Not Working? Neither Is The Unemployment System

Lost your job due to the pandemic? Look on the bright side. An economic cushion exists to break your financial free fall–unemployment benefits. Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work anyway. While millions of Americans aren’t working, neither is the unemployment system.

In actuality, there’s not just one unemployment program. Oh, no. The U.S. boasts 53 different unemployment systems–one for each state plus one each for Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Despite this large number of setups to assist workers (er, former workers) when they most need financial assistance, a vast amount of the unemployed are outside the economic safety net these programs are supposed to provide.

Just how many people are we talking about? Well, first we need to determine who’s unemployed. This blog is too short to identify all of them because official U.S. statistics reveal that 26.5 million people have submitted applications for unemployment benefits since mid-March. So much for all those jobs gained during the recent long employment boom. Boom has turned to bust thanks to the coronavirus.

But wait. That’s merely the number of individuals who have successfully been able to submit an unemployment application. A survey by the Economic Policy Institute (“EPI”) indicates another 8.9 to 13.9 million people have not been able to get applications submitted. Per EPI, for every 10 people who were able to file an unemployment claim, 3 or 4 more people could not register. Why? Unemployment compensation system websites have been down and phone lines have clogged by hordes of the unemployed seeking the assistance which had been represented was going to be available to them. 

Things are particularly dark in the Sunshine State of Florida. The web-based application process apparently routinely kicks applicants out of the system when they hit the submit button. Nothing like spending a chunk of time completing an application merely to have it go “Poof!” and vanish into thin air when you’re finished. Other applicants have reportedly waited for “hours” on the phone only to be summarily disconnected. OK, so those who are unemployed may have time to wait for hours on the phone since they have no job to go to, but is that really how they deserve to be treated? Talk about kicking someone when they are down–or in this case hanging up on them.

Florida’s system was overwhelmed with the volume of users generated by the fallout from the pandemic. According to the State of Florida, it had received over 824,000 claims as of Tuesday. I’m no economic genius, but I rather suspect that figure will continue to rise on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week.

Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity (“DEO”) is in charge of the debacle with the opportunity it is providing being a lost one to help those in need in a timely fashion. I’m not sure the Department’s name really fits its purpose. If you ask me (which they clearly didn’t), I’d suggest the name Department of Unemployment Help, or “DUH.” To me, that acronmyn is apropos to the State’s handling of the unemployment claim tsunami.

So what’s a state to do when it is going under from a deluge of claims its system can’t handle? Hmm. Maybe it should increase the system’s capacity to allow filing of even more claims it can’t handle. Sound ridiculous? Well, that’s exactly what happened in Florida. The State acted “quickly” (quickly being a relative term when it’s the government doing the acting) to add 77 more computer servers to its CONNECT website that unemployed workers hadn’t been able to connect to. Brilliant! 

Despite these technical adjustments, the CONNECT system is still a mess. It was offline all weekend for maintenance, although I’m not sure that anyone could tell the difference. Even though it was back up on Monday, the system was reportedly functioning erratically and generating repeated error messages. BLERK!

But the successful submission of a claim isn’t the end goal for an individual who has lost his job. He wants the claim to be approved and then, the ultimate goal, PAID. How’s that working out in Florida? I’d give it an “F,” and the “F” does NOT stand for Florida. It stands for “FAILURE.”

Why give the Sunshine State an “F?” Well, Florida has the worst rate in the country for processing submitted claims. An April 25th USA Today report stated that of the Floridians who had managed to file claims since mid-March 7 of 8 were still waiting to have them processed. In comparison, according to the Associated Press, California and Texas have 2/3 of their claims backlogged and New York only had about 30% of its claims still waiting. 

How does the State of Florida think its going to resolve this backlog of claims? Perhaps they should call in the cavalry. While the cavalry has not been summoned, backup has indeed been summoned. The State has shifted 2,200 government employees from other departments on a temporary basis to lend a helping hand. Who knew that working in a state engineering job, for example, might one day require you to process unemployment claims? 

