COVID-19 in the United States: Latest Projections

UPDATED 04/06/20

SUMMARY

Relying on data collected through April 5, I project about 920,000 cases and 54,000 deaths by the end of June. Figure 1 plots the projections by date. It is reassuring to see that the curve for cases resembles a Gompertz function, which is a classic descriptor of the growth of pandemics.

Figure 1

Notes about data: I use official statistics reported by States and the District of Columbia and compiled in Template:2019–20 coronavirus pandemic data/United States medical cases at Wikipedia. The statistics exclude cases and deaths occurring among repatriated persons (i.e., Americans returned from other countries or cruise ships). The source tables include the U.S. territories of Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, but I have excluded them from my analysis. I would also exclude Alaska and Hawaii, given their distance from the coterminous U.S., but it would be cumbersome to do so. Further, both States have low numbers of cases and thus far only 10 deaths (6 in Alaska and 4 in Hawaii), so leaving them in has almost no effect on my analysis.

My method of projecting COVID-19 cases and deaths yields far fewer deaths than the official estimate issued by the White House: 100,000 to 240,000. My guess is that the official estimate has been inflated to scare people into staying at home, which will reduce the rate at which new cases arise and prevent the number of deaths from reaching 100,000 or more.

RELATED CHARTS AND ANALYSIS

As indicated by Figure 2, the number of cases is 1/10th of 1 percent of the population of the U.S.; the number of deaths, 3/100th of 1 percent. Thus far 2.9 percent of cases have resulted in deaths, but the final fatality rate will be higher because new deaths lag new cases (as discussed later). Note the logarithmic scale on the vertical axis; every major division (e.g., 0.01%) is 10 times the preceding major division (e.g., 0.001%).

Figure 2

Figure 3 shows how the coronavirus outbreak compares with earlier pandemics when the numbers for those pandemics are adjusted upward to account for population growth since their occurrence. (Again, note that the vertical axis is logarithmic.) Thus far, the number of COVID-19 cases is only 1/2 of 1 percent of the number of swine-flu cases, but the number of COVID-19 deaths has reached 3/4 the number of swine-flu deaths. In the end, the U.S. fatality rate for the swine-flu pandemic was 2/100 of 1 percent; for the Spanish flu pandemic, 2 percent. The rate for the COVID-19 pandemic probably will be the highest of the three, but the the true toll won’t be known until there is a solid estimate of the number of deaths over and above the number that would have occurred normally during the period of COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. (See this post by Dr. Roy Spencer.) Whatever the final toll, it will prove to be lower than the official tallies now in circulation, and thus lower than my projection.

Figure 3

As shown in Figure 4, the daily percentage changes in new cases and deaths have been declining generally since March 19. However, actual numbers of new cases and deaths probably won’t begin to drop for another several days.

Figure 4

New deaths necessarily lag new cases. The best fit between new cases and new deaths is a 6-day lag (Figure 5).

Figure 5

Figure 6 shows the tighter relationship between new cases and new deaths (especially in the past two weeks) when Figure 4 is adjusted to introduce the 6-day lag.

Figure 6

Figure 7 shows the similarly tight relationship that results from the removal of the 6 “hot spots” — Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York — which have the highest incidence of cases per capita.

Figure 7

Figures 6 and 7 give me added confidence that the crisis is about to reach its peak and begin to subside. Fingers crossed.

The Lesson from the Diamond Princess, Underscored

What I say here, Willis Eschenbach says here (in greater detail).

Related reading:

Brian C. Joondeph, M.D., “Remember the H1N1 Pandemic? I Don’t Either“, American Thinker, March 16, 2020

J.G. Walsh, “Weighing the Future: Coronavirus and the Economy“, American Thinker, March 16, 2020

Gordon Wysong, “The Coronavirus Will Save America“, American Thinker, March 16, 2020

See also my posts, “America’s Long Vac” and “Trump, the Coronavirus Panic, and the Stock Market“.

