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Here’s How Schools Are Preparing To Deal With The Coronavirus




As the U.S. braces for a potential outbreak of the coronavirus, schools are grappling with a problem: How do you maintain a safe place for kids to gather and learn when the very act of gathering could make it unsafe?
The illness caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19, has sickened 84,000 people around the world and killed about 2,800. Only one person has died of the illness in the U.S. out of a few dozen cases, but already the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned Americans to start preparing for it to spread.
A national outbreak isn’t a question of if, but when, the agency said Tuesday.
School administrators are now asking themselves what they can do to prevent shuttering entire districts and significantly disrupting families’ lives. Many districts have sent home letters to parents to assure them they are taking the virus seriously.
The top tips schools are giving are simple: Stay home if you feel sick. Wash your hands with antibacterial soap and water. Don’t touch your face. Disinfect common areas. Try not to share food.
The CDC is encouraging school administrators to keep local health officials apprised of any spikes in the number of people taking sick days.
As for perfect attendance awards? Ditch them, the agency says.
“Schools and classrooms are basically a breeding ground for germs. Kids come to school all the time with colds and fevers and all kinds of illnesses that the teachers get,” Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, told HuffPost.
Detecting COVID-19 is all the more difficult because its symptoms mimic those of the flu ― fever, cough and shortness of breath. Among the questions school districts are grappling with is precisely what they should do with a student who exhibits those broad symptoms that could signal a case of COVID-19. Should the student be kept at school until a parent picks them up, or should they be transported to a medical facility for testing?
“You have to do the best that you can for the sake of prevention. So that’s a judgement call,” Domenech said.
He added: “If somebody is sick, stay home. Don’t come to school. Maybe it’s not the coronavirus, but let’s not take a chance.”
In Northern California’s Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District, administrator Tim Goree is looking for guidance from the Solano County Public Health Department and other schools in the U.S. and abroad that have experienced outbreaks of contagious disease. Earlier this week, officials confirmed that a patient held at a hospital near the district is believed to be the first case of community spread of COVID-19, meaning that it is not clear where or how she contracted it.
Goree said the district is stepping up its efforts to clean classrooms, aiming to disinfect individual desks more frequently instead of just the most commonly used surface areas. But he said it was still too early to give other examples of what the district will do to prevent the virus from affecting its schools. As of Friday, the county health department had yet to give out “any sort of rubric moving forward,” Goree said.
Districts across the country have similarly noted in letters to parents that they are looking to local, state and federal health authorities for guidance. They are also discouraging students and families from traveling abroad, and canceling long-distance school trips.
This week, the CDC warned that a more dramatic step ― school closures ― will likely be necessary to stop the spread of the virus in places across the country. Closure could come after just one student or teacher at the school contracts the virus, Domenech said, and could last for 14 days or longer.
Such a step, however, would hurt parents with limited or no ability to work from home or take days off, particularly for those in low-income households. Workers without paid sick leave make up about 30% of the private sector workforce.
“Right now, parents don’t have solutions for emergency child care problems,” Julie Kashen, the director for women’s economic justice at The Century Foundation, told HuffPost this week. “They don’t even have solutions for everyday child care problems. This is just going to exacerbate the problems that already exist but also make stark economic inequalities.”
It’s a problem Goree is keeping in mind in Northern California.
“We are very sensitive to trying to keep schools open as long as possible so long as it is safe,” he said. Students in his district come from a wide variety of living situations, including some who are homeless or have no one to care for them during the day. At the same time, parents who are able to stay home during the day or otherwise provide child care are asking about take-home lessons.
Nancy Messonnier, a director with the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told parents on Tuesday to ask about plans for “teleschool,” although it was not clear how such a system would function. American students face uneven access to technology and internet connectivity that would be used to share lessons.
Ideally, teachers would be able to communicate lesson plans online, and students would be able to access assignments and learning materials there, too. Some districts, such as Miami-Dade County Public Schools, could offer laptops to students who need them for at-home learning. But without an internet connection, students could still face problems.
One solution is to go low-tech. By preparing paper packets of lessons and assignments, teachers can help students of all backgrounds continue their coursework until the threat of the coronavirus is at bay.
There’s also some good news for worried parents: A small amount of evidence out of China suggests that children may be less susceptible to COVID-19 to begin with.

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First Coronavirus Death In U.S. Reported In Washington State




