Lessons for America from COVID-19

Summary: A crisis strips away the pretense and reputations to shows a nation’s true self. COVID-19 revealed two stories about America. First, how the nation best-prepared in January became one of the worst affected. Second, how our reaction to this showed America’s senescence. That is, we have become the equivalent of a cranky old guy – dysfunctional but certain that others cause all his problems. Here is the evidence. Perhaps it will help ignite a spirit of reform.

America walking away from global leadership into a new future.

Senior couple walking in an autumn park.
By Anastasiya, AdobeStock_289536235.

Looking at America on the brink

This is how Dr. Anthony Fauci (Director of NIAID and member of the White House Task Force) described the epidemic when interviewed by Newsmax on January 21. At that point, there were 282 confirmed confirmed cases of COVID-19 (278 of which were in China).

“Obviously you need to take it seriously and do the kinds of things that the CDC and the Department of Homeland Security are doing. But this is not a major threat to the people in the United States, and this is not something that the citizens of the United States right now should be worried about.”

As usual in a crisis, factions exploit them for political gain by staging two-minute hates on their foes. These liars omit his first sentence, and ignore that Fauci said that the US public should not worry about this “right now.” He made no predictions about the future because he is a responsible official, not a wizard. He told the US public what they knew at that time.

Later that day, the first case in the US was confirmed and immediately isolated. That day, the CDC activated its Emergency Response System to support its response to 2019-nCoV, and deployed a team to Washington. Read the transcript of the press conference with health officials of the CDC and Washington State. They were confident that everything necessary was being done. This was the consensus of US health care experts at that time (e.g., on January 21 by Vanderbilt professor William Schaffner, on February 8 by USC professor David Agus). Unlike bold amateurs, they were not making statements about an unknowable future.

Were Fauci and others right, based on available information?

Was America well-prepared in January for a pandemic? This post described America’s large (and expensive) preparations for an epidemic, including stockpiles of drugs and equipment. Several simulations tested America’s preparations for an epidemic – producing useful recommendations (e.g., Dark Winter in 2001, Crimson Contagion in 2019). A 2016 report on America’s response to Ebola also gave valuable recommendations. During the past two decades, the US government had been planning for an epidemic.

We have the largest and most sophisticated health care system in the world, by most measures. We have the largest number of ICU beds per capita, and equally vast resources of talent and infrastructure in the health sciences. Also, in 2009 the USAID began the PREDICT program to monitor zoonotic infectious diseases around the world (capable of jumping from animals to humans) to help provide early warning of pandemics.

The 2019 Global Health Security Index calculated that America was by far the nation best prepared for an epidemic. Statista wrote more about this on 28 February 2020. Also see “The Countries Best Prepared To Deal With A Pandemic” by Niall McCarthy at Statista, October 2019.

Plus, we had two months to mobilize our material resources and people. WHO gave early warnings (see page 2 of this), and CDC accordingly quickly responded. On January 6, the CDC issued a travel watch at Level 1 (“Practice usual precautions”) for China. On January 7, the CDC established a 2019-nCoV Incident Management group. On January 8, The CDC began alerting clinicians to watch for patients with respiratory symptoms and a history of travel to Wuhan. On January 15, a leading scientist at the CDC toldlocal and state public health officials “that there would soon be a test.” On January 17, the CDC issued an updated interim Health Alert Notice (HAN) Advisory to inform state and local health departments and health care providers about this outbreak and begin screening of passengers on flights from Wuhan to five major US airports. On January 31, the Trump administration announced that they were blocking the entry of Chinese nationals and requiring mandatory quarantines on US citizens returned in affected parts of China (this was widely mocked as panicky and foolish).

On January 29, Trump formed the White House Coronavirus Task Force. On February 26, Trump announced that VP Pence was “in charge” (descriptions of his title vary) – putting America’s #2 elected official at the helm

See my summary timeline and the larger one at Wikipedia. Fauci’s optimism on January 21, and that of other health care officials and experts in the next two weeks, was reasonable.

What went wrong?

Yet all this early action was followed by epic inaction and mistakes by Federal agencies through late March. These stories are now well known.

