The Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier

The Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier as it goes on. There are several reasons for this. For one thing, the US could have side-stepped this whole nightmare. If we had a real President and our usually competent watch-dogs had been on the job, we most likely could have stopped the virus at its first appearance as did many other nations. But this has not been the case.

Second, it is beginning to look like the pandemic is not going away soon. It is not going to be over this summer or this fall or next spring. And it looks unlikely that a vaccine will be found soon or even at all.

Third, it is beginning to look like Republicans, employers and corporations are going to push for the rapid opening of the US economy with horrific results. Trump and Republican motives for this are looking dubious at best and murderous at worst.

Fourth, some of the Trump base are acting increasingly crazy and violent. Armed resistors of the lockdown are protesting their God given right to die of the Corona Virus. And Trump and the Republicans are encouraging them.

 Dawn in the Tetons of Wyoming.  The fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier seems almost incompatible with the remaining beauty of the natural world.
Dawn in the Tetons of Wyoming.

Fifth, could it be possible that Trump is being deliberately incompetent because he thinks the virus is killing off his enemies, big city Democrats and sparing his friends, small town and rural Republicans? Or could a related idea be true: could Trump and the Republicans be trying to gain advantage by using the old mythology of wicked big city mice versus the virtuous country mice? A piece in the New York Magazine Intelligencer discusses this last possibility.

Both of these ideas are probably a little beyond the pale of normal political thought. But on the other hand, is there anything Trump wouldn’t stoop to? And it is probably erroneous that the the pandemic kills more big city people than small town people. But then again, Trump thinks some pretty crazy stuff and when it comes to the Republicans anything is possible. However, such conspiratorial planning would probably be impossible to prove and it’s a little too crazy for me, at least at this point. So I think I’ll leave this bit of craziness alone, at least for now.

At any rate it is becoming more and more clear that The Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier

*****

I didn’t realize just quite how scary the whole pandemic situation actually is until I read Chris Brooks’ article “Reopening Our Economy Now means  Mass Death” in Jacobin Magazine yesterday (May 9, 2020).

Brooks begins his article by pointing out that Covid-19 is much more than just a respiratory disease. As scientists and doctors begin to study it in more detail, they are beginning to realize it also attacks the brain, kidneys, heart, and blood vessels as well as the lungs. Science Journal, one of the top research journals, says that “The virus acts like no pathogen humanity has ever seen.”

But the most pressing issue right now is that many states and big cities are beginning to reopen their economies while new infections and deaths are probably still too high.

In most of the US, the epidemic has reached its’s first peak and is now plateauing. Confirmed cases seem to be holding steady and maybe declining just a bit in a few cities and states. Yet, in spite of the fact that new cases are still high in many areas, several states are beginning to reopen their business and economies. It is mostly Trump and his bogus economists who are pushing to open as fast as possible. Epidemiologists are saying that it is not time to reopen yet. They are saying that if workers go back to work without a comprehensive plan, the result is going to be many more cases and many more deaths.

Engineer Peak and forest pond at Dawn near Durango, Colorado.  The fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier seems almost incompatible with the remaining beauty of the natural world.
Engineer Peak and forest pond at Dawn near Durango, Colorado.

I live in New Mexico where our Democratic governor is being fairly rational about reopening. But even here there are dangers of opening up too rapidly. New Mexico did a good job of closing its economy down early in the pandemic and most people did as they were told and stayed at home for most of the last two months. As a result, deaths have been low in NM. We have had 191 Covid deaths so far and this puts us at at 8 Covid deaths per 100,000 right now. Bernalillo County where Albuquerque is located is at 6 Covid deaths / 100,000 right now. For comparison New York State is now at 135 deaths per 100,000. (All of these numbers are for cumulative deaths.)

Not all of New Mexico is in such good shape though. There have been many Covid cases on the Indian Reservations where health conditions and health facilities are not the best.

In general, New Mexico is still pretty much locked down. The state is going to experiment with small, partial, gradual opening that began a week or so ago. But if New Mexico were to lift all restrictions, it looks like it would be a huge disaster even in our more or less healthy state.

