Covid-19 Diary : Tuesday 17 March 2020

The phrase du jour seems to be “out of an abundance of caution”.  Why not just say “out of common sense”?  Or “due to valid concerns”.  To say you’re doing something out of an abundance of caution implies that common sense might suggest it to be not necessary.

Whenever you choose to do something, whether it be Covid-19 related or anything else, why not boldly and bravely own your decision and say “I’m doing this because I believe it to be the right thing to do” rather than to weakly say “well, actually, yes, it is an overreaction, but I’m going to do it anyway”.

In the case of Covid-19, it seems a lot of people can’t quite bring themselves to acknowledge the apparent reality of what is happening, so rather than saying “We’re doing this because Covid-19 is a terrifying threat that may end life as we know it” they instead weakly imply they’re over-reacting to something not really very meaningful.

We prefer the comment made by Dr Fauci when he said over the weekend “If it feels like you are overreacting, you are probably doing the right thing”.

So, please do overreact, and please don’t be embarrassed at doing so.

Our highlight of the day today was to venture off our property for the first time since Thursday last week.  The roads around Redmond, WA, were again almost empty, more reminiscent of the traffic you’d see when the Superbowl was playing than a normal Tuesday late morning.

The destination was Costco, which was appreciably empty.  I don’t have a lot of experience going to Costco on Tuesday mornings, but it surely was the emptiest I’ve ever seen it.  I’d been dreading crowds of people crushing into the store, as had been reported in some New York stores, and so this was a happy surprise.

The main reason for going to Costco was a success.  A good friend noted that while he was keeping Covid-19 at bay with copious squirts of alcohol based hand sanitizer, he had realized this was only part of the hygiene problem and solution.  He was concerned that by breathing or touching or eating or whatever, he’d still ingest some of the virus even if his hands were totally clean, and so has been using a throat sanitizer as well.  He recommends liberal application before, during, and after every meal, and it has worked well for him so far, with the only side effect being some vocal slurring and a slight loss of balance.

His preferred brand of throat sanitizer?  Johnny Walker Black Label.  🙂

I continue to struggle to try and put this entire situation into context.  Is it really a slow-motion collapse of modern society with no safety net or bottom?  Or is the entire thing an extraordinary mass-panic and baseless overreaction.  To put things in perspective, I keep trying to balance the statistics of this outbreak with those of the regular ‘flu.  By general estimates, it seems that the normal ‘flu may have killed 25,000 people in the US alone this winter.  Total worldwide deaths from Covid-19 are not quite 8,000, with a mere 99 in the US.

Here’s a not very well written piece that probably tries too hard to make too many points, but its underlying point is a comparison between Covid-19 and the H1N1 ‘flu pandemic in 2009.  You might not even remember that pandemic, but it resulted in 12,469 deaths in the US alone, with 60.8 million people catching the virus.

The question the reader poses, along with some snark about how the press are treating this compared to the previous viral attack, is why are we acting like Covid-19 is going to end the world as we know it, when a major pandemic, barely ten years ago, is not even remembered by most people today.  Perhaps part of the answer to that question is that if we allowed Covid-19 to run its course without major interventions, the most conservative projections seem to suggest more than one million people dying.  It surely isn’t sensible to compare the total count of deaths at the end of a viral outbreak, whether it be regular ‘flu with about 25,000, or the H1N1 outbreak with half that number, with the current number of deaths in what seems to be the early stages of this current Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.

The article writer is a Denver based physician, an MD.  Surely he understands the inappropriate nature of this comparison.  Is his article actually fair and soundly based?

For sure, and without caring at all which President may be in power and when, are we over-reacting and needlessly panicking?  I really don’t know, but desperately hope we are.  However, I find myself not at all reassured by this article.

Statistics

YesterdayToday
Total Cases181,633197,766
Total Deaths/Percent of all Resolved Cases7,128/8.3%7,954/8.9%
Active Cases (ie not yet died or cured)95,854108,121
US Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million4,349/77/13.16,211/102/18.8
UK Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million1,543/55/22.71,950/71/28.7
Canada Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million406/4/10.8479/5/12.7
Worst affected country/case rate per millionItaly/463Italy/521
Second worst country affectedSwitzerland/272Switzerland/317
Third worstNorway/246Norway/271
FourthSpain/207Spain/253
FifthIran/179Iran/193

Encouraging news is that South Korea seems to be getting its numbers under control.  It had 84 new cases and 6 new deaths yesterday, which sees it reporting fewer than 100 new cases for the 3rd day in a row. Peak was reached on Feb. 29, with 909 new cases.

