Covid-19 Diary : Wednesday 15 April, 2020

 

Today saw the worldwide count of known Covid-19 cases pass through the 2 million mark.  Yesterday saw 2,404 deaths in the US – the most on any day so far, and today has already gone higher.  Beyond terrible, and yet, it seems so unreal.

I wake every morning, and turn on the internet radio to enjoy Classic FM for a while before getting up.  I listen to the calm and beautiful music, and the equally mellifluous voices of the English announcers.  For a few seconds, maybe minutes, it is easy to forget about the terribly changed world around us all.

Indeed, I struggle, all day and every day, to fully comprehend the enormity of what is happening.  I think the same is true of most others, too.  It is a survival mechanism in people that we have a blind-spot that shields us from fully comprehending our own mortality, and this selective myopia extends to spare us from fully appreciating some of the other almost-as-terrifying things.

So, every morning, I again wonder – is the entire world really truly crumbling?  It is hard to perceive.  We still have electricity, water, internet, food, and a roof over our heads.  Few of us have yet lost people we directly and closely know to this disease.  There’s an unreal feeling to it all that is occasionally shifted from the back of our minds to the front – I watched people walking along an empty trail yesterday by my house, with masks on.  That is something I’ve never seen before.

We are all so used to life’s routines and the implied promise of certainty and constancy within them.  Now that these are under an invisible and future threat, it is difficult to fully comprehend and accept the reality of these looming changes and challenges.  I’ve calculated when I’ll no longer be able to pay bills or buy food, but the reality of that is still impossible to grasp.  Most of us have confronted adversity in our pasts, and by hard work, perseverance, or whatever, have triumphed.  But this time, how can any of these attributes spare and save us?

I offer these thoughts to reinforce my comments in yesterday’s introduction – few of us yet comprehend just how bad things are going to get.  Fewer still accept it.  I discuss this some more in the “Money” section, below.

Current Numbers

Here are the rankings for the seven states of any size with the highest infection rates.  There is no change in ranking, and three of the countries again didn’t register any new cases today.

  • San Marino/372 cases/the equivalent of 10,963 cases per million people (unchanged)
  • Vatican City/8 cases/9,988 cases per million (unchanged)
  • Andorra/673/8,710
  • Luxembourg/3,373/5,388
  • Iceland/1,727/5,061
  • Gibraltar/131/3,888
  • Faroe Islands/184/3,766 (unchanged)

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

  • Spain/18,708 deaths/400 deaths per million
  • Belgium/4,440/383 deaths per million
  • Italy/21,645 deaths/358
  • France/17,167/263
  • United Kingdom/12,868/190
  • Netherlands/3,134/183

To put those numbers into context, the death rates per million in the US/Canada are 86/27.  The world average (not a very reliable number) is 17.2.

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

Same Day
Last Week
Yesterday Today
Total Cases 1,507,846 1,997,358 2,074,101
Total Deaths/Percent of all Resolved Cases 88,165 126,565 134,073
Active Cases (ie not yet died or cured) 1,090,139 1,392,467 1,430,452
US Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million 426,300/14,622/1,288 613,624/26,016/1,854 641,762/28,442/1,939
UK Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million 60,733/7,097/895 93,873/12,107/1,383 98,476/12,868/1,451
Canada Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million 19,195/?/509 27,063/903/717 28,205/1,006/747
Worst affected major country/case rate Spain/3,170 Spain/3,723 Spain/3,799
Second worst country affected Switzerland/2,690 Switzerland/2,997 Switzerland/3,043
Third worst Italy/2,306 Italy/2,687 Belgium/2,897
Fourth Belgium/2,019 Belgium/2,685 Italy/2,732
Fifth France/1,730 Ireland/2,325 Ireland/2,541

I Am Not a Doctor, But….

There have been increasing numbers of articles referring to patients who have been cleared of the virus then getting re-infected.  This headline refers to a fear that perhaps this implies there is another or a new strain of the virus, so when getting immunity to one strain, you remain vulnerable to the second strain.

That is always a possibility of course.  But, so far, and looking at the relatively small numbers involved, it is more likely that bad test results incorrectly showed patients as being cured of the disease before it had finally been cleared.  We’re not too concerned about this, yet.

This article advocates UV light as a way to sterilize areas and kill off any lurking viral contamination.  But please don’t extrapolate from the article and then allow yourself to be tricked into buying some consumer grade hand sized device that promises to miraculously sterilize things in your life.  We’ve seen such products, and none of them have seemed to credibly work as implied (or even as sometimes promised).  In addition, if you do consider such hand sterilizers, please keep in mind that UV light will harm your eyes and possibly blind you, and also harm your skin too.

Here’s a hopeful article from a somewhat controversial source about a possible new approach to curing virus infections.  We hope it proves correct and can be developed into a low cost high quantity product, but don’t expect to see it revolutionize the world any time soon.