So there’s more manpower available to deal with the claims, but do these shifted workers have any clue as to what they are doing? Some claimants answer this question with a resounding, “NO!” A USA Today story related how one claimant called for assistance last week but the person answering said it was his first day and couldn’t answer the questions posed. Well, that’s helpful. Meanwhile, work isn’t getting done back at the department from where this clueless worker was shifted. 

Even when claims are successfully submitted and then processed, claimants are not always getting the desired outcome. Approval of a claim doesn’t mean instant money in one’s pocket. As of March 23rd, only one out of 5 people in Florida who had submitted a claim had received their payment. If this were baseball, that would be a pathetic .200 batting average. That percentage won’t cut it on the baseball diamond or in the world of unemployment compensation either.

Even worse, some claimants are being rejected when they are clearly eligible. An Associated Press report tells of a bartender who, after waiting for a month, was notified she was ineligible for assistance because she had failed to look for another job. This ruling on her claim was issued despite a “large disclaimer” on the website that this job-hunting requirement had been waived due to the pandemic. Hey, no bars are open since there’s a pandemic, so where’s she going to look for work anyway? DUH! (See, I told you the acronym was appropriate.)

So the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.” But more important for Florida today is the corollary–if it is broke, FIX IT. The state unemployment system is woefully inadequate and needs to be fixed. The system isn’t working, and it isn’t rendering assistance to people who aren’t working and who are depending on this system to feed themselves and their families during a personal economic crisis. The unemployment system in Florida, or in any other state, not working during the pandemic is simply unacceptable. Let’s get the unemployment system as well as those who are unemployed due to the pandemic back to work!

Just WONDER-ing:

Have you or anyone you know lost their job due to the pandemic? What’s the point of having an unemployment system in place if it won’t work when it is needed most? Is a month to process an unemployment claim an acceptable length of time when a former worker has no income?

 

 

 

 

Who CARES? Uncle Sam Does!

An alarming sign during this pandemic is people feeling drained–in their bank accounts that is. Millions are out of work, and economic activity has been dramatically reduced. Individuals wonder how their families will be fed, and business owners wonder how they will pay their employees. Does anyone care about their financial plight? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” Uncle Sam cares and has acted to come to their aid by passing the CARES Act of 2020.

Ever heard, “There ought to be a law!” Some federal legislators felt just that way in light of the economic havoc wreaked by the ongoing pandemic. And come up with a law they did–the CARES Act of 2020. The public law’s name, CARES, is an acronym for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security. There’s simply no end to the creativity of politicians, is there?

A striking feature of the CARES Act is that it evidences how much everyone cares. Yes, it took a global pandemic, thousands of deaths, and economic calamity to get federal legislators to put aside political divisiveness and act together for the common good. The legislation was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. In the Senate it received unanimous approval on March 25th with a 96-0 vote. Four senators had to get notes from their doctors for missing the vote–1 had tested positive for the virus, 1 was feeling ill, and 2 were in isolation following contact with a confirmed case. 

The CARES Act was passed by the House on Friday, March 27th. President Trump signed the Act into law that very same day. Voila’! Two TRILLION dollars worth of economic relief had been swiftly authorized.

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time grasping what a trillion dollars is. Oh, I get that it is way more than I’ll make annually or even in my lifetime, but what exactly does a trillion dollars look like? In order to write the number, you’ll need a bunch of zeros–12 to be exact. That’s 1,000,000,000,000. A trillion is a thousand billions or a million millions. According to an article on methodshop.com, a stack of one trillion dollar bills would be 67,886 miles high and reach one-fourth of the way to the moon. But the CARES Act will distribute TWO TRILLION dollars. That’s a stack of $1 bills reaching halfway to the moon. Yes, to the moon, Alice!

The CARES Act is, unsurprisingly, the largest economic stimulus package in U.S. history. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Economic activity spiraled down both domestically and globally in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In ONE WEEK’s time, the week ending March 21st, approximately 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment. This figure represents a five fold increase over the previous record of 695,000 unemployment claims sent in 1982. This is not a record about which to be excited.