Lesson from the Diamond Princess: Panic Is Unwarranted

As of today there have been 696 reported cases of coronavirus among the 3,711 passengers who were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship. The ship was quarantined on February 1; all passengers and crew had disembarked by March 1. As of March 1, there were 6 deaths among those infected, and the number hasn’t grown (as of today).

Given the ease with which the virus could be transmitted on a ship, the Diamond Princess may represent an upper limit on contagion and mortality:

  • an infection rate of 19 percent of those onboard the ship
  • a fatality rate of less than 1 percent among those known to have contracted the disease
  • a fatality rate of less than 2/10 of 1 percent of the population potentially exposed to the disease.

Conclusion: There is no question that coronavirus represents a significant threat to life, health, and economic activity. But the panic being fomented by the media and opportunistic politicians is unwarranted.

A Summing Up

This post has been updated and moved to “Favorite Posts“.

HillaryCare Returns

It’s all over the blogosphere. Glen Whitman has the best take on it because he ackn0wledges the slippery-slope, camel’s nose-in-the-tent factor.

What’s next after mandating health insurance for all? How about: the kind of health care we must have, who must deliver it, how it must be delivered, at what price, and on and on into the night. It’s a poisonous prescription for America’s still-excellent — if already somewhat socialized — health-care industry.

And there’s nowhere left to turn. Canada’s out because it already has fully socialized medicine. (Canadians in search of better medical attention are coming here, for crying out loud.) Mexico’s out because it’s a third-world country with fourth-rate health care and quacks who cater to desperate, terminally ill Americans with more money than sense. Medicine on the Moon, anyone?

P.S. A good post here.

P.P.S. More about health care in Canada here.

The Better Half or the Worse Half?

Arnold Kling, writing about a post of Robin Hanson’s, says:

My guess is that if Robin were to try to make this argument to a general audience, he would get a hostile response.

Hanson’s argument?

Cutting half of medical spending would seem to cost little in health, and yet would free up vast resources for other health and utility gains. To their shame, health experts have not said this loudly and clearly enough.

…The claim is not that there would be no harmful health effects of such a policy, but rather that harmful effects would be roughly balanced by helpful effects. And the claim is not that harmful and helpful effects would exactly balance, but rather that any net health harm will be small compared to the health gains possible by spending the savings on other health influences, and to the utility gains possible from spending the savings in other ways.

Kling continues:

However, the opposition would be almost entirely emotional, with little or no rational component….The intensity of the emotions is probably a sign that Hanson is onto something.

I don’t think it’s emotional to ask two questions:

1. Who does the cutting?

2. How does the cutter know, for each affected individual, whether the cut removes the better half or worse half of that individual’s health care?

Cato Unbound (where Hanson’s post appears) seems to be off-line. Perhaps I’ll have more to say when I’m able to read the whole post.

Okay, I’ve now read Hanson’s post. Hanson’s point about over-spending on medical care is well supported, but here’s the key passage about how to cut spending:

How should we cut medical spending? There are many possibilities, and I may prefer some possibilities to others….The obvious first place to cut would be our government and corporate subsidies for medicine, including direct payments, tax exemptions, and regulatory requirements. Socially, we should also try to give medicine far less prestige than we now do. After these one could consider taxing medicine, limiting it by law, or nationalizing the industry and using agency budgets to limit spending.

Yes, I know, these are not politically realistic proposals.

The least realistic proposals, politically, are to cut government and corporate subsidies, tax exemptions, and regulatory requirements. Such changes would be the most beneficial because they would restore income and discretion to the actual recipients and beneficiaries of medical care.

The politically realistic proposals (taxing medicine, limiting it by law, or nationalizing the industry) would be ruinous. Necessary medical care would become more expensive and harder to come by.

Does Hanson seriously endorse taxes, government-imposed rationing, and nationalization as substitutes for the the judgments of individuals who actually need medical attention? Perhaps he would prefer to live in Canada or the UK.

Socialized Medicine in the U.S.A.

