Just Another Thing or Two about COVID-19

Though it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future, and I sort of promised not to make any more predictions about the spread of COVID-19 in the United States because the data are unreliable (examples at the link and here). But I can’t resist saying a few more things about the matter.

Specifically, since my last substantive post about COVID-19 statistics, I now project 2 million cases and 135,000 deaths by mid-August, as against my earlier projections of 1.3 million and 90,000. The new estimates rely on the same database as the old ones, so they aren’t any more reliable than the old ones.

But I have revised my calculations so that they are based on 7-day average numbers of cases and deaths. This is an attempt to smooth over obvious lags in reporting (sudden drops in numbers of cases and deaths followed by sudden surges).

The equations in these two graphs …

… yield these projections:

Those are nationwide numbers. The good news (pending the results of “re-opening”) is that the daily number of new cases has declined sharply from the peaks of late March and late April. But there’s still a long way to go. The first graph in this post is worrisome because recent observations are a bit above the trend line; that is, the incidence of new cases may not be declining quite as rapidly as the equation suggests.

The number of new deaths has declined also, from the peak 7-day average of 2,041 on April 21 to 1,430 as of May 15. Overall, the rate of new deaths per new case seems to have stabilized at 5.7 percent. (The overall percentage will be somewhat higher because the deaths/case rate was higher than 5.7 for quite a while.)

Of course, the situation varies widely from State to State (and, obviously, within each State):

Regional and state variations in death rates
(I am using same assignment of States to regions as used by my data source.)

Nine of the 12 States of the Northeast (including D.C.) are among the top 12 in deaths per resident. The exceptions are the more rural Northeastern States: Main, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

In general, States with large, densely populated metropolitan areas have fared worse than less-urbanized States with smaller cities. That’s unsurprising, of course. But it also underscores the resistance of large swaths of the populace to “New York” rules.


Other related posts:

Contagion Nation?
“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”

Lockdown or Re-open?

UPDATED 05/03/20

Why are governments forcing businesses to close, costing tens of millions of jobs at least temporarily (and millions permanently), thus causing unemployment compensation claims to soar while tax revenues drop, and therefore causing some states to verge on bankruptcy, while also inflating unemployment compensation payouts and thereby making many workers reluctant to return to work even if they could? Nowhere mentioned in that breathless litany are the social and economic effects of lockdowns and job losses on families, friendships, social circles, etc., etc., etc.

The comfortable and fearful — a set that contains mostly leftists, who tend to be more affluent and more neurotic than the “deplorables” whom they disdain — are wont to worry about the consequence of re-opening “too soon” (i.e., before they are personally affected by lockdowns). That consequence, of course, is the possibility that the rate of COVID-19 infections and deaths will rise rather than fall to zero.

But so what? Suppose that a doctor — of all people — were to reopen his practice, tell patients that he will take every reasonable precaution to shield them from infection, require them to take similar precautions, have them sign releases holding him harmless should they later be found to have contracted COVID-19. Wouldn’t you go to that doctor if you needed to, rather than have him try to diagnose you telemedically? I would.

The same kinds of protocols could be followed by businesses of all kinds, and followed not only with respect to customers but also employees. Aren’t there tens of millions of citizens who would rather shop and work in the real world rather than in the virtual world? There certainly are tens of millions who would rather go to work instead of collecting unemployment compensation and watching their savings dwindle (if they have any to begin with). Moreover, the protocols could be backed by State governments granting to employers immunity from criminal and civil prosecutions if they follow specified procedures and all parties execute standard forms.

Why are governments preventing citizens from taking reasonable, informed risks so that the affluent and neurotic can sleep more easily — and enjoy watching frustrated “deplorables” protest in vain? Oh, that’s it. The suffering of “deplorables” given pleasure to leftists (e.g., this), and they’re in charge in too many places.

Which just goes to show, once again, that there’s no such thing as a social-welfare function. How can the pleasure gained by leftists possibly offset the pain they are causing to tens of millions of real Americans?

P.S. Jay Cost elaborates on the tension between the “haves” and the rest of us. The “haves” keep lecturing the rest of us to think of others. But it’s they who aren’t thinking of others; they’re only thinking of themselves. Well, if they don’t want to be exposed to COVID-19, they can just shelter in place while everyone else makes the economy work for the benefit of them (i.e., the “haves”).

My blue-collar roots are showing.

