OT: An article on preparing for the Pandemic
I am encouraged that ARWR and ALNY/VIR are working on SARS2...if they work as expected, siRNAs could make a real difference in treatment/prophylaxis and (maybe) raise the profile of this new class of drugs.
Below is an article that blew me away...I was worried about what was then called the 'Wuhan virus' back in January, and went to a hardware store to pick up N95 masks, later rounding up latex gloves and disinfectant wipes-I gave them to my family members along with some quick training on how to use PPE (my best line is "just channel Howie Mandel")...but I guess I was a laggard compared to this guy in Canada who saw it coming (BTW, I recommend the Defoe book-eerie how many of the things we are doing today were done in the 1600s to deal with the plague):
New Brunswick politician who crushed the COVID-19 curve is a virus whisperer
Dominic Cardy did something he almost never does last Christmas and went to Costa Rica for a holiday, his first vacation, of any kind, in years. Costa Rica had sun, beaches, tropical fruit drinks and, as it turns out, the BBC World News channel reporting on an unidentified pneumonia in China.
The story instantly grabbed Cardy’s attention. The 49-year-old Minister of Education for New Brunswick was, in his words, a “weird kid,” with some weird interests, including plagues. Cardy remembers visiting his grandmother in England and going to a church cemetery to check out the “plague pits,” mass graves used to bury victims of the Great Plague that swept over England in 1665-66.
“My grandmother had a copy of Journal of a Plague Year by Daniel Defoe,” Cardy says. Naturally, he read the book, and others, and when the BBC story about a mysterious illness interrupted his holiday bliss, he started digging for more information, calling his contacts, some in public health, that he met while working in Southeast Asia for a not-for-profit promoting democracy.
Cardy’s friends overseas were worried, which made him even more worried, and doubly so since the stories of the strange new illness were emerging from China, a country with a government that isn’t famous for its transparency.
“History is filled with people who spend their time just before a crisis hits saying, ‘It is overblown, what could possibly go wrong?’ ” Cardy says.
In New Brunswick — with 120 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 118 recoveries, no deaths and no active cases currently in hospital — it has been a story of what could possibly go right, and Cardy deserves a good deal of credit for it. The province was the first to lockdown, and has been one of the first to open up again. Its nursing homes didn’t become COVID-horror shows. Its government hit it out of the park.
When Canada’s chief public health official, Dr. Theresa Tam, was talking about there being no need to “panic,” and raising alarms instead about the internet-wacko fringe targeting Canadians of Chinese descent with racist comments on social media in late January, a little known Progressive Conservative education minister in a small Maritime province was fully panicking. Cardy was preparing to pitch his premier’s top aide on the need to take drastic action to stop a killer virus.
Cardy, indeed, kept watch on the news out of Asia upon his return from Costa Rica. When he was invited to two Super Bowl parties in early February, he went to the one hosted by Louis Leger, chief of staff for his boss, Premier Blaine Higgs. Cardy doesn’t know anything football. But he knew enough to grab some couch-time next to Leger.
Leger asked, what worried him most?
“We are in a minority government with all sorts of political challenges and I think that was what Louis was expecting me to answer, but I said, I am worried about this new virus. And he said, ‘Really?’ ”
Cardy kept on talking, and over the next few weeks, he and Leger would talk some more, until the premier’s staffer asked him to put together a report on the virus and be prepared to present it at a caucus retreat on Feb. 24.
The resulting white paper is a 19-page, 4,412-word, action-oriented masterwork. Cardy wrote it in the living room of his apartment over a seven-hour burst on a Sunday with the help of his girlfriend, Julia Smith, and two fact-checkers, one of whom was Cardy’s younger sister, Vanessa, a doctor.
“The COVID-19 virus will arrive in New Brunswick and may be already present given the unreliability of tests, the weakness of Canada’s public health response to date and the nature of our open society,” Cardy wrote. “This is not a question of if, but when.”
This is not a question of if, but when
The paper touches on super spreaders, transmission rates and asymptomatic carriers. It recommends adopting an “executive cabinet,” to include the leaders of the opposition parties, delaying municipal elections, encouraging private sector workers to work from home, converting school gymnasiums into infection-detection centres and possibly quarantining nursing homes.
Pre-virus budget projections were to be discounted, while the government, above all, was to be transparent and consistent in its messaging to get public buy-in on the restrictive measures to come, and to counteract the noise and virus-related misinformation swirling about on social media.
As an added narrative twist, Cardy, the guy sounding the alarm, was a turncoat of sorts, a former leader of the New Brunswick NDP (true story!) who switched teams and got elected as a Conservative. Now, here he was, hollering from the political mountaintop, albeit behind closed doors, that if the Higgs’ government didn’t take the virus seriously the fallout would be catastrophic.
fter his presentation the premier asked Cardy what he would do. “Shut everything down,” was his reply.
“This was late February, and if we had done that, people would have thought we were crazy,” Cardy says.
On March 1, premier Higgs issued a statement addressing the virus, urging all travellers returning to New Brunswick to monitor themselves for symptoms. Schools closed soon after, businesses and international borders followed, while checkpoints were adopted at provincial borders. All non-residents and non-essential workers could be turned away.
Cardy, the canary in a COVID coal mine, initially came under fire from the New Brunswick Medical Society, for pushing measures some physicians perceived as overly drastic steps.
In hindsight, he wishes the steps had been taken weeks earlier. “There is a sadness that people like me weren’t able to be louder earlier to hold off on some of the deaths and limit the damage to peoples’ lives and the economy we are seeing,” he says.
In late April, just as Toronto was closing one of its largest city parks, New Brunswick was creaking to life again. Premier Higgs triggered phase one of a four-phase recovery plan on April 24, allowing access to golf courses and permitting families to join forces with a second family, creating so-called two-family bubbles.
Phase two kicked in May 8. Elective surgeries are to resume, and outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed — with social distancing. Museums and businesses are opening, beaches and ATV trails, too. Schools will remain closed until September, however, and the education minister fully expects a mix-bagged of a fall to come, blending open classrooms — with online learning at home — depending on where things stand in the fight against a virus that he started.
“It is like a medieval siege,” Cardy says, reaching for a metaphor from an earlier age of plagues and books by Defoe. “We have managed to push the virus back out of the city walls, but it is still there, outside the city walls, trying to get in.
“We are not going to be able to hold it off at all points at all times, so that’s why we have to make sure we are as careful as we can be.”