The 2020 COVID-19 (coronavirus) saga: End of March edition

Image credit: Tumisu/Pixabay

There are no accidents, only nature throwing her weight around. Even the bomb merely releases energy that nature has put there. Nuclear war would be just a spark in the grandeur of space. Nor can radiation alter nature: she will absorb it all. After the bomb, nature will pick up the cards we have spilled, shuffle them, and begin her game again.

Camille Paglia

Greetings gentle readers.

Another week or two has gone by in our new pandemic era, and the COVID-19 (coronavirus)¬†saga grinds on as we enter April 2020. Much has happened, and much will continue to unfold. Indeed, it isn’t much of a stretch to say that the situation is literally changing hour by hour, both here and around the world.

The big news locally is that Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued an order on 24 March 2020 for all Harris County residents to stay at home as part of the continued effort to constrain spread of the coronavirus. The order stays in effect for now until 3 April, which is this upcoming Friday.

However, there is a very distinct possibility that this stay at home order will be extended. Why? Well, the Houston Chronicle posted a very interesting story on the day following Judge Hidalgo’s order, detailing the behind the scenes information that swayed Judge Hidalgo’s order. Some University of Texas Public School of Health professors conducted some statistical modeling that indicated that the spread of the coronavirus would affect some 3,500 greater-Houston-area residents if a stay-at-home order were put into effect by 23 March. However, modeling indicated that a stay-at-home order starting on 30 March would result in 24,000 cases, while an order that commenced on 6 April would result in 153,000 infections. Disease transmission would continue through 29 May under the first scenario, while transmission would end around 16 June under the last scenario.

There is an awful lot being implied here, namely that….

April 2020 will be the key month of the coronavirus pandemic!

The signs have been brewing for the past 1-2 months that we are heading into the make-or-break part of this pandemic. The growth in the number of cases has been worrying, but at the same time inspiring what one might call some plague humor, like this on Reddit.

More to the point though, the graphs detailing the growth of cases, as shown on the Wikipedia entry for the coronavirus in the United States, have shown and imply passing the following powers of 10 on a logarithmic scale:

  • February 27-28: over 10 cases
  • March 3-4: over 100 cases
  • March 11: over 1,000 cases
  • March 19th: over 10,000 cases
  • March 27th: over 100,000 cases

This pace, assuming it holds, would imply that America will reach 1 million cases around 5 April, give or take a few days. From there, the exponential growth curve would seem to imply that America will reach 10 million cases by April, give or take a few days, and that America would reach 100 million cases by 23 April, give or take a few days. Effectively, at the current rate of growth, the entire population of the United States would come down with a case of the coronavirus by around 28 April, and that everyone in the entire world would be infected by around 10-15 May.

Now, will this happen? Of course it won’t. No matter how fierce any disease is, it still will not affect everyone! All exponential events eventually flatten out. Many think of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic as being the worst disease of history, when in fact even the 1918 pandemic was a cake walk in the park compared to what our ancestors faced when dealing with the unbelievable horrors of the Black Plague of the 14th century.

And yet, the coronavirus pandemic will still sicken and kill. But how many? That, ladies and gentlemen, brings us to the crux of this entire issue and event. The latest estimates on Sunday from Dr. Anthony Fauci are that between 100,000 – 200,000 Americans will likely end up dying from the coronavirus, and that “We are going to have millions of cases.”

Well, okay then. Yet up until this time, we Houstonians and indeed people around the entire world have been told that the COVID-19 virus is so catastrophic that governmental authorities absolutely must shut down entire economies in order to bring this event to heel. Nearly everywhere, people point to the now legendary Imperial College of London study, which predicted just over 500,000 deaths in the United Kingdom, 2.2 million deaths in the United States (see page 6 of the study), and that some 81 percent of the population would get this disease in the absence of any changes in human behavior or any control measures. Furthermore, the implication was that Houstonians (and Americans and people around the world), were going to have to take drastic measures to make sure that medical systems were not overwhelmed.

Well folks, these pronouncements are about to hit their acid tests.

But what about the economics and putting food on the table?

To reiterate, authorities everywhere have shut down vast swaths of American life, and indeed there has been mass compliance from American civil society with government recommendations with regards to social distancing, trying to limit travel, and so on. all of which has been aimed at trying to limit the spread of this disease. The result has been nothing short of a politically created recession, indeed some are saying this may end up creating a short-term 21st century economic depression. The New York Times reported on 26 March that over 3 million Americans filed for unemployment payments in the previous week. The chairman of the St. Louis branch of the U.S. Federal Reserve has stated that the GDP of the United States may take as much as a 50 percent hit because of this pandemic.

To put a personal touch on all of this, I will tell a story of a conversation I had with a neighbor of mine the other day. His wife works in a nearby restaurant. He told me of a story where a customer ordered a $120 dinner to be delivered to them. The restaurant prepared the order, but the delivery driver did not deliver the order because he had lost his job and he needed to feed his family. The delivery company and the restaurant offered to compensate the customer, and there was talk of pressing charges against the driver. Ultimately, they decided not to press charges against the driver, and the parties involved ended up eating the costs of the meal.

How much of this is going on now? More to the point, regardless of what authorities are demanding of Americans, people are making their own economic calculations and questioning the knowledge limits of the powers that be. If this pandemic ends up overwhelming Houston’s (and America’s) hospital systems and many thousands end up dying regardless of the economic costs, then people are naturally going to start asking themselves at some point whether all this economic pain was (and is) worth it?

County Judge Hidalgo and Houston’s political and commercial elite are facing their acid tests, just as everyone else is. My thought is that the current stay-at-home orders in place in Harris County are going to be extended past the current April 3rd deadline, as indeed the modeling that was given to her stated that the assumptions were that the shutdown orders would stay in place through May of this year. People will likely comply for another month or so. Yet, if there isn’t any real improvement in the overall situation with regards to declining new daily cases by the early part of May, then all bets might start coming off. At that point people might start saying to **** with orders and that we’ll just have to start taking our chances anyway with this virus.

Addendum

We need four big things:

  1. A vaccine, but that won’t be available for perhaps 12-18 months while it gets tested.
  2. Ubiquitous, ongoing testing for COVID-19, even after this April and May, in order to get back to some form of normalcy.
  3. Economic help for people dislodged because of political actions.
  4. And last but not least, the hospitals need all the help they can get.

I’m looking at what I can donate now.