China also continues to show very little new case activity – 21 new cases yesterday.  Iran, with 1,178 new cases, still has a lot of new case activity, but is no longer showing an increasing daily rate of new cases.

Here’s an interesting map, although already significantly out of date (ie one day old!), showing cases by state in the US.

Who Should Pay?

The airlines are the “big beast in the room” and are surely hoping they’re “too big to fail” and are clearly mobilizing political support for a bailout.  Just because no specific sums have been announced yet doesn’t mean that they’re not anticipating many billions of dollars.

There is also growing support for all adults, and possibly children too, to receive a flat monthly payment as compensation.  That has the benefit of being administratively simple, even though the amount of impact and financial hardship massively varies, case by case.

Closings

The White House is now recommending people avoid groups of ten or more people, a “guideline” to apply for the next 15 days.  This is the lowest number we’ve yet seen, apart from, of course, the zero number that is at the heart of “social distancing”.  It also recommended closing bars, restaurants, food courts, gyms and other indoor and outdoor venues where groups of people congregate during this 15 day period.

President Trump said he wasn’t considering a nationwide “lockdown” (an undefined concept) at this stage.  I’m really not sure if that is a good or bad thing, and of course, the modifier “at this stage” makes the statement of no real meaning.

Europe has now closed its borders to pretty much all visitors for the next 30 days.  That may be extended if it deems it appropriate.

All Regal theaters are now closed until further notice.  AMC has also closed their theaters for at least the next 6 – 12 weeks.

How long will these closings continue?  How long do they need to continue?  Dr Fauci says eight weeks or more.  It is human nature to look at that phrase and to focus on the “8 weeks” part of it – particularly in countries such as the US where the general approach to service promises is to under-promise and over-deliver.

But we find ourselves increasingly looking at the “or more” part.  Here’s a report of a persuasive scholarly analysis that says we might need them to extend 18 months – with the end of the restrictions only becoming possible once a vaccine has been developed and widely distributed, a situation which is generally thought might take that long to achieve.

That’s terrifying, but can I offer one more thought I can’t completely dismiss.  What say we can’t develop a vaccine?  We’ve never managed a vaccine for the common cold, which is also a coronavirus.  For that matter, our ‘flu vaccines vary in efficacy, and need to be changed at least every year.

Shortages

I ordered an item on Amazon yesterday (Monday) afternoon.  It was a “fulfilled by Amazon” item with Prime free fast delivery.  But it said it would take until Friday to get to me, and I noticed another Prime item promising delivery no sooner than Sunday.  Both items were in stock, it is just that fulfillment is getting stressed and stretched.

I also noticed that I received an Amazon shipment a couple of days ago that was delivered by USPS.  In this area Costco went through a period of using USPS a lot, but seemed to have almost completely stopped, and this was a large bulky item, which typically it would not have routed through USPS.  Perhaps it is using more USPS at present to help cope with a rush of orders?

I mentioned above today’s visit to a comparatively empty Costco.  Alas, when I say “empty”, I don’t just mean not many people.  I also mean not much food.  To my astonishment, they didn’t even have their lovely 15lb bags of large sized Russet potatoes.  One of Washington’s counties boasts that it produces more potatoes a year than anywhere else in the country, and I think adjacent Idaho claims to be the state that produces the most potatoes.  So we’re in the heart of potato land, with enormous cool-stores not 200 miles from here, close to the I-90 freeway, but without potatoes.  A surprising situation.

I didn’t notice any pasta either, and the meat cases were thinly stocked, and no ground beef.  I love the Costco ground beef – you know it has been ground within an hour or so of when you buy it, it has a low fat content (12%) and in our area, has been $4/lb for a long time.  It seems other people share our appreciation.  I settled for yet more summer sausage (a great thing to consider – low cost per pound, and shelf-stable for many months, so no need to keep your bulk supply in the fridge or freezer), and another bag of rice.  Costco is limiting rice to one bag per person, but seemed to have plenty of 25lb and 50lb bags.  But be careful with rice – it is cheap, it keeps well, but it is nutritionally fairly light.  Don’t plan on surviving on a diet of rice alone for an extended time.

There was no toilet paper, and I also noticed some of the soup lines were unavailable.  Happily they have been restocked with baked beans though.

One other thing that was on my shopping list but missing was light bulbs.  Either they’ve moved them somewhere else in the store, or they’re out of light bulbs.  Completely.  They’ve moved quite a few things to try and fill the gaps with sold-out products, but I did look fairly thoroughly, and couldn’t find them.

