The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

#Coronavirus: The ‘Grisly Calculus’

Posted on | March 21, 2020 | No Comments

First, news from the Associated Press:

Illinois and New York state joined California on Friday in ordering all residents to stay in their homes unless they have vital reasons to go out, restricting the movement of more than 70 million Americans in the most sweeping measures undertaken yet in the U.S. to contain the coronavirus.
The states’ governors acted in a bid to fend off the kind of onslaught that has caused the health system in southern Europe to buckle. The lockdowns encompass the three biggest cities in America — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — as well as No. 8 San Diego and No. 14 San Francisco.

OK, the reason we have been getting scary warnings from public officials is because (a) they’ve seen what happened in Italy, and (b) there are limits to the number of urgent-care facilities available to treat severe cases of Wuhan coronavirus. In Italy, the death toll, which was 197 two weeks ago (March 6) is now 4,032, and they reported 627 deaths in the past 24 hours. As of 8:36 p.m. ET Friday, CNN was reporting that there had been 241 U.S. deaths from coronavirus, so if the pandemic here follows the trajectory in Italy, we could have more than 1,000 total deaths by Wednesday, and over 2,000 deaths by the end of the month.

Notice I’m counting deaths, rather than the reported number of infections. The reason for this is that death is a fixed target, whereas identifying people who are infected is variable. It has been reported that about 80% of people infected with Wuhan coronavirus have only mild symptoms — a few days of sniffling and sneezing, no different than the common cold — and some have no symptoms at all. There has been a shortage of tests for the virus, and many U.S. patients have only been tested in the past few days, so we can expect a significant upswing in the number of known cases over the next week or so, but that does not necessarily mean the actual number of cases is increasing. Therefore, I’m focusing strictly on the number of deaths from the virus.

According to CNN, these are the top 10 states:

1. Washington ……. 82 deaths
2. New York ……….. 39 deaths
3. California ……….. 23 deaths
4. Louisiana ……….. 14 deaths
5. Georgia ………….. 13 deaths
6. New Jersey …….. 11 deaths
7. Florida ……………. 9 deaths
8. Texas ………………. 5 deaths
9. Illinois ……………… 5 deaths
10. Colorado …………. 4 deaths
(tie) Connecticut …… 4 deaths

Of the total U.S. deaths (241), these 11 states account for 87%, and the top three states account for 60% of the total. In other words, 39 states so far have only 13% of the total U.S. deaths. While we can expect some shifts as the number of deaths nationwide increase, it is unlikely that the overall distribution will change significantly. That is to say, the 21 states that have so far reported zero deaths from Wuhan coronavirus (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming) almost certainly will never be among the states most severely hit by this pandemic. A certain number of people in those states will get sick and die, but “social distancing” will limit the transmission of the virus, so that the worst impact of the disease will be in those communities where it is now most widespread. Most restaurants and bars are already closed, “shelter in place” orders have been imposed in several states and localities, and the areas now (relatively) free of the virus will probably be spared the worst of it. How soon will we know?

The key will be to keep track of (a) the total number of U.S. deaths, and (b) the percentage of deaths in the top 10 states in comparison to the rest of the country. As I say, the number of people reported as infected may increase rapidly without telling us very much. You could test positive for Wuhan coronavirus and never get very sick at all. It’s the serious cases requiring hospitalization that will put a strain on our health-care system, and the number of deaths will be a good barometer of how that’s going.

If you don’t have any symptoms, you don’t need to be tested. The media are panicking about the lack of testing because guess what? The media are based in urban centers where the risk of getting this disease is much higher than it is for Americans living out in the boondocks. An NBC News employee has died of Wuhan coronavirus, and two other NBC News staffers have tested positive for the virus. The panic over the disease is higher in “blue” states for a reason, as Ron Brownstein explains:

In several key respects, the outbreak’s early stages are unfolding very differently in Republican- and Democratic-leaning parts of the country. That disconnect is already shaping, even distorting, the nation’s response to this unprecedented challenge—and it could determine the pandemic’s ultimate political consequences as well.
A flurry of new national polls released this week reveals that while anxiety about the disease is rising on both sides of the partisan divide, Democrats consistently express much more concern about it than Republicans do, and they are much more likely to say they have changed their personal behavior as a result. A similar gap separates people who live in large metropolitan centers, which have become the foundation of the Democratic electoral coalition, from those who live in the small towns and rural areas that are the modern bedrock of the GOP. . . .
So far, the greatest clusters of the disease, and the most aggressive responses to it, have indeed been centered in a few large, Democratic-leaning metropolitan areas, including Seattle, New York, San Francisco, and Boston. At yesterday’s White House press briefing, Deborah Birx, the administration’s response coordinator, said half of the nation’s cases so far are located in just 10 counties. . . .
Democrats now dominate the places in the U.S. most integrated into the global economy, which may be more likely to receive international visitors or see their own residents travel abroad.
On the case-tracking website maintained by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering, each of the four states with the largest number of coronavirus cases is a Democratic-leaning place along the coast: New York, Washington, California, and New Jersey. Florida, a coastal, internationally oriented state that leans slightly toward the GOP, ranks fifth. Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Texas, each with at least one big urban center that functions as a gateway for tourism and trade, come in next. And though the Johns Hopkins project isn’t publishing precise county and municipal data on the outbreak, the biggest clusters of disease have all erupted in a few large metropolitan areas.

So if, like me, you live in a rural area and don’t travel abroad, your risk of exposure to Wuhan coronavirus is smaller than people who live in Democrat-dominated urban areas — including New York and D.C. where the national press corps is based. The existing lockdowns, and the effectiveness of the “social distancing” regime, can be expected to limit the spread of the disease to areas currently unaffected by the pandemic. So while the number of deaths nationwide will continue to increase — and, based on what’s happened in Italy, we will probably see the rate of increase accelerate — most of those deaths will be in the urban centers. The elderly and people with underlying medical problems are at greater risk everywhere, but they are at less risk in rural areas than in cities.

Heather Mac Donald has pointed out that “there were 38,800 traffic fatalities in the United States in 2019 . . . an average of over one hundred traffic deaths every day.” Even in Italy, the country hit hardest by the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, there have been fewer than 5,000 deaths. Comparing the coronavirus risk to other potential causes of death is a “grisly calculus,” Mac Donald admits, but it is the only way to put this into proper perspective and avoid panic.

In the meantime, don’t eat any bats and avoid people who do eat bats.