“As early indications of China’s coronavirus outbreak emerged in late December, the Trump administration notified Congress it would still follow through with its plan to shutter a US Agency for International Development surveillance program tasked with detecting new, potentially dangerous infectious diseases and helping foreign labs stop emerging pandemic threats around the world.” (From CNN.)

Little effort was made to screen people at our borders. Screening at airports of people from hot spots was grossly inadequate – usually none. Even the high-profile restriction on travelers from China was porous. There are reports that the Diamond Princess’ passengers were quarantined at Travis by people inadequately trained and equipped (details here).

There was no planning for a large epidemic by Federal and State health agencies. There was not even good coordination among the many Federal and State health care agencies, all running business-as-usual in their bureaucratic orbits until mid-March.

There was no mobilization of America’s vast resources of medical personnel, inventories of medical equipment, and manufacturing.

The FDA and CDC totally screwed up the provision of desperately needed tests (see a WaPo article about this sad story). As late as March 16, the CDC and FDA are announcing there is an inadequate supply of reagents used in the tests, a bottleneck that should have been recognized in January. This is inexcusable, since the rest of the world has run hundreds of thousands of tests by now.

It was quickly apparent that only forced quarantines (not absurd “self-quarantines) and cordons sanitaire are the most effective containment methods. China proved their effectiveness. Yet the US government made little of them, allowing hot spots to form and the virus to spread from these across the nation. So they used lock-downs, with their devastating effect on the economy.

Perhaps the worst aspect of the response was by America’s senior leadership. The White House Task Force appears to have done little in its first 4 -6 weeks. Pence appears to have done almost nothing. As late as March 18 – 24, Trump refused to use the Defense Production Act to mobilize resources to produce essential medical equipment in dire shortage (see here and here).

From the start, Trump’s statements have varied from calls to war against COVID-19 to saying its little more than the flu (even as late as March 9). See this “Timeline: Trump’s efforts to downplay the coronavirus threat.” I showed some of this information to a brilliant conservative with long experience in government service. His reply: “fake news.” This is America, where only tribal truths are seen. But slowly the truth emerges, for those willing to see it.

Much of the Right followed his lead. For example, see this about coverage by Fox News. Also this article putting Fox News’ coverage in a larger context: “The network has conditioned its viewers to hate experts and to trust miracle cures for 25 years.”

This lack of leadership from the President and VP had ill effects at all levels of America. Federal agencies were slow to mobilize. Key responses were an uncoordinated mess by State governments.

To demonstrate that this senescence affects the full US political leadership – not just Republicans – Biden and Sanders (Trump’s equally elderly challengers) were dormant, and the Democrats fought the epidemic riding their hobbyhorses of racism and climate change.

Without strong support for experts from US leaders, the public fell prey to rumors and misinformation. Many quickly turned to amateurs for information – so that the most ignorant and boldest claims dominated. See this debunking of a nonsensical theory by a right-wing historian cosplaying an epidemiologist: bogus but went “viral” anyway. For more examples, see The info superhighway makes us stupid about COVID-19). This inevitably leading to panic. Perhaps the biggest example is the hysteria about masks. A cry went out for everybody to wear them – while first-line health care personnel did not have them. WHO and CDC said that the general public should not use masks unless required (e.g., when caring for someone infected) while medical personnel lacked them (e.g. see this statement). Rabble-rousing hysterics screamed that experts at CDC and WHO were lying about masks and putting us in danger!

While American’s complained about China’s response (mostly lies), the US was slow to provide funds for a global response. Worse, we seized vital medical supplies manufactured here going to our allies – while triumphantly concluding that nations were foolish to rely on China for vital medical supplies. They will not soon forget this. See Canada’s reaction here and here. A German minister condemned as “piracy” the US seizure of masks going to Berlin. Rather than a leader of a coordinated response of the West, Americans attempted to outbid France for masks already loaded on a plane for export from China.

This may be another step in the long process of the world seeing a new America, as described by Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, in Foreign Affairs.

“Just as consequential as U.S. policy choices is the power of America’s example. Long before COVID-19 ravaged the earth, there had already been a precipitous decline in the appeal of the American model. Thanks to persistent political gridlock, gun violence, the mismanagement that led to the 2008 global financial crisis, the opioid epidemic, and more, what America represented grew increasingly unattractive to many. The federal government’s slow, incoherent, and all too often ineffective response to the pandemic will reinforce the already widespread view that the United States has lost its way.”