A person has died in Washington state of COVID-19, state health officials said Saturday, marking the first such reported death in the United States.
State officials issued a terse news release announcing the death, gave no details and scheduled a news conference.
Health officials in California, Oregon and Washington state worried about the novel coronavirus spreading through West Coast communities after confirming three patients were infected by unknown means.
The patients — an older Northern California woman with chronic health conditions, a high school student in Everett, Washington and an employee at a Portland, Oregon-area school — hadn’t recently traveled overseas or had any known close contact with a traveler or an infected person, authorities said.
Earlier U.S. cases include three people who were evacuated from the central China city of Wuhan, epicenter of the outbreak; 14 people who returned from China, or their spouses; and 42 American passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, who were flown to U.S. military bases in California and Texas for quarantining.
Convinced that the number of cases will grow but determined to keep them from exploding, health agencies were ramping up efforts to identify patients.
The California Department of Public Health said Friday that the state will receive enough kits from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to test up to 1,200 people a day for the COVID-19 virus — a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom complained to federal health officials that the state had already exhausted its initial 200 test kits.
Santa Clara County in the San Francisco Bay Area reported two cases where the source of infection wasn’t known. The older woman was hospitalized for a respiratory illness, and rapid local testing confirmed in one day that she had the virus, health officials said.
“This case represents some degree of community spread, some degree of circulation,” said Dr. Sara Cody, health officer for Santa Clara County and director of the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department.
“But we don’t know to what extent,” Cody said. “It could be a little, it could be a lot.”
“We need to begin taking important additional measures to at least slow it down as much as possible,” she said.
Cody said the newly confirmed case in Santa Clara County is not linked to two previous cases in that county, nor to others in the state.
The Santa Clara County resident was treated at a local hospital and is not known to have traveled to Solano County, where another woman was identified Wednesday as having contracted the virus from an unknown source.
Dozens of people had close contact with the Solano County woman. They were urged to quarantine themselves at home, while a few who showed symptoms of illness were in isolation, officials said.
At UC Davis Medical Center at least 124 registered nurses and other health care workers were sent home for “self-quarantine” after the Solano County woman with the virus was admitted, National Nurses United, a nationwide union representing RNs, said Friday.
The case “highlights the vulnerability of the nation’s hospitals to this virus,” the union said.
Earlier Friday, Oregon confirmed its first coronavirus case, a person who works at an elementary school in the Portland area, which will be temporarily closed.
The Lake Oswego School District sent a robocall to parents saying that Forest Hills Elementary will be closed until Wednesday so it can be deep-cleaned by maintenance workers.
Washington state health officials announced two new coronavirus cases Friday night, including a high school student who attends Jackson High School in Everett, said Dr. Chris Spitters of the Snohomish County Health District.
The other case in Washington was a woman in in King County in her 50s who had recently traveled to South Korea, authorities said.
Both patients weren’t seriously ill.
The number of coronavirus cases in the United States is considered small. Worldwide, the number of people sickened by the virus hovered Friday around 83,000, and there were more than 2,800 deaths, most of them in China.
But health officials aren’t taking any chances. Some communities, including San Francisco, already have declared local emergencies in case they need to obtain government funding.
In Southern California’s Orange County, the city of Costa Mesa went to court to prevent state and federal health officials from transferring dozens of people exposed to the virus aboard a cruise ship in Japan to a state-owned facility in the city. The passengers, including some who tested positive for the virus and underwent hospital care, had been staying at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California.
On Friday, state officials said the federal decided it no longer had a crucial need to move those people to the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa. That’s because of the imminent end of the isolation period for those passengers and the relatively small number of persons who ended up testing positive, officials said.
The new coronavirus cases of unknown origin marks an escalation of the worldwide outbreak in the U.S. because it means the virus could spread beyond the reach of preventative measures like quarantines, though state health officials said that was inevitable and that the risk of widespread transmission remains low.
California public health officials on Friday said more than 9,380 people are self-monitoring after arriving on commercial flights from China through Los Angeles and San Francisco. That’s up from the 8,400 that Newsom cited on Thursday, though officials said the number increases daily as more flights arrive.
Officials are not too worried, for now, about casual contact, because federal officials think the coronavirus is spread only through “close contact, being within six feet of somebody for what they’re calling a prolonged period of time,” said Dr. James Watt, interim state epidemiologist at the California Department of Public Health.
The virus can cause fever, coughing, wheezing and pneumonia. Health officials think it spreads mainly from droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how the flu spreads.
As infectious disease experts fanned out in the Solano County city of Vacaville, some residents in the city between San Francisco and Sacramento stocked up on supplies amid fears things could get worse despite official reassurances, while others took the news in stride.
The woman in the community who has coronavirus first sought treatment at NorthBay VacaValley Hospital in Vacaville, before her condition worsened and she was transferred to the medical center in Sacramento.
Sacramento County’s top health official told The Sacramento Bee on Friday that he expects several medical workers to test positive themselves in the next few days. Numerous workers at both hospitals have been tested, but the tests were sent to labs approved by the CDC and generally take three to four days to complete.
Peter Beilenson, Sacramento County’s health services director, said he expects even those who test positive to become only mildly ill.
Confusion over how quickly the woman was tested for coronavirus concerned McKinsey Paz, who works at a private security firm in Vacaville. The company has already stockpiled 450 face masks and is scrambling for more “since they’re hard to come by.” The company’s owner bought enough cleaning and disinfectant supplies to both scrub down the office and send home with employees.
But they appeared to be at the extreme for preparations.
Eugenia Kendall was wearing a face mask, but in fear of anything including the common cold. Her immune system is impaired because she is undergoing chemotherapy, and she has long been taking such precautions.
“We’re not paranoid. We’re just trying to be practical,” said her husband of 31 years, Ivan Kendall. “We wipe the shopping carts if they have them, and when I get back in the car I wipe my hands — and just hope for the best.”

Associated Press writer Adam Beam contributed to this report.

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China Reveals Deep Hit From Coronavirus Crisis, Further Destabilizing World Economy




