That Thing We Aren't Supposed to Say

We have crossed 1000 deaths in the United States. Here is the present number in the situation.

A lot of people want to push the narrative that we are just like Italy, things will wind up like Italy, and we are all going to die. But events change things. We have better medical capabilities. There are parts of the country that may have problems, but overall don’t believe the scare scenarios. The situation is bad enough. There are real concerns. But we’re not all going to die. The worst-case scenario is a scenario, not reality.

The Media Perspective in COVID-19

You know how a blizzard in Montana gets less coverage by the national press than three snowflakes falling in Manhattan gets?

COVID-19 is like that.

Over 50% of the cases are in New York City. That is where the media is. The hospitals are in meltdown. The city government, in February, still encouraged people to get together in social circles. The city let a Chinese New Year celebration go forward. Well after public health officials realized the Wuhan coronavirus was spreading socially, the head of public health for New York City was telling people they were fine and it wasn’t spreading socially.

New York City is on a worse trajectory than Wuhan, China. Just look at this:

But California is doing far better than New York City. California is doing far better than New Orleans, which had a robust and crowded Mardi Gras celebration full of people spreading the virus.

Washington State has been proactive in shutting things down.

New York is the hot spot. Because New York is the hot spot and also the central focus of news media concern, the media is giving it inordinate coverage. Frankly, they should. It is a terrible situation.

So much of the media narrative has been about what Donald Trump should have done sooner. That narrative willfully ignores three things.

  1. Impeachment was an overwhelming distraction for the administration;

  2. The President did move aggressively to stop travel to China and the media attacked him for that; and,

  3. The Mayor of New York City deserves a very large heaping of blame for what is happening in New York City.

A media unwilling to hold the Mayor of New York accountable for his own administration’s actions will not be taken seriously in trying to hold Donald Trump accountable.

The National and Regional Situations

The United States is a set of fifty nation-states. Those nation-states have ceded limited power to a federal government, but they preserve for themselves most powers. That is why the President of the United States cannot order the fifty semi-sovereign nations to shelter-in-place. Each governor of each of the states must make that call.

Regionalism works. For perspective, consider this graph:

There is undoubtedly work to still be done across the nation, but we should also keep perspective about the viral spread and the autonomous nature of the states.

Here in Georgia, my governor is coming under attack from the media and partisan Democrats for not shutting down the whole state. But Governor Kemp argues that he is letting cities, counties, and regions decide what is best for themselves. There are some counties that do not have the virus, may not get the virus, and are very rural and poor. Wiping out the economic activity in those counties right now might very well permanently cripple those counties.

But the Atlanta media and Atlanta Democrats have the perspective of Atlanta. In Atlanta, there are over 200 cases of COVID-19. It is interesting to watch the press and pundits attack the Governor as opposed to demanding the various counties shut themselves down. Governor Kemp is on record 100% supporting counties and cities doing that and lending aid and resources. But these counties are not acting.

Why not hold them accountable instead of the Governor? Because there are partisan machinations at play too. We are not, in times of crisis, supposed to point out the other side is actually playing games. But that is the reality. The loudest critics of the Governor are partisans who actively opposed him in 2018 and are now not letting this crisis go to waste.

Meanwhile, the Governor continues to listen to public health officials and emergency management officials. I am also aware of a prominent county full of the virus wherein the public officials are privately saying they are sure they cannot really lock down.

Remember the Experts

My friend Dan McLaughlin makes a great point.

Since the beginning of the Trump Administration, progressives have argued that all credible people should abandon Trump and leave him to his own devices. If you will recall, there was an active movement to shame people who worked for the President, threaten careers of those who had worked for him, and otherwise build pressure to ensure no one would work for him.

Thank God they failed. Can you imagine this situation with Drs. Fauci or Birx? Can you imagine a situation where Admiral Brett Giroir, a global expert in pandemic response and now in charge of COVID-19 testing, took a pass on working in this administration?

That is what progressives and some in the news media wanted. Thank God they were not successful.

Testing Data

Turns out the Spanish are ditching the COVID-19 tests from China. Though they advertise an 80% accuracy rate, Spain is finding they only have a 30% accuracy rate. The virus continues to spread despite lots of negative tests.

The American media continues to treat China’s numbers as accurate and a few talking heads on MSNBC seem positively giddy the United States might surpass China’s numbers. But the Chinese lie and we need to remember that.

Speaking of the Data

In 2018, the motor vehicle fatality rate in the United States was only 36,560. Less than 4,000 people drowned in pools. In the 2017-2018 period, roughly 61,000 people died of the seasonal flu. The government estimates that 606,880 people died of cancer in 2019.

It is true that the cure for COVID-19 should not be worse than COVID-19. It is also true that there is an acceptable level of risk in restarting the economy. But we have only just ramped up testing. There is still a delay. The virus is still spreading.