We’ve heard a great deal about flattening the curve – reducing the rate of new cases so as not to overwhelm our hospital system.  This article includes the graph immediately below, and you’ve probably seen many similar illustrations, although we’ve noted that many of them are inaccurate distortions – it is necessary that the area under the two different curves should remain the same, and many of the renditions do not do that.

Perhaps the reason for the inaccurate renditions is because there is another thing that happens at the same time as the curve is flattened in a realistic portrayal.  It is also extended.  That is, we suffer for a longer period, although at not quite the same level of intensity.

As is proving clear, even the most stressed states and healthcare systems like NY still had excess capacity and have even more with each passing day.  Maybe we should have been a little more tolerant and allowed a bit more freedom?

Who Should Pay?

We don’t know if we should feel good or bad to read that Ruth’s Chris Steak House has managed to get twice the usual maximum in federal aid, and land $20 million in government support.

It feels awkward to see a robustly profitably company offering a very upmarket product get $20 million, when small corner diners are probably getting nothing and may go under.  On the other hand, a job saved is still a job saved.

But probably it would be wise for the government not to use this as their “poster child” example of your tax dollars at work.

Timings And Numbers

An ever present frustration at present is the lack of accurate quality data about this virus and its spread and impacts.  Epidemiologists and public policy makers are desperate for this information – it allows them to better understand “the enemy” and to make informed decisions about openings and closures, to accurately predict hospital needs and case numbers, and to respond appropriately in every way.

So why don’t we have this information?  It certainly isn’t for the lack of asking.  Everyone, at every level – federal, state, county, city, and institution, are begging for it every day.

The reason we don’t have it?  Because of fragmented (mis)management of the data at city/county/state/institutional levels (yes, the same levels and sometimes the same people who are desperate for quality data).

How is it that in one of the most computerized and connected countries in the world, we can’t create and maintain a very simple system of data recording and then keep it up to date?  People are literally dying, and trillions of dollars is possibly being unnecessarily or inappropriately spent, because of an extraordinary inability of these organizations to do their simple job and share this essential information.

Closings

It is interesting to see some parts of Europe are tentatively re-opening some of the things they had earlier closed down.  Does this increase the risk of more virus propagation?  Yes, it does.  But, two points to keep in mind.

The first :  If you engage in an activity which has within it, say, a 1% chance of catching the virus, and there is a 2% chance that one of the people you interact with has the virus (I’m not correctly stating these risks, but hopefully this is illustrative) then let’s say this means the odds are 2:1 that you’ll get the virus.

But if the level of virus in the community is reduced from 2% to 0.2%, you can now relatively safely do something with a 1% risk, because now your risk of getting the virus has gone from 2:1 to 0.2:1, in other words 1 in 5.  So if a country can first reduce the amount of virus “out there”, things become generally safer to do.

The second point is that social distancing is similar to herd immunity.  A community doesn’t need 100% herd immunity – it needs about 60% herd immunity to ensure that any new infection diminishes rather than grows.  Similarly, social distancing doesn’t mean that you should never ever interact with anyone, it just means you should interact with fewer people, and with greater caution/care.

Logic?  What Logic?

The institution we continue to despise for its colossal dysfunctionality has come out with another “pearl of wisdom” today.  WHO’s European regional office has recommended that governments should restrict access to alcohol.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we should really ask ourselves what risks we are taking in leaving people under lockdown in their homes with a substance that is harmful both in terms of their health and the effects of their behavior on others, including violence,” said Carina Ferreira-Borges, program manager for WHO Europe’s alcohol and illicit drugs program.

In the US, alcohol sales for March were 22% up compared to last year.  Treating oneself to a nice relaxing glass of something in the evening is one of the very few small luxuries still open to us.

Do we really need WHO lecturing us about not drinking alcohol, while today we also had some 2482 people die in the US of Covid-19, a disease that WHO kept ignoring and promising us was harmless and safe, long after it was obvious to everyone that it was neither?

No, of course we don’t!  So it was a beyond marvelous piece of news that our utterly unbound by the conventional strictures of political correctness President has announced his intention to discontinue funding this abysmal failure of an institution.  Last year, the US contributed about $553 million to WHO – in total WHO has an annual budget of about $3 billion.

Bravo.

Money

The Dow continues to see-saw this week, with today being a down day.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 530 points at the open, or 2.2%, before slightly recovering and being down 1.9% when it closed at 23,504.

I mentioned my surprise yesterday at surging share prices for Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival and Royal Caribbean; I don’t really know what caused that, but today, they gave back most of yesterday’s surge, dropping 7.1%, 14.1% and 9.8% respectively.

My feeling is either that the stock market is very much cleverer than me, or is suffering from “Pollyanna-itis” and has a totally unrealistic expectation for how soon the economy will recover.