TOKYO (AP) — The coronavirus outbreak’s impact on the world economy grew more alarming on Saturday, even after President Donald Trump denounced criticism of his response to the threat as a “hoax” cooked up by his political enemies.
China’s manufacturing plunged in February by an even wider margin than expected after efforts to contain the virus outbreak shut down much of the world’s second-largest economy, an official survey showed Saturday.
The survey, coming as global stock markets fall on fears the virus will spread abroad, adds to mounting evidence of the vast cost of the disease that emerged in central China in December and its economic impact worldwide.
The monthly purchasing managers’ index issued by the Chinese statistics agency and an industry group fell to 35.7 from January’s 50 on a 100-point scale on which numbers below 50 indicate activity contracting.
Iran is preparing for the possibility of “tens of thousands” of people getting tested for the virus as the number of confirmed cases spiked again Saturday, an official said, underscoring the fear both at home and abroad over the outbreak in the Islamic Republic.
The virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes have killed 43 people out of 593 confirmed cases in Iran, Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said. The new toll represents a jump of 205 cases — a 150% increase from the 388 reported the day before.
But the number of known cases versus deaths would put the virus’ death rate in Iran at over 7%, much higher than other countries. That’s worried experts at the World Health Organization and elsewhere that Iran may be underreporting the number of cases now affecting it.
Earlier Saturday, Bahrain threatened legal prosecution against travelers who came from Iran and hadn’t been tested for the virus, and also barred public gatherings for two weeks.
Saudi Arabia said it would bar citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council from Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina over concerns about the virus’ spread. The GCC is a six-nation group including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
On Thursday, Saudi Arabia closed off the holy sites to foreign pilgrims over the coronavirus, disrupting travel for thousands of Muslims already headed to the kingdom and potentially affecting plans later this year for millions more ahead of the fasting month of Ramadan and the annual hajj pilgrimage.
Elsewhere around the world, already slumping financial markets dropped even lower on Friday, while virus fears led to emptied shops and amusement parks, canceled events, and drastically reduced trade and travel.
Despite anxieties about a wider outbreak in the U.S., Trump has defended measures taken and lashed out Friday at Democrats who have questioned his handling of the threat, calling their criticism a new “hoax” intended to undermine his leadership.
Shortly before Trump began to speak, health officials confirmed a second case of coronavirus in the U.S. in a person who didn’t travel internationally or have close contact with anyone who had the virus.
The list of countries touched by the virus has climbed to nearly 60. More than 85,000 people worldwide have contracted the virus, with deaths topping 2,900.
Even in isolated, sanctions-hit North Korea, leader Kim Jong Un called for stronger anti-virus efforts to guard against COVID-19, saying there will be “serious consequences” if the illness spreads to the country.
China has seen a slowdown in new infections and on Saturday morning reported 427 new cases over the past 24 hours along with 47 additional deaths. The city at the epicenter of the outbreak, Wuhan, accounted for the bulk of both. The ruling party is striving to restore public and business confidence and avert a deeper economic downturn and politically risky job losses after weeks of disruptions due to the viral outbreak.
South Korea, the second hardest hit country, reported 813 new cases on Saturday — the highest daily jump since confirming its first patient in late January and raising its total to 3,150. Emerging clusters in Italy and in Iran have led to infections of people in other countries. France and Germany were also seeing increases, with dozens of infections.
Streets were deserted in the city of Sapporo on Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido, where a state of emergency was issued until mid-March. Seventy cases — the largest from a single prefecture in Japan — have been detected in the island prefecture.
The archbishop of Paris asked all of the French capital’s parish priests to change the way they administer communion to counter the spread of the coronavirus.
Bishop Michel Aupetit instructed that priests no longer put the sacramental bread in the mouths of worshippers celebrating communion and instead place it in their hands. He also asked that worshippers not drink wine directly from a shared chalice, and that sacramental bread instead be dipped in wine.
The bishop’s instructions were listed in a statement Saturday from the Paris diocese. It said a Paris priest tested positive for the virus on Friday after returning from Italy.
The head of the World Health Organization on Friday announced that the risk of the virus spreading worldwide was “very high,” while U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the “window of opportunity” for containing the virus was narrowing.
Stock markets around the world plunged again Friday. On Wall Street, the Dow Jones index took yet another hit, closing down nearly 360 points. The index has dropped more than 14% from a recent high, making this the market’s worst week since 2008, during the global financial crisis.
In Asia, Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan announced they would close, and events that were expected to attract tens of thousands of people were called off, including a concert series by the K-pop group BTS.
Tourist arrivals in Thailand are down 50% compared with a year ago, and in Italy — which has reported 888 cases, the most of any country outside of Asia — hotel bookings are falling and Premier Giuseppe Conte raised the specter of recession.
Assuming there are many more cases with no or very mild symptoms, the rate “may be considerably less than 1%,” U.S. health officials wrote in an editorial in the journal. That would make the virus more like a severe seasonal flu than a disease similar to its genetic cousins SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or MERS, Middle East respiratory syndrome.
Given the ease of spread, however, the virus could gain footholds around the world and many could die.
Europe’s economy is already teetering on the edge of recession. A measure of business sentiment in Germany fell sharply last week, suggesting that some companies could postpone investment and expansion plans. China is a huge export market for German manufacturers.
Economists have forecast global growth will slip to 2.4% this year, the slowest since the Great Recession in 2009, and down from earlier expectations closer to 3%. For the United States, estimates are falling to as low as 1.7% growth this year, down from 2.3% in 2019.
But if COVID-19 becomes a global pandemic, economists expect the impact could be much worse, with the U.S. and other global economies falling into recession.

Associated Press writers Joe McDonald in Beijing, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, John Leicester in Paris, Deb Riechmann and Darlene Superville in Washington, Adam Geller, Paul Wiseman, Christopher Rugaber, Joseph Pisani and Edith M. Lederer in New York, Hyung-jin Kim and Tong-hyung Kim in Seoul, South Korea, Renata Brito and Giada Zampano in Venice, Italy, Frances D’Emilio in Rome and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.

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Obama ‘Ebola Czar’ Delivers Scathing Assessment Of Donald Trump’s Coronavirus Response




Ronald Klain, who former President Barack Obama appointed to lead the U.S. response to the Ebola epidemic, on Friday ripped President Donald Trump and his administration’s messy handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Klain — who was dubbed the “Ebola Czar” — told MSNBC’s Ali Velshi there was a “crisis of both confidence and competence” in the way Trump’s White House was tackling the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“On the confidence side, anyone who believes what Donald Trump says kind of gets what they deserve at this stage of the game,” said Klain.
Trump has told more than 16,000 lies during his time in office, according to The Washington Post.
“But the problem is, that the administration has silenced the people we can trust,” Klain added, noting how top officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had essentially “been gagged” and stopped from talking in public about the outbreak, which he claimed added to the level of confusion and panic that it is causing.
“We can’t trust our president and the people we can trust aren’t being allowed to tell us the truth,” he added.
(Check out the full interview above.)
Klain also appeared on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time,” where he suggested other countries were further ahead of America in terms of testing suspected sufferers for the virus because “the White House was asleep on the job.”
“When we found out that this virus was spreading widely in China in December, in January, we should have rapidly accelerated the preparation and deployment of test kits in the U.S.,” he claimed.
“We’re just behind on producing the tests, we’re behind on getting them approved, we’re behind on getting them distributed — this should have been job one of the coronavirus task force and what we’re seeing is, we’re just behind Chris,” Klain added.
“The White House was asleep on the job,” says former Ebola Czar under President Obama, Ron Klain, on why the US government is doing less testing for coronavirus than other countries https://t.co/dcUdUwtmGV pic.twitter.com/j6hdY0eFAp— Cuomo Prime Time (@CuomoPrimeTime) February 29, 2020

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Elementary School Employee Is Diagnosed With First Case Of Coronavirus In Oregon