A sea of flowers and walnut trees near Austin, Texas.The fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier seems almost incompatible with the remaining beauty of the natural world.
A sea of flowers and walnut trees near Austin, Texas.

One of the better Covid trackers called “Covid ActNow” says that if all restrictions were lifted in New Mexico today, there would be a huge spike in cases. Their projections show that New Mexico hospitals would very likely overload by June 6.

Right now things are OK in New Mexico says Cover ActNow. They say that 207 hospitalizations are expected tomorrow, May 11, for which there are plenty of available hospital beds. But, if NM were to open its economy completely, 5896 hospitalizations would be expected by June 12 . They say the number of beds available in New Mexico on June 12 would be 4652, which is not nearly enough. On the other hand if restrictions are kept in place, the maximum hospital beds needed on June 12 would be around 580. This would be plenty.

Below is Cover ActNow’s graph of what would happen if restrictions were completely lifted in New Mexico.

The red line shows that if all restrictions were lifted in NM now, the state  would run out of hospital beds in  June.
The red line shows that if all restrictions were lifted in NM now, the state would run out of hospital beds in June.

Below are Covid ActNow’s projections for the next 90 days in New Mexico

ScenarioHospital overload datePopulation infected (Cumulative)Deaths
If all restrictions are liftedJune 6, 2020>70%11,000
Projected based on current trends of minimal openingNot in the next 90 days28%3,000
Here are Covid Act Now’s ninety day projections for NM

Here is a link to Covid ActNow. https://covidactnow.org/ You can check out your state and even your local county for the latest Covid-19 projections.

While I am on Covid graphs and projections here is link to a list of some of the best Covid graphs. This comes from The Verge which is part of Vox.

Of course all this looking into the future is based on models and projections. Nobody knows for sure what will actually happen, but if anything even close to these projections turns out to be true, it would be total disaster. Luckily NM has a good Democratic Governor and is not planning a complete or sudden opening. It looks like they are planning on a much more gradual, partial and sensible opening. At least I certainly hope so.

There is little doubt that The Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier.

Aspens and meadow in the Conejos Valley in Colorado.  The fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier seems almost incompatible with the remaining beauty of the natural world.
Aspens and meadow in the Conejos Valley in Colorado

*****

So, exactly how did the US get itself into this horrible mess in the first place.

Chris Brooks, in his article about opening now, says that we can best understand how the US got into this awful spot by looking at two graphs comparing the South Korean and the US reaction to Covid-19. And I added a couple more graphs that I thought were pretty good.

The US and South Korea had their first confirmed cases of Coronavirus on the same day, January 20.

Within a week, South Korea declared a national emergency and concentrated every resource it had on mass-producing test kits and then on tracing all of the contacts of infected people going back for two weeks and then quarantining everyone infected.

By the end of March, South Korea had conducted over 300,000 tests, for a per capita rate more than forty times that of the United States. As a result of testing, testing, testing, and tracing, South Korea went from a high approaching 1,000 new confirmed cases a day in late February and early March to averaging about 10 a day, as you can see in the first graph. On Thursday (May 7, 2020)  the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the country had zero new domestic cases, despite 29 million voters participating in national elections just two weeks ago.  

Aspens and Road near Dallas Divide, Colorado. The fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier seems almost incompatible with the remaining beauty of the natural world.
Aspens and Road near Dallas Divide, Colorado

By acting quickly and decisively, South Korea has so far brought the Covid-19 pandemic to a dead stop.  This may not last.  It’s hard to say what exactly the future will bring, but so far South Korea has had an amazingly good recovery.  

And the same result has been achieved by many other Asian nations such as  China, Singapore, Vietnam, and Taiwan.  Vietnam still has not had a single death from the Corona Virus, even though its first case was at about the same time as the US’s.  All of these countries had early, powerful, coordinated responses that stopped the pandemic in their countries, at least for now.

All of this is illustrated in the graph of daily cases in South Korea below.