A competent response: Germany

Many nations competently responded. For example, we could have learned much from the successful responses by East Asian nations.

But those are Asians, and Americans won’t learn from them. There is a closer example of a similar nation that did better than us. One with a competent government, one trusted by its people, with a robust and rationally-run health care system (more ICU bed per capita than in the US). See the NYT reporting on “The German Exception.

“In mid-January, long before most Germans had given the virus much thought, Charité hospital in Berlin had already developed a test and posted the formula online. By the time Germany recorded its first case of Covid-19 in February, laboratories across the country had built up a stock of test kits. …

“By now, Germany is conducting around 350,000 coronavirus tests a week, far more than any other European country. Early and widespread testing has allowed the authorities to slow the spread of the pandemic by isolating known cases while they are infectious. It has also enabled lifesaving treatment to be administered in a more timely way. ‘When I have an early diagnosis and can treat patients early – for example, put them on a ventilator before they deteriorate – the chance of survival is much higher,’ Professor Kräusslich said.

“Medical staff, at particular risk of contracting and spreading the virus, are regularly tested. To streamline the procedure, some hospitals have started doing block tests, using the swabs of 10 employees, and following up with individual tests only if there is a positive result. …

“One key to ensuring broad-based testing is that patients pay nothing for it, said Professor Streeck. This, he said, was one notable difference with the United States in the first several weeks of the outbreak. …One key to ensuring broad-based testing is that patients pay nothing for it, said Professor Streeck. This, he said, was one notable difference with the United States in the first several weeks of the outbreak. ‘A young person with no health insurance and an itchy throat is unlikely to go to the doctor and therefore risks infecting more people,’ he said.

“On a Friday in late February, Professor Streeck received news that for the first time, a patient at his hospital in Bonn had tested positive for the coronavirus: A 22-year-old man who had no symptoms but whose employer – a school – had asked him to take a test after learning that he had taken part in a carnival event where someone else had tested positive. In most countries, including the United States, testing is largely limited to the sickest patients, so the man probably would have been refused a test. Not in Germany. As soon as the test results were in, the school was shut, and all children and staff were ordered to stay at home with their families for two weeks. Some 235 people were tested.

“‘Testing and tracking is the strategy that was successful in South Korea and we have tried to learn from that,’ Professor Streeck said. …

Beyond mass testing and the preparedness of the health care system, many also see Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership as one reason the fatality rate has been kept low. Ms. Merkel, a trained scientist, has communicated clearly, calmly and regularly throughout the crisis, as she imposed ever-stricter social distancing measures on the country. The restrictions, which have been crucial to slowing the spread of the pandemic, met with little political opposition and are broadly followed. The chancellor’s approval ratings have soared. ‘Maybe our biggest strength in Germany,’ said Professor Kräusslich, ‘is the rational decision-making at the highest level of government combined with the trust the government enjoys in the population.’

China: first hit, its success copied by others

On March 10, China closed the last of its 16 temporary hospitals in Wuhan. As I wrote on March 30, China is restarting – slowly, carefully – its economy. On April 7, China ended Wuhan’s 76 day lockdown. US media reported this mournfully (e.g., NYT and CBS) this triumph.

But America has taken stronger measures to see that our self-image as Number One remains unsullied – and that we see China as the evil, unscrupulous Yellow Peril. The more obvious the gap between their effective response and our clownshow, the stronger the need to create an Potemkin Village reality (easy since no matter how often our leaders lie, we believe what we are told). Right-thinking Americans know that all numbers by China are probably wrong. If more were infected than China reported, that means that their success was even larger – so their success must be doubted. Tell an American that there are many foreign observers in China confirming their approximate accuracy and see the incredulous response (after all, what about the Bamboo Curtain between China and the rest of the world).

American’s were told of that the response of China and WHO were terrible with no supporting evidence. Compare this timeline of China’s response to COVID-19 with the CDC’s timeline of the US response to the 2009 H1N1 (swine flu) epidemic – remembering that the US has almost 4x China’s per capita income and spends 2x to 3x more of its GDP on health care than its peer nations. We were told that the epidemic was China’s fault, for which it should be punished. Just as the 2009 Swine Flu epidemic emerged in the US and spread across the globe. There is also evidence that the first appearance of the H1N1 influenza virus in 1918 also originated in the US (details here and here). Whatever the source of the virus, we contributed to its spread (see “How {US} Generals Fueled 1918 Flu Pandemic To Win Their World War”).