An elementary school employee has been diagnosed with Oregon’s first apparent case of the new coronavirus.
It may also be the third case in the nation of a “community spread” of the virus, known as COVID-19, because the affected individual hasn’t traveled to a country with the disease or had contact with someone suffering from the new coronavirus, as far as officials know. 
Symptoms began Feb. 19, and the infected individual, who lives in Washington County, may have exposed staff and students at a Lake Oswego elementary school, officials said. The 430-student school will be closed through Wednesday for a deep cleaning, and staff and students were being contacted concerning any symptoms they may be experiencing, reported Oregon Live. The COVID-19 patient is being treated in isolation in a hospital in the state.
“Our first concern is for this individual, to make sure they’re being cared for and is able to recover,” said Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen. “Our next priority is finding out who this individual had contact with and make sure they know about their risks.”
Gov. Kate Brown encouraged people to continue to go about their daily lives and wash their hands, cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and stay home if sick. 
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported an additional case Friday of the virus among Americans evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked off Japan. The total number of evacuees from the cruise ship or from Wuhan, China, with the disease in this country is now 44. 
After weeks quarantined on the Diamond Princess, 328 passengers were flown back to the U.S. on Feb. 17 in an operation including 14 passengers who tested positive for COVID-19, against strong objections from the CDC. The CDC was overruled by State Department officials who insisted they could isolate those testing positive behind plastic so as not to infect the others.
The cruise ship passengers are staying at different U.S. military bases for a two-week quarantine that will end March 2.
A whistleblower filed a complaint earlier this week that U.S. health workers interacted with the evacuees at the bases without training in infectious diseases and with no protective gear. They then returned home or to other work, sometimes using commercial airlines to travel. 

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What Would Happen If U.S. Schools Close Because Of Coronavirus?




The world is on high alert as cases of the new coronavirus, named COVID-19, continue to bubble up across the globe. On Thursday, Japan took the extraordinary step of asking all schools in the country to close for about a month in an effort to curb contagion.
Should the coronavirus begin to spread throughout the U.S., as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Wednesday, American schools could also be subject to mass closures, creating a potential mess for working parents and the economy.
Bothell High School in Washington state was closed Thursday after a staff member’s relative fell ill following international travel. The family member is being tested for coronavirus while the school disinfects the campus.
The CDC has encouraged parents to start asking their local schools about contingency plans. 
Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said school closures would be one of the most effective measures local governments can take to mitigate the spread of the virus. She acknowledged that some parents would miss work. 
“I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe,” Messonnier said. “But these are things that people need to start thinking about now.”
In a guidance document for employers, the CDC said firms should prepare for “possible increased numbers of employee absences due to illness in employees and their family members, dismissals of early childhood programs and K-12 schools due to high levels of absenteeism or illness.”
The broader economic impact of widespread school closures could be significant, said Dean Baker, an economist with the progressive Center for Economic and Policy Research and a visiting professor at the University of Utah. Some companies would be unable to fill orders due to absent workers, and customers could face longer wait times for services. Workers, for their part, could lose income and have to cut back on spending.

“All in all, it is likely to be a really big deal if it comes to schools shutting across the country,” Baker said.
A team of researchers evaluated the impact of an unplanned eight-day school closure due to flooding in rural Illinois in 2013. In a survey of families, 17% said they struggled with uncertainty about the duration of the closure, making alternate child care arrangements, and losing pay. 
The report, which was published in the Journal of School Health in 2017, said unplanned school closures can be particularly difficult for low-income households. 
“Right now, parents don’t have solutions for emergency child care problems,” said Julie Kashen, the director for women’s economic justice at The Century Foundation. “They don’t even have solutions for everyday child care problems. This is just going to exacerbate the problems that already exist but also make stark economic inequalities.”

Right now, parents don’t have solutions for emergency child care problems. They don’t even have solutions for everyday child care problems.
Julie Kashen, director for women’s economic justice at The Century Foundation

Workers without paid sick leave, who make about 30% of the private sector workforce, will be hit the hardest, Kashen said, while office professionals and other white-collar workers will likely have the flexibility they need to take care of their kids.

“It’s just a reminder of how much we need child care for all,” Kashen said, referring to the movement to make tuition-free child care available to all Americans through public funding appropriated by the federal government.
Access to paid sick leave is particularly low among Latinx workers, said Vicki Shabo, a senior fellow at New America and an expert on workplace equity. Undocumented immigrants or any individual with a vulnerable immigration status may worry about trying to assert any workplace rights they have to stay at home with their children during a potential outbreak.
“Employers hold a lot of power in this scenario,” Shabo said. “It leaves the workers who really don’t have much voice in their workplace or guaranteed time off very vulnerable to economic loss and job loss.”
Parents who cannot afford to risk losing their jobs by staying home during school closures may be forced to leave their child alone or with an older sibling, or make unpredictable care arrangements that could present potential safety concerns, Shabo said.

The CDC’s Messonnier said she told her children this week that while they’re not at risk right now, they need to prepare for disruptions to their lives. She said she called their school and asked about their plans, and encouraged others to do the same. 
“You should ask your children’s school about their plans for school dismissals or school closures,” Messonnier said. “Ask if there are plans for teleschool.”
Beyond interruptions to education, school closures could create additional financial stress for families who depend on school-based services such as meals subsidized by the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. Roughly 22 million children rely on free or reduced-price lunch at school and are eligible for free breakfast.
“It’s the same situation that happens in the summer when kids go hungry,” Shabo said. “Certainly some school districts have dealt with that at a predictable time, but if you’re talking about a public health emergency, obviously that’s not the same planning and …  risk of contagion could limit this.”

Mint Images via Getty Images

“You should ask your children’s school about their plans for school dismissals or school closures. Ask if there are plans for teleschool,” says Nancy Messonnier of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” on Jan. 30. The death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 2,800 worldwide as of Thursday afternoon, with the vast majority of cases in mainland China, where the virus originated. China has reported more than 77,000 confirmed cases. At least 59 Americans have been diagnosed with coronavirus, according to the CDC’s website.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said blanket closure of all schools in the country was meant to put “a priority on children’s health and safety,” though some medical professionals thought the action was premature, noting that children do not seem to be easily susceptible to the virus.
There is some evidence that children affected with the virus have relatively mild symptoms, including runny nose and cough, though there’s still a lot that researchers don’t know about it.
“It seems really extreme and really sudden,” Chelsea Szendi Schieder, an associate professor of economics at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, told The New York Times of the school closures in Japan. “And the implications for people and their daily lives is going to be so big that I’m not sure it’s worth it in terms of public health.”
It’s unlikely the entire U.S. national school system would shut down, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, but such a scenario would be “highly disruptive to the economy” if it did occur. 

