Covid-19 Diary : Thursday 7 May, 2020


The announcement by Frontier Airlines that it would offer to keep a middle seat clear for a $39 fee brought a firestorm of criticism from people believing that valuable things should be given away for free – in other words, politicians.  In particular, we cringed to read Senator Amy Klobuchar’s comment

I don’t think it’s appropriate for some passengers who can’t afford to pay an additional charge for a seat to be less safe than other travelers

Not only does she ignore the ugly reality that “safety” from the virus is very definitely correlated to wealth at present, but we have to wonder just how realistic it is to consider that a person who can afford to fly can’t also afford the extra cost of an empty seat next to them.  How likely is that?

For that matter, why the sudden and selective focus on airline fees now?  Where was Ms Klobuchar and her criticism when airlines started charging, for example, for suitcases?  Does she think it fair that passengers who can’t afford to pay the much greater cost of a suitcase ($50 – $150 rather than $39) should be disadvantaged when flying compared to those who can?  And so on.

As we often state, it is unfortunate when people use virus related matters to virtue-signal their political correctness and to advance political rather than public health agendas.

Bowing to the pressure, Frontier discontinued the program.  We expect it will now be like other airlines, who make a big show of saying in headlines they are blocking out middle seats, but when you dig down into the fine print, you see that what they are actually saying is they’ll still sell those seats too, but only after filling up all the aisle and window seats first.

At the same time, airlines insist either :

(a)  there is no risk of catching the virus on their flights; or

(b)  the risk is not reduced by blocking out middle seats

That’s a great way of having your cake and eating it too!  IATA and airlines have said because the distancing requirements are to be six feet apart, and because blocking out a middle seat only moves you two feet apart, there is no benefit or value in doing this.

But that shows a (probably deliberate) misunderstanding of how the virus is spread.  When it comes out of your mouth, it then starts to diffuse in a cloud form.  The cloud is most intense at your lips, and gets less and less concentrated as the distance spread.  There is nothing magic about six feet – indeed, some countries have required less or more than six feet of distance, and studies have shown that virus particles than travel over 20 ft in some cases.  But each foot of distance between you and another person materially reduces the concentration of viral particles and improves your chance of not catching an infection.

Two feet might not be as good as six feet, but it is very definitely better than sitting squashed together, shoulder to shoulder.

One more point.  If it is so safe, how to explain over 500 US airline employees who have contracted coronavirus so far?

We also note, mirthlessly, this question and answer that seems to suggest that even if there is a problem, the infected air will either be vented out of the cabin or filtered adequately.  There’s only one problem – the question and answer implies the coronavirus is 0.3 microns or larger in size, but it is not that large.  It is more like 2 1/2 times smaller – ie about 0.125 microns in size.

Current Numbers

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

  • San Marino/622 cases/the equivalent of 18,331 cases per million people
  • Vatican City/12 cases/14,981 cases per million (unchanged)
  • Andorra/752/9,733
  • Qatar/18,890/6,557
  • Luxembourg/3,859/6,165
  • Spain/256,855/5,494
  • Iceland/1,801/5,278
  • Ireland/22,385/4,533

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

  • Belgium/8,415 deaths/726 deaths per million
  • Spain/26,070 deaths/558 deaths per million
  • Italy/29,958 deaths/495
  • United Kingdom/30,615/451
  • France/25,987/398
  • Netherlands/5,288/309

To put those numbers into context, the death rates per million in the US/Canada are 232/117.  The world average (not a very reliable number) is 34.7.

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

Same Day
Last Week
Total Cases3,304,2203,819,8913,913,710
Total Deaths233,850264,839270,436
US Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million1,095,023/63,856/33081,263,092/74,799/38161,292,623/76,928/3905
UK Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million171,253/26,771/2523201,101/30,076/2962206,715/30,615/3045
Canada Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million53,236/3,184/141163,496/4,232/168264,922/4408/1720
Worst affected major country/case rateSpain/5,125Spain/5,426Spain/5,494
Second worst country affectedBelgium/4,186Ireland/4,506Ireland/4,533
Third worstIreland/4,174Belgium/4,382Belgium/4,437

It is slightly interesting to note that Canada has been slowly catching up to the US in death rates and now has reached the point of having half as many deaths per population as the US.  That still leaves a large margin to catch up.

I Am Not a Doctor, But….

Here’s some good news if true – a mutation of the virus may have made it weaker.

But we don’t think that a random mutation of the virus in one patient is likely to lead to identical random mutations in every other patient in the world.  Indeed, we don’t like reading about mutations, because that makes us worry that maybe a different mutation might come along that makes it deadlier.  It also makes it harder to come up with herd immunity or a vaccine, if the virus itself keeps changing.

The only way a weaker mutation of the virus could help is if it starts super-spreading and displacing other forms of the virus.

Talking about herd immunity, it is worth repeating this may or may not ever eventuate, and even if it does, it might not last a long time, as this article points out.