As the clownish response by the US government became brutally obvious, the search for others to blame became more intense. Conservatives’ suspicion of international agencies was exploited to blame WHO. With its broad range of responsibilities and microscopic $4.2 billion budget, they blame it for not performing miracles. In the real world, WHO ably performed its primary roles as a global collector reporter of information and coordinator of national responses.

All this probably will make impossible much effective learning from COVID-19 by America.


COVID-19 is a dress rehearsal for more serious crises that lie ahead. It has shown America’s senescence. Top to bottom, leaders to followers, nothing worked well. This makes our pretense of global leadership a sad joke, like somebody attempting to wear too-large shoes. If this decline continues, even our prosperity will be at risk.

As I have long said, I suspect that this decline will eventually result in a funeral pyre for America from whose ashes something new will emerge. Whether for good or ill is beyond my vision.

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.”


33 thoughts on “Lessons for America from COVID-19”

  1. Depressing read. I’m somewhat doubtful that even this event will be the needed shock to the system to wake America up; see the reaction of literal everyone retreating into their tribes.

    Side note on the numbers-Events being verified by outsiders do not always mean they are true; see WMD, Syrian gas attacks, Iran nukes, etc. Point being, having outside conformation of something doesn’t make it true. Not trying to troll, just being somewhat skeptical of narratives pushed by various governments.

    1. Isaac,

      “WMD, …Iran nukes.”

      What outsiders verified what numbers? The various intel groups found nothing in Iraq. You are conflating big statements by senior leaders with on-the-ground reports (eg, doctors, academics, businesspeople in China – and inspectors in Iraq).

      “Point being, having outside conformation of something doesn’t make it true”

      Nothing makes something “true” in that sense. You get that kind of truth only after you die, in Heaven and Hell. But confirmation from multiple unrelated people with no “axe to grind” is as good as evidence gets in this world. Replies like that are operationally useless. The only real reply is “duh” and move on.

  2. Hi Larry,

    Your coverage of this pandemic has been excellent and I appreciate you putting this all together. In addition to motivated reasoning and agenda driven reporting, one of the things that makes it hard to know what’s going on is the “fog of war”, due to different ways it gets classified (e.g., reporting on guidance from Minnesota Dept of Health as told by Dr. Scott Jensen), differences in reporting systems and aggregation, case loads, etc., etc. But, “we just don’t know with certainty at this point” doesn’t generate clicks the way “the Chinese/Trump have murdered us all” or the Russians tricked them into murdering us all or whatever. Our World in Data provides a number of charts and information, but also information about issues with data and what they actually mean.

    There are different maps out on the web, but this map from Johns Hopkins may be of interest to your readers. It’s embeddable under give-a-citation terms as described in the FAQ. It’s updated as the data comes in. There is great variability in the confirmed cases/deaths/recovered patterns (e.g., lots of substantial deaths with no recovered (unlikely)) which may or may not reflect the quality of the underlying health systems, etc. I’ve been keeping an eye on Norway, Sweden, and Finland. NO and FI have more “traditional” lockdowns, whereas SV issued guidance and expect their citizens to act responsibly. The sum of the populations of NO and FI are roughly that of SV, As of writing this, NO had 113 deaths and 32 recovered, and FI had 38 deaths and 300 recovered. Nothing definitive to draw from this, but there are patterns. West Coast seems to have put a much better clamp on than East and industrial Midwest it despite having SFO, LAX, SEA, YVR…

    Regards and hope you and your family stay safe,


    1. Bill,

      Thank you for the kind review. I’m buried at work, technical problems uncounted, and depressed. It makes writing difficult.

      “There is great variability in the confirmed cases/deaths/recovered patterns (e.g., lots of substantial deaths with no recovered (unlikely)) which may or may not reflect the quality of the underlying health systems, etc. “

      There is simpler explanation. As WHO has said many times, case and fatality counts reflect the systems used.

      Distinguishing flu from Coronavirus is not simple.

      COVID-19 can identified by clinical methods, test kits, and serological tests. All give different numbers, all “correct” in a sense. Also, the degree of population screened affects the results.

