Covid-19 Diary : Tuesday 12 May, 2020

 

A couple of disparate thoughts have fused together in my mind today.

The first is continuing to consider the extraordinary difference between the Connecticut-New York-New Jersey trio of states (and more broadly the North-Eastern corridor) and their virus infection and death rates, and the rates of almost everywhere else in the country.  Half of all the nation’s deaths are in only three states (NY NJ MA).

The nation’s political center is where the virus impacts are the greatest, and I feel that “national policy” – whatever shambolic concept that actually is – is being influenced unduly by the experience of the worst affected states, while ignoring states with much milder rates of infection and death.  There’s something extraordinary about how the state governor who has risen to national prominence and respect has done so not by presenting an example of how to successfully manage a state through this virus crisis, but instead by heading up the state with the most extreme failure and disastrous rate of both infections and deaths.

How often do we have the governors of HI, WY, AK, MT or UT appearing on national news programs telling us how they’ve kept their states at the lowest death rates of the entire country?  Why are we listening to the NY governor tell us what to do when his state is the worst there is, but not giving air time to states doing well.

For that matter, the only time we ever hear about TX is when people are expressing horror at what is being “mismanaged” in TX.  But if that is mismanagement, perhaps we should all be so fortunate.  Their death rate (40/million) is one-sixth of the national average, and 35 times lower than in NY.

The second thought came when reading this article, describing the impacts of the virus (and “everything else”) on a town in NM that was already struggling to survive.  It includes this very telling phrase

few people know anyone who was ill from the coronavirus, but almost everyone knows someone unemployed by it.

That is certainly true of me, and probably of you too.  While it is not an entirely valid comparison to equate being infected and suffering the Covid-19 disease and being unemployed, for 99.?% (you decide the last digit) of people, being unemployed for months, possibly even longer, is massively worse than having the disease for maybe a week or two.

Congress is rushing to put together the next “relief package”, currently estimated to cost $3 trillion.  Add it to the money spent so far by the government, and we’re quickly approaching or possibly already past an expenditure of $20,000 per every man, woman and child in the country, and with the only guarantee that there’ll be still more relief packages in the future.  While Congress debates who should get how much, have any of our elected representatives paused to consider where the money is coming from?  There must be an open and full dialog on both parts of this bill – possibly the most costly bill in the nation’s history about both who gets what money, and where the money comes from.  Instead, we’re seeing an absurd lack of discussion on the former, and no discussion at all on the latter.

Think about this.  If we were to say “the top 1% can afford to pay this for the rest of the country” we’d be asking each of those top 1% of people to pay $2 million.  According to this data, to be in the top 1% you need to be earning $720k/year.  So we’re asking the top 1% to give up all their earnings for more than three years ($720k less existing taxes) to pay for the other 99% for less than three months.  That’s clearly impossible.  Maybe instead we require them to give up half their earnings for six years?

This of course assumes that the top 1% are still earning at that level.  Maybe their earnings are suffering, too.

Maybe instead we say “the top 0.1% should do the heavy lifting”.  So that would require $20 million from each of those people.  They earn $2.76 million a year.  We’d be asking them to pay all their earnings for more than eight years.  How’s that going to work?

So perhaps rather than making it only for the very highest earners, we go the other direction and have the top 5% pay for 95%.  That requires $400k per person, and these people earn $300k.  So we’re only looking for something like a year and a half of their earnings, but do you think they can survive for 18 months without a single penny coming in?

How about the top 10%?  They’d pay $200k per person, and they earn $120k.  So that would be two years of their earnings, and for sure, there’s no way that would work.  And if we keep going down the income levels further, we end up with everyone paying the government $20,000 so they can then receive $20,000 back again!

The financial reality is there’s no easy way to fund a multi-trillion dollar expenditure.  Really, the ugly and utterly unsurprising truth is the country can’t afford these trillions of dollars.  Rather than just throwing money everywhere in an unplanned unthinking panicked approach, we need to spend carefully and wisely and with regard to how much the country can afford.

And, speaking as one who hasn’t seen a single penny of this money so far and probably never will, where is it all going to?  Big companies, airlines and airports, churches, but only sometimes to ordinary people, and in many cases, in insufficient amounts to “make them whole” (but in other cases, paying them more to be unemployed than if they continued working).  The $1200 checks that some lucky people received – sure, lovely to get, but not really of much use.  How long can a person live on $1200?  A week or two.