“There are approximately 30 million families with children,” Zandi said. “If schools and day care centers are closed nationwide, and say, a parent in 10% of these families can’t go to work because they need to take care of their children, then employment would decline by as much as 3 million jobs. Millions of others may have to cut back their hours to get home to take over from caregivers.”
Parents who work in the service industry, such as restaurant workers or housekeepers, could be impacted significantly. About 48% of these workers don’t have access to paid sick days. 
Kashen, of the Century Foundation, said she hasn’t heard many parents talking about their plans for child care should schools close.
“Probably, in part, because there’s not a great option,” she said. “No great answers besides relying on neighbors, friends and families.”

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Second Troubling Mystery Case of Coronavirus Reported In California




An older woman in Santa Clara County, south of San Francisco, tested positive for the virus Thursday. She has no history of travel to countries with coronavirus nor a known connection with anyone with the disease, county health officials said at a news conference Friday. Such infections are known as “community spread,” which means that people become infected without knowing how or where they caught a virus.
The woman was initially hospitalized for a respiratory illness and was tested at the recommendation of her physician, an infectious disease specialist. 
“This new case indicates that there is evidence of community transmission, but the extent is still not clear,” said Dr. Sara Cody, the Santa Clara County public health director. “I understand this may be concerning to hear, but this is what we have been preparing for. Now we need to start taking additional actions to slow down the spread of the disease.” 
The case “does signal to us that it’s now time to shift how we respond to the novel coronavirus,” Cody explained. Actions must include more “surveillance” of public health, diligent prevention by citizens to avoid the disease — such as hand washing — and family preparations to stay at home for periods of time in the event of a disease emergency.

Authorities from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday revealed the nation’s first apparent case of community transmission of coronavirus, in a woman in Solano County, about 90 miles north of the new case. 
The two cases of the virus, known as COVID-19, mark a troubling evolution of the spread of the disease that’s far more difficult to track and contain. The  Solano County woman is reported to be in serious condition.
Two other cases have been reported in Santa Clara County, but the sources of those are known.
“Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, a director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Tuesday. “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”
The latest case makes 63 confirmed in the U.S. They include 44 Americans repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan, three repatriated from Wuhan, China, 12 people who returned from travel to China, and two who caught it from a close family member.
The World Health Organization on Friday raised its risk assessment of the coronavirus to “very high” — the highest level short of declaring a pandemic. Officials warned nations that the new assessment should serve as a wake-up call for countries to increase preparedness.
The U.S. stock market was down sharply for the fourth day in the largest plunge since the 2008 financial crisis over fears of the virus and its expected effect on the global economy.



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Is It Really Possible To Go ‘Plastic Free’? This Town Is Showing The World How.




PENZANCE, ENGLAND – As waves crash against the art deco wall of Jubilee Pool in the one of the country’s most westerly coastal towns, Sam Dean is talking about single-use plastics. Specifically, how to wean people off them. 
Dean is the food and beverage manager of the Jubilee Pool Café, which calls itself a ”single use plastic free venue.” Customers will find no plastic straws, cups or cutlery here. Instead there are wooden stirrers, cornstarch straws, and disposable coffee cups made out of a biodegradable material. The café also sells glass to-go mugs.
“There’s a shame associated with individually wrapped things, and by moving the focus towards reusables we’re enhancing the customer experience whilst improving the quality and provenance of products on offer,” said Dean.
But much more remains to be done, he says. He’s considering making customers pay more for disposable coffee cups to further encourage them to ditch single use plastic. 

Anna Turns

Sam Dean at the Jubilee Café in Penzance with some of the reusable glass coffee cups he sells.

On nearby Chapel Street ― where 18th century buildings house gift shops, antique stores and boutique guesthouses ― is the natural skincare store Pure Nuff Stuff. Inside, shelves are stocked with bamboo toothbrushes, plastic-free dental floss, solid shampoo and moisturizer bars.
Emily Kavanaugh, the store’s owner, said she has noticed dramatic changes in people’s buying habits in the town over the last year or two. “We’re now making four times as much soap compared to last year as more people switch from bottled shower gel, and most online customers jump at the chance to opt for plastic-free packaging,” she said. 
Pure Nuff Stuff and the Jubilee Pool Café are just two of the businesses that are involved in a huge community effort — involving local residents, schools and government ― to stamp out single-use plastics in Penzance.
In 2017, this town of 21,000 people became the first community in the U.K. to be awarded “Plastic Free” status by the conservation nonprofit Surfers Against Sewage as part of its Plastic Free Communities initiative.
Those arriving at the picturesque Cornish harbor town by road are greeted by a black sign with “Welcome to Plastic Free PZ, Reduce, Refill, Rethink” spelled out in orange LED lights. 
“There’s so much collaboration on every level here in Penzance,” said Kavanaugh. “It’s a small town so we all talk to each other, share ideas and resources and we have a mind to be useful to each other. It’s an exciting time.”

Anna Turns

Emily Kavanaugh, owner of Pure Nuff Stuff in Penzance. 

The plastics crisis is increasingly visible everywhere, but especially in coastal towns like Penzance. In 2016, the world produced over 320 million tons of plastic, a figure set to double by 2034, according to Surfers Against Sewage, which was founded by individuals who live in the region. Approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution reach our oceans daily, and many of these wash up on beaches. During just one U.K.-wide weekend beach clean in 2019, volunteers collected nearly 12 tons of litter, an average of 558 items for every 100 meters of beach cleaned.
The inundation of plastic waste is the reason Surfers Against Sewage decided to set up the Plastics Free Communities campaign, which targets single-use plastic items such as straws, bags, cups and bottles. It’s a grassroots campaign, with the aim of engaging whole communities in a commitment to take serious steps to reduce plastics.
To qualify for accreditation, communities need to follow a five-point action plan, including securing local government support; working with businesses to reduce their single-use plastics; teaming up with schools and community organizations; holding plastic-free events, like rallies or mass “unwraps” (where people leave the plastic packaging from their groceries at the supermarket checkout); and setting up a diverse local steering group on plastics. 
In Penzance, the effort to become plastic free was led by Rachel Yates, a former journalist who is now the Plastic Free Communities project officer.

creacart via Getty Images

An aerial view of Penzance, Cornwall.

