Prepare For More Coronavirus Cases, Bush School Experts Say, But Don’t Panic

Texas A&M pandemic experts discussed the virus’ latest developments and answered questions from the public during a talk at Rudder Forum.
By Caitlin Clark, Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications March 3, 2020

While the novel coronavirus has infected more than 90,000 people worldwide, the risk of contracting the virus in the United States currently remains low. However, experts from Texas A&M University said Monday that could change rapidly.

Expect to see more cases in both the local community and across the United States, said Dr. Gerald Parker, director of the Pandemic and Biosecurity Policy Program.

“I hope it doesn’t happen, but we should be ready for it if it does,” he said.

Parker was among the pandemic experts from the Bush School of Government and Public Service who discussed the coronavirus epidemic at an event. The situation is constantly evolving, they said, and there are still details that even the experts don’t have yet – so be alert, but not anxious.

As of Monday evening, 96 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported in the U.S., and six people had died, said Christine Crudo Blackburn, deputy director of the Pandemic and Biosecurity Policy Program. She said the average mortality rate is 2.3 percent, but that number jumps to 14.8 percent for people over 80. The seasonal flu, by comparison, has a 0.1 percent fatality rate.

In response to a question about how the United States has responded to coronavirus, Andrew Natsios, director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs, said the federal government has “done some very important things nobody knows about.”

President Donald Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence to lead the coronavirus response, a move that Natsios said aligns with the Scowcroft Institute’s recommendation that the vice president always be chosen to head the White House task force of any pandemic.

“You do not want a scientist running it,” Natsios said. “You want a person in senior office who has authority to order cabinet secretaries to do things that their agencies may not want to do.”

In China, meanwhile, Natsios said he doesn’t trust the country’s data for infection or mortality rates, and the epidemic is destabilizing the government.

Several models have shown that the actual infection rate could be up to 40 times higher than what has been reported, he said.

“The Chinese leadership I think are under severe stress now, and they’re very nervous that this is going to cause an uprising, and you should watch that,” Natsios said.

And in Iran, which has the highest death toll outside China, the reportedly high mortality rate shows that the country either has a new variety of the virus, authorities and hospitals aren’t reporting all cases or the government is suppressing information, Natsios said.

“What is very clear is that Iran is worried,” he said. “They’re already under severe stress internally, but this would be an event that could have severe political implications internally. So I suspect that either lower-level functionaries or medical staff or senior leadership are suppressing information about how bad things are.”

Moving forward, Parker said there will be a transition from containment to mitigation strategies. Hospitals and other healthcare providers will need to prepare for a surge of severely ill patients. He said to also expect supply chain disruptions and economic impacts.

Major vaccine research and development efforts will result from COVID-19, Parker said, especially in anti-virals.

But one major issue he’s observed is an “infodemic” — or a pandemic of misinformation. He urges the public to seek information from credible, authoritative sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and state and local health departments.

Glen Laine, former vice president for research at Texas A&M, said preventative measures like staying home when sick and good hand hygiene will be the “ultimate tool that prevents things from getting out of hand.”

When it comes to face masks, Laine said they shouldn’t be worn by people who don’t need them – purchasing them for personal use reduces an important resource for health care professionals treating patients with coronavirus. The U.S. surgeon general has also urged the public to stop buying face masks.

“Let the people who are actually dealing with the disease have the mask so people get good care,” Laine said.

Media contact: Caitlin Clark, 979-459-8412,

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