COVID-19: Public Service Announcement

It has become obvious that COVID-19 stats are unreliable; see this, this, and this, for example. I am therefore withdrawing from the business of reporting official stats and making projections based on them. I leave that endeavor with this thought.

COVID-19 in the United States: Updated Statistics and Projections

Details here.

It is noteworthy that the 2019-2020 flu season was taking a much heavier than normal toll until COVID-19 came along. That alone should cast a lot of doubt on the COVID-19 figures being reported by the States and D.C. Then there is the problem of comorbidity, especially among older persons. In sum, there won’t be a good estimate of the actual death toll of COVID-19  until it’s possible to compute “excess” deaths — taking all other causes into account — when the final tally of deaths in 2020 becomes available a few years hence.

There is also the looming possibility that (1) the COVID-19 infection rate is vastly understated; (2) the COVID-19 fatality rate is therefore vastly overstated; and (3) millions of persons who are already immune to COVID-19 because they have already (unknowingly) recovered from it (believing that they had a cold, the flu, or allergies) and are being held hostage by lockdown orders that are killing the economy. (See this for example.)

Flattening the Curve

What does it mean to “flatten the curve”, in the context of an epidemic? Here is Willis Eschenbach’s interpretation:

What does “flattening the curve” mean? It is based on the hope that our interventions will slow the progress of the disease. By doing so, we won’t get as many deaths on any given day. And this means less strain on a city or a country’s medical system.

Be clear, however, that this is just a delaying tactic. Flattening the curve does not reduce the total number of cases or deaths. It just spreads out the same amount over a longer time period. Valuable indeed, critical at times, but keep in mind that these delaying interventions do not reduce the reach of the infection. Unless your health system is so overloaded that people are needlessly dying, the final numbers stay the same.

I beg to differ. Or, at least, to offer a different interpretation: Flattening the curve — reducing its peak — can also reduce the total number of persons who are potentially exposed to the disease, thereby reducing the total number of persons who contract it. How does that work? It requires not only reducing the peak of the curve — the maximum number of active cases — but also reducing the length of the curve — the span of time in which a population is potentially exposed to the contagion.

Consider someone who has randomly contracted a virus from a non-human source. If that person is a hermit, the virus may kill him, or he may recover from whatever illness it causes him, but he can’t infect anyone else. Low peak, short duration.

Here’s an example of a higher peak but a relatively short duration: A person who randomly contracts a virus from a non-human source then infects many other persons in quick succession by breathing near them, sneezing on them, touching them, etc., in a short span of time (e.g., meeting and greeting at a business function). But … if the originator of the contagion and those whom he initially infects are identified and quarantined quickly enough, the contagion will spread no further.

In both cases, the “curve” will peak at some number lower than the number that would have been reached without isolation or quarantine. Moreover, and more important, the curve will terminate (go to zero) more quickly than it would have without isolation or quarantine.

The real world is more complicated than either of my examples because almost all humans aren’t hermits, and infections usually aren’t detected until after an infected person has had many encounters with uninfected persons. But the principle remains the same: The total number of persons who contract a contagious disease can be reduced through isolation and quarantine — and the sooner isolation and quarantine take effect, the lower the total number of infected persons.

COVID-19 in the United States: Latest Projections

UPDATED 04/21/20

Relying on data collected through April 20, I project about 1.3 million cases and 90,000 deaths by the middle of August. Those numbers are 50,000 and 6,000 higher than the projections that I published three days ago. However, the new numbers are based on statistical relationships that, I believe, don’t fully reflect the declining numbers of new cases and deaths discussed below. If the numbers continue to decline rapidly, the estimates of total cases and death should decline, too.

Figure 1 plots total cases and deaths — actual and projected — by date.

Figure 1

Source and notes: Derived from 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).

But there is good news in the actual and projected numbers of new cases and new deaths (Figure 2).

Figure 2

As shown in Figure 3, the daily percentage changes in new cases and deaths have been declining generally since March 19.

Figure 3

But there is, of course, a lag between new cases and new deaths. The best fit is a 7-day lag (Figure 4).

Figure 4

Figure 5 shows the tight relationship between new cases and new deaths when Figure 3 is adjusted to introduce the 7-day lag.

Figure 5

Figure 6 shows the similarly tight relationship after removing 8 “hot spots” which have the highest incidence of cases per capita — Connecticut, District of Columbia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.

Figure 6

Figures 5 and 6 give me added confidence that the crisis has peaked.

