Covid-19 Diary : Friday 24 April, 2020

 

I’m continuing to read about other countries starting to relax their Covid-19 restrictions, and understand the reasons why it is appropriate for some to now consider doing so.  One of the triggers seems to be when the daily new case rate drops below one new case per million inhabitants.

In the case of the US, that would mean fewer than 330 new cases every day.  Currently we’re closer to 33,000 – 100 times above that trigger point, which suggests the various state plans to open things up again are way too premature.

Okay, I get it, maybe some states are experiencing better rates and could consider opening up, but there’s a problem with that.  The countries that are now in the best position to relax their controls are countries that are still very strictly “fencing themselves off” from the rest of the world – countries like Australia and New Zealand.  They do not want potentially infected people arriving into their “safe zones” and restarting new outbreaks.

But how can one state within the US block itself off from adjoining states?  For all intents and purposes, that is almost impossible.  So we see major problems with an uneven approach with some states becoming less restrictive than others.  We need to base our actions on the worst state in the union – either that or start erecting fences around state borders.

How close are we to being able to pronounce all states as sufficiently clear for relaxed restrictions?  According to the rt.live site, we actually slipped backwards in the last 24 hours.  As you can see from this screen clip, most of the states in the US currently have accelerating rates of new case counts.

A mere ten states are showing reductions, and most of those are so close to not reducing as to be significantly uncertain.  We want to see clear, consistent, and continuing reductions, combined with low new case counts, before it becomes appropriate to start to open up the country.

Here’s an interesting roundup, state by state, of what is currently planned in terms of relaxations of controls.

Current Numbers

Here are the rankings for the eight states of any size with the highest infection rates.  There were no changes in ranking today.

  • San Marino/513 cases/the equivalent of 15,119 cases per million people
  • Vatican City/9 cases/11,236 cases per million (unchanged)
  • Andorra/731/9,461
  • Luxembourg/3,695/5,903
  • Iceland/1,789/5,243 (unchanged)
  • Spain/219,764/4,700
  • Gibraltar/133/3,948 (unchanged)
  • Faroe Islands/187/3,827 (unchanged)

Here are the top six major countries, showing death rates per million of population in the country  :

  • Belgium/6,679 deaths/576 deaths per million
  • Spain/22,524 deaths/482 deaths per million
  • Italy/25,969 deaths/430
  • France/22,245/341
  • United Kingdom/19,506/287
  • Netherlands/4,289/250

To put those numbers into context, the death rates per million in the US/Canada are 158/61.  The world average (not a very reliable number) is 25.3.

For major countries and/or outbreaks, and in general :

Same Day
Last Week
YesterdayToday
Total Cases2,250,7572,718,1392,829,883
Total Deaths154,262190,636197,243
Active Cases (ie not yet died or cured)1,525,3501,782,0041,834,035
US Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million710,021/37,158/2,145880,204/49,845/2,659925,038/52,185/2,795
UK Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million108,692/14,576/1,601138,078/18,738/2,034143,464/19,506/2,113
Canada Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million31,927/1,310/84642,110/2,147/1,11643,888/2,302/1,163
Worst affected major country/case rateSpain/4,082Spain/4,556Spain/4,700
Second worst country affectedSwitzerland/3,129Belgium/3,693Belgium/3,822
Third worstBelgium/3,118Ireland/3,566Ireland/3,683
FourthItaly/2,852Switzerland/3,293Switzerland/3,313
FifthIreland/2,831Italy/3,142Italy/3,192

Worthy of note is the US now having suffered over 50,000 deaths.

Although the US has only 4.2% of the world’s population, it has had 26.4% of all deaths.  As I said in my weekly newsletter this morning, there’s something very wrong when the US is doing so poorly in its virus response and national death rate.

I Am Not a Doctor, But….

Here’s an interesting article – interesting because it shows how the virus can be tracked from person to person to person, and also interesting because it shows how little we actually know about how and where people are contracting the virus, even back in the very early days when we had plenty of resource to deploy to understand each individual new case.

The article also shows the problem of “super-spreading”, and about the only thing I’d express surprise about is how is it that the ability of the virus to travel so quickly across the country “stunned the scientists”.  There’s nothing new or surprising about airplanes, and every simulation I’ve ever seen about epidemic spreads has been built on the assumption that the virus will circle the world in only slightly more time than planes can fly it.

One other point that always amuses me.  The coy way that articles like this refer to the Seattle area man as “working for a company east of Seattle”.  Why not just say “Boeing”, because that is indeed where he worked.  Don’t tell me the company name is being withheld for privacy reasons, because there are (or, perhaps better to say, were) over 70,000 people working for Boeing in this area.

The article also serves as a good segue this second article, which should be considered essential reading.