I’m not desperate for light bulbs yet, but if anyone would like to swap, say, two rolls of toilet paper for one light bulb, let me know.  🙂

Virus?  What Virus?

Probably few people – particularly former college students – expect students to behave sensibly during spring break.  So it is perhaps not entirely astonishing to read about groups of students pursuing their hedonistic pleasures with as much enthusiasm and excess this year as before.

What we find more dismaying is the way the bars and other venues remained open and are cynically maintaining the illusion that nothing has changed and all is normal.  They truly should know better.

Bar owners have a duty of care – they’re not allowed to let a person get too drunk, or to let a person who is over the driving limit obviously leave the bar with the intention of then driving home.  If they fail to observe that duty of care, they risk losing their license and civil suits.  Let’s hope that someone is able to trace an infection back to someone’s activities in a spring break bar, and sues the bar owner.  And if a person dies, how about a manslaughter charge?

As for this idiot, what can we possibly say, other than perhaps to wonder how quickly her Darwin Award will be earned.

Medical

Something to always keep in mind is that it isn’t just the obvious things that will be impacted by this viral outbreak.  Even auto plants are closing.

Money

The Dow Jones Index dropped 13% on Monday, and recovered 5.2% on Tuesday.

Rumors

I’ve a really big rumor to share today.  This has come from two different sources in the military (I am told), neither of whom know the other, with both the two sources being in different postings in different parts of the country.

Both sources are reporting that preparations are under way to have them deployed to patrol/enforce state borders in the event that states are isolated from each other.

Impossible, you might say?  “Posse Comitatus Act” you might offer up as a reason why this is impossible?  I disagree.

Using Wikipedia for guidance, it seems there’s a huge loophole in the Posse Comitatus Act provision, variously expressed as

except in such cases and under such circumstances as such employment of said force may be expressly authorized by the Constitution or by act of Congress

or, more simply

except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress

There was even a period in 2006-07 where blanket waivers and limits to the Posse Comitatus provisions were enacted into law, before being repealed again in 2008.

The Posse Comitatus Act is no more than a simple law which any other simple law can modify or repeal, and with the current climate whereby both Republicans and Democrats now seem to be in a match to outdo each other in terms of responding to the coronavirus threat, who would want to go on record voting against bringing the Army in to “help”.

We’re not sure how we feel about a potential blockade of any states, particularly because if any states are to be blockaded, Washington is likely to be near the top of that list (has the second highest number of infections currently).

We’ll talk more tomorrow about any lessons that maybe can or can not be learned from how effectively other countries have been fighting the virus in their countries.

Until then, please stay well.

Please click here for a listing of all our Covid-19 articles.

4 thoughts on “Covid-19 Diary : Tuesday 17 March 2020”

  1. “overreacting”, “abundance of caution”, etc.

    I don’t recall the source of this but most humans typical think linearly and not exponential. (Which is why most people don’t get why a 5 earthquake rattles the dishes and a 7 caused bridges to collapse).

    Here’s a simple illustration. Suppose you have a 3 acre lake and 1 x 3 inch evasion lily pad gets in. It reproduces daily (so 2X per day). The lake will be full of these lily pads in 48 days (and say kill all the fish).

    • How many days until the lake is half full of Lily Pads? People will guess anything like 24 to maybe 40; but the right answer, counter-intuitively, is 47 (since it doubles every day)

    To further explain the exponential growth and how it is all compressed into the last few days :

    • At 40 days, the lake is only ~1/256th or 0.4% Lily pads barely visible. Although 40 days into the 48 day total timeline, there’s no clearly visible sign of an actual crisis.

    Then the reality of doubling hits:

    o 41: 1/128th of the lake is covered
    o 42: 1/64th – probably now starting to be apparent
    o 43: 1/32nd – obvious to all
    o 44: 1/16th – Clearly a growing problem
    o 45: 1/8th – Oh my gosh!
    o 46: 1/4th – Where did that all come from????

    The reality in the example is you had 40 days with nothing to see here and then too much to handle. The exact rates may vary for the virus but its why people are being asked to react “excessively” to their current perception.

  2. Margaret A Mackenzie-Hooson

    Thank you indeed for this clear and helpful explanation, and for such a good example of exponential growth.

  3. David, The question I have that I have not heard much about: How will the country economically avoid failure? The amount of money spent to get through the virus issues is vast and will likely result in monumental “borrowing”. But then then following there will be a drastic draw down in tax revenues as citizens will have much reduced income and business will likely have hardly any profit. So the debt grows to “put out the fire’ and then grows even more as there is no income to replenish the coffers. What are the projections for 2021?

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David.