      This is why there are so much more bold analysis by amateurs – comparing incomparable numbers to produce gibberish results – than bold analysis by actual experts.

      I read websites by sensible people, such as the economists at MarginalRevolutiin – and see then writing as if epidemiology was like assembling LEGO kits. No skill or training required.

      I turn to the comments, expecting to see mockery of such amateur night productions.instead I see people with even less relevant training and experience producing even bolder analysis.

      It is like the climate change debate on LSD.

      1. I hear you about both depression and technical work – I’m lucky in some ways (and hopefully my contract renewal agrees on how much I’ve done) but boy, this sure isn’t a barrel of laughs. My sympathies, and may your sorrows be eased, one way or another!

  3. Excellent work, Larry.

    The two big things to remember here are:
    a) Trump is a really annoying symptom, not the cause of America’s senescence. Although he certainly isn’t making the problem any better…

    b) The incomplete and uneven responses to the virus by the state governments (made worse by people not being willing to trust their leadership at any level) is likely to cause repeated waves of the virus to rattle around the US, and possibly the world. This is going to show which countries have effective leadership and which do not.

    Sadly, we’re being offered another bad binary choice in 2020 between Trump and Biden. I know you argue we could do better if people participated more, Larry, but something persuaded the smarter and more effective Democrats from running in 2020. I expect 2024 to be a different story.

    1. Pluto,

      “Trump is a really annoying symptom”

      True. Probably no more so than Hillary or Biden.

      “Sadly, we’re being offered another bad binary choice in 2020 between Trump and Biden.”

      Yes. And no. We were “offered” the opportunity to use the political machinery bequeathed us by the Founders – and choose our leaders. We again declined.

      “something persuaded the smarter and more effective Democrats from running in 2020”

      Perhaps they are smart, and the”something” is us. That is, they are awaren that ClownWorld America does not want competent and experienced leaders.

      1. Larry: “True. Probably no more so than Hillary or Biden.”


        Larry: “Perhaps they are smart, and the”something” is us.”

        My thought also. It’s hard to support good leaders when they are afraid of what we will do to them (with good reason) and refuse to run for office. This is not an excuse for the failure of the American Experiment, it is just an observation about something that MIGHT be happening.

        What do you think about the media’s emphasis that some governors (like Newsome) are less willing to toe the Federal line and are hinting at possible secession (the “nation state” quote for example)?

        My best guess is that the media is just looking for the next ratings boost with the saber-rattling but I’m concerned about what Trump hears vs. what is said. The last thing we need is for Trump to perceive that some states are considering leaving the union and send in the Marines (regardless of whether or not the governors are considering that really big dumb step).

      2. Pluto,

        “that some states are considering leaving the union”

        I assume you are either kidding,or need to radically change you information source

        As for the rest – it’s ClownWorld. All I know is that our elites watch us and laugh, seeing daily evidence that we are incapable of the self-discipline required for self-government, requiring the kind of discipline needed by dogs in pulling a sled or horses pulling a wagon.

  4. The Man Who Laughs

    I won’t defend or excuse the screwup with the design of the test kits. I honestly do wonder, though, how many usable test kits could actually have been produced in the time available, given the supply chain bottlenecks and the available production capacity. You can say what you want about Trump’s leadership, or lack thereof, but it’s like they say. You go to war with the army you have. Or, in this case, the CDC and the FDA and the NIAID you have. It would have taken just one hell of a lot of test kits to be able to isolate the infected at an early stage. it’s a big country with a lot of people. Even if Trump had exercised Leadership, for any given definition of that term, do you really think there would have been enough test kits in time? I don’t know the answer to that, but I think it matters, because in passing judgement on others and in weighing courses of action, one ought to consider all of the facts.

    As for China’s solution to their problem, if solution they have found, it involved a surveillance state the likes of which we don’t have, could not have created in the available time, and might not want to have anyway. So far as we know, Trump has followed the recommendations of his advisors. (If he were not, they would surely be leaking about it.) So the Smart People are running things. The same Smart People Who screwed up the test kits, and whose models of infection rates have not panned out and keep having to be walked back. So maybe the Smart People aren’t quite as smart as they think. Comes the depression this summer, a lot of other people might be thinking the same thing.

