A status on COVID-19 – and two peeks at the future after it ends

Summary:  I do not have the time to write as usual. So here are two status reports, plus two peeks at our future – after the epidemic.

COVID 19 and Bird - AdobeStock-328092186
By Paul. AdobeStock-328092186.

The big story, so far unseen

The nations of East Asia responded fast and effectively to COVID-19, despite being the first to encounter it. Each part of their OODA loops – their ability to observe, orient themselves, make decisions, and act – functioned well. The West had two months to prepare based on WHO’s warnings and the example of East Asia’s successful responses. Especially America, which was in many ways the best-prepared nation for a pandemic. Yet we did nothing to plan or mobilize. Worse, our OODA loops immediately collapsed. We cannot collectively clearly see what’s happening, let alone orient ourselves with a common view. So, of course, our decisions are impulsive and reactive. And our actions are uncoordinated and often imprudent.

The result begins to appear in stories such as this: “As the U.S. Blames China for the Coronavirus Pandemic, the Rest of the World Asks China for Help.” This shows a shift in global leadership from West to East. Time will tell its magnitude and significance. For more about this, see COVID-19 shows the new center of the world.

The Right works against a strong response

In January COVID-19 they said was just a bad flu. In February, the Right obsessed with China (comment thread were dominated by their claims that it was China’s fault, China’s numbers are fake, China is evil). This helped paralyze desperately needed preparations. Now in March they say it is exaggerated. Here is the WSJ’s latest contribution: “Is the Coronavirus as Deadly as They Say?” by Eran Bendavid and Jay Bhattacharya (professors of medicine at Stanford) – “Current estimates about the Covid-19 fatality rate may be too high by orders of magnitude.”

Medical experts of course should debate these things. But putting far out-of-consensus theories out to the public – who has no ability to evaluate their validity – is just a continuation of politics by other means. People seize on these to support their political biases, treating them as gospel. It sows dissension and limits the ability of America to respond effectively. We pay a high price for these professors’ 15 minutes. For more about this see The info superhighway makes us stupid about COVID-19.

As we are paying a big price for Trump’s defective leadership.

While conservatives attempt to slow or stop the response, hospitals fill up across America (as in Atlanta, other examples here). Medical care is hampered by large and growing shortages of everything from masks to ventilators.

When can we re-start America?

As they did in the beginning, East Asia shows us how to respond to the ending of the epidemic. The initial defense was contact tracing and quarantine of new cases. That’s how China prevented COVID-19 from taking hold outside Hubei Province. That’s how Singapore, Taiwan, and Japan prevented an epidemic in their lands.

Once the epidemic rages, these mechanisms are overwhelmed and mass closure of public spaces becomes necessary. Eventually these – plus new medicines – will slow the epidemic’s growth rate and the number of new cases will drop. When the growth rate reaches a level that contact tracing and quarantines can control it, we can re-open for business. As the Director-General of WHO said

“The last thing any country needs is to open schools and businesses only to be forced to close them again because of a resurgence. Aggressive measures to find, isolate, test, treat and trace are not only the best and fastest way out of extreme social and economic restrictions; they’re also the best way to prevent them.”

That is, of course, a simplistic (binary, on-off) version of the process. The restart can begin earlier and in phases. Unfortunately, experts as yet have too little information about the dynamics of COVID-19 and the effectiveness of the measures taken (in spotty fashion) across America to make reliable forecasts. The program is improvisational.

A reminder of the key fact

Epidemics, depressions, and wars are natural aspects of life. If we become weak, one of these ills eventually will destroy our society. For America to survive, each of us must stay connected and committed to our communities and nation. As the Director-General of WHO has said since the beginning, we can survive this well if we support each other. We have the resources. We need only the standard virtues of compassion and courage plus some wit and willpower.

It’s easy to follow the COVID-19 story

The World Health Organization provides daily information, from highly technical information to news for the general public. These are the best sources of information.

