Did you notice something lurking in the wings as Democrats rooted around for votes in South Carolina? Did you see it just off stage during the president's press briefings this past week?

Is there a late entry into this year's presidential race?

We don’t know whether coronavirus, or COVID-19 will ascend into the presidential foray or fizzle. However, this bug won't have to purchase one ad or participate in one debate to grab headlines and airtime.

Americans may not escape widespread transmission seen elsewhere. As of Sunday, cases of unknown origin had occurred in California, Oregon and Washington. While overall U.S. diagnoses are low, one only needs to look at Italy to realize how quickly things could change. From Saturday to Monday morning, cases rose from 1,128 to nearly 1,700 and deaths increased from 28 to 34.

I'm not an alarmist. The stock market has done that. The Dow has dropped like a broken elevator – 4,000 points – between its Feb. 15 high and Friday’s close, wiping out all of 2019's increases. While this is nowhere near the 2007-08 crash, and some would argue we were due for a correction, no one likes looking at a 401k that shows losses.

The economy is a significant part of the president's re-election strategy.

Older Americans, required to take distributions from IRAs, vote in large numbers. Their jangled nerves won't be steadied if drugs they take are in short supply. The government is monitoring that because some ingredients are imported from China.

If economies in the 65 countries hit by the virus are crippled, America's economy will suffer.

If high rates of disease persist, factories and workplaces will close, and we will take gut punches to industries beyond tourism and airlines. From China alone, we import billions in computers, electronics, machinery, fabricated metal, chemicals, clothing and furniture.

The 2002-03 SARS virus affected fewer countries and individuals than COVID-19 has. A number of economists said SARS cost the world economy $40 billion. CNBC reported the Port of Los Angeles is experiencing a slowdown in shipping already.

If anyone recognizes the downside of a global economic slowdown caused by coronavirus disease, it's President Trump. Notice he's not nicknamed it “little” bug or “little” problem, which is probably another reason the stock market is so roiled.

Uncertainty reigns after reports suggest a lack of awareness and/or preparedness by the administration and heightens concern about spread. Staff at a California hospital did not know for days that a patient was infected because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initially declined to test for coronavirus disease. A whistleblower said Americans who assisted other Americans leaving the epicenter in Wuhan, China wore little or no protective gear and then took commercial flights home.

Plus, there's no vaccine to fight it. It appears to spread as easily as the flu, but with a higher mortality rate, and people have fallen ill even if they haven't traveled abroad or had close contact with someone who has. Sunday brought the second U.S. death from the disease, in Washington state.

Last week, Vice President Mike Pence was put in charge of the government's response to coronavirus disease. All communications must go through his office. We're left wondering if the other shoe will drop and whether the administration is trying to stifle the voices of government medical professionals best able to assess and explain what is going on.

For all his loyalty, Pence is holding the “not-my-fault, your-fault” hot potato. In his place, would we waken every morning to an upset stomach? Stifling information or pontificating presidential candidates won’t whisk the problem away or solve it. I hope Pence is able to put people before politics.

Contact freelance writer Michele Murphy at avonlakemurphy@gmail.com.

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