In The Thick Of It: COVID-19 Days

Ken AshfordEbola/Zika/COVID-19 Viruses, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Everything is cancelled. Schools, courts, public buildings… bars and restaurants are open, but few are going. Broadway shut down. And everybody is social distancing.

I am remote working. First time doing that. Can’t say I enjoy it.

How bad will this be? Well, that depends on two factors which are largely unknown: (1) How contagious this is and (2) the fatality rate. Here’s one scenario:

Here’s another:

As The New York Times reported last week, epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently prepared four scenarios. Their calculations showed a large range of possible fatalities in the United States: between 200,000 and 1.7 million Americans over the course of Covid-19, assuming minimal efforts to contain it.

Few things kill anywhere near so many people in this country. These comparisons assume that the entire coronavirus pandemic runs its course in one year, though it could well take longer.

Dr. Lawler’s estimate, 480,000 deaths, is higher than the number who die in a year from dementia, emphysema, stroke or diabetes. There are only two causes of death that kill more Americans: cancer, which kills just under 600,000 in a year, and heart disease, which kills around 650,000.

A coronavirus death toll near the top of the C.D.C. range (1.7 million) would mean more deaths from the disease than the number of Americans typically killed by cancer and heart disease put together.

Trump had a press conference Friday, backed up by scientists and others. I thought it was better than his Oval Office speech, in that they APPEARED to have their shit together. Trump (finally) declared this a national emergency.

That was until Trump announced a website that does not exist.

Trump said Google is building a site to guide people to coronavirus testing. Here’s what’s really going on.

Two days after President Donald Trump announced that Google was racing to build a site to help Americans find coronavirus testing, people are still confused about what’s actually going on. In the aftermath of the announcement, reports emerged that Google was not fully aware of the plan Trump said the company was participating in. Given the threat the novel coronavirus poses to the US, this is not a good sign.

At a Sunday press conference, Trump said his earlier comments about Google had been “substantiated” and thanked “the head of Google, a great gentleman.” It’s increasingly clear, however, that Google itself is not building the website that Trump described last week. Here’s what’s really going on:

Google does have a plan for responding to the coronavirus, but it’s not what the president said it was. Rather than creating a site that guides people to testing locations, Google is building something much simpler. The company announced on Saturday that it is “partnering with the US Government in developing a nationwide website that includes information about COVID-19 symptoms, risk, and testing information.”

The site Trump promised on Friday sounds much more like what’s being developed by the life sciences research company Verily, which is related to Google but is a distinct company. Verily said on Friday after Trump’s speech that it “is in the early stages of development” of a tool to triage potential coronavirus patients and “is planning to roll testing out in the Bay Area, with the hope of expanding more broadly over time.” Verily used to be a subsidiary of Google, but now both Google and Verily are subsidiaries of their parent company Alphabet. Since Google and Verily are separate companies, it’s hard to know how closely the two are collaborating on the efforts.

So another screw-up.

Look, the testing debacle is complicated, and it’s complicated in the sense that there have been a series of missteps that have led to the testing problems that we have right now: The decision not to use the WHO kit that most of the other countries have. The decision to go our own way, which is not necessarily unreasonable; CDC has a long track record of developing tests are quite, quite good.

But then just having failure after failure in our own approach and what I have really seen as a lack of urgency and lack of priority in making widespread testing available.

That has been just really stunning to me. It leaves us less prepared and worse off on this pandemic than a vast majority of other countries. We are a country, I’ve often said with the best public health agency in the world, and we have great resources, ingenuity, technology. This is not where we should be struggling. And yet kind of political ineptitude has landed us here.

On the plus side, the flow of tests seems to be happening finally. But that means the numbers of infected are rising, because we KNOW about them.

The market? It rebounded on Friday at the press conference. Not as much as it lost that week, but it did go up. The Dow surged 1,985 points, or 9.4%, to close at 23,185.62

However, investors were unassuaged by news that the Federal Reserve is cutting interest rates to near zero.

So, this morning….

Again, for the third time this month, the “circuit breaker” kicked off.

At the moment (11:15 a.m.) the Dow is down 1,631.

[UPDATE – 3:30 pm — it’s down an amazing 2,456 — almost 10.6%] [UPDATE – 4:05 pm — Dow closes 3000 points down (actually 2,999) or 12.93%. Another record drop. Worse drop in three decades.]

