Covid-19 Diary : Tuesday 19 May, 2020

 

Here’s a major feature story in the NY Times headed “‘Way Too Late’: Inside Amazon’s Biggest Outbreak“.  You don’t have to guess too hard to realize this is not a gushy article full of praise for Amazon and the way it has responded to the coronavirus threat and protected the safety and health of its workers.

But, in its “shock horror” breathless telling of the story, the NYT omits one rather vital detail that would transform the direction of the story 180°.  The article rushes to tell us the quoted rate of infections, according to an Amazon critic, is

that more than 900 of the company’s 400,000 blue-collar workers have had the disease.

After offering up this number without any explanation for how it was arrived at, the article then doubles down and says this number almost certainly understates the spread of the illness among Amazon’s employees.  Again, no explanation or justification for this statement is made.

But now for the vital detail that is omitted.  Aren’t you curious to know just how much worse Amazon’s headline inspiring terrible infection rate is, compared to the rest of the country?  That was the immediate question I had, so I checked (it only took a few quick seconds).

The Amazon rate – 900/400,000 is the same as 2,250 cases per million.  Currently, the US official reported infection rate is 4,748 per million.  It is thought the official rate could be at least ten times lower than the real rate.

I’ll do the math for the NYT.  In happy reality, and by the NYT’s own figures, there is somewhere between half as much risk and a mere 1/20th risk of catching the virus for people who work in Amazon workers compared to everyone else.  If you’re looking for a safe place, maybe you should go work in an Amazon warehouse!

So the reality of the NYT’s accusative and shaming story is that the headline would better read “It is Twice as Safe to Work in an Amazon Warehouse”.  Yes, that’s also newsworthy, but in a totally different way to how the NYT chose to portray it.

Why would the NYT be so deliberately distortive?  We’ve no idea, and of course we’re sure it isn’t because Amazon founder Jeff Bezos also owns a major competing newspaper to the NYT, the Washington Post.  🙂

Most of all, we’re frustrated to see a newspaper that some people naively continue to trust (remember, this is the newspaper that stated as a certain fact that doctors were turning people away, leaving them to die because they had no ventilators, even though that never ever happened) choosing to deliberately distort the public perception of the impacts of the coronavirus, and seemingly try to scare Amazon’s employees away from their jobs at a time when the country is reliant on Amazon’s continued efficient functioning, more than ever before.

Current Numbers

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

  • San Marino/655 cases/the equivalent of 19,308 cases per million people
  • Vatican City/12 cases/14,981 cases per million (unchanged)
  • Qatar/35,606/12,384
  • Andorra/761/9,849 (unchanged)
  • Luxembourg/3,958/6,335
  • Spain/278,803/5,963
  • Iceland/1,802/5,281 (unchanged)
  • Mayotte/1,370/5,037 (unchanged)

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

  • Belgium/9,108 deaths/786 deaths per million
  • Spain/27,778 deaths/594 deaths per million
  • Italy/32,169 deaths/532
  • United Kingdom/35,341/521
  • France/28,022/429
  • Sweden/3,743/371

To put those numbers into context, the death rates per million in the US/Canada are 283/157.  The world average (not a very reliable number) is 41.7.

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

Same Day
Last Week
YesterdayToday
Total Cases4,337,6254,888,1244,982,937
Total Deaths292,561319,974324,554
US Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million1,408,636/83,425
4,256
1,550,294/91,981
4,687
1,570,583/93,533
4,748
UK Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million226,463/32,692
3,336
246,406/34,796
3,632
248,818/35,341
3,667
Canada Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million71,157/5,169
1,885
78,072/5,842
2,071
79,112/5,912
2,098
Worst affected major country/case rateSpain/5,765Spain/5,950Spain/5,963
Second worst country affectedIreland/4,707Belgium/4,796Belgium/4,816
Third worstBelgium/4,640USA/4,687USA/4,748
FourthUSA/4,256Italy/3,735Italy/3,749
FifthItaly/3,659UK/3,632UK/3,667

I Am Not a Doctor, But….

UK Prime Minister is being pressed to disclose more about the advice he has been receiving from his experts and which has been used to shape the UK’s very disappointing response to the coronavirus.

