Urgent action now is vital on the Corona-virus pandemic. This is essential if we are to limit a large number of deaths in America.
The future of America depends on how we deal with the Corona pandemic right now today. It depends on what kind of control measures we put into place immediately, not later.
The New York Times published an article yesterday (March 20, 2020) that spells out what is likely to happen in America, depending on which of three scenarios we follow.
The three control measures that the Times considers are: no control measures, some control measures, or severe control measures. This NYT article is “Without Urgent Action, Coronavirus Could Overwhelm the US.”
There are a bunch of really good interactive graphics in the article that illustrate the results of each of the options available to us. The best way to quickly see the options available and the results of each option is to go to the NYT article and look at the graphics. They are pretty shocking.
Below is a link to the NYT article.
The rest of this post is my summary of what seems to be the best way of dealing with the Corona viris as outlined by several current news articles. There are links to these articles at the bottom of this page.
The coronavirus has infected many more people than we realize. There are many infected people out there right now that are not showing symptoms. They feel just fine, they look just fine but they are not. They are highly contagious. It is said that the number of undetected cases is 11 times higher than what has officially been reported. This is one reason this virus is so dangerous.
This means that drastic action has to take place now, especially in those places that are showing few cases.
All of this is the conclusion of Columbia University researchers who are using a New York Times data base of known cases and US Census Bureau transportation data to model the future of the contagion.
As in any prediction of the future, all of these estimates are not for sure. They could change as America adopts completely unprecedented and as yet unknown measures to control the outbreak. But they do give the best view we have of what may be coming.
The most importantly, urgent action now is vital.
A few paragraphs into the NYT article there is a graph titled, How Control Measures Could Slow the Outbreak. This graph shows what the future may be with no control measures, some control measures or severe control measures.
Further down in the essay there is a similar graph that is interactive. You click on the action scenario and then see the results in a new graph. This is also a great graph.
Unfortunately I can’t show you the graphs since NYT won’t allow me to copy them, but here are the results for each scenario in words:
The no control measures option shows the pandemic peaking in mid May with 500,000 new cases per day.
The some control measures option show shows the pandemic peaking in mid June with 300,000 new cases per day.
The severe control measures option shows the epidemic peaking later in the summer with far fewer cases. This graph doesn’t show exact numbers.
This graph I am describing is for the overall picture, what will happen all over the US. The NYT article also shows this graph for every individual state with tons of details.
It is clear from these graphs that urgent action now is vital.
The goal of the severe control option, which is the option recommended by the Times study, is to spread out the effects of the pandemic over a longer time span. This is called “flattening the curve.” The curve showing the beginning, peak and end of the pandemic is stretched out and squashed down. The curve now shows a much lower peak that is spread out over more time.
One of the reasons for spreading the epidemic out over time is so that hospitals and health care professionals are not totally overwhelmed with huge numbers of sick people showing up all at once. If that should happen, hospitals cannot deal with everyone. There are just not enough doctors, time or ventilation machines.
If hospitals are totally overwhelmed with more people than they can care for, the results are not pretty.
This happened in Italy during the current pandemic. There were so many sick people showing up at the hospitals all at once that the only option was to set up a triage system for deciding who would live and who would die. They decided to save young people who are easier to treat and who have many years of life ahead of them.
In Italy, older people were just set aside to die. There were no ventilators or doctors or time to save them. This is a pretty severe scenario and one we want to avoid in America if possible.
The large US cities on either coast have already had such large outbreaks they are probably going to see huge numbers of cases and deaths even if they do take extreme measures now.
On the other hand, those states showing few cases now could have a much better outcome if they impose strict control measures immediately. The NYT article goes on to say that ,
“Parts of the country without large clusters of cases could still avoid the worst of the outbreak — if they impose measures like closing schools, banning mass gatherings and testing and quarantining sick people and their contacts. The epidemic would then spread inland at a much slower pace and strike with less severity, the estimates say.”
“But controls would need to be put in place immediately, and everywhere.”