Shocked by how much plastic pollution she found during the beach cleanups she organized between 2014 and 2017, Yates felt compelled to try to shift the throwaway mindset of her hometown.

Having grown up in Cornwall, Yates had supported Surfers Against Sewage’s work since the organization, which mixes grassroots campaigns with lobbying, started in 1990. As soon as the nonprofit launched Plastic Free Communities, she signed up.
“I liked the focus on tackling plastic pollution at the source and also the culture change around single use,” said Yates. “I could see how it could have wider environmental and community benefits in Penzance. … It just felt a natural next step from organizing and doing beach cleans in the area.” 

Anna Turns

Rachel Yates spearheaded the campaign to get Penzance “plastic free” accreditation. 

As part of the Surfers Against Sewage checklist for accreditation, she needed to persuade at least 12 businesses out of the 800 in Penzance to pledge to eliminate the use of three types of single-use plastics ― bags, straws, coffee cups, packaging ― and replace them with more eco-friendly alternatives like paper straws, cloth bags and reusable cups. 
She achieved this within six months and momentum has built steadily since. Today, more than 125 businesses in town are signed up, including cafés, hotels, guesthouses and retailers that encourage customers to bring their own containers for milk, meat, groceries, dried goods and cleaning products. “We’ve put ourselves on the map as a town that cares,” said Yates. 
Becoming a Plastic Free Community has had a big impact on Penzance, said Jon Matthews, chair of the Penzance & District Tourism Association, raising awareness and inspiring community leaders and businesses to take the first steps towards positive change.
Matthews hopes this new environmentally conscious identity could help drive economic regeneration in Penzance, which is home to one of the most deprived housing projects in the country. “It makes good business sense to embrace the change,” he added.

Anna Turns for HuffPost

Jon Matthews of the Penzance & District Tourism Association, with the town’s seawater swimming pool behind him.

Not everyone is convinced that progress is being made quickly enough. Bruce Rennie, chef and owner of The Shore, a small seafood restaurant at the top of the bustling town center, filters tap water instead of buying bottled mineral water, uses a SodaStrem instead of ordering sparkling water in plastic bottles, and buys milk in reusable plastic buckets from his local dairy. He already meets the requirements to gain plastic free status — he’s just waiting for the official certificate, but he thinks businesses need to do more.
“Plastic Free Communities is a great way for businesses to have an impact,” said Rennie, “but removing single-use plastic is a basic first step and my concern is that an accreditation is good but, once achieved, the drive isn’t as high to push further.”
He thinks the goal should be much broader, and include minimizing energy consumption and other waste. At his restaurant, Rennie minimizes food waste by having a set menu and only cooking for pre-booked guests; only buying local, seasonal ingredients; closely monitoring energy usage; and returning unwanted plastic packaging to suppliers — putting the onus on them to dispose of it. 
“I’d like to see more pressure on large distributors to remove plastic packaging and perhaps government incentives to switch to reusable packaging,” he said.

Anna Turns

Bruce Rennie, owner of The Shore restaurant in Penzance, wishes the town would go further with its environmental campaigns.

Penzance is not in any sense actually free of plastics yet. A mix of discount stores, fast food outlets and chain retailers in the town have not been easy to persuade to go plastic free, not least because many are answerable to a head office elsewhere and lack autonomy to make that change. Plastic cutlery and non-recyclable food containers are still supplied by some of the takeaway restaurants, plastic bags are available at supermarket checkouts (though in the U.K., customers must pay 5 pence per bag), and fridges full of single-use plastic drink bottles are still found along the high street. 
But Yates said this shouldn’t detract from the effort underway. “Accreditation enables a community to put the foundations in place to start tackling single-use plastic,” she said.
The ultimate aim is to eliminate single-use plastic altogether, and fundamentally transform our throwaway culture. “This is about having a long-term goal and commitment,” said Surfers Against Sewage chief executive Hugo Tagholm. “‘Slightly less plastic communities’ wouldn’t be aspirational. Ultimately, accreditation is the start of this journey.” 
Of course, truly eliminating plastic waste will require an effort that goes well beyond communities and reaches the corporations that are the world’s top plastic polluters. Break Free From Plastic, a global movement of 1,800 environmental organizations working to reduce plastic pollution, compiles an annual list of the worst polluters, which in 2019 was topped by companies including Coca-Cola, Nestlé and PepsiCo.

Changing the business models of these companies will require governments to disincentivize the production of single-use plastics and to put responsibility for plastic trash on companies — not consumers. But Surfers Against Sewage, which also lobbies for governmental change, believes Plastic Free Towns are an important way of creating grassroots pressure for these changes. As Lyndsey Dodds, head of marine policy at the World Wildlife Foundation, said in a Guardian article, “One town isn’t going to change the world, but it’s the groundswell that’s important.”
To date, 104 communities in the U.K. have been awarded Plastic Free Community status, including Caerphilly in Wales and Canary Wharf in London. More than 500 others are seeking the accreditation. 
Within the international environmental community, the Plastic Free Communities model has been recognized as a leading example of how to activate communities, according to Emily Penn, an ocean advocate who co-founded the all-female eXXpedition series of sailing voyages, which explore the impact of plastic pollution in oceans around the globe.
“Surfers Against Sewage have been creating a lot of resources and really empowering people to make positive change in their local towns,” said Penn. “It’s fantastic and really tangible because there are so many people now who want to do something but don’t always know where to start.”
Canada, France, Germany, China and Australia have shown interest in expanding the Plastic Free Communities initiative globally, according to Surfers Against Sewage, and that’s something Tagholm is considering.
“We are currently focusing on increasing the reach and impact of the Plastic Free Communities movement in the U.K. but we are in the very early stages of investigating the feasibility of a global model for the movement,” he said. “We want to get the framework right and the right systems and model in place to ensure success before we do so.”
Matt Franklin, the European communications officer for Break Free From Plastic, said the program shows how to activate communities and could work well with other ongoing initiatives in Europe.
“Plastic Free Communities is a really valuable approach within the context of a broader strategy,” said Franklin, who believes this community-led initiative complements the Zero Waste Cities movement, a program already in operation in Europe. The initiative, run by the Brussels-based NGO Zero Waste Europe, is primarily aimed at eliminating waste and diverting resources from landfills in more than 400 municipalities. The kind of strategies it implements include “pay as you throw,” which charges households based on the amount of waste they produce, and “deposit return schemes,” where consumers pay small deposits for bottled drinks that they get back after returning empty containers. 