Although the Act itself covers a number of areas, the two most publicized ones are the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) aimed at helping small businesses and economic impact payments to eligible individuals. CARES expressly defines a small business as one with less than 500 employees. “Small” is apparently in the eyes of the beholder. The office where I work would be considered microscopic, I guess, since 500 is about 100 times bigger than we are.

The PPP offered up to $10 million in loans to “small” businesses. These loans are to be forgiven (translate don’t have to be paid back) if three conditions are met: the business’ workforce isn’t reduced after receiving the loan, workers laid off between February 15th and April 26th are quickly rehired, and at least 75% of the funds received are spent on payroll. 

Yea! Small business have been saved by CARES! Or have they? Some 1.7 million loans were approved, but not every small business could be helped. Why? There wasn’t enough money to assist all of them in need. The PPP program (that’s a lot of P’s!) ran out of money on April 16, 2020, a mere 20 days after the legislation was enacted.

What about financially struggling individuals? CARES allotted $290 billion in direct payments to eligible taxpayers, an estimated 90% of Americans. Each  adult making less than $75,000 a year can receive up to $1,200; in addition, they can receive $500 per child under 17. These payments can be made either by direct deposit (if the IRS has bank information) or by good old-fashioned checks.

Yea! Money in our pockets! Or not–at least in a timely fashion. Stimulus checks began going out the week of April 13th. Nevertheless, the IRS can only process 5 million checks a week, meaning it could take months (estimated up to 20 weeks) for all of the checks to be mailed. So much for the statement on the U.S. Department of Treasury website that CARES will provide “fast” assistance. Justice delayed is, as they say, justice denied. The same can be said for stimulus payments; economic help delayed is economic help denied. People who don’t have money for groceries need help now, not 16 weeks from now.

A controversy arose when it was announced the President’s name would appear in the memo line of stimulus checks possibly causing a slight delay. This is news? I mean when isn’t there a controversy about anything related to President Trump? And there’s an uproar about his name being on a check but not that it might take 5 months for needy taxpayers to receive economic assistance? I personally could care less whose name is on my check as long as I receive it in a timely fashion. 

If you haven’t received your stimulus payment yet, the IRS provides a “helpful” tool on its website called “Get My Payment” allowing you to track the progress (or lack thereof) of your payment. Well, that’s the idea anyway. Numerous people utilizing the tool (including yours truly) have received a response that their eligibility cannot be determined from IRS records. This response, per the IRS, may mean the system is overwhelmed (ya think?) or that the person really isn’t eligible. Well thanks for nothing! Now people have something else to be worried about–they are struggling financially and don’t know if/when they might get a stimulus check to boot.

Let’s assume everyone, businesses and individuals alike, obtain the financial assistance offered by the CARES Act. Everything’s great, right? Um, no. Where do you think that money is coming from? The CARES Act will add to the already ginormous federal deficit. The stimulus checks alone will decrease federal revenue by around $301 BILLION in 2020 according to the Tax Foundation. The Congressional Budget Office indicates the CARES Act will raise the the federal deficit by around $1.8 TRILLION over the 2020-2030 period. 

CARES seemingly indicates Uncle Sam cares about U.S. citizens, but the follow through hasn’t been that impressive. While this legislation has assisted some (but not all) in need, it has also created a problem to be addressed at some future pandemic-free point. What brilliant legislation do you think will be proposed to deal with the mind-boggling federal deficit which CARES has made even bigger? Who cares? Let’s play Scarlett O’Hara and worry about taking on the deficit tomorrow.

Just WONDER-ing:

Have you received an economic stimulus check yet? If you haven’t, is receiving one weeks from now acceptable? If you own a small business or are employed by one, did the business apply for a Paycheck Protection Loan? Better yet, was it approved? When you heard about the financial assistance offered by the CARES Act, did you stop to think how it might impact the federal budget? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bats To Blame For COVID-19 Driving Us Batty?

Forced self-isolation and social distancing due to the ongoing pandemic driving you batty? The finger of blame for our current circumstances can likely be pointed at bats. Bats? Yup, the only flying mammal in the world may be the source for COVID-19.