As I’ve several times said myself, we need to work smarter, not harder, and to selectively address and restrict higher risk activities while allowing lower risk activities.  The article clearly explains what types of activities are high risk and why that is so, and points out the vital and very encouraging piece of information that most of the high risk activities are also non-impactful on business and employment.

Why are we reading about this in a not-well-known blog, rather than hearing our public health officials proudly telling us about it at the daily White House virus briefings?  There are some unknown number of hundreds, possibly even thousands, of officials at state and federal level – all highly paid – with specific fulltime assignments to plan and prepare for these types of infections, and then to work on controlling and resolving them when they occur.  None of this should be a surprise to them (any more than it should be a surprise that the virus can spread rapidly); and it is simple and basic to distinguish between high and low risk activities, and absolutely obvious that we should focus on high risk activities.

Instead, as the article points out, not only did we start off wrong with unthinking blanket restrictions on everything (albeit with bizarre exceptions carved out, differing state by state), but the early relaxing of restrictions looks like they will be relaxing restrictions on the high risk/low economic benefit activities, while continuing to inflict major harm on us by still restricting low risk/high economic benefit activities.

“Incompetence” is too kind a word to describe this.  And, yes, several readers wrote in to point out that the ultimate head of the public health services is the President.  But is it really fair to expect any President, surrounded by advisor/specialists with years of knowledge and multiple doctorates to second-guess the advice they are giving him?  What is the point of having advisors if you ignore them?

As I’m now repeatedly saying, our problem is no longer the virus.  It is the incompetent idiots who are destroying our country and our lives by bungling the response to the virus.

Here’s a great idea – allowing volunteers to trial vaccines and then deliberately try to get infected, and how ridiculous that it should be labeled as controversial.  There is a clear and obvious benefit, and an even clearer and more obvious desperate need to accelerate vaccine research, and, best of all, apparently plenty of brave people volunteering to do this.  What part of this is controversial?  Why aren’t we already doing it?

The only possible answer to this is, again, our abundance of blithering idiocy, combined with an overlay of crippling political correctness alas.

Here’s an interesting article by Bill Gates about the virus and what we should be doing.

Timings And Numbers

It turns out it hasn’t only been the US that massively overestimated its need for ventilators.  The same appears to be true in the UK too.  That’s not altogether surprising because, to start with, both governments were looking at the same terrifying but flawed model that was projecting, for the US, 2.2 million deaths.

In this article, there’s a somewhat vague statement suggesting that instead of there being a desperate ventilator shortage in the UK with a requirement for tens of thousands more, in reality, at the peak, only a quarter of existing ventilators were used.  Sounds very familiar, doesn’t it.

Closings and Openings

Two closings and an opening, today.

The Calgary Stampede (3 July) has decided it will not run this year, being the first time ever it has not been held in over 100 years.  Wars and weather have not held it back, but the virus is now a challenge too far.

In Russia, citizens have been told not to travel outside the country at all for the remainder of this year.  That’s a very extended negative forecast, we hope it doesn’t prove to be accurate.

Meanwhile, the two island nations of New Zealand and Australia have apparently decided they’ve almost completed their respective struggles against the virus.  Both are really only in the last week starting to show very low new daily case counts, and if I were their leaders, I might argue for another week just to be sure before relaxing controls, especially because of the large number of unreported cases that likely are hidden behind the official low case counts.

I also think some reports of their success are a bit too glowing, perhaps because the world needs inspiring and credible success stories in “countries like us” where the nations haven’t gone out of their way with too severe shutdowns and policing.

As a New Zealander myself, I find myself looking at my birth country’s relatively effortless triumph against the virus (death rate of 4 per million) and next-door neighbor Australia’s even more excellent situation (death rate of 3 per million), and then look at my adopted country’s continued struggles (death rate currently 158 per million) and again wonder what is it in this once great country that has now made us so dreadfully ineffective.

Shortages

This is an interesting article about using artificial intelligence to anticipate what items will be in short supply and where.

A word about the much abused concept of AI.  Much of what is described as AI isn’t actually artificial intelligence at all.  It is just clever programming, and a computer following a set of rules, the same as every other computer, the only difference being there are more rules and more possible outcomes and exceptions provided.  But there is nothing innately intelligent within the computer, it is still a collection of 1’s and 0’s going through transistors following predefined pathways.

In my mind, “real” artificial intelligence is something that can work outside of its programmed capabilities, and that can rewrite its programming or ignore it, based on its experience.  It can learn and adapt from its experiences and outcomes and mistakes.  Perhaps also, AI is both unpredictable and, like our human intelligence, sometimes makes mistakes?  Perhaps because of this, I find AI to be a scary sort of thing that might even decide the best solution to the virus is to let it kill us all (or at least most of us)!

Logic?  What Logic?