It is not an appealing prospect that while the good news is after having the virus, those of us who survive have acquired immunity; but the bad news is that in a couple of years, the immunity has gone and we can expect to catch the virus again.

Here’s some unambiguously good news, although it is extremely early days and way too soon to dare become too hopeful about this possible breakthrough in finding an antibody that blocks the virus infection.

More hydroxychloroquine hate.  A mistake by ignorant journalists?  Or a deliberate lie?  This article reports

Nearly 60%, or 811 of the patients, received the drug within 48 hours and were found, on average, to be more severely ill than those who didn’t receive the drug

You might think that taking the HCQ made the patients more ill.  But you’d be wrong.  The actual study says

Hydroxychloroquine-treated patients were more severely ill at baseline than those who did not receive hydroxychloroquine

“baseline” means when the patient first appeared in the hospital at the start of their treatment.

The study concludes that patients had similar outcomes, whether they took the HCQ or not.  Considering that the HCQ patients were more severely ill to start with, we’d actually view the study positively.

Timings And Numbers

The above graph is a very clear depiction of the impact of the virus around the world.  It came from this article which is fairly lengthy and not altogether clear to follow, but perhaps worth reading as it is about how to prevent virus cases from climbing again as we start to open up once more.

Closings and Openings

The majority of the states that are starting to re-open don’t meet the national guidelines for when it is appropriate to re-open.  Indeed, as a graph in this article clearly shows, many of them are re-opening at a time when their case counts are currently increasing.

That is very alarming to see.

Yesterday we were writing about Carnival’s low cruise fares to tempt people back onto its ships.  Today we see a long list of cruise lines that aren’t opening at the same time as Carnival, many of which won’t be opening at all this summer.

It is particularly puzzling to see that other cruise lines owned by the Carnival parent company have different policies.  Surely this is something that would benefit from corporate uniformity?  Or are some ships/itineraries more at risk than others?

As we said yesterday, never mind the inducement of a low fare.  You couldn’t pay us to go on a big-ship cruise any time this summer.

Here’s an interesting report on what it is like to fly at present.

Lyft reported a 75% drop in rides in April.  That is less than the much larger drop (90%+) in air travel.  But the real point of interest to me is how their business activity reached a minimum on 12 April and has been steadily growing again since then.  How is this possible?  There was no relaxing of lockdown orders in April.

In other puzzling news to do with Lyft, why are they waiting “a few weeks” before implementing a requirement for both drivers and passengers to be masked?  Why not do so immediately?

We wrote yesterday about Southwest offering $300 flights to Hawaii and their CEO saying now is the time to start flying again.  We wondered what would happen to tourists when they arrived in Hawaii, due to the island state’s 14 day quarantine requirement, and wondered if Southwest would advise passengers about this before accepting their money to fly there.

Here’s a partial answer to what might be awaiting visitors to Hawaii.

Who Should Pay

Media darling Gov Cuomo is at it again.  After having famously said in the early stages of his state’s battle with the virus that everything – all measures and all costs – would be worth it if it resulted in just a single life being saved, he is now repeating that belief in a different form

This is not a situation where you can go to the American people and say, ‘How many lives are you willing to lose to reopen the economy?’ We don’t want to lose any lives. You start to hear these, to me, what are absurd arguments…..

Two points that he might consider.  The first is that most public health officials value a human life as worth $10 million.  The real absurdity is to suggest that a single human life has infinite value, especially when you are governor of a state that doesn’t have infinite funds to spend, and already has tens of thousands of deaths, every year, that could be prevented if the state spent more on support and assistance programs.

The second point is to wonder why, if everything is justified on the basis of saving one more life, why is he not enforcing the shutdown orders in his state more strenuously so as to save that one single life?

He says one life is worth everything, but then doesn’t actually commit to doing any measurable share of what is necessary to ensure all possible lives are saved.  To date, New York has had the highest death rate in the entire country – 1,344 deaths per million people, more than eight times higher than the average for the rest of the country (163 deaths per million).  Of the country’s total 77,000 deaths, one third (26,365) have been in New York.

To put it another way, if NY was a country rather than a state, it would have the highest death rate of any country in the world.  The second highest is tiny San Marino (1,208 per million) then comes Belgium (at 726 deaths/million).

How truly absurd – the man who values human life higher than anyone else in the country is managing a state with the worst death rate of anywhere in the country and also of anywhere in the world.

But he’s the media’s darling so you’re not going to read these comments anywhere other than here.

One other point.  While Cuomo is keen to spend unlimited sums for the smallest of outcomes in his home state, perhaps he could also think about the rest of the country.

According to the New York Times, two thirds of coronavirus cases in the US are being caused by infected New Yorkers traveling out of state.  Perhaps we should rename the virus and no longer call it the Wuhan virus or the Chinese virus.  Perhaps we should call it the New York virus.