    1. The Man,

      Most of that is false. As excuses go, these are pitiful – but typical.

      “I honestly do wonder, though, how many usable test kits could actually have been produced in the time available, given the supply chain bottlenecks and the available production capacity.”

      Other nations were able to produce adequate numbers of kits per capita – starting in a January. Or February. The epidemic hit the US in early March, and our kit production went into high gear in late March.

      “You can say what you want about Trump’s leadership, or lack thereof, but it’s like they say. You go to war with the army you have. Or, in this case, the CDC and the FDA and the NIAID you have.”

      He is not elected to tweet, but lead the Federal government. Focusing their attention on the problem and forcing them to overcome bureaucratic routines is crises management 101, done by executives public and private for centuries.

      “As for China’s solution to their problem, if solution they have found, it involved a surveillance state the likes of which we don’t have”

      First, that’s false. Second, other East Asian nations were able to do so. Third, other nations – such as a Germany – were able to do so.

      But your comment is typical of almost everything written by a Trump supporters, and typical of almost everything by Americans these days. Tribal truths rule.

      But this is not so in other nations. Unless we break free of these fetters of the mind, they will become leaders in the 21st c, replacing us.

  5. Hi Larry,

    I wouldn’t say that Germany is an exception; when you account for population, many other European countries have similar testing rates. I would also say that all the testing would not have mattered if German leaders could not impose strict measures, which they only did after seeing in Italy an example of what would happen if they didn’t.

    An example from Italy: the northern regions had an aggressive testing policy from the start, but the central government accused them of promoting hysteria with too many tests, while delaying strict measures to contain the virus because it was a “Chines problem”:

    I also think that luck played some role in Germany’s success: if Italy didn’t get the virus a few weeks before most of the other European countries, I’d say everyone would be thinking that “it’s a Chinese problem” until much later, and Germany would have hesitated to act as much as the US did; early social distancing advice from the German government was ignored by German youth, much as in the US. Of course, if you have a competent government, a trusting society and a strong healthcare system, you can mount a faster and more effective response once you decide to act.

    1. JP,

      “I wouldn’t say that Germany is an exception”

      It’s the NYT’s evaluation. I just said that their response was competent. I suggest that you read the article before saying that they are wrong.

      1. JP,

        “I didn’t say it was wrong.”

        The article was titled “The German exception.” Your reply was “I wouldn’t say that Germany is an exception.” Sound like saying it was wrong.

        “I said it was incomplete.”

        That’s the most generic critique possible. Every analysis is “incomplete.” This is a newspaper article about a subject about which hundreds of books will be written.

        Do you have any comments about the subject of this post?

  6. Singapore seems to have problems keeping the virus contained. They are now copying European measures and closing down non-essential parts of the economy for a month. So China’s testing of the waters will be interesting to watch. If social distancing has to continue a lot of service sector jobs will disappear until a vaccination is available.


    1. Rune,

      Yes, that’s what success looks like. As conditions change, the government reacts.

      As the epidemic spreads in space and numbers, it becomes more difficult to keep out (border defenses). So stronger containment measures are being implemented.

  7. John F Pittman

    The lack of numeracy and basic memory is a severe problem for the US composite citizenry in recent times. They cannot do a simple timeline with the facts in the correct time slot. Symptoms of senescence indeed. But one of the points you made may need some more thought and investigation. That is looking at how much the competence factor depends on the respect of the nation for actual experts in their expertise, and similar items of each society had on the individual response to CoVid19. You and I have discussed the transformation of industry. I want to link these two and compare them in order to highlight what I think is an important difference.

    The comparison is about senescence in industry and our politics not as a symptom, but as a product of our senescence. I will use industry as the example. An older factory with aging workforce is replaced with a new modern facility which is more efficient and is located in a country with lower wages and costs. We even describe the old facility in terms of senescence such as a lot of the equipment is antiquated, legacy equipment, final usefulness, etc. But replacement of equipment, processes, etc is simply part of the process of having industry. The factory does not have to be replaced somewhere else.

    My thought is that the decision to re-locate is someone making a judgement of our capability, Trump is a product of our capability. When we make a judgement of the diminished capability, senescence, we need to be mindful whether one is a product, or one is a judgement. For example, that way when we look at the transformation of work, say with the advent of useful AI, we can separate what was a product replacement, and what was a senescent outcome. I think this is needed for binning.

