There’s a good article in the Wall St Journal with the lengthy but clear headline “Miscalculation at Every Level Left US Unequipped to Fight Coronavirus“.
One thing immediately struck me. The problems it was detailing did not start with this current administration. Neither did they start during the previous administration. There have been systemic failures for as far back as you care to look, and it is both wrong and counter-productive to try and pin blame selectively in one political camp or the other. Right now, the blame is less important than the solution. Let’s all unite and face forwards, to fix our future. Let’s fight the virus, not ourselves.
The article makes an interesting comparison. We have spent trillions of dollars in “fighting terrorism” subsequent to 9/11/2001. Sure, the events on 9/11 were shocking, although largely caused by the official policy that pilots and flight crew (and passengers) should all cooperate with, rather than oppose hijackers. As you probably remember, 2,753 people died in the World Trade Center buildings and in total, 2,977 victims and 19 hijackers died.
The response was the creation of the TSA and its Homeland Security Department parent organization – now the fourth largest government department, employing almost 200,000 people, and exceeded in size only by the Dept of Defense, the Postal Service, and the Dept of Veteran Affairs. Directly or indirectly, we went to war with various countries around the world, and to this day, almost 20 years and no more hijackings later, we’re still removing our shoes and liquids prior to every flight we take.
And now let’s consider Covid-19, currently having taken the lives of more than 20 times as many people as 9/11 did (current count of around 64,000 deaths). Like the terror threat, this is not a surprise. The US has dozens of agencies with partial or total focus on planning and preparing for an outbreak of an infectious respiratory virus. It regularly holds planning “simulations” where people “play” through the scenario of some sort of outbreak, to better know what to expect.
Unlike terrorism, there are few surprises when it comes to an infectious respiratory virus. Terrorists can attack us in any of many different ways, an infectious respiratory virus is, well, exactly that.
But beyond playing simulation games, what else have the various authorities and “captains of industry” done to prepare us for this long expected viral outbreak?
The answers are in the article. But if you don’t wish to read it, you already know the ultimate bottom line. Holding spare supplies of PPE for emergency use ties up capital, and no hospital wants to do that. So no-one did anything, it being cheaper that way – cheaper until the tragic point, now, when it is no longer cheaper but instead trillions of dollars more expensive.
I slightly tweaked the seven point plan for ridding ourselves of this virus. Here they are in improved form :
- Stricter controls and stricter enforcement at present to assertively and more quickly reduce the disease spread
- Waiting until we get below one new case per million per day before relaxing controls, closing again any time rates exceed five new cases per million per day
- Wearing masks in public
- Selective opening first of low risk/high economic benefit activities, while leaving high risk/low economic benefit activities until last
- Batch/group testing with instant results so we can test at least 10 million people every day for infections
- A “traffic light” system to monitor and restrict/unrestrict people’s movement and mixing abilities based on their risk profiles
- Border controls so new bearers of infection are identified before they are allowed into the country
Unfortunately, none of these seven points are being implemented currently.
Here are the rankings for the eight states of any size with the highest infection rates. There has been no change in rankings.
- San Marino/569 cases/the equivalent of 16,769 cases per million people
- Vatican City/11 cases/13,733 cases per million
- Iceland/1,797/5,266 (unchanged)
Here are the top six major countries, showing death rates per million of population in the country :
- Belgium/7,594 deaths/655 deaths per million
- Spain/24,543 deaths/525 deaths per million
- Italy/27,967 deaths/463
- United Kingdom/26,771/394
To put those numbers into context, the death rates per million in the US/Canada are 193/84. The world average (not a very reliable number) is 30.0.
For major countries and/or outbreaks, and in general :
|Active Cases (ie not yet died or cured)||1,782,004||1,990,949||2,031,017|
|US Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million||880,204/49,845/2659||1,064,194/61,656/3215||1,095,023/63,856/3308|
|UK Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million||138,078/18,738/2034||165,221/26,097/2434||171,253/26,771/2523|
|Canada Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million||42,110/2,147/1116||51.597/2,996/1367||53,236/3,184/1411|
|Worst affected major country/case rate||Spain/4,556||Spain/5,067||Spain/5,125|
|Second worst country affected||Belgium/3,693||Belgium/4,129||Belgium/4,186|
It seems the US is about to catch up with and overtake Italy in the next day or two, and only another day or two after that to displace Switzerland, too.
Timings And Numbers
My biggest concern at present is shifting from our inability to manage our “lockdown” to an even more serious inability to manage the lifting of the lockdown. As I’ve said, I fear we are relaxing too many controls, in too many states, and too soon.