This brings me back to one of the ultimate issues that we’re handling so poorly.  Whether it is considering the nature of our social distancing controls and how we variously impose them and then lift them, or the distribution of relief funds, we can’t adopt a “one size fits all” because that is absolutely not mirrored by the reality of the situation.  We don’t have unlimited funds, we need to make our money work smarter not harder.

We need to put some sense and consistency into how we handle the locking down and loosening up of our social distancing, with priority being given to allowing the most economically beneficial and least impactful (in terms of virus spread) actions before we subsequently allow activities of little/no economic benefit but very impactful of risk of infection.  Currently, we’re doing that almost exactly the wrong way.

And similarly, we need some sort of sensible approach to helping the people and businesses who need help, while not rewarding people by paying them more to not work than they’d earn when working.  No-one should be profiting from this crisis; everyone should be evenly sharing in the burden and hardships.

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/638 cases/the equivalent of 18,803 cases per million people
  • Vatican City/12 cases/14,981 cases per million (unchanged)
  • Andorra/758/9,810
  • Qatar/25,149/8,729
  • Luxembourg/3,894/6,221
  • Spain/269,520/5,765
  • Iceland/1,801/5,278 (unchanged)
  • Ireland/23,242/4,707

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

  • Belgium/8,761 deaths/756 deaths per million
  • Spain/26,920 deaths/576 deaths per million
  • Italy/30,911 deaths/511
  • United Kingdom/32,692/482
  • France/26,991/414
  • Netherlands/5,510/322

To put those numbers into context, the death rates per million in the US/Canada are 252/137.  The world average (not a very reliable number) is 37.6.

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

Same Day
Last Week
Yesterday Today
Total Cases 3,724,603 4,252,325 4,337,625
Total Deaths 258,272 287,127 292,561
US Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million 1,237,633/72,271
3,739
1,385,834/81,795
4,187
1,408,636/83,425
4,256
UK Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million 194,990/29,427
2,872
223,060/32,065
3,286
226,463/32,692
3,336
Canada Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million 62,046/4,043
1,644
69,981/4,993
1,854
71,157/5,169
1,885
Worst affected major country/case rate Spain/5,359 Spain/5,735 Spain/5,765
Second worst country affected Ireland/4,452 Ireland/4,685 Ireland/4,707
Third worst Belgium/4,358 Belgium/4,612 Belgium/4,640
Fourth USA/3,739 USA/4,187 USA/4,256
Fifth Italy/3,523 Italy/3,636 Italy/3,659

I’m not feeling very comfortable with my rather arbitrary definition of “major country”.  There are some other countries that could appear on the list such as Iceland and Singapore; I need to come up with an appropriate definition of “major”.

I Am Not a Doctor, But….

Usually Senate hearings are an opportunity for Senators to make self-aggrandizing soundbites that prejudge the issue the hearing is about rather than to actually try and learn and understand issues.  It is true that in Senate hearings with Dr Fauci, Senator (and doctor) Rand Paul also spends plenty of time opining on the virus, but his comments are factually based and interesting to read/hear.

This is a good article that reports Paul’s comments, and while I greatly respect Dr Fauci and admire the clear way he expresses complex issues well, there are two truths that are often overlooked.  The first is that Fauci is not expressing the unanimous opinion of all the experts in this field.  There is a marked lack of unanimity on many of the most major policy points.  Which leads into the second point.  Dr Fauci was being a bit over-simplistic when he said he wasn’t making policy, merely stating medical “facts”.  Not only are the facts more opinion-based than absolute certainties (and Fauci himself is happy to concede that the models being used to predict the future are all uniformly flawed) but Dr Fauci’s statements of medical opinion are being used directly to drive the public policy in response to his opinions.

Timings And Numbers

Here’s a very gloomy article but perhaps a necessary one.  It reminds us that until we have a cure, the virus isn’t going to go away.  In the bizarre euphoria of our desire to start opening up the country again, we seem to be overlooking that unavoidable truth.

Would you like some good news for a welcome change?  The Director of the National Institutes of Health anticipates there could be as many as 10 million doses of vaccine available by early fall, 100 million a couple of months later, and 300 million by January.  That’s an astonishingly positive prediction, beating anything else by a year.

We hesitate to accept this prediction, but presumably he would be in a position to accurately know about the likelihood of such an event.