By taking a stand, people are bound together by this common identity, and they’ll fight for that no matter where they live.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., some experts believe a growing awareness of the plastics crisis could provide fertile ground for plastic-free communities to take root.
California-based Shilpi Chhotray, senior communications officer for Break Free From Plastic, told HuffPost that “the heart and soul of plastic pollution work in the U.S. is grassroots, and action is happening across the board at a town and city level.”
Chhotray praised the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program, spearheaded by Surfrider Foundation, a U.S.-based grassroots environmental organization that accredits restaurants that are working to eliminate single-use plastics from their supply chains. So far, 621 restaurants have replaced Styrofoam and single-use plastic with reusables.  
Lonely Whale, an ocean advocacy foundation, has implemented similar programs. Its month-long Strawless In Seattle campaign in September 2017 converted more than 100 high-profile institutions, from the airport to the aquarium and baseball stadium, to switch from plastic to paper straws, removing 2.3 million plastic straws from the city. Shortly after, in 2018, Seattle became the first U.S. city to implement a city-wide ban on plastic straws and plastic utensils in bars and restaurants.
“It’s one thing to personally decide against using straws — it’s another thing altogether for a whole business or city to decide to go plastic-straw free,” said Dune Ives, executive director of Lonely Whale. 
“We understand the importance of letting policymakers know that their constituency is already in favor of policy change,” continued Ives, “so we focus on cheerleading and engaging people in a fun, non-shaming way so they’re open to conversations about other single-use plastic items.”

For Ives, that’s also the beauty of the U.K.’s plastic free communities. “Surfers Against Sewage has renormalized what communities are willing to stand for. By taking a stand, people are bound together by this common identity.”

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Far-Right Politicians Are Using Coronavirus To Push Anti-Immigration Xenophobia




The spread of the coronavirus has health officials worried about a potential global pandemic. But while governments and international organizations are rushing to stop the virus, far-right politicians in Europe have been eager to exploit it.
Radical right populists like Italy’s Matteo Salvini and France’s Marine Le Pen are using fear and uncertainty surrounding the virus, believed to have originated in China, to advocate for closed borders and anti-immigration policies ― misleading and panicked messages that health officials warn can hinder efforts to combat the virus.
In Italy, there are hundreds of cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, as well as multiple towns under quarantine and 17 people dead. Salvini, leader of the far-right Lega Party, has repeatedly attacked the government for its handling of the crisis. He has groundlessly linked Italy’s outbreak to the arrival of migrants from Africa, called for “armor plated borders” and accused Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of failing to “defend Italy.”
There is no proof for Salvini’s claims: Africa has only three confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to monitoring data from John Hopkins University. But his inflammatory statements are a prime example of the longtime far-right trope of associating migrants with disease ― derogatory rhetoric that has been a prominent feature of Europe’s migrant crisis.
These and other attacks, coming as officials struggle to contain the virus, have put additional stress on the European Union’s ideal of border-free travel. Salvini is calling for Italy to suspend the Schengen Agreement, which allows travel between EU nations without border checks, even though health experts doubt the measures would be effective.

Guglielmo Mangiapane / Reuters

Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s far-right Lega Party, gestures during a news conference in Rome on Feb. 13 after the Senate voted to remove his legal protection, opening the way for a trial over accusations he illegally detained migrants at sea last year.

Austria’s Freedom Party echoed Salvini’s calls for immigration controls and suggested that the government had failed to prevent the outbreak, while the Swiss People’s Party wants “strict border control immediately.” (Austria’s health minister countered with the assessment of World Health Organization and EU experts that closing borders “makes no sense.”)
In France, Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, has called for border controls and falsely accused the EU of remaining silent on COVID-19. (EU officials have repeatedly issued statements on the virus and announced hundreds of millions of euros in health funding.) Le Pen also clashed with Italy’s Prime Minister Conte when she suggested that Italian soccer fans should be barred from entering the country. Spain’s far-right Vox party leader Santiago Abascal similarly blamed open borders for the virus.
Far-right parties tend to thrive in opposition, where their lack of governing experience and extreme policies aren’t tested, allowing them to snipe from the sidelines to gain support. They also feed on periods of unrest and uncertainty, as seen in their fearmongering around events of recent years such as the migrant crisis and ISIS-related extremist attacks. The COVID-19 outbreak gives these parties a chance to both frame governments as ineffective and advocate for the anti-immigration policies they view as a panacea to every societal problem.
Meanwhile, countries with far-right governments in power have taken a slightly different tack, largely downplaying the virus and maintaining that everything is under control.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban claimed that although the virus has garnered the world’s attention, people should not forget that the real threat is from migration. In the United States, President Donald Trump has contradicted health officials and gave a dismissive press conference filled with false information, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday refused to say that the coronavirus wasn’t a hoax.

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America’s Broken Social Safety Net Can’t Withstand The Coronavirus




One of the best things you can do to fend off the coronavirus is to stay home when you’re sick.
Problem is, millions of working Americans don’t get paid sick days. A stunning 70% of low-wage workers and one of three workers in the private sector have no access to paid sick time. All told, more than 30 million Americans don’t get paid sick days. Many work in industries where they have regular contact with the public.
The United States is one of the few countries in the world without a nationwide paid sick leave policy. In addition, millions of Americans don’t have health insurance, or have insurance policies designed to keep them away from the doctor’s office, with high copayments and deductibles. Combined, both issues highlight how the coronavirus, or COVID-19, outbreak could test the United States’ uniquely weak social safety net. 
“Right now we’re looking at a situation where we have a lack of policies that most other countries take for granted that protect their public health,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of MomsRising, a nonprofit that advocates for paid leave. 
This isn’t a “coronavirus” problem. It’s important to note that although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans earlier this week about the possibility of an outbreak of this disease, so far there have been very few reported cases inside the U.S. However, fears over an outbreak have put the spotlight on the public health system — for some Democrats, coronavirus basically makes the case for long sought-after policies like universal health care and paid sick and family leave.
“We have long had a slow, silent national emergency when it comes to any virus, flu or coronavirus,” Rowe-Finkbeiner said. “It’s irresponsible not to have everyone have access to paid sick days this year or any year.” 