“We’re looking at something that’s catastrophic on a level that we have not seen for an infectious disease since 1918,” said Jeffrey Shaman, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia and the leader of the research team. He was referring to the Spanish flu.
“And it’s requiring sacrifices we haven’t seen since World War II. There are going to be enormous disruptions. There’s no easy way out.”
The NYT article says that if there are severe control measures imposed now, the outbreak looks very mild by June 1. With no control measure the outbreak will be raging all over the US by June 1. As I’ve been saying, the control measures we implement right now will have huge and long lasting consequences. Urgent action now is vital.
Controls in many places are already changing the fabric of American life. Primary and secondary schools and colleges and universities are closing everywhere. All major sporting events have been cancelled. Bars, restaurants, and many other business that are not essential are also closing. And all over the country many people are isolating themselves in their homes.
The more of these severe control measures we can enact, the better for us later on.
Unfortunately some places are resisting and this is extremely dangerous. The Times says that,
“Some places have resisted. Bars and restaurants remain open in Wichita, Kan., in a county that reported its first case on Thursday night, and in Knoxville, Tenn., where reports of the virus have been scarce. Some malls remain open in Chicago, recreational marijuana shops in Oregon, and some retail chains nationwide. Many businesses are still requiring workers to come into the office.“
All of these places are courting disaster. All resistance to shutting down as much of America as possible, as quickly as possible is endangering huge numbers of Americans.
Large numbers of epidemiologists agree that we should be shutting down as much of America as possible.
“Several researchers not involved in the Columbia University analysis who reviewed the findings said they made sense and broadly agreed with their own thinking.”
“Even in places that now appear to have few cases, they said, officials should act sooner rather than later.”
“You have to think of this as insurance for the future: The earlier you do it, the greater effect you have on the virus,” said Alessandro Vespignani, director of the Network Science Institute at Northeastern University.”
“It’s far better to take excessive precautions than not.”
Of course all of this shutting-down is very hard on the economy.
But this pandemic will not go on forever. It seems to me that it is far better to err on the side of caution, shut down as much of America as possible, and then put the economy back together when the pandemic is under control.
Paul Krugman seems to agree with this. In a recent editorial he says that we should not worry so much about GDP or the markets. He says that what we should really worry about is helping those Americans who no longer have jobs. Many people have to choose between risking their lives by going to work or staying home and running out of money. A pretty bad choice.
Krugman says that we should concentrate of making sure that all Americans who stay home have some kind of regular income even if they are not working and that we should worry about the markets after the pandemic is under control.
Slowing the epidemic will be an enormous task. One of the first things that needs to happen is for the US to make sure that we are testing as many people for contagion as possible.
Currently the US is way behind all the other nations in testing. And this is primarily Trump’s fault. Right now the US lags both Italy and South Korea in testing.
This has to be fixed very soon, since it is difficult to know what to do to stem the contagion if you don’t know exactly what is happening and where it is happening in real time.
Right now NYC is in pretty bad shape. By late spring or early summer they could be having tens of thousands of new cases everyday. But if the city remains diligent and puts severe controls into place, the peak of the epidemic could still be spread out over more time, with many fewer deaths.
As Dr. Vespignani says,
“This is serious and this is real. We have to act now and act aggressive. We have to mobilize all the resources that we have. None of us has a single solution. But we have to try all of them.”
We have to do much better than they are now doing in Wichita. “In places like Wichita, some parts of life have yet to change. In that city, bars and restaurants are allowed to operate freely as long as they keep crowds to fewer than 50 people.
Let us hope we can all do better than Wichita. If we don’t, we are going to be in a world of trouble.
More reading on this topic
Urgent action now is vital. The future of America depends on how we deal with the Corona pandemic right now. It depends on what kind of control measures we put into place right now, not later. No effective control measures means massive death all over America. Severe control measures could mean a fairly light contagion is some states at least. And the pandemic will be much better in states where it already has a good foothold.