Cato‘s Michael Cannon has it exactly right in “Socialized Medicine Is Already Here” (TCS Daily). Go and read it.

Insofar as medicine is concerned, we have traveled all the way down the slippery slope, following one and then another of the paths I trace in “The Slippery Slope of Constitutional Revisionism.”

Can it get worse? Yes. See:

Thomas Sowell, “No Health Care?”
These three posts at Cato-at-Liberty

Note, also, the planned presence of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (“Independent”-VT) at the convention of Democratic Socialists of America. Were they honest about their true political orientation, almost all Democrats in Congress and far more than a few Republicans would join Sen. Sanders at the convention.

The Case against Genetic Engineering

Slate‘s William Saletan, writing at The New York Times, reviews Michael J. Sandel’s The Case against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering. I have not read Sandel’s book, nor do I plan to read it. My case against genetic engineering, to which I will come, may bear no resemblance to Sandel’s. But there’s no way of learning what Sandel’s case is, given Saletan’s rather glib criticism of Sandel’s book.

Saletan’s glibness is evident in passages such as these:

[G]enetic engineering is too big for ethics. It changes human nature, and with it, our notions of good and bad.

When norms change, you can always find old fogeys who grouse that things aren’t the way they used to be….But eventually, the old fogeys die out, and the new norms solidify.

Once gene therapy becomes routine, the case against genetic engineering will sound as quaint as the case against running coaches [a practice apparently unknown before the 1924 Olympics].

In a world…controlled by bioengineering, we would dictate our nature as well as our practices and norms. We would gain unprecedented power to redefine the good. In so doing, we would strip perfection of its independence. Its meaning would evolve as our nature and our ideals evolved.

Saletan, in so many words, professes a tautology: The future will bring what it will bring, and whatever it brings will be the future. Saletan might as well write this: If murder is widely accepted in the future, murder will be acceptable in the future. I doubt very much that Saletan would endorse such a statement. I suspect, rather, that an effort to be clever at Sandel’s expense led Saletan down a moral blind alley of his own construction.

What is that moral blind alley? If it is not obvious to you, consider this passage from the entry for moral relativism at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Metaethical Moral Relativism (MMR). The truth or falsity of moral judgments, or their justification, is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of persons.

The definition of MMR* points to Saletan’s error. He treats the same (or very much the same) group of persons as being a different group because of the passage of time. In other words, the future just “happens” — as if people cannot make judgments in the present about the consequences, for them, of pending or reversible decisions.

To come at it a different way, Saletan conflates what could be with what should be. There could be a market for genetic engineering, but should there be such a market? There are, after all, markets for murder, arson, and the fruits of theft (among other such things), but I doubt that Saletan would condone such markets.

The real issue, then, is whether to allow genetic engineering, in light of its consequences. Saletan finally approaches that question when he says that “self-engineering….seizes control of humanity so radically that humanity can no longer judge it.”

But Saletan waits until the final paragraph of his review to say even that much. He then quickly closes the review with with smart-alecky observations instead of pursuing the consequences of genetic engineering. Perhaps he thinks that he has done so when, earlier in the review, he writes this:

The older half of me shares [Sandel’s] dismay that some parents feel blamed for carrying babies with Down syndrome to term. But my younger half cringes at his flight from the “burden of decision” and “explosion of responsibility” that come with our expanding genetic power. Given a choice between a world of fate and blamelessness [without genetic engineering] and a world of freedom and responsibility [with genetic engineering], I’ll take the latter. Such a world may be, as Sandel says, too daunting for the humans of today. But not for the humans of tomorrow.

There again, Saletan assumes that the future will be what it will be. More importantly, he badly mischaracterizes the world of today. Our present world, contra Saletan, is (relative to the brave new world of genetic engineering) one of freedom and responsibility. To use the example of a baby with Down syndrome (properly Down’s syndrome), parents who choose to abort such a baby (for that is what Saletan means) have every bit as much “freedom” to make that choice (under today’s abortion laws) and are just as responsible (morally) for their decision as they would be if they were to choose bioengineering instead. Genetic engineering simply introduces different “freedoms.”