Daily new cases in South Korea, Feb 15 to April 27
Daily new cases in South Korea, Feb 15 to April 27

In the US the picture is quite different. The US still, to this day, is facing a mass shortage of test kits and testing. As a result there is almost no contact tracing. The states have been left to solve all problems on their own and their is no coordinated federal policy for dealing with Covid-19. States are expected to find their own test kits, masks, and protective gear.

You can see the result in the second graph below. Cases began a steady climb to a plateau, and since reaching this high number of new cases it has stayed here. As Brooks says,

We’ve merely plateaued the number of new cases and deaths at almost their highest level. Yet the United States is moving towards reopening the economy — which means that, at best, we will continue to see the same high number of new cases every day and that, at worst, cases and deaths will climb.

Daily new cases in the US.
Daily new cases in the US.
The fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier seems almost incompatible with the remaining beauty of the natural world.
Fairyland at dawn in Bryce National Park in Utah

Below are a couple more graphs that I found that illustrate just how badly the US has done in dealing with the Corona Virus. The graph directly below shows active cases of Covid in New York State from the first case until yesterday. New York is also compared to all the other states. The New York State covid numbers are currently the worst in the world, surpassing even Italy, the hardest hit country in Europe. The number of cases in New York is finally plateauing and maybe decling just a bit but the city is far from achieving the numbers of South Korea.

This graph shows active cases of Covid in New York State from the first case until yesterday.  New York is also compared to all the other states.
This graph shows active cases of Covid in New York State from the first case until yesterday. New York is also compared to all the other states.

Below is another graph showing the active cases of covid in the various countries. The US is at the Top and Germany is highlighted a little further down. China is at the bottom.

Confirmed Covid cases of various countries.  The US is at the top.  Germany is half way down and China is at the bottom.
Confirmed Covid cases of various countries. The US is at the top. Germany is half way down and China is at the bottom.

The two graphs above come from the 91-Divoc graphing system. These graphs are quite good and can be customized in many different ways. I think the graphs in this system are probably the best out there right now.

Another way to compare the US with South Korea is to look at the number of deaths per 100,000 in each country. The split between the US and Korea is pretty horrifying. Right now the cumulative number of Covid-19 deaths per 100,000 in New York State is 135, in the overall US it is 23, while in South Korea it is less than 1.

In my opinion The Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier every day.

Primrose  Waterfall in Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado.  The fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier seems almost incompatible with the remaining beauty of the natural world.
Primrose Waterfall in Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado

*****

The future of Covid-19 is America does not look good.

Right now NYC is still struggling to get enough test kits and it has barely begun a contact tracing program and it has been forced to cope with zero federal effort to help in its Covid response.

And the future is also looking distinctly glum. There are many scientists, immunologist and other researchers saying that Covid-19 is most likely going to be part of our lives for quite a while yet. No one can say exactly how long that might be, but it doesn’t look good.

Scientists say that at least 85-90% of the US population is still susceptible to the Corona virus. This means that the vast majority of the US population has yet to be exposed. The US is nowhere near what is called “herd immunity,” the point where most of the population has some level of immunity.

And it looks like a vaccine is not likely to be discovered and produced soon. Many scientists say that a vaccine is multiple years away, if one can be found at all. The world record for developing a new vaccine for any virus is four years. It took this long to produce a vaccine for mumps. In the past there have been seven different forms of corona virus including Sars, and no new vaccine has ever been discovered for any of them in spite of continuing efforts.

Foggy Glacier Creek in Glacier National Park in Montana.  The fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier seems almost incompatible with the remaining beauty of the natural world.
Foggy Glacier Creek in Glacier National Park in Montana

Brooks says that no serious scientists are predicting a swift discovery of a Corona vaccine.

If a vaccine were created in eighteen months (possibly cutting ethical corners in the process), it would be entirely unprecedented. James Hildreth, a leading international immunologist, told the Wall Street Journal, “I’m very cautious in telling people we will have a vaccine for Covid-19 … All the other major vaccines we have—for measles, Ebola—have taken a minimum of seven years, and some as long as 40 years.” Multiple health experts say a vaccine is unlikely anytime soon. Producing a vaccine by 2022 “is very optimistic and of relatively low probability,” Robert van Exan, a biologist with decades of experience in this area, told the New York Times.