    We definitely need this binning for the CoVid19 analysis, IMO. But the framework I present is to simple and undefined. It needs more thought and form.


    1. John,

      I have no idea what that means.

      “Trump is a product of our capability.”

      Yes, in the sense that we elected him. That collective decision shows who we are. More specifically, how our lack of involvement working America’s political machinery resulted in a choice between Clinton and Trump. And, to confirm the point, between Biden and Trump.

      1. John F Pittman

        An example: we gather information about CoVid19. In it we note that gatherings promote infection vectors. We ban persons from work. Schools and business close. As much at home schooling and day care as can be done starts. At the same time as much as possible, persons work from home. People can still see go and see family. In nations with strong family ties, many are related to each other in small towns and cities. Test kits, masks, and medical support are hard to come by, as are hospital ICU units. Result is a double hump of disease with the first primary vector from communal activities as school and work mainly in high density populations. The second is from familial activities and is mainly in rural areas. We decide to provide procedures for the next epidemic. Using the data, our matrix indicates the human factor missed was that in urban and suburban areas the disease vector was about general activities of work and society. Once initiated into the population of schools and workforce, a vector to families was established. By sending persons home, the new vector became the predominant method of contagion.

        We would want to separate, the vectors from medical, and the medical from political such that each would be known for its effect, and addressed for its effect accordingly. I think including such factors as how well Trump and Pence did, and the criteria used will be important for future plans. It may be the current plans were adequate, but lack of correct political and societal response neutralized the plans. This would be a human factor the next set of plans would need to address, and where correct binning would be needed.

        PS: I broke my rule about posting until after I had my first cup of tea. My apologies.

  8. I am a Brit living in Australia, so I cannot comment on US medical services or your response to Covid 19.

    I do see one thing, working with a German Electro-Technology Teacher where I work in Trade School, they are an organised people. They have not de-industrialised (he doesn’t buy the cheapest, he buys German where he can). Germany has labs set up and chemical/ drug factories, we off-shored ours in Australia and UK, and I believe in the US, too. The two Lab Tech Teachers at my work, both said Australia has dismantled these industries in Australia to have it done cheaper in China, we couldn’t really produce medical supplies here any more. (One used to be a Manager in a now off-shored Pharmaceutical firm).

    We are learning something else, there is a trade off of:

    efficiency vs resilience

    Efficiency is ever cheaper global supply chains, resilience is making some key things yourself. Perhaps for the same reason you should make your own military bullets at home, you should make your own medical supplies?

    Paraphrased from Chamath Palihapitiya on a Pomp Interview on You Tube.

  9. The NYT piece on Germany says:

    But with 1,584 deaths, Germany’s fatality rate stood at 1.6 percent, compared with 12 percent in Italy, around 10 percent in Spain, France and Britain, 4 percent in China and nearly 3 percent in the United States. Even South Korea, a model of flattening the curve, has a higher fatality rate, 1.8 percent.

    Where does the 10% for the UK come from? 10% of what? The total numbers as of yesterday, for Britain, from the Department of Health and Public Health England were:

    Total tests: 334,974
    Total individuals tested: 269,598
    Total positive: 78,991
    Total deaths: 9,875


    Can they perhaps be taking earlier reports and then just dividing cumulative deaths by cumulative total confirmed cases and expressing the result as a percentage? If that’s it, its statistical nonsense.

    I don’t think you can put much trust in NYT reporting on the EU nations or the EU as institution generally, but you certainly cannot trust it on Britain, whether its Covid, Brexit, Johnson or Corbyn.

    1. henrik,

      As WHO has endlessly repeated, these comparisons of fatality rates are mostly bogus. Nations have wildly varying systems, including standards for determining causes of death and testing for COVID-19. So comparing them gives pretty useless data.

      Also, it takes 2 to 4 weeks from diagnosis to death. So a nation in the growth phase will have many cases but low fatality rate (eg, the US – cases growing at 8% per day) compared to a nation that has stabilized or crushed the epidemic.