Thus we come to the real issue, which is the wisdom (or not) of allowing genetic engineering in the first place. For, as we know from our experience with the regulatory-welfare state, once an undesirable practice gains the state’s approbation and encouragement it becomes the norm.

And that is the broad case against allowing genetic engineering: If it gains a government-approved foothold it will become the norm. It will result in foreseeable (and unforeseeable) changes in the human condition. It will cause most of us who are alive today to wish that it had never been allowed in the first place.

How so? Consider the specific case against genetic engineering:

  • Following upon (but not supplanting) abortion, it would enable humans to retreat further from the acceptance of responsibility for the consequences of the procreative act. The prospective acceptance of responsibility for our actions is a restraining influence upon which civil society depends. That restraining influence has been lessened enough by such elitist initiatives as the legalization of abortion, leniency in the punishment of criminals, and permissiveness in the face of disruptive speech and behavior in public schools.
  • It would reinforce the attitude — inherent in abortion — that humans are mere machines to be overhauled or junked at will. It would, in other words, take us another giant step down the slippery slope toward state-condoned (if not state-conducted) euthanasia.
  • From there it would be an easy step for the state (controlled by “liberal” elites) to dictate who may have children, how many children they may have, the gender-mix of the children, the occupations those children may pursue, etc., etc., etc.

Yes, genetic engineering could have some positive consequences (e.g., reducing the number of children born with Down’s syndrome). But the prospect of such consequences should not eclipse the broad, fundamental, negative consequences for human dignity and liberty.
__________
* The validity of MMR is a matter for another post…sometime, perhaps.

People Are Idiots

The proof is found in the lede of an AP story:

People overwhelmingly support two of the Democrats’ top goals — increasing the minimum wage and making it easier to buy prescription drugs from other countries….

Increasing the minimum wage will hurt the class of persons it is intended to help. There will be fewer jobs (or worse working conditions) for those unskilled workers who now seek employment, and even fewer jobs for succeeding generations of unskilled workers.

Making it easier to buy prescription drugs from other countries will result in (a) fraudulent sales of inferior substitutes and (b) less R&D by American drug companies. Those results will harm the consumers of drugs.

As I say, people are idiots.

About Stem-Cell Research and Vetoes

Putting aside the pro-life and humanitarian aspects of embryonic stem-cell research, I have this to say:

The federal government has no business funding research of any kind, except that which is intended to foster the common defense.

Regardless of the reasons for President Bush’s veto of a bill to provide federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research, he was right to veto it. Now that Bush has found his veto pen, perhaps he will use it more often and on measures of greater fiscal import.

The Romney Plan: Part II

I wrote a few weeks ago about the new health-care scheme in Massachusetts. It’s worse than I thought. Arnold Kling, writing at Cato-at-liberty, quotes

Betsy McCaughey [who] digs into some of the details on the effects on business of Massachusetts’ brave, new health insurance experiment:

Say, for example, you open a restaurant and don’t provide health coverage. If the chef’s spouse or child is rushed to the hospital and can’t pay because they don’t have insurance, you — the employer — are responsible for up to 100% of the cost of that medical care. There is no cap on your obligation. Once the costs reach $50,000, the state will start billing you and fine you $5,000 a week for every week you are late in filling out the paperwork on your uncovered employees (Section 44). These provisions are onerous enough to motivate the owners of small businesses to limit their full-time workforce to 10 people, or even to lay employees off.

What else is surprising about this new law? Union shops are exempt (Section 32).

The next step should be the repeal of the Massachusetts plan because it is bad medicine for the people of Massachusetts. It will cut employment and wages, while driving up the cost of health care. Most of the intended beneficiaries of the plan will suffer as a result.