Also, see the wealth of information at the CDC website, especially their situation reports.

Posts about effects of COVID-19

For More Information

Ideas! For some shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon. Also, see a powerful and disturbing story about “Birth of a Man of Steel …for the Soviet Union.

Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also, see these posts about epidemics…

  1. See the ugly cost of the next big flu pandemic. We can do more to prepare.
  2. Stratfor: The superbugs are coming. We have time to prepare.
  3. Posts debunking the hysteria about the 2009 swine flu in America.
  4. Posts debunking the hysteria about the 2015 ebola epidemic in America.
  5. ImportantA vaccine against the fears that make us weak.

A medieval city defeats a plague

Florence Under Siege: Surviving Plague in an Early Modern City
Available at Amazon.

Florence Under Siege:
Surviving Plague in an Early Modern City
.

By John Henderson (2019), professor of Italian renaissance history at U of London.

I strongly recommend reading this fascinating review of it in the London Review of Books, with its great excerpts. From the publisher …

“Plague remains the paradigm against which reactions to many epidemics are often judged. Here, John Henderson examines how a major city fought, suffered, and survived the impact of plague. Going beyond traditional oppositions between rich and poor, this book provides a nuanced and more compassionate interpretation of government policies in practice, by recreating the very human reactions and survival strategies of families and individuals.

“From the evocation of the overcrowded conditions in isolation hospitals to the splendor of religious processions, Henderson analyzes Florentine reactions within a wider European context to assess the effect of state policies on the city, street, and family. Writing in a vivid and approachable way, this book unearths the forgotten stories of doctors and administrators struggling to cope with the sick and dying, and of those who were left bereft and confused by the sudden loss of relatives.”

 

14 thoughts on “A status on COVID-19 – and two peeks at the future after it ends”

  1. From you, to Us.

    “The real challenge in strategy is not in finding the data, nor even in its analysis; in the internet age, bucket-loads of data are readily available, while much econometric analysis is relatively straightforward; instead, the true challenge is to properly assess the functional relevance of the various phenomena. If one is looking at the wrong variables, one will of necessity predict the wrong outcomes …
    — Eric Kraus, Truth and Beauty, 14 December 2011”

    Jim

  2. Larry: “and two peaks at the future after it ends”

    I suspect it should be spelled “and two peeks at the future after it ends”

  3. I think you had a sentence cut off here:

    America can restart when the numb

    Good analysis and I hope that you are well. I could complain at length about the Right – but would I be saying anything informative, or just entertaining myself? If nothing else I have the fortune of job security in these trying times.

  4. I don’t quite understand the recession/depression talk with the COVID-19 pandemic and was hoping someone could explain.
    As there are 52 weeks in a year, each week of isolation would represent under 2% in losses to the overall economy if everything were to just shut down. But everything isn’t going to just shut down, the service and tourism industries will certainly take an economic hit as social distancing drags out to a couple of months but manufacturing and transportation should remain relatively strong.
    For instance: All of my capital projects are still moving forward on schedule and we are still replacing equipment as it is slated to be replaced. The only differences now are that we are being more cautious while taking deliveries, disinfecting common spaces frequently, deferring some of the maintenance that is performed by outside contractors, and being stricter about staff staying home if they are sick.
    I just don’t see how that adds up to a recession/depression level of economic downturn and would like someone to show me the numbers.

    1. I think “depression” extends out from the prospect of things either needing to be, or effectively ending up, shut down for a long period of time. A recession is essentially certain because of the quarantine measures since we let it get to that point – and “we let it get to that point” is accurate, because of policy decisions. The question would be if it’s a really bad quarter with a strong rebound (or a couple of those) or if it’s something longer and dragged out.

      Had everyone gotten on the ball in early Feb we would probably have never had this semi-national stay-at-home call, although we might have had a period of it in NYC or a badly hit area. But we didn’t, because we had other things to do. (I say “we,” but I guess I should say “they.”)