This Kevin Drum post is sobering:

I’m not promising to do this every day, but having done it once it’s now fairly easy to update. Note that the y-axis on these charts now goes up to 140x because the base trendline from Italy has continued to grow. That will continue to go up until the number of new cases flattens out.

It’s worth noting that these growth rates are all based on official figures, and obviously they depend on how widespread testing is in various countries. The US numbers, for example, may be artificially low simply because we don’t have test kits available. We won’t know for sure until kits become widely available and we begin testing larger numbers of people.

Also worthy of note is that actions we take now will affect the growth of coronavirus a couple of weeks from now, but our growth rate over the next two weeks or so is probably set in stone no matter what we do. This is partly because of simple inertia in our public habits, and partly because the pool of victims that will be identified in two weeks already exists. They’re asymptomatic right now, but they won’t be for long. We should be preparing for a 10x increase in coronavirus cases over the next two weeks.

The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here.

We are right there with Italy.

By the way, they banned flights from China before we did. Just saying.

Here’s how the number of confirmed cases in the US compare to select other countries, based on days since each country reached 100 confirmed cases, according to data we analyzed from the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus dashboard. (This is an adaptation of a widely shared chart made by the Financial Times’s John Burn-Murdoch.)

As of March 15, the Johns Hopkins research data shows about 3,500 confirmed cases in the US. The actual number of cases is likely much higher. As you can see, the confirmed cases in the US are already more in line with Iran and Italy than with places like Hong Kong and Singapore, where the governments were able to mobilize more quickly. Japan, like the US, has been criticized over not having enough tests to properly judge the true number of cases.

And the slow start of testing in the US is only going to exacerbate the situation.

Another development? The partisan divide. Fox News (who makes sure to call it the WOHAN virus or the CHINESE virus, because xenophobia) frequently has guests on who downplay the seriousness. And then you have the right wing blogosphere:

As a result, conservatives are more likely to NOT social distance or take serious action.

Paging Darwin?

Contrast to how Fox handled Ebola in 2014:

So I guess I should write — for future generations — what this is like. Well, it’s weird. Introverts like me are adapting fine. Of course, a lot depends on how long we will all be cooped up like this. I was doing shows, expecting to do a lot of St. Patty’s Day gigs this month with my Irish band, etc. That’s all been cancelled.

On the other hand, there is an unusual camaraderie. Everyone is in the same boat, but apart, We check in on each other. We use social media to have fun, and inform each other. It’s a lot like the post-9/11 weeks, but with better social media. Nobody is too far apart.

But the economy. I am still working. Service employees and gig employees are really feeling. This is the start of a very long recession.

UPDATE: Hmmmm… interesting development coming from… ROMNEY?!?

UPDATE: a call with the governors didn’t go well.

The complete abandonment of any leadership whatsoever. That’s what we are witnessing in Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic that is now killing Americans at an exponentially increasing rate.

“Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves,” Donald Trump told state governors on an emergency pandemic conference call.

Yes. He said that.

President Trump told a group of governors on Monday morning that they should not wait for the federal government to fill the growing demand for respirators needed to treat people with coronavirus.

“Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves,” Mr. Trump told the governors during the conference call, a recording of which was shared with The New York Times. “We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself.”

The suggestion surprised some of the governors, who have been scrambling to contain the outbreak and are increasingly looking to the federal government for help with equipment, personnel and financial aid. Last Wednesday, Mr. Trump directed his labor secretary to increase the availability of respirators, and he has generally played down fears of shortages.

Governors Jay Inslee of Washington, whose state is at the epicenter of the domestic outbreak, and Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico both reacted angrily to the administration’s slow response to the crisis.

“If one state doesn’t get the resources and materials they need, the entire nation continues to be at risk,” said Ms. Lujan Grisham, a Democrat.

Mr. Trump used much of the call to repeat the same upbeat theme he has offered in public, assuring the governors: “We’re going to get it remedied and hopefully very quickly.”

Alluding to the Federal Reserve’s emergency intervention, Mr. Trump also told the governors that the central bank’s purchase of $500 billion of Treasury bonds and $200 billion of mortgage-backed securities would “probably go up substantially from that level.”

Without directly trying to fault President Barack Obama as he has recently, Mr. Trump wrongfully said, “we broke down a system that was broken, very badly broken” and vowed to create one “that I think is going to be the talk of the world.”

Trump and team give a press conference just before the market close. FINALLY, he has taken it seriously:

He’s actually tweeting helpful information, like this: