• We Are Still At Least Two Weeks Away From Our Peak

    This week is going to be our “Pearl Harbor moment,” says the surgeon general, and he’s not alone. But I don’t see where that’s coming from. Here’s a look at the day-to-day growth rate of COVID-19 deaths:

    The good news, obviously, is that the growth rate appears to be going down. The bad news is that as long as it’s above zero the number of deaths is increasing every day. This means that although next week will be bad, the week after that will be even worse:

    This is the roughest kind of projection, but it suggests that we’ll have 20,000 new deaths next week and 30,000 the week after that. The rate of new deaths should then start to slowly decelerate.

    Of course, this all depends on countermeasures being kept in place and holdout states not releasing a big new pool of infections into the country. For what it’s worth, here’s a messy look at some state data (the dashed black line is for the entire country):

    New York is showing signs of flattening, and so is New Jersey. Louisiana appears to be accelerating. Other states seem to be growing at a fairly steady rate.

  • Coronavirus Growth in Western Countries: April 4 Update

    Here’s the coronavirus growth rate through April 4. Canada is now on Day 20 and it looks like they really have flattened their curve significantly. The Swedish data, as usual, should be taken with a grain of salt since this is a weekend.

    How to read the charts: Let’s use France as an example. For them, Day 0 was March 5, when they surpassed one death per 10 million by recording their sixth death. They are currently at Day 30; total deaths are at 1,262x their initial level; and they have recorded a total of 113.0 deaths per million so far. As the chart shows, this is above where Italy was on their Day 30.

    The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here.

  • Social Distancing Is Not Going Away

    Jack Kurtz/ZUMA

    Just a reminder in case you haven’t absorbed enough bad news over the past few weeks: epidemiologists expect COVID-19 to return in the fall even if we successfully stamp out the current outbreak by the end of spring. This means that after a few months of respite, we will be adopting social distancing measures again later this year. There’s no telling when, but I’ll bet it will be at the first hint of a new outbreak.

    Among other things, this means we need to be prepared with another huge rescue package. This time, since we know it’s coming, hopefully we’ll be ready. There are plenty of kinks in the package we passed last week, which is understandable for a first try passed in record time. By fall, however, the states should have their unemployment insurance systems running more smoothly; the small business loan package can be tweaked to avoid delays and bank problems; and medical supplies will have been fully stockpiled. We’ll be old hands at this, but only if we spend the summer planning for it.

  • Maybe the Coronavirus Will Give Us a Miss!

    It's pretty in Plumas County, but that's not going to stop the coronavirus from spreading.Sacramento Bee/ZUMAPRESS

    The LA Times reports today on the attitude toward the coronavirus pandemic in rural northern California:

    On Tuesday afternoon, no confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been announced in rural Plumas County. But it was getting closer: a few cases in neighboring Butte County, the first death just announced in Reno — the nearest city, at 82 winding-mountain-road miles away. “We’re just waiting to hear when the first case will be,” said Carey, co-owner of Quincy Provisions.

    A few hours later, her nephew broke the news: Plumas County had just announced its first confirmed case. On Facebook, locals were already sleuthing, trying to figure out who the sick person was. The tension in this Sierra Nevada town rose. “I think it shocked some people because maybe they didn’t think it would come,” Carey said. “But it’s here.”

    With only a handful of exceptions, this has been the response everywhere in the world. Nobody is willing to take the pandemic seriously when the first case shows up. Or the second. Or the fiftieth. It’s not until there are hundreds of cases and a few dozen dead that the lockdowns start. And that’s true even now, long past the time when there’s any excuse for not knowing better.

    Added to that—in the US, anyway—is the idiotic refusal of many red state governors to order lockdowns for purely partisan reasons: Donald Trump said it was no big deal, so by God, it’s no big deal. Trump has since changed his tune, but it’s too late. The holdout governors are still mostly holding out, and even if they change their minds in the next few days they’ll be weeks behind everyone else. So just as the pandemic is starting to ease off everywhere else, there will be a huge new—and growing—pool of infected people who are ready to re-spread the virus all over the country.

    I realize that I’m pretty lucky: I’ve been working at home for the past 20 years and I don’t especially crave social interaction. So the lockdown isn’t much of a hardship for me. Still, even granting that it’s harder on other people, the response to the pandemic has been a remarkable display of just how resistant we humans are to changing our habits until we’re almost literally forced to by images of hospitals overflowing with the sick and dead. The COVID-19 pandemic is obviously coming everywhere, but even now there are people holding out hope that maybe it will somehow see the invisible border that defines their county or their state or their country and decide to detour around it. If it weren’t for the fact that humans have displayed this same behavior a thousand times before throughout history, I’d say it was pretty stunning. But it’s not. It’s just human nature.

  • “One of the greatest answers I’ve ever heard.”

    Gripas Yuri/Abaca via ZUMA

    A couple of days ago John Roberts asked a question. President Trump immediately tossed it to Mike Pence, who used up nearly a thousand words saying nothing responsive. Remarkably, Roberts followed up not once, not twice, but four times:

    You were considering, last month reopening the Healthcare.gov exchanges. There has been a determination not to do that. Could you tell us what the rationale was behind that decision?

    But about people who don’t have insurance?

    Understood, Mr. Vice President. But there will be people who don’t have insurance —

    But, again, Mr. Vice President —

    I’m sorry to belabor a point, but that’s for people who —

    Finally Trump took pity on Pence and showed him how a pro does it: “It’s something we’re really going to look at,” he said, which in Trumpspeak means that it’s never going to happen. But it also cuts off followups at their knees. What more can you ask? Trump then praised his veep:

    I think it’s one of the greatest answers I’ve ever heard, because Mike was able to speak for five minutes and not even touch your question.

    This is how these briefings go, and that was between Trump and a Fox reporter. You can just imagine how the rest of it went. It’s pure circus, pure campaign event, pure ratings bonanza, pure performance art. This is why they shouldn’t be broadcast live.

    UPDATE: To my great surprise, Trump did end up looking at it. Yesterday he announced that he would pay hospitals for uninsured COVID-19 patients as long as they didn’t charge the patients anything. Good for him.

  • Trump Administration Adopts Mini-Universal Health Care for COVID-19

    Amy Katz/ZUMA

    What a brilliant idea!

    The Trump administration will use a federal stimulus package to pay hospitals that treat uninsured people with the new coronavirus as long as they agree not to bill the patients or issue unexpected charges.

    ….A 1918-like pandemic would cause U.S. hospitals to absorb a net loss of $3.9 billion, or an average $784,592 per hospital, according to a 2007 report in the Journal of Health Care Finance that called on policy makers to consider contingencies to ensure hospitals don’t become insolvent as a result of a severe pandemic.

    This means that the uninsured will have lower costs than anyone, including those on Medicare or private insurance. That’s very progressive, and apparently it will cost only about $4 billion out of the $100 billion earmarked for hospitals.

    But this prompts a thought. This proposal is great because it sets a standard reimbursement rate for treating COVID-19 and it makes things easy on patients. They just have to show up at the hospital and not worry about anything else. After all, it’s not their fault they got sick. So what if—and hear me out on this—we just did that for every illness? For everyone. And not just at hospitals, but everywhere. We could call it, I don’t know, universal health care or something like that. Who’s with me?

  • Coronavirus Growth in Western Countries: April 3 Update

    Here’s the coronavirus growth rate through April 3. France had another big jump and is now above the Italian trendline. Spain continues to skyrocket and will surpass Italy in deaths per million by tomorrow. On the bright side, Spain looks like it’s finally getting close to its peak:

    The data has gotten a little noisy over the past few days, but there are obviously signs of flattening here. However, it’s still too early to try to fit a curve to the United States, which remains solidly in its exponential phase:

    The model currently in favor at the White House predicts that mortality in the US will peak at 2000-2500 deaths per day, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up above that.

    I made some changes today. The scale for Italy and Spain is so big that it’s getting hard to read the charts for everyone else. So I’ve put the three countries with the largest outbreaks on the top row and the other six below with a more compressed scale. I like having the same scale for everyone, but I think it’s outlived its usefulness.

    How to read the charts: Let’s use France as an example. For them, Day 0 was March 5, when they surpassed one death per 10 million by recording their sixth death. They are currently at Day 29; total deaths are at 1,087x their initial level; and they have recorded a total of 97.3 deaths per million so far. As the chart shows, this is above where Italy was on their Day 29.

    The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here.

  • Cruise Ship Survives Attack by Venezuelan Patrol Boat

    The RCGS Resolute after its encounter with a Venezuelan patrol boat.Columbia Cruise Services

    Nobody dies in this story, so you might find it an amusing start to the day. It begins early Monday morning, when the cruise ship Resolute was idling in international waters off the coast of Venezuela while performing engine maintenance:

    Shortly after midnight, the cruise vessel was approached by an armed Venezuelan navy vessel, which via radio questioning the intentions of the RCGS RESOLUTE’s presence and gave the order to follow to Puerto Moreno on Isla De Margarita. As the RCGS RESOLUTE was sailing in international waters at that time, the Master wanted to reconfirm this particular request resulting into a serious deviation from the scheduled vessel’s route with the company DPA.

    While the Master was in contact with the head office, gun shots were fired and, shortly thereafter, the navy vessel approached the starboard side at speed with an angle of 135° and purposely collided with the RCGS RESOLUTE. The navy vessel continued to ram the starboard bow in an apparent attempt to turn the ship’s head towards Venezuelan territorial waters.

    Unfortunately for the Venezuelans, the Resolute is an Antarctic cruise ship fitted out as an icebreaker. It sustained no serious damage from being rammed on its bow.

    The Venezuelan patrol boat was not so lucky. It sank.

    Have a nice weekend, everyone.

  • Here’s What the Pandemic Is Likely to Change

    Richard B. Levine/Levine Roberts via ZUMA

    I maintain my position that the coronavirus pandemic is not likely to cause much in the way of permanent change to our way of life. The exceptions are trends that were already in place and might get a boost from the lockdown orders. For example:

    • Food delivery was obviously becoming a big thing before the pandemic started. I wouldn’t be surprised if lots of new people give it a try while locked down and then continue to use it afterward.
    • Brick-and-mortar retail outlets have been in dire straits for years. The pandemic will almost certainly accelerate their demise and give online sales a big upward spike.
    • Working from home has been gaining popularity in fits and starts for a long time. Now that the pandemic has forced it on many more people, will it finally break out and become routine? I’m uncertain about this. I suspect that an awful lot of people are learning that they don’t really like working from home all that much.
    • If we assume that COVID-19 is just the beginning of a new era of dangerous pandemics—and we probably should—we are going to start spending absolute mountains of money on R&D for quicker vaccines and ameliorative drugs.
    • Many of the biggest outbreaks were seeded by religious groups that refused to stop meeting in person. Will this cause any kind of backlash against extreme and fundamentalist religious sects? I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s not impossible.

    In the great scheme of things, these are fairly minor changes. It’s worth keeping in mind that humans are fundamentally social animals, and even after just a couple of weeks of lockdown most of us feel like we’re slowly going crackers. After two or three months we’re going to be absolutely desperate for human contact, and nothing about COVID-19 will change that. The details may change here and there, but we will remain just as social as ever.

    If you still want to make the case for major changes due to COVID-19, I suppose your best bet is to analogize it to the Black Plague.¹ After the Black Plague was over, the Renaissance blossomed in Italy and labor-saving devices became more popular. Interest in science flourished and that led directly to the Age of Reason and then to our own enlightened era. As it so happens, I think a similar big change is coming soon thanks to robots and artificial intelligence. All I need to do now is figure out a way to make a case that this will be accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and then crank out a fast insta-book aimed at the airport crowd and timed to coincide with the return of air travel. I’ll be rich!

    ¹Which killed a third of Europe. So be careful with your analogies given that COVID-19 is likely to kill more like 0.1 percent of Europe.