Ahn Young-joon/AP

Workers wearing protective gears spray disinfectant as a precaution against the new coronavirus at a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. Japan’s schools prepared to close for almost a month and entertainers, topped by K-pop superstars BTS, canceled events as a virus epidemic extended its spread through Asia into Europe and on Friday, into sub-Saharan Africa. 

Flu rates are higher without sick leave. What about coronavirus? 

In the U.S., just 10 states, 20 cities and three counties have some kind of paid sick leave policy, compared to the rest of the world, where more than 145 countries offer this basic benefit. Research shows that people who live in those places are less likely to get sick.
Lack of paid sick leave is certainly a “risk factor” in terms of the spread of coronavirus, said Nicolas Ziebarth, an associate professor in health economics at Cornell University. 
For a paper he published in 2019 in the Journal of Public Economics, Ziebarth looked at Google data on flu rates, and compared cities that have a paid sick leave policy to those that don’t. He found that flu rates are 5% lower in places with paid sick leave.
Now he thinks that number might even be low. For an upcoming paper, Ziebarth used more precise CDC data and has found that rates are actually 11% lower in states with paid sick leave. 
It’s hard to overstate what it means to not have access to paid sick leave when you’re already just barely getting by. Sick people who can’t afford to lose a day’s work end up going to work. Workers medicate with over-the-counter drugs. They get their co-workers sick. 
“It’s not even a ‘choice,’” said Andrew Gnome, who worked in a fast-casual pizza restaurant for nine years, missing only two days of work. “It doesn’t even enter your mind you have a choice.” 
Aside from not wanting to miss out on pay, workers who call in sick to these kinds of jobs are typically tasked with finding someone else to take their shift, he said. “If you take any time for yourself. If you’re late, going to the doctor, you are hurting someone else you are relying on and counting on.”
And few workers are going to the doctor.
“Nobody in the restaurant industry goes to the doctor when they’re sick,” Gnome, who now works at a job with benefits in Colorado, posted on Twitter Thursday. “I have watched people PRIDE themselves on working through illness and injury.” 

Andrew Harnik/AP

A large monitor displaying a map of Asia and a tally of total coronavirus cases, deaths, and recovered, is visible behind Vice President Mike Pence, center, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, left, as they tour the Secretary’s Operations Center following a coronavirus task force meeting at the Department of Health and Human Services Feb. 27 in Washington.

Working from home isn’t an option.
With the coronavirus threat bearing down, many companies are telling employees to work from home. But for low-wage hourly workers, this just isn’t an option. Many work in industries with a lot of contact with the  community ― people who serve food, care for children or clean offices and homes.  
Ziebarth said he’s hopeful that employers will recognize the risks of having workers come in sick and actually encourage workers to stay home. “That would just be reasonable,” he said.
It’s not just sick leave. The U.S. lacks any kind of comprehensive paid family leave policy, which would enable workers to take time off to care for a close family member’s health issues.
Erika Farrell, a mother of three in Maryland, lost her temp job in the early 2000s because she had to take so much time off to care for her young son who had just started daycare and cycled through chicken pox, ringworm and more. “You name it, he got it,” she said.
She doesn’t regret staying home. “I had to take care of him to prevent more kids from getting sick,” Farrell, who is part of MomsRising, now advocates for paid leave herself.

Millions are uninsured. Many more have terrible insurance.

Even if you can take time off when you’re sick, you might not be able to afford a trip to the doctor. 
Slightly more than 10% of Americans, or about 30 million people, don’t have health insurance ― typically because either their employer doesn’t offer any, or if they do, it’s too expensive.
Uninsured Americans are far less likely to go to the doctor. Since many cases of coronavirus are fairly mild, it’s not hard to see how an infected person could self-medicate through an illness while infecting others.
Even Americans with insurance face obstacles to getting care, because it’s still so costly thanks to high copayments.
One woman on Twitter told HuffPost she pays $160 every time she sees her primary care physician. 
And then there are the deductibles, i.e., the amount of money you have to spend out-of-pocket before your insurer starts footing the bill. This can mean thousands of dollars. Deductibles have been going up for decades.
And since it’s the beginning of the year, most people haven’t come near clearing those deductibles. 
“If we as a society are going to face a spreading infectious disease, the worst time of the year is the beginning of the year,” said John Graves, an associate professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Evan Vucci/AP

President Donald Trump, with members of the president’s coronavirus task force, speaks during a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Washington. 

Graves said the U.S. health care system is simply not designed to deal with a potential pandemic. First of all, the U.S. relies on employment-based insurance system. If an outbreak leads to an economic downturn and people are thrown out of work, they’re also going to lose health care coverage.
Second, health insurance is specifically designed to encourage people not to see the doctor through so-called “cost-sharing.” The reason copyaments and deductibles exist is to discourage people from visiting the doctor or going to the hospital for every “cough and sniffle,” Graves said. 
But in the case of coronavirus, every cough and sniffle matters, he said. 
Compounding the issue: In 2018, the Trump administration made it easier for people to buy insurance plans with less generous coverage. These plans also don’t always cover expenses stemming from preexisting conditions. 
The idea was to provide a cheaper alternative for people buying plans on their own and frustrated with the cost of plans available through the Affordable Care Act. But these new plans, which many experts consider junk policies, can have even higher out-of-pocket costs.
Something like that appears to have happened recently to Osmel Martinez Azcue, whose story appeared in the Miami Herald. 
Last month, Azcue returned home to Miami after a work trip to China. He felt like he was getting the flu. Aware of the threat that could pose, he went to a local hospital to be tested.
Turns out he just had the flu. For simply getting the flu test, he got a hospital bill for $3,270. The hospital told the Herald more bills could be on the way.
Azcue apparently had health insurance through one of the new limited Trump plans. 
“How can they expect normal citizens to contribute to eliminating the potential risk of person-to-person spread if hospitals are waiting to charge us $3,270 for a simple blood test and a nasal swab?” Azcue asked the Herald.

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