What is the acceptable risk here? If the mortality rate of COVID-19 is 1%, as Dr. Fauci thinks it actually is, and one person spreads it to 3 other people, if we let it spread like the seasonal flu, even I a non-math major, can do the basic calculations.

In 2018, the seasonal flu infected 44,802,629 Americans. One person is presumed to infect 1.3 people with the seasonal flu. So let’s double that number for COVID-19 and keep a conservative estimate. But remember that there is no vaccine for COVID-19 like there is with the flu. Nonetheless, let’s go for the most conservative “it’s nothing more than the seasonal flu” comparison and we get 89,605,258 COVID-19 infections.

Again, remember, the number will probably be higher because there is no vaccine and we actually do now know 1 person infects 3 people. So the real number would be over 100,000,000. But let’s go with the super conservative estimate of what it would look like if we treated this exactly like the seasonal flu or the H1N1 flu.

Well, the seasonal flu and H1N1 both kill between 0.1% and 0.3% of those infected. COVID-19 kills, conservatively 1%. That means COVID-19 would kill 896,053 people in the most conservative estimate possible. Please note that though COVID-19 gives "flu like symptoms," it is not an influenza like H1N1. So all your clever memes about H1N1 don't actually apply.

In other words, if we treat COVID-19 just like the seasonal flu, the virus will kill more people than cancer will kill and will do so in a few months, not a year as part of a multi-year cancer struggle.

If you are okay with close to a million Americans dying so you can go back to work, okay.

But let’s be really honest about what is going on here. President Trump and Vice President Pence are relying on the expertise of the Surgeon General, the head of the CDC, the head of the National Institutes of Health, and various other MDs, Ph.Ds, and other experts to give them informed opinion and also facts.

You’re relying on internet memes and your emotions to tell you it is not true.

It really is fantastic to see a bunch of people who think the President is always right decide the President may be right, but the people advising him are all wrong.

Consider a few other points.

Dr. Fauci was in government advising the President when H1N1 started spreading. He did not advocate the nation shutting down then. Why? Was it to protect Barack Obama or because H1N1 spread a lot like influenza because it is, in fact, a strain of influenza and we can manage that one?

Great Britain and the Netherlands decided to do exactly what some of you are advocating — going for herd immunity and continuing on with everyone’s daily lives. Now they are rapidly scrambling to shut down their nations and keep everyone at home. Why is that? Because they want to cause economic calamity or to hurt President Trump’s re-election or because they realize their hospitals will be overwhelmed and a ton of people will die?

There is a cost to keeping everything shut down. And there are reasonable mortality expectations in life generally. We do business every day knowing someone is going to die from something. But we also know if we all stay put in our homes for 2 weeks, we could save close to a million people and then all go back to work.

Maybe hydroxychloroquine and a z pack will save us. I hope so. We will soon find out. But in the meantime, I think rational Americans should be willing to say we can take the two-week hit to save a million lives.

Or is the President wrong about that?

By the way and to repeat myself, H1N1 and the seasonal flu are both influenza strains. COVID-19 is not. Those of you digging your heels in on the argument that it is just another flu are not only wrong on the merits of your argument, but also on the basic science of the matter.

Lastly…

For those who seem to have read their own biases into the section above on the mortality rate of the virus, I am not advocating shutting the whole place down for months. I am trying to explain why we cannot treat COVID-19 like the seasonal flu.

It is possible to be opposed to a complete global economic shutdown for months and also think 2 weeks on your couch is a fair compromise to slow down the viral spread. I think if we get to a month of no commerce, we're going to start seeing suicides and riots that will make us rethink how we're doing things.

But I also think we are already seeing hospitals overwhelmed in ways they have never been and we should, perhaps, trust the people with more knowledge, expertise, and on the ground experience than we have.

The White House economic team has mapped out the entire country by zipcode and believes, after 19 days, we should be able to slowly reopen parts of the country to full commerce. I agree with that. We shouldn't extrapolate that the whole country will wind up like NYC.

That's why I like Brian Kemp's approach here in Georgia of letting cities, counties, and regions of the state design just how locked down they should be. 

But let's not kid ourselves. We are dealing with a new virus to which no one has immunity and it kills 1% minimum of those who get it. And for those who say it is probably less than that because way more people have it, that 1% is the revision. The global average is actually 3.5% to 4% right now, including here in Georgia. But extrapolating how many more people have gotten it and didn't realize it, they've reduced that to 1%. 

How did they do that? Among other ways, they looked at all the people who got tested for the flu due to flu-like symptoms, but it came back negative. It has been a pretty good proxy. And that leads people like Dr. Fauci to conclude 1% mortality is more accurate than the global number we are seeing. That 1% is still ten times more deadly than the flu.