The French have told Amazon not to deliver anything other than a narrow range of what the French government has decided to be essential items.  Amazon will be fined €100,000 for every non-essential item it delivers in France.

This is ostensibly to protect Amazon’s French warehouse workers.  But many of the workers are saying they’d actually prefer to keep working and to keep getting paid, thank you very much.  And when French citizens discover how little Amazon can now deliver, what will they do?  Take greater risks and go to stores to buy things in person?  Might that actually cause a rise in new cases?

Meanwhile, it is unclear if Amazon can circumvent the restriction, the same as it has been doing already, by continuing to simply ship items from warehouses elsewhere in Europe.  Keep in mind that Paris is little more than an hour from the Netherlands, and only slightly further from Luxembourg, Germany and Switzerland, and slightly further again from Italy and Spain.

Talking about Amazon, if you worked in a supermarket, which would you prefer?  A free t-shirt that calls you a hero?  Or a facemask?  Apparently Wholefoods (owned by Amazon) thinks that t-shirts rather than facemasks are the best way to go for its staff.

To no-one’s surprise, not all Wholefoods’ employees agree – some astonishingly seem to prefer to live, virus-free, even if it means “cowardly” hiding behind a mask, rather than being a brave unmasked hero and coming down with the virus, and possibly then infecting customers too.

Maybe Wholefoods has been advised by the same scientists who are surprised the virus can travel quickly around the country, and the same scientists who think it a good idea to open up bars and restaurants.

Virus?  What Virus?

What can we say.  Sometimes the jokes about “Walmart people” are sadly true.  Such as this lady.

There’s got to be some type of punishment (maybe even, in this time with so much of the Bill of Rights put on hold, a cruel and unusual form) that can be deployed to more positively discourage people like this from their behavior.

We’re not going to go as far as the Philippines’ President, who told his police that if they had problems with people resisting the strict lockdown laws, to simply shoot the offenders where they stood.  Well, not quite as far.  Just yet.

Medical

Bad news.  One of the drugs that we were told was showing great promise at treating Covid-19 patients has now ended one of its several current trials with the trial showing the drug to be a failure.  No, not hydroxychloroquine.  Remdesivir.

The interesting thing about this is to see what a difference it makes if you’re a Big Pharma company with a PR department, and trialing a drug the President hasn’t endorsed.  There’s been a steady stream of gushing reports about this drug and its potential (a bit of a struggle to talk about potential because the most notable thing about Remdesivir to date seems to be its failure to curtail the Ebola virus), in the same places that have been simultaneously sneering about hydroxychloroquine.

Of course, hydroxychloroquine is a “public domain” drug with no Big Pharma champions standing to make billions of dollars from its success.  Compare that to Remdesivir.  One analyst suggested Remdesivir could be worth $2.5 billion to Gilead, the company that has developed the drug.

Remdesivir has never been as appealing a treatment option, because it requires multiple IV infusions over some number of days.  Not only is the drug expensive, but the treatment protocol would be costly too.  We continue to hope for a simple “take one of these twice a day for a week” type solutions – such as would be the case with hydroxychloroquine.

Money

Friday had the Dow still struggling to make up its losses of earlier in the week.  It rose an encouraging 1.1% (260 points) to close the day and week at 23,775.  Last week it closed at 24,242, and the week before it was at 23,719, so depending on your time frame, it is either good (one day), bad (one week) or neutral (two weeks).

Needless to say, if your time frame is longer than two weeks, it gets harder to spin it positively.

 

Please stay happy and healthy; all going well, I’ll be back again tomorrow

 

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

 

3 thoughts on “Covid-19 Diary : Friday 24 April, 2020”

  1. To keep beating a drum. Our leaders have to step up and allow advisors, etc. to advise them. And I do get there is often conflicting advise and/or levels of unknowns. That said:

    There was a governor who only found about asymptomatic transmission the day before, I believe it was April 1st (could have been March 30th, doesn’t matter). There are only two ways for that statement to be true:
    – The governor didn’t believe his public health officials
    – The culture around the governor is to not bring information that contradicts the governor’s beliefs

    We have a state where WWE is an essential service.

    We have politicians, some of which are in leadership positions, pushing to open Churches. Per the article a super spreader environment. Not surprising since enthusiastic signing seems to be enough to push out the virus.

    We seem to have way too many government leaders putting politics, sometimes disbelief in science, economics, etc. ahead of listening to well thought out analysis. I can’t think of any other way we haven’t heard much in the way of high economic value, low risk of infection being discussed.

    But hey, I can go bowling on Monday if I live in the right state

  2. What an excellent find in John Cochrane’s post and in the forensically detailed post underlying it by Jonathan Kay. I hope the epidemiologists and virologists pick up on the notion, and now go back and check for superspreader events that may have been missed.

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