout the administration's efforts and dismiss critiques as politically motivated attacks. Trump's acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on Friday characterized news coverage of coronavirus as "an attempt to bring down the president" and downplayed its threat level. As Common Dreams reported, some critics responded by charging that Mulvaney was the one politicizing the crisis at the expense of American families.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.