As we conclude the third month of the coronavirus pandemic several trends have emerged – some positive, some negative. To illustrate my point, below please find what I consider to be a sampling of the significant recent events as reported by various news outlets:
- As I write this, the estimated total number of cases worldwide as published by “Worldmeter” is approximately 750,000. Worldwide fatalities are approaching 36,000. In the US the numbers are 145,000 and 2,600, respectively. One thousand of those are in NYS. The totals have been changing by the minute, so by the time you read this they will likely be higher, perhaps, considerably so.
- The US is reporting the highest number of cases, although Fox News has reported data that suggests the rate of increase may be slowing down. Italy is next at some 98,000 followed by Spain with 85,000. China’s numbers have been suspect as discussed below.
- Today, the president stated that recently there has been a substantial increase in testing. Presently, the US is running about 100,000 per day. To date, it has run one million tests in total. Furthermore, Abbott Labs has developed a test that gives the result in five minutes. This is very positive news, since most medical experts agree that massive testing is the key to identifying sick people and ultimately controlling and defeating the virus.
- Spain reported that 35 people died per hour over the weekend. Spanish officials warned that a “period of ‘hibernation’ ” may be required to deal with the virus. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that the tighter restrictions were necessary to avoid “the collapse of saturated hospitals” in various regions of the country, particularly Madrid. He added that these restrictions will last at least until April 9.
- On the other hand, reports out of Italy provided a glimmer of hope. The fatality rate declined for the third consecutive day, and the number of patients seeking critical care dropped substantially. However, Minister of Health Roberto Speranza added a note of caution. He announced that the protective measures “will certainly be prolonged. …. Opening up too soon could burn everything we’ve obtained until now.”
- Curiously, the US death total is “only” 2,605 compared to Italy’s 10,779. Why? Perhaps, the quality of diagnosis and treatment is better in the US; or, perhaps, Italy, like some other countries, most notably China, is underreporting the number of cases (intentionally or not); or maybe, it is a combination of the two. More on this later.
- The situation in NYC remains especially dire. There have been reports of coronavirus patients being stranded in their homes because the healthcare system is too overwhelmed to accommodate them. Moreover, the city’s 911 system has been flooded with calls for medical emergencies. For example, last Thursday the system received some 7,000 calls, a number not seen since “9/11.” The normal number is 4,000. Also, one paramedic reported he was dispatched to two homes in the Washington Heights area where both entire families were sick. He told reporters he was “terrified,” not only for himself but also for what he “already [had] possibly brought home [to his family].” This was likely not an isolated case.
- Detroit, MI may be the next big city to become a “hot spot.” It’s not just the number of reported cases; it’s also the characteristics of the population. Like most big cities, people live in very close proximity; thirty percent live in poverty and have received subpar healthcare; many have pre-existing health issues; and the hospitals are already overburdened. Furthermore, there have been 35 fatalities in the past two weeks, and over 500 police officers are in quarantine, including the chief.
- Critical medical supplies remain in short supply. Various states and countries are competing with each other to obtain what they need now and may need prospectively. FEMA is coordinating with various companies in the private sector to provide these items. It’s an ongoing uphill battle to keep up with the virus. This situation has led to accusations of price gouging, which US AG Barr is investigating, and hoarding.
- China has been trying to redeem itself in the eyes of the world after its delay in reporting the outbreak and severity of the virus. It has been shipping massive quantities of medical supplies to various countries. Sounds good, but several reports have emerged charging that most of its supplies, including test kits and protective gear, are defective. The governments of Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Turkey, and the Philippines are some of the complainants. This is unconscionable. Faulty equipment is much worse than no equipment as it provides the illusion of safety that doesn’t exist.
- In addition, as mentioned above, China has long been suspected of underreporting its case numbers. “Caixin,” a respected and influential Chinese magazine, has reported the government has not been reporting asymptomatic cases, which has greatly reduced the number of cases.
- Most disturbingly, several Chinese citizens, among them a doctor, a journalist, and an activist, who had criticized the Chinese government’s handling of the virus have been imprisoned or have simply disappeared. Unfortunately, in a totalitarian regime that does not bode well for them.
- Dubai was set to host Expo 2020 in October. The purpose of this event was to promote tourism and business opportunities in the country. This event has been seven years in the planning and so far has cost approximately $8 billion. The organizing committee has postponed it until 2021.
- Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has issued two executive orders. One requires all restaurants and bars to suspend servicing customers on premises – take-out and delivery service only. This action is similar to that taken in many other states. The other prohibits all “non-essential” elective medical procedures. “We’re going guns blazing and doing all that we can to slow the spread of Covid-19,” stated DeSantis.
- Louisiana Governor John Edwards disclosed that the state is becoming a “hot spot” with approximately 4,000 cases and nearly 200 deaths. Moreover, the state could exhaust its supply of ventilators by April 4.
- Texas has imposed a 14-day quarantine on all people coming into the state.
- Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC have also issued stay-at-home guidelines. It is likely that several other jurisdictions will follow suit.
- Today, Monday, a US Navy ship, USNS Comfort, docked in NY harbor several weeks ahead of schedule. It is a massive 900 foot vessel with a capacity of 1,000 beds including 80 in intensive care. Its mission is to treat non-coronavirus patients, so that the city’s overburdened hospitals and healthcare workers can focus on coronavirus patients. A sister ship , the USS Mercy, has been providing the same services in LA.
- The UN warned that the virus could be particularly lethal in the various underdeveloped countries of Africa and Asia. These countries lack the healthcare infrastructure to combat the virus.
- From the outset Israel has been very proactive, imposing severe restrictions on its populace to combat the virus. Nevertheless, it has been reported that over 4,000 people have tested positive for the virus, including a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s staff. As a result, Netanyahu has been placed in quarantine.
- It has been widely reported that various private sector companies have been racing to develop a vaccine against the virus. Johnson & Johnson has announced it has developed a vaccine that should be ready for human clinical trials by September. If successful the vaccine could be available for emergency use early in 2021.
- I continue to be amazed at the substantial contributions of the private sector. It is amazing what American ingenuity and free enterprise can accomplish. The list of companies is extensive, such as 3M, Proctor and Gamble, Wall Mart, Ford, GM, the aforementioned J & J and Abbott Labs, and many others. Some have retooled their factories to produce much-needed medical supplies. Others are working non-stop on a vaccine and/or therapeutic treatments, some of which have shown promise. When the private sector is fully engaged like this, it is really something to see. Kudos to them all and to President Trump for streamlining government regulations and procedures where necessary to assist them.
- Those of you who follow the trials and tribulations of the British Royals will be happy to know that Prince Charles has completed his quarantine period and is no longer under isolation in a Scottish castle. Ho hum.
The public is constantly being bombarded with sharply varying, unsubstantiated, even contradictory, predictions from various sources. These mixed signals are not only confusing; they are counterproductive to combatting the virus. For example, many governors have been issuing gloomy reports on their respective states’ situation. Perhaps, exaggerations? Also, a few days ago, President Trump, in an effort to be optimistic, stated that the country might be able to return to normalcy, more or less, by Easter, which is April 12. He added that some areas of the country had had light instances of the virus, and the people there might be able to return to work soon. Good news, right? Not exactly. However, later, after consulting with his panel of experts he amended that prediction. Instead, he extended the current guidelines for another month. As of today, he said he expects the cases to peak in the next two weeks.
I don’t wish to unduly criticize the president’s handling of the situation. On the whole, I heartily approve of his handling of it. According to the latest Gallup Poll most Americans agree. Furthermore, I understand that the situation is very fluid, and he is only trying to rally our spirits. However, I believe he should realize that people are hanging on his every word. He should choose his words more carefully to avoid sending out mixed signals.
At the same time, Dr. Fauci was predicting that the death toll would rise. He threw out the number 100,000 just in the US. The NY Times published an estimate of 200,000. Since we’re now at less than 3,000, that would be a very substantial increase. Predictions like that are downright scary. That was the reason Mr. Trump amended his original assessment of the situation. But, undoubtedly, the conflicting predictions caused some confusion, which is my point.
What is worse, predictions that are unrealistically optimistic or unrealistically pessimistic? You decide.
It has been reported that members of Congress are already discussing an additional aid package. It’s wise to plan ahead, but, perhaps, in this case a bit premature. The current package hasn’t even been distributed yet. Let’s give it a few weeks and re-assess at that time.
The main point of all this is, we don’t really know what will happen. It looks like no one, including the experts, really does.
What you can do to protect yourself is to remember, medical experts agree that the best way to prevent contracting the virus is to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly and don’t touch your face.