      Just putting these numbers on a spreadsheet doesn’t make them reliable. My favorite example of endlessly cited chartjunk is WorldMeter. Amateurs playing with numbers they don’t understand, thinking their results are authoritative. They must be smart, since they’re giving facts actual experts don’t have! /s

      1. That means you don’t really know if Germany responded more competently. Maybe they just reported better.

      2. Carl,

        “That means you don’t really know if Germany responded more competently. “

        No. That simplistic comparison of fatality numbers is useless does not mean that that fatality numbers are useless or that there are no other useful metrics.

        Germany has clearly done well, as acknowledged by many experts – see the excerpt from NYT article for details. See the article itself for more information.

  10. This is the UK daily briefing


    Some international comparisons in the last slide. This is the only place they announce hospital admissions and occupancies.

    None of it adds up to 10% of anything useful. Nor can you make simple comparisons, population size differs by country, and the age profile also differs. Germany is younger and not in multi generational housing, unlike Italy.

  11. Despite the war on expertise waged by some media outlets, the American public would seem to trust most those who present the unvarnished truth: Dr. Fauci, for example, or some of the state governors. (See 538 for polling data). But I am discouraged by the great tidal waves of misinformation and rumor bandied about by instant experts on the virus. Combine that with a President who bends truths to his wishes and you have quite a farrago.

    I am going to seek out the site you mentioned as your primary sources of information.

    Severe plagues have the power to reshape society in a number of ways. Would you venture an opinion on this, specifically is the shock of this pandemic sufficient to alter our nation in significant ways? Or will our senescent leaders try to force us back to the old normal?

    1. Phillip,

      Thank you for flagging that data. I had ignored the polls. But, as you note, they are interesting. Belief in Trump’s accuracy and the effectiveness of his response is totally partisan. Interesting, there is little patisan difference in people’s confidence in Fauci and the CDC.

      Here is a summary article by USA Today, with links to many of the poll results.

      Again, thanks!

      1. My comments were informed by an interview of Erik Larsen, author of the recently-published book “The Splendid and the Vile,” a detailed account of Winston Churchill’s first year as PM. Larsen noted Churchill never sugarcoated or hid the truth from the British public. In his speeches, he would often begin with the terrible truths of the moment, but then conclude with realistic reasons to be optimistic. Of Dunkirk, Churchill said it was a “colossal military disaster,” but in the same speech, concluded with those famous phrases, “we shall fight on the beaches . . . we shall fight with growing confidence in the air . . . ” This cemented his relationship with the British public and provided the needed inspiration to continue the fight. This is how leadership works.

  12. Larry,

    I would like to mention another successful approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, that of Greece where I come from. The method followed there was the imposing of social distancing at an earlier stage, not that of mass testing like in Germany (where I live BTW.). I assume that following the German approach was simply not possible in Greece, the Healthcare system being far less developed and the greek economy being in bad repair due to 9 years of economic recession. The result is that the death tally in Greece has yet to reach the 100 Covid-19 dead as of this writing -not per day but in total, for a population of 10 million. The greek method is quite well described here: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-04-10/greece-handled-coronavirus-crisis-better-than-italy-and-spain

    Some common points with Germany: The PM, Kyriakos Mitsotakis does not appear very much. There is a daily press conference by the chief of the Greek Center for Infectious Diseases, Sotiris Tsiodras and the Chief of the Directorate for Civic Protection, Nikos Hardalias. They usually play a Good cop -Bad Cop game, the first one being kindly and fatherly, the second being austere and threatening with yet more severe restrictions, if the ones on force are not followed. It is a general understanding that all measures are decided on the advice of experts, and so they are generally accepted and followed. Tsiodras is for the time being the most popular person in Greece, polls confirming a 90% positive opinion on him from the general populace.

    1. Taraxippos,

      Thank you for that report from Greece. When this is over, it will take a lot of research to disentangle the key factors that worked or failed in each nation – but we’ll learn a lot.

      One small note – it takes 2 to 4 weeks from diagnosis to death for COVID-19. So the number of deaths is a lagging indicator during an epidemic. More useful is the case count per capita (status) and its growth rate. Both look good for Greece!

  13. Pingback: A new phase of the epidemic begins with propaganda – Investment Watch | Covid-19 Business Relief Resources

  14. Pingback: A new phase of the epidemic begins with propaganda – Investment Watch – Female Investors Daily

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