The discovery of a new drug to fight the corona virus is also likely to be a long, slow battle. A lot of new drugs are under study now. But there are actually very, very few anti-virals that have ever been shown to be safe and effective in the war against viruses.

And there is little hope that warmer weather will slow down the epidemic. “The virus is already spreading rapidly in tropical countries, and Australia and Iran saw fast distribution in warm climates.” Warmer temperatures do not seem to faze Coronavirus says Brooks.

The idea of somehow attaining herd immunity is not looking good either.

The growing consensus among scientists is that exposure to SARS-CoV-2 provides some immunity for some unknown amount of time, but the WHO has warned that there is no evidence that someone who tests positive for antibodies is immune. Some evidence also suggests that infected people with no symptoms or mild symptoms might not produce enough antibodies to develop immunity.

********

Wildflower covered Hillside at Dawn in the Tetons.  The fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier seems almost incompatible with the remaining beauty of the natural world.
Wildflower covered Hillside at Dawn in the Tetons

All of this means that we are left with what is being called The Hammer and the Dance. This means that probably the only real way of dealing with Corona is repeated cycles of lock-down and re-opening which results in waves of easing and resurgence of the pandemic. The hope is that lock downs will become more and more effective and the levels of contagion will get less and less and that, at the same time, the economy can somehow be kept alive in the periods of reopening.

The Hammer and the Dance means alternating what is called suppression (the lockdowns) followed what is called mitigation (the reopenings).

Moving back and forth between mitigation and suppression is the approach now favored by many governments around the world and by many US governors. (South Korea did not have to resort to a country-wide lockdown like the United States did because its testing and tracing program is so thorough.)

This seesaw approach has been called “the hammer and the dance,” where “the hammer” is bringing everything to a halt through lockdowns and “the dance” is accepting a relatively large number of deaths while keeping the economy humming along. The idea is to continue alternating the hammer and the dance until a vaccine is eventually developed.

The problem with all of this in the US is that the level of infection is still quite high in much of the US. And we still don’t have nearly enough testing and almost zero contact tracing. Almost all epidemiologists say that the US is not ready for reopening at this time. All the other nations like South Korea and Vietnam (who still have zero Covid-19 cases) did not reopen until new cases were rapidly falling. This has not happened in the US yet. “The protocol is to wait till infections are very low, close to zero, before relaxing social distancing.”

But the US has not brought new infections close to zero, as has been done by those countries who are now safely reopening. In the US we have merely plateaued the number of new cases and deaths.

The whole point of the lockdown / reopen scenario is to begin at a low level of infections and build on this baseline. But we are not doing this is the US. Instead we are essentially using the highest rate of confirmed cases and deaths as the new baseline — the new normal — for moving forward with the ‘dance’ of reopening the economy.

Valley floor and wildflowers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  The fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier seems almost incompatible with the remaining beauty of the natural world.
Valley floor and wildflowers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

It is mostly the Republicans and the large corporations who are arguing for complete opening right now. The states and even many of the US population are not so sure.

In an April 15–20 poll, 80 percent of those surveyed supported continued lockdowns. In an April 7–12 poll, two-thirds said they were more worried about their state lifting restrictions on public activities too quickly, vs. one-third worried about “not quickly enough.”

So who is going to decide whether to open or not? I suspect that it won’t be the people of the US. One thing is certain though. It is the working people who are suffering the most now and who will suffer the most in the future. According to Brooks,

Low-wage workers will continue to bear the brunt. In slaughterhouses, where the vast majority of workers are black or Latino immigrants, workers have never experienced a lockdown nor any measures to slow the spread. As would be expected, their workplaces are hotbeds for the virus.

Transit workers, grocery workers, postal workers, and health care workers have had to fight tooth and nail for protective equipment. The more people use transit and go to retail stores, the more the virus will spread. The more the virus spreads, the more our hospitals will be overrun.

Wild flowers and sage in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  The fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier seems almost incompatible with the remaining beauty of the natural world.
Wild flowers and sage in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Unfortunately, it looks like employers and corporations are not going to be happy with long periods of lockdown in the hope that new infections and deaths will gradually lessen and the pandemic can be gradually defeated. It looks like employers will oppose any kind of lockdowns, intermittent or otherwise. And it also looks like this will mean heavy losses for workers and for those labor unions that still exist.