It seems there is not a shortage but a glut of potatoes.  We wrote about an Idaho farmer giving away 1 million potatoes a couple of weeks ago, and now in Washington State, they are giving away 1 million pounds of potatoes.

But think the concept through.  The problem isn’t with too many potatoes, the problem is a failure of the middle men and normal consumers of potatoes to connect between the growers and the eaters.  Sooner or later, all those given away potatoes will come back to haunt us in the form of potatoes we can no longer buy when needed.

It is the same with meat – farmers are killing their animals because they can’t get the processing plants to take them, but at the same time, there are growing shortages and skyrocketing prices for meat in supermarkets.

Oh – one more reason for a growing shortage of pork?  China has just placed its largest order of the year for pork.  So, while our supermarket meat cases are struggling to get pork for us to buy at reasonable prices, China is buying up pork in bulk prices direct from the processing plants.

We understand we want China to buy more from us, but perhaps it could buy more of the things we have in abundance, not of the things we’re increasingly short of.

Logic?  What Logic?

Southwest’s CEO is busy at present making regrettable statements.  After trying to encourage people to fly to Hawaii, where they’ll then be quarantined for two weeks, today he is quoted as pressing the TSA to start doing temperature checks of passengers.

As you know from my analysis, temperature checks are literally and totally worse than useless, because more patients are asymptomatic than have symptoms, and most patients are at their most infectious in the first few days before they develop a temperature, assuming they ever do.

We hope he knows more about his airline than he does about the biggest issue/problem it has ever had to confront.

Virus?  What Virus?

The small Washington State county, Whatcom County (population 227,600) has spent $1.3 million so far to convert and operate a 58 room motel as a quarantine/isolation facility.  The facility opened on 23 April (almost three weeks after peak resource usage in WA State).  Since that time, it has had one resident, who recently moved in.

They are however continuing to rent the motel, because they want to be prepared for a “second wave”.

Details here.


Great news, this vaccine trial has been approved by the FDA to move from Phase One to Phase Two.  Let’s hope it continues to generate positive results.

This almost reads like a bad joke, but we’re sure it is actually meant with the very best of kind intentions – JetBlue is giving away free flights to 100,000 healthcare workers.  We just hope the lucky healthcare workers will not get infected on their flights, and will be able to fully socially-distance during their travels and vacations.


It was a good Dow day today, with a 0.89% rise taking the index up 211 points to close at 23,876.

We all know the Dow is down about 15% for the year, but an amazing thing happened today.  The NASDAQ closed showing now a net increase for the year.

We really can’t see any underlying strength to justify that, but we hope that any index linked investments you may have are linked to the NASDAQ index.


Oh no.  It was probably inevitable, but :   The latest possibly bad news about where in one’s body the coronavirus can be found.


We’re far from sanguine about the real world benefits of home made face masks, or indeed of any face masks made out of regular materials, but here’s an interesting piece if you’re a “do it yourselfer”.


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 : Thursday 7 May, 2020”

  1. I’m no expert on filters or masks, and I don’t disagree with your statement about the Covid virus size. But isn’t the more relevant number the size of either the aerosolized or droplet that is expelled by breathing, coughing, or sneezing? Which I believe is significantly larger 1-5 micron size?).

    But the small size number concerned me about the potential value of masks. So I did some research. This article looks well done and reassuring.

    1. You’re completely correct about the difference between particle size and aerosol droplet size. Thank you for pointing that out.

      I’m not too sure how persuasive I find the piece you linked to though. I couldn’t exactly understand what it was testing with its air inside/outside sampling, and the earlier testing was totally erroneous because it required 100% of the exhaust to pass through the mask. It is the leakage thing that definitely has me concerned about heavy cloth masks.

  2. Hey its economists, not public health worker that have to deplorable job of determining the value of a human life (that’s why they call it the dismal science).

    There are, in economics, two values of a life. The statistic life (+/- $10 million) and a named or specific life. That is a identified person. In economics you are taught the value of a saving a specific life is infinity (only limited by resources available). At no time after a mine collapse does the owner say ‘its 5 men trapped but since its $15 million a person in rescue costs they will be left to die’. No expense is spared to rescue a child that fell down a well (or a puppy for that matter). The military (now these an place with near infinite resources) has spent well more the $10 million a life on rescue missions.

    Gov Cuomo seems to conflate the two different types of economic lives probably in part due to how close it has struck his family. At some point he is going to have to address the trade off between saving a small number lives and both getting the economy moving (along with reducing deaths resulting from people being semi-quarantined). But for now, focusing on saving lives seems reasonable.

    On the other hand, as pointed out very clearly in today’s and prior articles, states are opening up too soon and there will be significant costs in terms of lives lost and likely new restrictions. The leadership we get from Washington — “maybe some lives lost”. Why is Trump not announcing at the press conference, states really need to follow the 2 week down trend in the federal (aka his government) guidelines. Just asking since it would save 10s or 100s of thousand of lives. Restarting exponential growth from a much higher starting point will be terrible.

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