We should learn from the experience of other countries who are already experimenting with lifting their lockdowns, and discovering to their dismay how quickly the virus can come surging back again. Noting our own dysfunctional bureaucracy, I further fear how long it would be between an increase in virus activity and a decision to re-lockdown a state again (to say nothing of what the compliance rate would be).
I dislike comparing this coronavirus based Covid-19 infection with regular ‘flu, but we’ve all been barraged by people saying “it is nothing more than a slightly worse than normal ‘flu”. So, at the risk of causing confusion between the two very different types of virus and their very different threats to our communities, it is interesting to note that the casualties from the two months or so of this virus have already exceeded the casualties for any entire flu season all the way back to 1967.
The 1967 ‘flu saw 100,000 people die. We’re currently at almost 64,000 deaths. Some models suggest we might top out in the low/mid 70-thousands, but other models are now returning back to the earlier pessimism of over 100,000. So we might still beat the 1967 ‘flu mortality, too (although, of course, it is worth remembering the population of the US in 1967 was 199 million, so to adjust for our larger population now, the loss of 100k people then is more akin to the loss of 166k now).
Logic? What Logic?
Here is a very strange claim and we think it might be trying to correlate two unrelated things, but this article points to spikes in social media posting about the virus and then, subsequently, growth in case numbers in those areas.
The article shows 22 areas that are therefore considered to be at risk of imminent outbreaks.
A disappointing downer of a Dow day. The index dropped 288 points (1.2%) and closed at 24,346.
Not such a downer at Amazon, where their first quarter results have now been released, and exceeding analysts’ expectations for revenues, but not for profit. Sales were up, but profit declined.
The most notable thing however was a surprising statement by Jeff Bezos that his company expects to spend over $4 billion in responding to the challenges of the Covid-19 outbreak. It will pay employees more, create safer work environments, even if it makes them less efficient, and will even create their own in-house virus testing facility.
Good for them. Details here.
I mentioned, a week or so back, that the story of the man who died from drinking fish tank cleaner after he mistakenly thought President Trump recommended he should do so was unraveling; but the quoted article could only hint as to an alternate interpretation.
Now it seems the local police are formally investigating the dead man’s wife – a strong Democrat, let it be said, and the source of the claim her husband voluntarily drank the poison because of Donald Trump – for the possible murder of her husband. He was a calm level headed man, according to friends, and someone who would never have misunderstood an oblique reference to the possibility of a new drug to fight the virus as meaning he should go and start drinking lethal doses of fish tank cleaner.
Here are some fascinating “before and after” satellite pictures that give a sense of how some countries and places are shutting themselves down during the virus attack.
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.
2 thoughts on “Covid-19 Diary : Thursday 30 April, 2020”
[My therapeutic reply — since the articles give me time to reflect]
The intro could almost be summarized by the adages:
Generals are always prepared to fight the last war
U.S. Approach to Public Health: Neglect, Panic, Repeat
I truly hope as things get better, time is taken to assess what could have been done better. This unfortunately isn’t the last pandemic and the ‘next’ could be the 2nd wave later this year. This isn’t to assign blame but to save lives.
The problem with assessing what could have been done better is that everyone knows what could have been done better. More inventory of supplies, faster response/lockdown, etc. But the political will to keep shoveling billions of dollars into these things, year after year, that was the missing ingredient before, and will be the same missing ingredient in the future.
Sure, there’ll likely be a brief period of focus on being better prepared, but give it a few years, and we’ll start to hear nonsense being spouted about “more robust supply systems mean less need for inventory”, “better detection and medical treatment means less need for preparation”, and so on. And we’ll steadily retreat back to a scenario of greater and greater exposure.
The curious thing is that the more we spend on prevention, the less benefit we see from it, because the benefit is “invisible”. It is a bit like insurance of all kinds, but most vividly travel insurance. We’ve become conditioned to view house/car insurance as appropriate, and of course, in many cases, we have no choice – states mandate car insurance and lenders mandate home insurance.
But travel insurance remains a personal choice and so is more exposed. You spend an extra $500 or whatever on travel insurance, don’t make a claim, and feel the money is wasted. But wait a trip or two, and all of a sudden, you’re facing huge medical/repatriation costs, or you need to cancel a trip several days before departure and stand to lose all the money you paid, and you then wish you had bought the insurance.
This is not intended as a veering-off-course advocacy piece for travel insurance! Merely trying to suggest a way in which whatever lessons we might learn from this crisis will steadily be unlearned again.