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Why has the U.S. become a new epicenter of COVID-19? Expert Analysis with Sangwoo Tak, Fmr. CDC Officer
Updated: 2020-04-01 17:27:03 KST
U.S. President Donald Trump and his top healthcare advisers have urged Americans to follow strict social distancing measures ahead of a "tough two weeks" that could lead to at least 100-thousand deaths to 200-thousand from the coronavirus in the United States.

"So you're talking about 2.2 million deaths, 2.2 million people from this. And so if we could hold that down, as we're saying, to 100,000, it's a horrible number, maybe even less, but to 100,000. So we have between 100 and 200,000. We altogether have done a very good job."

Dr. Anthony Fauci when asked whether Americans should be prepared for the likelihood that there will be 100-thousand to 200-thousand Americans that die from this virus.

"The answer is yes, we need as sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it. I hope not. And I think the more we push on the mitigation, the less likelihood it would be that number. But as being realistic, we need to prepare ourselves that that is a possibility, that that's what we will see."

Hopes for a swift recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is quickly dimming for the United States and even as most of the world struggles to contain the virus, many are left in awe watching, in one short week, the U.S. going from being the world's superpower, to asking nurses to sew their own protective gowns and masks.
Is it because this is the biggest pandemic in decades or was the U.S. simply not prepared? What can be done to save many more lives from here on out?
Joining us live in the studio to help us through is Dr. Sangwoo Tak, Research Associate Professor of the Institute of Health and Environment at Seoul National University. He was formerly with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer.
Dr. Tak, thanks for joining us.

Virus do not discriminate. They know not of age, gender, nationality or wealth. In the early phases of the war against this pandemic, all countries affected were hit hard. Every country has been stretched. Italy, Iran, France, Spain, the UK have all been hit hard and are struggling to rise to the challenge of this pandemic.
But, why the sudden surge in America? To what can we attribute to the skyrocketing cases and fatalities?

New York City is the current epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in the United States.
What makes New York City unique in the country's coronavirus fight? or is it just one of the first?


Are there any specific characteristics of the disease Sars Cov2 or COVID19 that's made it more difficult for the U.S. to draw up a good response compared to South Korea, Germany or Singapore?

For some doctors in New York City and New Jersey, treating patients with COVID-19 feels like being in a "war zone."
Healthcare professionals in the front lines say they don't have enough personal protective equipment and they've had to reuse their one-time use face masks.

"Before I start my shift, I have to pray and meditate for at least 5 minutes to get my mind in the setting of going into this war that we're battling, which is the novel strain of the coronavirus. And so, like I said, we're trying to keep our head above water without drowning. We are scared. We're trying to fight for everyone else's life, but we're also fighting for our lives as well because we're also at the highest risk of exposure. It's tough. And many shifts that I've left from, after finishing my shift, I've cried.()I try to preserve my mask for the entire shift because there's only so many that are given to the staff. And so we're doing our best to take care of it, put a little hand sanitizer on it, wipe it down. But it's tough because the masks are meant to be used only for single use."


"There are moments where you feel this tidal wave coming and part of it is the amount of work you're doing. "My natural response when things like this occurs is to throw myself into work, to do more, to stay busier, to help more, and I will think about this later. This is something that I will address once it passes and that's when I will have time to sit and think. But for now, I need to do and to act and to help."

"I think it's a lot of very sick people all the time. I think there's a lot of emotional burden, that the families can't be there with them, that people are dying relatively rapidly()I think we're all operating at this very high stress level, high cortisol level, and, you know, every now and then, you come down from that and it hits you. There's no visitors. There's an eerie quietness to the halls and the public spaces. But there's a lot of sick people and there's a lot of people working really hard and I think it's stressful for a lot of people. Healthcare workers are not an unlimited resource. We get sick, too. And at a certain point, we're gonna have a problem if the doctors aren't well and can't take care of people."

"The last time I was at work a few days ago, they actually came around with brand new N95s for everybody. Previous to that, we had been using them for about four or five days, keeping them in a brown paper bag, sterilized and put in a brown paper bag, and then using it the next day. We actually had this room that's set up with a huge UV light where we can sterilize everything at the end of our shift and then it can be reused."

It's just been surreal to see a U.S. Navy Hospital Ship arriving in New York City, the Central Park turning into a makeshift hospital. NYU and Columbia are graduating their medical students early to make up for their shortage in medical professionals. Could America have been better prepared for this pandemic?

You've worked for the U.S. CDC, yourself. What is the epidemic surveillance system like in the United States?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's top infectious disease expert has said the virus could kill 240-thousand Americans and that's if they've done a good job mitigating it.
Do you agree with the forecast?

What about South Korea? It definitely does seem that we have passed the apex, but we continue to find cluster infections here and there. What is your assessment of the coronavirus outbreak situation here in this country?

Dr. Sangwoo Tak, formerly with the U.S. CDC and currently Research Associate Professor of Institute of Health and Environment at Seoul National University, many thanks for your valuable insights this evening. We appreciate it.

Reporter : jenmoon@arirang.co.kr