This is particularly relevant because one of the leading pieces of initial advice is increasingly now being shown as total rubbish.  A computer model developed by a well-known predictor of doom whenever the potential arises was the apparent reason for the government switching from a tolerant Sweden style model to a fairly rigid lockdown.

At the time this model was released, sensible people expressed surprise and astonishment at its projections, and asked its author, a Prof Neil Ferguson, to share his methodology.  He refused, saying the computer program he’d developed was too complicated for ordinary people to understand.

Now, after almost two months, and apparently some urgent debugging and fixing of his computer model, he has released the code – not the code he used two months ago, but a new improved version, a version he deemed suitable to proudly show.

Except that computer programmers who have looked at it have thrown their hands up in horror and labeled it as an utter disgraceful mess.  It is so bad that if you run the model twice, it gives different answers each time.  It can’t even replicate/duplicate its own projection reliably.

But apparently, his model was accepted without question and used to justify turning the UK “upside down”, at a cost of who-knows-how-many billions (possibly trillions?) of pounds.

And a further irony?  He said “if you do what I suggest, you’ll only have 20,000 people die rather than 500,000”.  So the UK did what he suggested.  Their current death toll, after over 500 more deaths today, is 35,341.  His model seems to have been wrong both for its high number and its low number.

Closings and Openings

Sometimes, an article’s headline says it all in a manner that requires no further explanation.  Such as, for example, this quote from the CEO of the Dubai Airports group

Future Travel Will Be ‘as Enjoyable as Open-Heart Surgery’

Yes, that’s really going to encourage us to fly through Dubai in the future.  Although we fear his prediction was not intended to apply solely to his own airports.

Who Should Pay

One of the surprising provisions of the previous however-many trillion dollar bailout bill, and being extended into the new $3+ trillion bailout, is a federal gift of $600/week to all unemployed workers, in addition to whatever they are receiving from their state in unemployment benefits.  That’s another $15/hr.

It was known this would mean that many people would end up receiving more in unemployment pay than they had formerly received working fulltime (even more than if they worked some overtime too) but one of the two political parties insisted this made sense, and so the provision was included.

According to this article, 68% of all unemployed people are now receiving more in unemployment benefits than they had earned while working.

I have earlier cited articles referring to how employers have had problems staying open, because their employees have asked/begged/demanded to be let go, so they can safely earn more money staying at home than they’d make working in possibly risky situations.

This is so far beyond crazy that words fail me.  Maybe someone who supports that particular political party could explain the logic behind it….

Logic?  What Logic?

The Veteran’s Affairs Administration is buying additional supplies of gas masks, ballistic gloves, and other riot type gear on an expedited basis under a special authorization “in response to Covid-19 outbreak”.

One word :  Why?  Are they expecting to be physically attacked by the virus?

Here’s another example of dubious media reporting.  To set the scene, the US GDP shrank by 4.8% in the first quarter, and, as mentioned a day or two ago, is expected to decline 40% in the second quarter.  We’ve no idea what the third and fourth quarters might be, although we’ve seen some positive projections, but they have been made a month or more ago so probably now need to be updated and revised much further down.

There’s another country that is expecting a 7% shrink in GDP for the year, with a major contributing factor being a shrink in exports to other countries (described in the article as “an eye-watering decline”), something it can hardly be blamed for directly.  It is spending the equivalent (after adjusting for population differences) of about $1 trillion, in total, on bailout assistance, compared to the US with over $3 trillion spent by the federal government alone, who knows how much more by state governments, and the possibility of another $3 trillion spend any day now.

Which country do you think, on balance, is doing better?

You might be surprised to learn that instead of being hailed as an economic success story, the other country is now suffering bad press.  Why?

It is Sweden, a controversial country because it refused to bow to conventional wisdom and lock its country down.

Virus?  What Virus?

You’ve got to love the overwhelming irony in this article, reporting that people who attended protests about lockdown orders may have contributed to the rapid spread of the virus.

Medical

Apparently, researchers are starting to understand some of the factors that, at an individual level, influence your chance of getting a severe or moderate case of Covid-19, and your risk of dying.

But do you see the curious ambiguity in this statement

In crowded hospitals, and with shortages of medical resources, this simple model can help to quickly prioritize patients, especially during a pandemic when limited healthcare resources have to be allocated

What does “prioritize” actually mean?  In any subsequent potential larger outbreak of cases, if they know you’ve a greater chance of having a severe infection, are in greater need of extended healthcare, and at greater rosk of dying, does it mean you get higher allocation of scarce resources, or does it mean they decide “we could treat five mild cases or this one severe case” and decide to leave you out in a corridor to quickly die?

Call us unnecessarily pessimistic if you will, but we fear it means the latter.

Money

After its massive run up yesterday, the Dow gave back almost half its gains, dropping 1.6% (391 points) to close at 24,207.

Other

We thought this was a clever idea.

 

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 : Tuesday 19 May, 2020”

  1. Regarding Sweden being a “controversial country because it refused to bow to conventional wisdom and lock its country down.” Are you saying you now agree with the Swedish authorities and believe lockdowns are a mistake?

    1. No, if I was saying that then I’d actually say so. I don’t know enough to have an opinion yet.

      I think Sweden’s supporters make a very valid point when they say it is too soon to make judgment as to if they did the right thing or not. We need to wait until the virus has finally been vanquished and only then can one hope to possibly know what was right and what was wrong, but even that will involve a lot of subjective judgment and desperate attempts to quantify actual true deaths and actual true economic harm and then find some way to balance the two.

      That’s something I doubt there’ll ever be a consensus on!

      But I am saying there have been lots of articles that have been expressing negative surprise at Sweden’s decision.

  2. Some food for thought on “why are people getting more in unemployment than working”.

    A combination of rose colored glasses and politics makes common sense solutions impossible and that results in crazy results like paying people above the pay level of jobs in their area.

    A quick bit of background. This country has a rural support basis. Many people have this idealistic view of small towns and rural America — the mom and pa family farm, the Main Street from the Andy Griffin show, etc. This despite that most farm production these days are corporate run and most small town main streets died 10-30 years ago when a Walmart or Dollar General opened at the edge of town.

    We have numerous federal programs to support rural areas — Connect America Fund (provides subsidies to provide phone service in rural America), essential air service (support for low usage airports mostly in the middle of no where), and many, many more.

    I’ll leave it to the reader to say if the above is a good thing or not but current reality is the federal government doesn’t do stuff that appears to hurt rural areas. This despite two interesting facts. The economic engines of this country are metropolitan areas. Rural areas are generally low cost places to live.

    The US economy is consumer spending driven (~75% of the total from memory). So if you withdraw too much spending quickly, it becomes a death spiral (aka a great depression). So keeping enough spending flowing even during a downturn makes it possible return to real growth much quicker as the shock ends (or slows).

    So much of the economic damage from Covid-19 and the lock downs hit high cost states. Thus the need for a higher floor payment to ensure the economy didn’t go into a death spiral. Yes, I know many states were impacted by the economic center of our country NYC metro area was hit the hardest and will have the longest lock downs and restricted activities. (And just to justify the economic center statement: Only 10 states pay more to the federal government than they get back in federal government spending. Of the top 5, three are NYC metro. So yes, this area generates significant economic value and is critically important to the whole USA).

    So what common sense solutions might be possible:
    – The unemployment added payment ($600) could have been scaled for the cost of living (say by county or SMSA). Given all the spending on non-urban America this rare case of urban areas benefiting would have made perfect sense. Of course, the 80 Senators from the 40 states subsidized by the federal government every year and the subset of those that are rural would have been up in arms about “them getting more than us”
    – Have a phased reduction in benefits when someone goes back to work. So instead of losing unemployment for taking a job, the benefits are reduced by a fraction of the pay at the new job. In normal times this makes some sense as working costs more than sitting at home (transportation, clothing, etc.). It makes more sense as the role of the extra money is to encourage consumer spending. Of course if the new job pays well enough the entire unemployment amount goes to zero.

    The latter one, in particular, has to be paired with rules like searching for work is mandatory and benefits are lost if the previous employment is offered and refused.

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David.