Given the perverse political climate of Massachusetts, the next step probably will be the State’s seizure of health-care services. The State will disclaim responsibility for the failure of its plan. Instead, it will pin the blame on the private sector, and the gullible public will swallow the story. The State will then declare itself the single payer of health-care costs, effectively creating a State-run health-care system. Welcome to Canada.

Related posts:
Fear of the Free Market — Part I
Fear of the Free Market — Part II
Fear of the Free Market — Part III
Free-Market Healthcare
Where’s Substantive Due Process When You Need It?
The Romney Plan

The Romney Plan

Massachusetts has a new health-care panacea, which the Commonwealth’s governor, Mitt Romney, outlines and defends in a recent OpinionJournal op-ed. Cutting through all the bleeding-heart rhetoric and pseudo-economics, here’s the bottom line:

  • The already over-burdened taxpayers of Massachusetts now face a heavier burden, in the form of subsidies to persons who don’t need health insurance.
  • Persons who don’t need health insurance will be forced to carry it. And having it, they will probably try to get their “money’s worth” out of it — thus driving up the cost of health care.
  • Businesses will be taxed if they don’t contribute to employees’ health-insurance premiums. That tax will be paid by workers in the form of lower wages, and by consumers in the form of higher prices.

It is possible that the Massachusetts plan will enable insurers to offer coverage with high deductibles and low premiums. But such a reform is unlikely to last very long in Massachusetts, where politicians thrive on big-brotherhood. The Massachusetts plan is otherwise a decided step backward because:

  • It adds a heavy burden of government bureaucracy to the Commonwealth’s already burdened health-care providers.
  • It reduces individual responsibility for health care, thus making it even less likely that health-care resources will be used sensibly.

What’s the difference between Democrats and Republicans in Massachusetts? Not a dime’s worth, as someone used to say.

Recommended reading:
What’s wrong with RomneyCare (an OpinionJournal article by Brendan Minter)
The Massachusetts Delusion (a TCS Daily article by Arnold Kling)
Romney and Kling on Massachusetts Health Care (an EconLog post by Arnold Kling)

Related posts:
Fear of the Free Market — Part I
Fear of the Free Market — Part II
Fear of the Free Market — Part III
Free-Market Healthcare
Where’s Substantive Due Process When You Need It?

Risk and Regulation

Robert Higgs makes this acute observation:

Risk is an inescapable condition. However much people may prefer to live in a world of complete certainty, they simply cannot do so. Just banishing risk, whether by regulation or otherwise, is not a feasible option.

Higgs goes on to argue against the irrationality of drug-safety regulation; for example:

Whether the condition to be treated is life-threatening or simply unpleasant, the [Food and Drug Administration] requires the same rigid, elaborate, and time-consuming testing. Once again, the regulators frustrate the desires of consumers by insisting that one size (testing procedure) fits all (drugs and patients), regardless of the urgency with which consumers desire access to certain drugs. In some cases this regulatory intransigence creates the absurd situation in which the FDA denies dying patients access to a new drug because the manufacturer has not yet established beyond a reasonable doubt that the drug will not harm the users.

Rationality will get you nowhere in the face of massive ignorance. The ability of government bureaucracies to write regulations leads most Americans to believe that those regulations will “solve problems.” When a “problem” is not solved because actually solving it would be prohibitively expensive (as in reducing traffic fatalities to zero), Americans assume that “they” (corporations, for example) have simply found a “loophole” or “bought” someone. That kind of thinking leads, inexorably, to more regulation. It is beyond the ken of most Americans that regulation creates problems rather than solving them. Those unseen problems are the loss of freedom and fortune.

Other related posts:

Fear of the Free Market — Part I
Fear of the Free Market — Part II
Fear of the Free Market — Part III

The Economics of Corporate Fitness Programs

One of the many fads to sweep the corporate world in recent years is the fitness fad. The fad has two components: real costs and putative benefits. The real costs involve the installation of exercise facilities on company property, subsidies for off-site health-club memberships, a certain amount of paid time off for fitness programs, the hiring of nutritionists for company-subsidized cafeterias, and on and on. The putative benefits of the fitness fad are (1) more productive workers (healthy bodies, healthy minds, and all that); (2) workers who, in the longer run, will be less costly to insure; and (3) greater competitiveness in the labor market (i.e., being able to hire and keep employees who value fitness programs).

