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.
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.
- “Trump’s 7 worst statements on the coronavirus outbreak” – “The president has misled the public on the number of testing kits, the virus’s death rate, and a possible vaccine.”
- “Trump endorses ending coronavirus social distancing soon, against health experts’ advice.“
- “Governors and mayors in growing uproar over Trump’s lagging coronavirus response.“
- “Governors reject Trump’s virus timeline and his ‘Imaginary clock.’“
- See this pitiful but strikingly honest review of Trump’s coronavirus response by Dr. Fauci: summary in the WaPo, full interview in Science magazine.
- “Slow Response to the Coronavirus Measured in Lost Opportunity” – “If the administration had reacted to the ventilator shortage in February, a private sector effort starting now might have made lifesaving equipment in mid- to late April. Now it is unlikely to be before June.”
- “Trump and Bolsonaro see coronavirus more as a political hassle than a public threat.” – A provocative headline, but well-supported by facts.
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.
- There is their daily situation report, with detailed numbers.
- The Director-General of WHO gives frequent briefings, which are quite insightful.
- Their daily press briefings have more information. An audio goes up afterwads. They post a transcript the next day.
Posts about effects of COVID-19
- Hidden news about the epidemic sweeping across America! – Fake news drives out good news.
- A devastating epidemic spreads across America – An epidemic of panic and ignorance.
- COVID-19 will hit the world economy hard. Here’s how.
- Prepare now in case they close the stock market.
- The key to surviving the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The info superhighway makes us stupid about COVID-19.
- Prepare now for a coming COVID-19 depression.
For More Information
- See the ugly cost of the next big flu pandemic. We can do more to prepare.
- Stratfor: The superbugs are coming. We have time to prepare.
- Posts debunking the hysteria about the 2009 swine flu in America.
- Posts debunking the hysteria about the 2015 ebola epidemic in America.
- Important: A vaccine against the fears that make us weak.
A medieval city defeats a plague
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.”