I hope the former explanation is correct, but have my doubts.  For example, economists were projecting that the Empire State Manufacturing Index for April would be -32.5.  The actual number has now been released; -78.2, the worst it has ever been (previous lowest was -34.3).  The index measures companies reporting better versus worse conditions over the past month. Just 7% reported stronger conditions, while 85% said things had weakened.

And there’s that trillion thing, yet again.  As I’ve observed before, the word “trillion” used to be unfamiliar and rare, now it keeps popping up everywhere.  The latest calculation suggests the government has already spent more than $6 trillion trying to soften this crisis, and as you probably know, there are more bailout bills being discussed at present.

The worst part of the government expenditures?  If you had a sudden unexpected major expense – perhaps a bad month where your car needed costly repairs and your house needed a new roof; well, you’d do what you had to do to arrange for both those essentials to be seen to, but you’d then cut some costs in other areas to help compensate for the unexpected expenses you’d had to incur.  But if you’re a government, everything else keeps being spent the same as always, plus this extra gets added to it.

The US used to be an extravagantly wealthy country.  But it isn’t, any more.  We need to stop spending like there’s no limit to our credit line, and no need to ever zero out our growing indebtedness.

Wealth is a curiously difficult concept to accurately measure.  But here’s one approach, which has the US at 7th place, and projects we’ll drop to 9th place by 2022.  The article was written before the virus was an issue, so who only knows what 2022 will now see for any country, anywhere.

Rumors

This is deservedly in the rumor section, but it gives one pause for thought.  As you know, I don’t think there’s a shred of truth in the numbers that China has shared about its virus experience.  But, just for a minute, what say that China actually was telling the truth.  What if its astonishingly unrealistic looking limited exposure and sudden sustained recovery from the virus is actually correct.  What does that imply?

Just to remind you, China says it had, in total, 82,300 coronavirus cases, with 3,342 deaths.  The total for the world is now 2.1 million cases (25 times greater) and 135,000 deaths (40 times greater).

In three days we in the US alone have more new cases than China has had since the very start of the virus, and in two days we have more deaths than they’ve suffered in total.  Plus our numbers are increasing at these huge rates, China’s have pretty much zeroed out.  Keep in mind also that China’s population (1.44 billion) is 4.4 times larger than the US (330 million), which makes these discrepancies all the more astonishing.  In terms of case rates per population, our case rate is already 34 times that of China, and our death rate is 37 times higher.

If this was a war, China would be winning it by an enormous margin.  It would be the most brilliant victory ever, with the least amount of cost and casualties to the aggressor nation.

So, with that as background, this article asks an interesting question.

Other

Here’s an article that observes some unexpected positive outcomes (and some hoped for continued positive outcomes) of the virus.

We’ve occasionally suggested some things to stream during the extra time at home we’re all experiencing currently.  It seems the concept of streaming video is a popular one – this article reports the average American is currently streaming a stunning 8 hours of content, every day.

And lastly for today, we hope this paper mill doesn’t (or perhaps better to say, didn’t) make toilet paper.

 

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.

 

4 thoughts on “Covid-19 Diary : Wednesday 15 April, 2020”

  1. fh7742

    GDP per capita numbers are always difficult to interpret.

    Much depends on income distribution, for instance — ie, how much of the production value is getting to the middle and lower rungs. And, also, how much of the value is real, and not simply the result of international corporate tax avoidance (eg, Ireland) or domestic tax avoidance (eg, Italy). I’m fairly certain the US would rank very much higher — and a number of very small countries much much lower — if all its corporations’ offshored income were added in.

    But, for sure, as you discussed yesterday, the virus has rendered these numbers almost meaningless in view of the wanton destruction currently being visited upon all our economies.

    1. David Rowell – Seattle, WA, USA – New Zealander now living in the United States.

      I agree with all your points, and my initial statement was (is!) a terrible simplification.

      I’ve been considering the “wealth” of the US in the sense of its inability to do simple things these days that used to be seemingly effortless. We no longer build roads and struggle to maintain the ones we have. Our repeated promises to build out a high speed network “the envy of any in the world” continue to fail to materialize, because we have no money.

      But has anyone wondered what we could have spent the $6 trillion on, in terms of infrastructure? We so effortlessly pluck it from nowhere for this imperfect “bail out” that does nothing except some basic triage and delays rather than stops the pain, but are unable to find money to spend on valuable lasting infrastructure.

  2. Richard Davis – We are what we eat. Sometimes.

    “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
    ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

    This comes to mind with this entire pandemic. Considering the CCP’s history of mass slaughter of their own people, it is not too far fetched to believe that the human loss and the economic loss would be borne by the Chinese dictator to win the thousand mile march.

    The year 1421 is supposed to be the year China discovered America with their great fleet. Will 2021 be the year that China returns — without firing a shot– and have the dragon conquer a weak and distracted America?

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