COVID-19 Update and Prediction

I have updated my statistical analysis here. Note especially the continued decline in the daily rate of new cases and the low rate of new deaths per new case.

Now for the prediction. Assuming that lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing continue for at least two more weeks, and assuming that there isn’t a second wave of COVID-19 because of early relaxation or re-infection:

  • The total number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. won’t exceed 250,000.
  • The total number of U.S. deaths attributed to COVID-19 won’t exceed 10,000.

In any event, the final numbers will be well below the totals for the swine-flu epidemic of 2009-10 (59 million and 12,000) but you won’t hear about it from the leftist media.

UPDATE 03/31/20: Some sources are reporting higher numbers of U.S. cases and deaths than the source that I am using for my analysis and predictions. It is therefore possible that the final numbers (according to some sources) will be higher than my predictions. But I will be in the ballpark.

UPDATE 04/10/20: See my revised estimate.

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“.

America’s Long Vac

COVID-19 has shut down much of America (and the world, too, I suppose). The shutdowns are coinciding with, extending, and preempting spring breaks at schools, colleges, and universities. You might say that America is taking a Long Vac. That’s the British term for summer vacation from school, college, or university. (See Oxford Glossary.)

How long will it last? Hard to say. Necessity rather than prevention may force the resumption of normal operations and activities. Although — and this is merely a hope — Americans will be less inclined to demand and supply products and services which are merely the excess fruits of capitalism (e.g., ocean cruises, boisterous rock concerts, destination weddings, and professional basketball).

Trump, the Coronavirus Panic, and the Stock Market

UPDATED 03/16/20

A writer at The Washington Post compiled a record of President Trump’s statements about COVID-19 through yesterday. Whether it is a complete and unbiased compilation I will leave to you to investigate and decide. Let’s just say that it doesn’t put Mr. Trump in a good light, which was undoubtedly the writer’s intention given the identity of his employer.

I say that the compilation doesn’t put the president in a good light because his optimism has been depicted as a manifestation of ignorance and stupidity. But — as was obvious to anyone with a modicum of common sense (i.e., not rabid reporters and other leftists who won’t let a crisis go to waste) — Mr. Trump was merely striving (in vain, it seems) to defuse the panic that the media and disloyal opposition have been intent on spreading.

The president’s declaration today of a national emergency would seem to be an admission that he had been unduly optimistic and glaringly wrong in his earlier statements. But that remains to be seen; as of now, the incidence of COVID-19 in the U.S. accounts for only a minute fraction of the populace (6/1,000,000), and the number of deaths accounts for an almost invisible fraction of the populace (2.2 percent of cases thus far). The cancellation of events and the widespread practice of self-quarantine and isolation will do much to reduce the incidence of COVID-19 from what it would otherwise had been. But it is still far too soon to know how bad it will get in the U.S.

According to the article in the Post, president made his first public comment about COVID-19 on January 22. The full effect of that statement, if there was any effect, would have been reflected in the Rasmussen Reports Presidential Tracking Poll of January 27. As it happens, Mr. Trump’s approval numbers didn’t vary much after that date until the week of February 24-28, when they jumped and then dived.

What happened during that week? Trump’s visit to India (which seemed to be a plus for him) was followed by a sharp drop in the stock market. Trump’s approval ratings haven’t changed much since February 28 (see the first graph below), despite (a) the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., (b) panicky responses by opportunistic media types and Democrats, (c) a rising tide of closures and cancellations, (d) a brief recovery in stock prices followed by sharp declines (see the second graph below), and (e) today’s partial recovery in the wake of Trump’s declaration of emergency (again, see the second graph).

What does it all mean? Trump’s approval rating, it seems to me, is related directly to the state of the stock market, which is related directly to fears about the economic effects of COVID-19, which is driven by fears about the spread of COVID-19 throughout the world and in the U.S., in particular. That is to say, most voters are sensible enough to know that what the president says about the disease has next to no effect on its incidence, and therefore next to no effect on them, personally. But — out of long and misguided habit (driven by the media and the professoriate) — a large share of the electorate holds the president responsible for short-run changes in the state of the economy. The stock market reflects expectations about those changes, usually in an exaggerated way.

Sic semper boobus americanus.

I expect today’s jump in stock prices to show up in Monday’s Presidential Tracking Poll. UPDATE: Well, the Fed did it again, with another panicky (and probably ineffective) rate cut, which sent the market tumbling (though it’s recovering somewhat at this moment).

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.