The fitness fad has five main proponents:

  • Executives who wish to be known as “progressive” and “interested in employee welfare”
  • Consultants who are hired by executives for the purpose of recommending the fitness programs that executives already favor
  • Vendors of fitness-related products and services
  • Those employees who already are physically fit, but who find it easier and cheaper to stay fit because of company programs
  • Other employees who want to be part of the “in” crowd or to curry favor with bosses who preach fitness.

As for the immediate benefits of company fitness programs, I have observed that the already-fit tend to stay fit, but at the company’s expense, while the less-fit give fitness a try, but it doesn’t last. If it did, Americans wouldn’t be getting fatter, would they?

What about the returns to the company in the form of lower health-insurance costs? Health-care costs rise with age. Assuming that fitness programs actually make employees more fit, which I doubt, a company is unlikely to reap long-run returns unless (a) its employees are exceptionally loyal or (b) it is able to hire equally fit replacements from other companies that have similarly effective (or ineffective) fitness programs.

And what about hiring and retention? Well, it’s like an arms race in which the objective isn’t to fight a war but to spend more than the other guy. If “everyone does it” in a certain industry, here’s what happens:

  • Workers who don’t participate in fitness programs (that is, most of them) lose because compensation has been shifted from wages and non-fitness benefits toward fitness benefits. Therefore, that industry finds it harder to hire and retain workers for whom fitness isn’t an important consideration; that is, productivity declines and costs rise.
  • If firms in the industry try to raise prices in order to cover the costs of fitness programs, consumers find substitute products or services, thus cutting into the industry’s sales and profits.
  • And so, one way or the other, shareholders take a hit in the form of lower stock prices.

Who benefits? Trendy executives and employees who’d rather work out than work.

That’s my hypothesis, and I’m sticking with it until I see hard numbers that prove it wrong.

The Obesity Epidemic

Randall Parker — a.k.a. FuturePundit and social engineer extraordinaire — opines about obesity in “Response To Obesity Epidemic Should Be Urgent Priority.” But obesity isn’t contagious and therefore can’t be an epidemic.

What’s the problem, then? According to Parker,

food is cheap. As biotechnology advances food prices will rise more slowly than inflation. So food will become cheaper still.

That’s a problem? Tell it to the poor.

Here’s my solution: Let natural selection sort it out. If fatties aren’t fit to live, they won’t live as long as non-fatties or procreate at the same rate as non-fatties. So, if fatness is gene-related, there’ll be fewer fatties in succeeding generations. Otherwise, I don’t care how fat other people get, as long as I don’t have to pay for their food addiction.

Speaking of Obesity…

FuturePundit points to a reason to avoid it:

Obesity Causes Inflammation Which Accelerates Aging

Quite a large body of research literature is building in support of the idea that chronic inflammation is a major cause of many degenerative diseases. One of the causes of chronic inflammation is obesity….

A Health Care Plan for Geniuses Only

Madame Heinz Kerry displays her deep understanding of economics (from an AP story):

Teresa Heinz Kerry says “only an idiot” would fail to support her husband’s health care plan.

But Heinz Kerry, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, told the (Lancaster) Intelligencer Journal that “of course, there are idiots.”

Kerry’s proposal includes health care subsidies for children, the unemployed, small companies and more; and government assistance to insurers and employers that keep premiums for workers down.

…She says, “Only an idiot wouldn’t like this.”…

Only a genius (a Paul Krugman, for instance) would believe in a free-lunch plan like Kerry’s. Who will pay for the subsidies? Is “government assistance” like manna from heaven? What happens to the incentive of workers who are forced to pay premiums for other workers through higher taxes? How will “free” or subsidized insurance help to reduce the cost of health care? And what about “moral hazard”?