A coronavirus, such as COVID-19, is a zoonotic disease. “Zoonotic” is a fancy schmanzy term meaning it is caused by an animal virus picked up by humans. Scientists must determine what animal started this crazy pandemic, and bats are the prime suspect.

Previously we feared bats because they might (according to books, movies and TV) turn into vampires. No worries. Just keep a cross or some garlic handy. Unfortunately, vampires are the least of our concerns when it comes to bats. Scientists tell us bats have been linked with seven major epidemics over the past three decades. Holy health crisis, Batman! 

Bats are thought to be the natural host of the Ebola virus, rabies, SARS, and MERS. Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 is a distant relative of SARS; it shares about 80% of the same genetic sequence. Yes, criminals and bats alike can be busted by DNA. According to the scientific journal Viruses, at least 200 coronaviruses have been identified in bats. That’s a lot of viruses for such a small creature.

Researchers in China have traced COVID-19 to horseshoe bats, a common bat species in China. These bats are found in Yunnan, over 1,000 miles away from Wuhan, the initial epicenter of the pandemic. Yunnan is a region in southern China with an extensive system of caves. And even if we don’t have Ph.D.’s, we all know bats like to hang out (literally hang) in caves. 

Virologist Shi Zhengli, known as China’s “Bat Woman,” has years of experience with virus-hunting expeditions in dark and dank caves. Her data, published in the journal Nature, identified a disease in the Yunnan horseshoe bats with a genetic sequence which is 96% identical to COVID-19. Why not 100%? Apparently a virus mutates as it jumps from species to species, so scientists would not find an exact copy of the coronavirus in animals as is found in humans. A 96% match is about as close to a smoking gun, or in this case a smoking bat, as one is going to find. 

But why should we worry about what bats in China carry? The fact that the bats are in China isn’t the point; it’s the fact that bats are the carrier. Over 1,300 species of bats exist, and bats are found on every continent except Antarctica. According to the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”), three of four emerging infectious diseases in humans come from animals, and bats contain the highest proportion of mammalian viruses likely to affect people. 

So why don’t we just eradicate bats then if they are natural reservoirs for viruses that can negatively affect humans’ public health? Alas, such action would cause unwanted repercussions because bats are essential parts of ecosystems. They control insect populations by eating them, fertilize through their guano, and assist with pollination. Who knew bats were so helpful?

Even if bats are the source of the virus which has mutated and wreaked havoc on the human world in the form of COVID-19, are the bats ultimately to blame for this outcome? A well-reasoned case can be made that humans, not bats, are the real villian.

Bats are increasingly coming into contact with humans due to deforestation and urbanization–activities carried out by, you guessed it, humans.. This contact allows the opportunity for the transmission of viruses the bats carry. Moreover, when bats are stressed, say from the loss of their natural habitat, their immune system is challenged; it is then harder for them to cope with the virus. Infections increase and viruses are excreted.

A second strike against humans is how they deal with bats. Bats are eaten as food in China, so they are captured and brought to wet markets such as the one in Wuhan. Talk about stress. Think a caged bat observing fellow bats being slaughtered for customers right in front of them won’t stress them out? They will excrete the virus which may hop to a caged animal of another species who contracts the virus. In the SARS epidemic, for example, it was determined that the virus went from horseshoe bats to civets (a catlike creature eaten in China) to humans. Yuk to eating both bats and civets!

This point is where the story takes a sinister turn. There were no bats found at the wet market in Wuhan which was the suspected source of contamination for humans. Where were the bats? Why they were hibernating in their dark, comfy caves in late December when the first outbreak was reported. But what WAS present in Wuhan was the Wuhan Institute of Virology located mere minutes away from the wildlife market. Could the virus have come from there?

The virology institute is a high security lab in Wuhan which was built right after the SARS outbreak. It contains the largest virus bank in Asia. (Not sure who’d be depositing viruses there, but they call it a bank.) The institute holds more than 1,500 strains of deadly viruses and specializes particularly in viruses carried by bats.

Scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology experimented on bats as a part of a project funded by the U.S.’s National Institutes of Health. A $3.7 million NIH grant funded the institute’s coronavirus experiment on mammals captured in Yunnan, site of the horseshoe bat caves. Part of the research included growing coronavirus in a lab and injecting it into three day old piglets. I don’t think those piglets were squealing in delight at their treatment.

As a result of the institute’s location at the initial pandemic epicenter, conspiracy theories have been put forth. According to one theory, the virus escaped from the lab. (That’s one smart and determined virus!) Virologist Shi, the lab’s deputy director, refuted that claim stating none of the genome sequences in infected patients matched the institute’s virus samples. A second theory is that China was experimenting with the virus as a biological warfare weapon. If so, they were either heartlessly testing it on their own citizens or careless in not controlling its spread. 

Regardless of whether you hold bats, humans, or both responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak, the fact is a pandemic is ongoing. Pointing a finger of blame doesn’t change the current reality. However, we don’t want the current reality to occur again in the future. Therefore, we need to get a handle on where the virus originated and how it was transmitted. Scientists are working on that as the rest of us are going batty in self-isolation and practicing social distancing. I, for one, am happy to socially distance myself from any and all bats–virus carrying or not.

Just WONDER-ing: Have you ever visited a bat cave? If so, would you do so again after reading this post? Should wet markets selling wildlife be banned either for public health or humanitarian reasons? How would you feel living next to an institute holding a bank of deadly viruses? Is it a good idea to have one located near a large population center?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COVID-19–Wanna Get Away? But Where?

A cloud of fear and anxiety envelops our pandemic panicked world. The news is an endless stream of death counts, PPE shortages, and job losses. A person can only take so much. At some point we’re all going to end up like the lady in the commercial who’s in the bathtub saying, “Calgon, take me away!” Wouldn’t it be nice to go some place untouched by coronavirus? Sorry to burst your bath bubble, but that’s simply a pipe dream. There’s nowhere good to go.

The smart folks at Johns Hopkins University (“JHU”) have helpfully compiled a map detailing the virus’ presence and provided a breakdown of the confirmed cases, deaths, and recoveries by country. (Check it out at https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html.)  Confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide are approaching 1.5 million with 87,000+ deaths. Yet, believe it or not, there are countries in the world which have yet (and I stress “yet”) to record a coronavirus case.

Per JHU, 16 countries are coronavirus free as of April 8th. In alphabetical order, they are Comoros; Kirabati; Lesotho; the Marshall Islands; Micronesia; Nauru; Palau; Samoa; the Solomon Islands; Tajikistan; Tonga; Turkmenistan; Tuvalu; Vanuatu; and Yemen. Detect a pattern in these places untouched, as yet, by the pandemic? Mainly they are small, remote islands which are not tourist hot spots. 

So, assuming international travel was currently a possibility, what virus free country would be your destination of choice to ride out the pandemic? Think any of the possibilities would be THE place to be right now? Let’s check out some of the options and see how viable they are as a place to get away from it all–with “all” mainly meaning the coronavirus.

Honestly, I’ not even heard of some of the countries JHU listed. Take Nauru for example. Confess. You hadn’t heard of it either, right? Well there’s a good reason we haven’t. It is a SMALL island country northeast of Australia with just over 10,000 people. Sure, Nauru may be an exotic location, but the place only has one hospital and a shortage of nurses. Is that really where you want to hide out from the feared coronavirus? If the pandemic did rear its ugly head in Nauru, you would be sunk.

Asia has three countries without confirmed COVID-19 cases–North Korea, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. For political reasons, I’d have to pass hunkering down in any of these countries even to get away from a pandemic. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were both part of the former Soviet Union. Turkmenistan is still described as repressive. If I’m going to be forced to stay home, I’d prefer to do so here in the U.S. where the order was issued by a democratically elected government that recognize I have rights.

Then there’s North Korea. The fact that (so they say) it has no coronavirus cases is the only good thing you can say about that country. North Korea is widely accused of having the worst human rights in the world. A United Nations human rights inquiry in 2014 found concerns about the scale and nature of such violations. North Korea is run by Kim Jung-un, a (possibly crazy) dictator with access to the button to launch nuclear weapons. The military is everywhere with 37% of the country’s population active, reserve, or paramilitary personnel. And the availability of food can be an issue. A famine between 1994-1998 resulted in between 240,000 and 420,000 deaths in North Korea. Not a top getaway choice, huh?