    2. Brian,

      That’s now how calculating GDP works. By that logic, the Great Depression was a blip in the 20th centuries gdp. Or cutting off you air for five minutes would be a blip in your lifetime’s supply of air.

    1. Sven,

      A feeling of depression is just rational, since we might be headed for a depression. It’s nothing that can’t be managed by a moderately competent government. But that might be asking too much of our leaders today.

  5. Where I live, prisons are being emptied and the Cops are standing down, or calling in sick. Grocery stores limit purchases of canned goods to less than a family can live on that day, much less build up a stache.
    And this is just the beginning. I have been in meetings where we were told that the “system” will be visibly overwhelmed in about 2 weeks.
    Is this the right time to get harsh on gun control? I mean, to use scarce and dwindling police assets to raid the homes of the most law abiding people in their communities because they still have an AR 15?
    If not now, why not?

    1. Rum,

      Where do you live? I don’t see reports of that anywhere else, with some exceptions. Police are calling in sick in large numbers in our more poorly managed cities (eg, NYC – as always, the poster child for incompetence and corruption). But so far with few effects.

      People are already trying to return their hordes of toilet paper, rice, and cleaning materials to stores (eg, here).

      So far the situation has been managed well, with few signs of public panic. But I see a great deal of lust for public panic by commenters. As usual for any crisis, there are those (nuts-jobs) eager to watch civilization collapse – for obscure psychological reasons.

      1. Rum,

        I do see reports about non-violent prisoners being released. There is no rational reason for many of them to be serving the nutty long-sentences that modern judges levy on them. The cost is mind-blowing, so local govts are probably glad to let them out.

  6. Its inescapable that there is scientific debate going on about the epidemic. You say: “But putting far out-of-consensus theories out to the public – who has no ability to evaluate their validity – is just a continuation of politics by other means.” The same argument is used to urge media not to report or publish the views of global warming skeptics. The question is, what is far out-of-consensus when there is genuine scientific disagreement and uncertainty? Who decides?

    At the moment in the UK there is the Imperial College model, which appears to be guiding the UK Government. There is a dissenting view from Oxford Evolutionary Ecology of Infectious Disease lab, reported on here:

    https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/oxford-study-coronavirus-may-have-infected-half-of-u-k.html

    and the original paper is available here:

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/oxmu2rwsnhi9j9c/Draft-COVID-19-Model%20%2813%29.pdf?dl=0

    There is also a quite differently based study ongoing from Kings College London by Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology, who has put up a symptom checking app, and is quoted in the Telegraph:

    Prof Spector said he was amazed at the response and expected more than one million people to have registered by Thursday morning. People are asked to check in daily and report symptoms so the progression of the virus can also be monitored.

    “Our first analysis showed we’re picking up roughly that one in 10 have the classical symptoms,” he said. “So of the 650,000, we expect to see 65,000 cases.

    “Although you can have problems of self-selection and bias, when you’ve got big data like this you tend to trust it more. What we’re seeing is a lot of mild symptoms, so I think having this data should help people relax a bit more and stop seeing it as an all or nothing Black Death situation.

    There is a real scientific debate and should be and is being reported on, because we do not know yet which of these views are correct.

    1. Henrik,

      (1) Endlessly citing the same two or three papers doesn’t make them Newton’s Principia. It does not mean that these are regarded as central works by most relevant experts.

      (2) “The same argument is used to urge media not to report or publish the views of global warming skeptics.”

      That does not bother me. The press ignoring the reports of the IPCC to focus instead on out-of-consensus alarmists is having a frightfully large costs. American not only does not prepare for the future. We don’t prepare for the inevitable return of past extreme weather.

      (3) “what is far out-of-consensus when there is genuine scientific disagreement and uncertainty? Who decides?”

      People who have actual expertise and are in responsible positions. That’s how wars and epidemics are successfully managed.

      Panicked crowds in the back of the airplane screaming advice at the pilots does not help. As the West is learning.

      This is neither complex nor difficult.

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