Mass unemployment means consumer spending is going to be down for a long time. Companies whose profits plummet will respond by more zealously demanding concessions, busting unions, pressuring workers to work harder so they can lay off “excess” capacity, and pressing governments to cut their taxes and strip away environmental and workplace regulations. The past two months have seen countless cases of companies refusing to alert their employees to COVID-19 cases at work and forcing them to work without PPE.  (Personal Protective Equipment.)

Likewise, state governments facing massive deficits will seek to dissolve union contracts or demand concessions, try to get rid of their pension obligations (as suggested by Mitch McConnell), and gut public services.

All in all, it looks like the future of the Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier.

But, as I’ve said many times, the future is very, very hard to predict. And that is especially true right now. Currently everything is very volatile. Things are changing rapidly. This post will probably turn out to be wrong in many ways even though it is definitely not pure speculation. I’ve done my best to base it on at least some solid numbers.

But still, it’s possible that the pandemic could turn out completely differently from what I have discussed above. For one thing, I’m beginning to hear about cracks in the Republican monolith. It could turn out that Trump’s base will lose faith in him or that the Republicans will lose the Senate.

There is a possibility that the future may be much cheerier than what I have written about here. So stay tuned for the next episode. Who knows.

Yellow Wildflowers and valley floor in the Tetons of Wyoming.  The fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier seems almost incompatible with the remaining beauty of the natural world.
Yellow Wildflowers and valley floor in the Tetons of Wyoming
Snake River Ponds in the Black Tail Butte area of the Tetons.  The fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier seems almost incompatible with the remaining beauty of the natural world.
Snake River Ponds in the Black Tail Butte area of the Tetons
Bluebells and Creek in the  Black Tail Butte area of the Tetons.  The fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier seems almost incompatible with the remaining beauty of the natural world.
Bluebells and Creek in the Black Tail Butte area of the Tetons
Desert Paintbrush in the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  The fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier seems almost incompatible with the remaining beauty of the natural world.
Desert Paintbrush in the Grand Canyon in Arizona

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More Reading on this subject

Chris Brooks’ article “Reopening Our Economy Now means  Mass Death”

A piece in the New York Magazine Intelligencer discusses the mythology of wicked city mice versus virtuous country mice.

Here is a link to Covid ActNow graphing system. https://covidactnow.org/ You can check out your state and even your local county for the latest Covid-19 projections.

Here is link to a list of some of the best Covid graphs.

In my opinion the best Covid-19 graphs above come from the 91-Divoc graphing system.

 Vietnam still has not had a single death from the Corona Virus, even though its first case was at about the same time as the US’s.

Post summary

The Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier.

The Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier as it goes on. There are several reasons for this.

For one thing, the US could have side-stepped this whole nightmare. If we had a real President and our usually competent watch-dogs had been on the job, we most likely could have stopped the virus at its first appearance as did many other nations. But this has not been the case.

Second, it is beginning to look like the pandemic is not going away soon. It is not going to be over this summer or this fall or next spring. And it looks unlikely that a vaccine will be found soon or even at all.

Third, it is beginning to look like Republicans, employers and corporations are going to push for the rapid opening of the US economy with horrific results. Trump and Republican motives for this are looking dubious at best and murderous at worst.

Fourth, some of the Trump base are acting increasingly crazy and violent. Armed resistors of the lockdown are protesting their God given right to die of the Corona Virus. And Trump and the Republicans are encouraging them.

Fifth, could it be possible that Trump is being deliberately incompetent because he thinks the virus is killing off his enemies, big city Democrats and sparing his friends, small town and rural Republicans? Or could a related idea be true: could Trump and the Republicans be trying to gain advantage by using the old mythology of wicked big city mice versus the virtuous country mice? A piece in the New York Magazine Intelligencer discusses this last possibility.

In my opinion, the Covid-19 pandemic is getting scarier and scarier every day.

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