A beach paradise might be a good get away spot. Would Comoros fit that bill? For those of you who are geographically ignorant (like I was), Comoros is an island country in the Indian Ocean with a population approaching one million. While the location sounds intriguing, it becomes less ideal the more you learn. The country has a high level of poverty with a mostly rural agricultural economy. Moreover, the islands comprising it–3 major islands and numerous smaller islands–are volcanic. You might avoid being in a pandemic hot spot in Comoros but be in the path of some hot, hot, hot lava instead. Nope!

Would Kirabati be a more suitable island location.? The island country,  located in the central Pacific Ocean, is made up of 32 atolls and one raised coral island; only 21 of these islands are even inhabited. That sounds pretty exotic! But….it is one of the least developed countries in the world. Fifty-four percent of the population are heavy smokers. In addition, Kiribati suffers from a lack of fresh water. Hmm…die of thirst or from inhaling second hand smoke in an attempt to avoid catching the coronavirus? What appealing choices–NOT! Water being essential to my continued existence, I’d pass on hanging out on Kiribati till the pandemic blows over.

Perhaps a more high profile island location, like Vanuatu, is needed for the great coronavirus escape. If the name sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. Vanuatu was the location for season 9 of the reality TV series “Survivor.” It is also well known to scuba enthusiasts. The country, which is a Y-shaped archipelago of 82 small islands, is considered a premier destination for scuba exploration of coral reefs. Vanuatu additionally boasts access to one of the largest shipwrecks recreational divers may explore–the wreck of the SS President Coolidge which was sunk during World War II.

Sounds good so far. But wait. There are some significant drawbacks to Vanuatu. First, it was just hit by Tropical Cyclone Harold which was packing winds of 250 km/hour and approaching Category 5 status. Yikes!  Second, your social life will be even worse on Vanuatu than if you stayed in the good old USA. The country has banned social gatherings of more than FIVE people for now. As with Comoros, Vanuatu is of volcanic origin. It also has frequent earthquakes. Bottom line? Beautiful scenery doesn’t trump the threat of cyclones, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes.

You know, maybe things aren’t as bad as we think they are being on lock down here in the U.S. after all. Considering alternative locations, we have it pretty good even if we do have to frequently wash our hands, stay six feet away from others, and forgo engaging in non-essential activities. We are a developed country with lots of resources and, even better, it’s home. There’s no place like it–even during a pandemic.

Just WONDER-ing:

If it was possible, would you run away to a different country to escape COVID-19? Will any country be able to avoid having a confirmed coronavirus case? In post-pandemic times, where would you like to go to get away?

 

 

 

 

“I Want A New Drug” — One To Treat Coronavirus

Not that any of them have time to be singing right now, but health care professionals are certain to embrace “I Want A New Drug” as their current anthem. This 1984 hit by Huey Lewis and the News was a love song, but medical workers today are taking the title literally. Everyone is clamoring for a drug–“one that does what it should,” i.e., take on the dread coronavirus. Why is that? Well, duh, none exists at this point. 

Doctors are worried about the coronavirus pandemic because there is no specific medicine available to prevent or even treat coronavirus. What this lack means is that if a patient contracts coronavirus, all a doctor can do is to monitor him and provide supportive treatments. It’s not like having strep throat where the doctor prescribes an antibiotic, and you take a pill that very quickly makes you feel better.  

So, there’s no medicine to prevent someone from getting coronavirus. Why don’t we just have our crack scientists and medical personnel come up with one lickety-split? After all, necessity is the mother of invention. By golly we need that medicine yesterday as thousands around the world are dropping like flies during this pandemic. Nope. Doesn’t work like that.

Development of a vaccine usually takes 10 to 15 years. After that amount of time, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic will hopefully be nothing but a bad memory. Timing is everything as they (whoever “they” are) say.  Developing a coronavirus vaccine that won’t be available for a decade or so is of absolutely no help now. A fast food mentality is incompatible with the vaccine development process. 