Closings and Openings

The vexed question of what we should allow to open, how, and when, continues to be something on which there is an enormous lack of consensus.  My own views swing widely from one side of the range of possible approaches to the other and back again.  But it is clear that however we should handle this, our current “one size fits all” is totally wrong.

This article appears to support my view.  The writer, Dr Steven Shapiro, head of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, not only advocates a better approach to opening, but also reveals several fascinating points.  He said that when his hospital reached peak virus load, it had 110 of its 5500 beds filled by virus patients.  That is 2%.  As for ventilators, they had 750, of which 48 were in use by virus sufferers.

He doesn’t quite come out and say it, but you can read between the lines and see him wondering why it was they cancelled 70% of non-essential surgeries and switched to telemedicine to a level 38 times higher than ever before, with 250,000 virtual visits in April – all for a minor brush with Covid-19.

We’re starting to see some elements of what the future might be like as we try to live with the virus.  This is an interesting article about office impacts, this tells us how Washington is managing restaurant re-openings, and this is a more general look at tourism plans overall.

Who Should Pay

A federal judge has ruled that “disfavored” but legal businesses are just as entitled to government bailout money as are any other more politically correct businesses.  In particular, he was telling the SBA it could no longer refuse to distribute funds and loan guarantees to strip clubs because the law passed by Congress made no allowance for any categories of business to be excluded.  This also means that even lobbyists find themselves able to get bailout support.  We’ll avoid trying to compare the two categories of employment…..

We agree with the good judge.  Under the terms of the law, a job is a job, and a job loss is a job loss.  There was no favoritism or exceptions in the law; shame on the SBA for trying to invent something that didn’t exist.  Their job is to follow the law, not to rewrite it.

Logic?  What Logic?

Here’s a great article that echoes what we’ve been saying all along.

Thermal scanners don’t really work, and much of the time, they are egregiously overpriced devices that are hastily being repurposed by opportunistic companies that never intended the devices to report body temperatures of people to the necessary degree of accuracy for this purpose.

Medical

WHO issues some vague and meaningless statements about vaccines.  Give us specifics, please.  Tell us which vaccines are the 7 or 8 “top candidates” and why they are looking good, and then please also advise probable lead times for the rest of the trialing and evaluation process.

Money

The Dow followed up yesterday’s bad day with a worse day today, dropping 1.9% (457 points) to close at 23,765.  These wild swings are hard to understand.

Rumors

I saw several different articles today, all making the claim that Russian now has the second largest number of confirmed cases of anywhere in the world, after the US.  Articles such as this go further and say that Russia now has more than 232,000 confirmed cases.

That’s really puzzling, because at the end of today, while indeed, Russia is reporting 232,243 confirmed cases, Spain is reporting 269,520.  As best we can tell, that means Russia is still a considerable distance behind Spain.

How is it that a sudden burst of stories all started claiming Russia was the second highest?

Other

This chart above provides a fascinating look at people’s attitudes to starting to travel again.  I was particularly surprised at how eager people are to go back to cruising, although depending on if your glass is half full or half empty, to anticipate 58% of previous cruise numbers may not be unqualified good news for the cruise lines.  More detail about the study is here.

Doctor visits are expensive, although for most of us, that cost is cushioned by some type of health care coverage.  Dentist visits more often have us paying “full freight” and I doubt a single reader would describe a dentist visit as inexpensive.

So it is with astonishment we read this article in which a dentist says he can’t afford the cost of buying a mask and other PPE.

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.

1 thought on “Covid-19 Diary : Tuesday 12 May, 2020”

  1. I certainly don’t want to hijack what I view as an interesting and valuable blog, by making political comments, and the vitriol that often results. But the never-ending dysfunction at so many levels of leadership is just so apparent and so disheartening.

    People are suffering (in many ways) and dying in large numbers. We are suffering nearly another 9/11 every day. It’s nearly unimaginable.

    Yet our leaders, of all persuasions, seem to hate each other more than they love our country. They seem to be more interested in tearing each other down than in protecting and helping our country, which really means their friends and families also.

    I remember after 9/11, our political leaders gathered on the steps of the Capital and put aside their differences to work together at a very difficult time.

    Please, let’s write to all of our political leaders, and ask them, no, rather demand, that they start working together for the good of the nation. Or resign the jobs that they dishonor with their behavior.

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David.

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