Coronavirus: Massive gap in US response revealed after scientists learn colleague tested positive through tweet
Clement Chow, an assistant professor of human genetics tweeted last week that he was in the ICU for coronavirus. And that's when researchers who had attended a meeting with him found out about it
Clement Chow, an assistant professor of human genetics at The University of Utah, US, tweeted last week that he was in the ICU with coronavirus. And that's when researchers who had attended a meeting with him found out about it. At a time when experts are stressing on testing and contract tracing to check community transmission, this incident reveals serious and massive gaps in America's fight against COVID-19.
"Hi guys. Have you missed me? I’ve been in the ICU fighting...wait for it...Coronavirus! I am the first case at the U of U ICU! Breaking the bamboo ceiling!," tweeted Chow on March 16. He further said, "Basically had a low-grade fever for a few days then a bad cough, that turned into respiratory failure. I came in and they had to put me on high flow oxygen (3 times normal)...hence ICU."
According to a March 20 report in Nature, two dozen geneticists who had attended a meeting with him nine days earlier subsequently saw the tweet and came to know that Chow had tested positive for COVID-19. While the researchers were worried for Chow, they were also upset that this was the first they had heard about it, says the report.
“The fact that we learned about this from a tweet points to a failure of our department of health. But maybe we can come together with grass-root responses,” Nels Elde, also an associate professor of human genetics at The University of Utah in Salt Lake City, told Nature. He had reportedly shared a dinner plate with Chow before he was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Elde tweeted to Chow on March 16 and said, "Was going through our text messages and your decision to self-quarantine early for cold-like symptoms that you were convinced was not SARS-CoV-2 was a good one and good example for us all. Get well soon @ClementYChow."
Chow further explained that his breathing was so compromised that he could not keep his oxygen levels up even with "10L of oxygen." He said while he was the first COVID19 patient in the ICU on March 19, there are more now. "Important point: we really don’t know much about his virus. I’m young and not high risk, yet I am in the ICU with a very severe case," said Chow.
Another researcher who had attended the meeting with Chow described how the group from 16 states "scrambled to work out who they had spent time with since returning home from the meeting." "They were upset that four days had passed between when their colleague was hospitalized with symptoms of COVID-19 and when they found out, through Twitter, that he had the disease. Another 24 hours would pass before an email from Utah’s public-health departments made it their way. Every passing minute, the virus has a chance to move to someone else," reports Nature.
Meanwhile, the researchers who learned of their exposure through Twitter are taking precautionary measures by taking their temperatures and self-quarantining themselves.
Over 33,270 cases have been reported in the US so far, and 417 have died. New York state accounts for 117 deaths currently, passing Washington state, the initial epicenter of the pandemic in the US, in the number of fatal cases.
According to experts, contact tracing is important as people in close contact with someone who is infected with a virus, such as the COVID-19 virus are at higher risk of becoming infected themselves and of potentially further infecting others.
An analysis of Singapore’s containment measures that were implemented to minimize disease spread, for example, shows that contact tracing contributed to the primary detection of approximately half (53%) of COVID-19 patients. The study, based on a review of the first 100 cases in Singapore, shows that the mean interval from symptom onset to isolation was 5.6 days and declined after approximately 1 month.
“Singapore implemented strong surveillance and containment measures, which appear to have slowed the growth of the outbreak. The study estimated that if other countries had similar detection capacities as Singapore, the global number of imported cases detected would be 2.8 times higher than the observed current number,” said the report. It added, “The surveillance methods in Singapore complemented one another to identify infected persons, with the overlapping components constituting safety nets; none of the methods alone would have detected all patients.”
During a media briefing on March 16, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had said that while there has been a rapid escalation in social distancing measures across countries, they have not seen an urgent enough escalation in testing, isolation and contact tracing which, he said, was the backbone of the COVID-19 response. "We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test,” he had emphasized.
Dr Ghebreyesus explained that while social distancing measures can help to reduce transmission and enable health systems to cope, such measures alone would not be enough to "extinguish this pandemic." "It’s the combination that makes the difference. As I keep saying, all countries must take a comprehensive approach,” he said.