OK, then, why don’t we just whip up a new drug to use in treating patients with coronavirus since we don’t have a vaccine to prevent them from getting it?  Nope. That won’t work either. Why? Because developing a new drug treatment also takes time–time that patients in the ICU don’t have. How much time is needed? Typically it is a decade from the discovery of a new drug treatment until it is on the market. 

Because it is impractical to timely develop a new drug, pharmaceutical companies throughout the world are working 24/7 to develop an effective drug treatment with existing medications. Unfortunately, there have been no clear breakthroughs yet. But there are some good possibilities. 

This past weekend the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) gave emergency use authorization to treat coronavirus patients with two anti-malarial drugs–chloroquine and hdroxycholorquine. These medications have produced positive results in small, early tests, but no controlled clinical trials have been completed yet. And, of course, controlled clinical trials take–you guessed it–time.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m on my deathbed with coronavirus, I think I’d take the gamble to try something that has given promise in test tube form even if hasn’t been vetted through painstaking and lengthy clinical trials. The worst that will happen is that it doesn’t work I’d die, which I’m likely to do anyway if I take no medicine.

But how does an anti-malarial medicine used to treat a disease caused by a mosquito bite help a patient with coronavirus? According to the experts (of which I am clearly not one), chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are effective in two ways. First, they block the virus; second, they reduce the inflammation which occurs when the body reacts to the presence of the coronavirus.

Understanding what the virus does is key to combating it medically. You need to know your enemy as they (whoever “they” are) would say during the Cold War. A coronavirus typically attacks one’s respiratory system. So if you are wondering why there’s such a clamor for ventilators for coronavirus patients, now you know. Yesterday, it was toilet paper; today, it is ventilators in huge demand.

Infected patients may develop pneumonia, but the virus isn’t what’s causing the pneumonia–it’s the patient’s strong immune response to the coronavirus. An overprotective immune response can be fatal. You’ve heard of too much of a good thing? Well, that’s what’s happening to some coronavirus patients whose immune systems are compromised by age and/or underlying health conditions. The normal immune response doesn’t cut off when it should. Immune cells flood the infection site causing surrounding tissue to become inflamed. The inflammation causes severe respiratory distress and the subsequent shutdown of multiple organs. 

If inflammation can be reduced, the patient might be kept from being put on a ventilator or could be taken off of one–assuming there was one available to put him on. Therefore, medications with anti-inflammatory benefits are being considered. Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are oral prescriptions drugs which have been used since the 1940’s for the treatment of malaria and some inflammatory conditions. President Trump’s plan to deliver large amounts of these anti-malaria drugs to hospitals was given emergency approval by the FDA while clinical trials are ongoing. Hopefully, the supply of such drugs is larger than the apparently woefully short stockpile of ventilators.

An experimental drug named leronlimab is also being considered for use against the coronavirus. Although typically used to treat breast cancer and HIV, it is deemed a promising treatment for coronavirus. This IND (Investigational New Drug) calms the immune system’s overly aggressive response to the virus which can lead to pneumonia or death. If trials prove  leronlimab is not effective against coronavirus, it is still most certainly effective in twisting your tongue when you try to pronounce the drug’s name–especially if you say the name quickly three times.

It’s going to take time to develop a vaccine to prevent and new medications to treat coronavirus. Nevertheless,it takes no time at all for everyone to simply engage their brains and act with common sense. Stay home if at all possible. If you must go out, practice social distancing. Wash your hands frequently. It doesn’t take a decade long controlled clinical trial to establish that these are prudent ways the average citizen can protect himself against contracting the coronavirus. After all, as they say (whoever “they” are), an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

Just WONDER-ing:

Were you aware that it took so long to develop vaccines and new drugs? What’s less expensive to do–practice social distancing or formulate a new drug? What’s easier for you to do–stay home or develop a coronavirus vaccine? If you were in ICU, would you consider using an experimental drug which showed promise even if it hadn’t passed controlled clinical trials yet?