I spend probably far too much of my day reading about the COVID-19 pandemic. Sometimes I find stuff that’s uplifting and hopeful. Sometimes I find stuff that’s more or less terrifying. Much is up in the air because much is still unknown about the virus and its effects across a representative sample of humanity. A one percentage point difference on a variety of matters, including hospitalization rate of those infected and death rate of those infected, can result in an enormous difference across society. As far as I have seen, no one yet has a clear handle on some of these key factors, so keep that in mind as you read on (and share data in the comments if you think you have answers).
I was partially compelled to write this update on COVID-19 because of an article I read today regarding Italy. The country is suffering a great deal for a variety of reasons — late response, lack of supplies, high elderly population, etc. We should all send some love Italy’s way. Additionally, if we don’t live in Italy, we should try to learn some lessons from what it is going through. One thing it is going through is a doctor a day has been dying there since March 11 — or more than a doctor a day, actually. Part of the problem is that the medical system has been so overwhelmed that many doctors came out of retirement to help, and since the virus has been so harsh on older people, a shocking number of them have died. Part of the problem is that they ran out of critical medical supplies (like masks), which has led to a higher number of doctors and nurses getting infected. Part of the problem is this is a novel coronavirus and we don’t have immunity or much knowledge about how to treat it.
“At least 2,629 Italian health workers have been infected by COVID-19 since the onset of the outbreak in February, according to a report published Wednesday by Italy’s Group for Evidence-based Medicine (GIMBE). That’s 8.3 % of the total number of infections in Italy, more than twice the rate in China, according to figures published on a medical site from the Journal of the American Medical Association.”
Unfortunately, the number of deaths of people with COVID-19 keeps rising.
California vs. Florida
One way to avoid issues like Italy is suffering is to shut more things down faster. As we’ve shared many times, the more we can “flatten the curve,” the less overwhelmed our health care facilities are going to get. Andy Slavitt, former Medicare, Medicaid, Affordable Care Act head for President Obama, shared this simple graph of California vs. Florida cases and actions to emphasize different potential results from acting in different ways on a state or national level:
WE CAN CONTROL THIS. If it doesn’t feel like it’s working because you’re not seeing a lot of cases, understand this.
You are responsible for any good news. SF on lockdown v Miami-Dade slacking. 2/ pic.twitter.com/0DKPEWCll0
— Andy Slavitt @ 🏡🇺🇸 (@ASlavitt) March 23, 2020
Slavit also shared this website: covidactnow.org. “On this website you will see what happens in your state if you and others #StayHome and if you don’t.” I decided to click on Florida to see an example of what it showed. The result is sobering if accurate:
The text is small there, but note that it shows number of potential hospitalizations compared to number of hospital beds (black line) in different situations — no action (red super-mountain in which hospitalizations dramatically exceed # of hospital beds), 3 months of social distancing (orange mountain in which hospitalizations dramatically exceed # of hospital beds), 3 months of shelter in place (hospitalizations never come close to exceeding # of available hospital beds), and 3 months of a Wuhan-style lockdown.
The webpage also predicts that if we don’t take action by March 25, hospitals will be sure to overload. (The state has implemented moderate action — schools are closed until April 15 at least, many places are closed, and we are supposed to be engaged in strong social distancing — but there aren’t penalties for not doing so.)
Again, you can explore the forecasts in other states via covidactnow.org.
Where Do We Go From Here?
One of the problems here is that there is no do-no-harm solution. Shutting society down comes with immense harm and risk itself. Just from the actions we’ve taken so far, how many people have lost their jobs, are freaking out, can’t get food, are facing significant domestic strife as a result, and are suffering from other problems? If current policies are extended for months, what will the effects be? If strong polices are implemented and extended for months, what will the effects be? Small business owners — of which there are many — can’t even file for unemployment when their business dries up. Bills are coming due for millions of people who just lost their jobs. A stimulus package is stuck in Congress because Republicans tried to include a $500 billion slush fund for Trump’s rich allies while doing little to help normal Americans.
Mitch McConnell wants to give this guy, Steve Mnuchin, the discretion to decide how to dole out $500 billion in taxpayer funds and then allow him to hide the identity of the bailout recipients from the public for up to six months. This does not seem like a good idea. pic.twitter.com/28P1gmp9cM
— Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) March 22, 2020
Mnuchin is asking for $500 billion that he can direct at his sole discretion to troubled corporations, including Trump's own. https://t.co/tgTGMLxMJn
— David Frum (@davidfrum) March 22, 2020
Thank you @SenateDems for blocking @SenateMajLdr and @GOP’s $500 billion corporate slush fund and $1.5 trillion corporate bailout package. We need a stimulus plan that puts vulnerable, poor, and working class Americans first by including a $2,000 per month universal basic income.
— Ryan Knight 🌹 (@ProudSocialist) March 23, 2020
Another thing about this GOP bill:
It would give Treasury $500 billion.
That it could use to bail out the hotel industry.
Including Donald Trump's hotels.
And Trump has refused to rule out taking the aid.
And recipients wouldn't be named for six months.
— Binyamin Appelbaum (@BCAppelbaum) March 23, 2020
GOP in the senate now discussing a bill which gives Mnuchin sole authority of 500 billion to help corporations ( including trump hotels). The depth of their depravity is worse every day. The democratic staff is blowing up. I don’t think enough GOP sens will dare vote for this.
— Howard Dean (@GovHowardDean) March 22, 2020
We’re not writing blank checks to giant corporations. Any taxpayer dollars that go to help big businesses during the coronavirus crisis should come with the following minimum requirements:
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) March 17, 2020
I may explore some more specific policy options regarding how to deal with COVID-19 tomorrow.
In the meantime, try to enjoy your time off (if you have time off) and try to focus on positivity and love.