Dr. Robert Redfeld had an interesting Tweet. 100,000 by June first. It will be higher given where we are as of today. This is over 88,000 dead Americans. President Donald Trump continues to lay blame, and say this was an engineered virus. This is purely a distraction from what is happening. The administration has no plan. And no, two binders does not a plan make. If it was? Why wasn’t it acted upon? This is the main question. Because so far the plan is to open the economy no matter what.
There is even a talking point going around asking questions about the economic cost. Mind you, it’s real. But the health issue and safety is also part of this equation. I suspect that many people are discounting the health effect for a few reasons.
The first is propaganda. Far-right media and the president have tried to diminish the virus from day one. They have done the same they do with the climate emergency. They do not believe the experts because it does not feel right. The president does not believe the numbers are as high as they are. Incidentally, these are laboratory-confirmed cases, not the excess deaths we already have. If we add those, we are already over 100,000.
We have this via the New York Times and Nicholas Kristoff, which matches the experience around the world:
Many supporters of President Trump believe that the figures for coronavirus fatalities are inflated, and Trump himself shared a tweet doubting the accuracy of some virus figures.
He’s right that the death toll seems off — but not in the direction he would suggest. We’ve crunched the numbers, state by state, and it appears that somewhere around 100,000 to 110,000 Americans have already died as a result of the pandemic, rather than the 83,000 whose deaths have been attributed to the disease, Covid-19.
That’s my estimate reached with the help of a Harvard statistician, Rafael Irizarry, based on a comparison of death rates this spring with those in previous years. Some states have been largely unaffected — death rates in some even appear to have dropped, perhaps because of less driving and fewer car accidents — but others have seen huge surges in deaths.
The Economist has been tracking European deaths where the same exact phenomena exist. It is not unexpected, and every pandemic sees this to some extent. We also used this to estimate the deaths in 1918 when diagnostic tests were less available. The same test we use today to differentiate between Influenza A and B was developed in the midst of that pandemic.
What we are seeing though is that not everybody is responding to the siren call of a barber. People are leery. According to Home Technology Report:
Most people — 66 percent — aren’t comfortable with the notion of returning to work, a sentiment held by a majority of workers of all ages, from Boomers to Gen Z.
Nearly as many, about 63 percent, want to hear assurances from public health organizations like the CDC or World Health Organization before they go back to their workplace.
Even once they have such assurances, most want to be able to wear masks and maintain social distancing at work. Half want more flexible sick-leave policies, and 49 percent want to be able to limit the number of people they’re exposed to in meetings.
In general, people aren’t comfortable with the idea of interacting with others in person. Some 68 percent are uncomfortable with the idea of playing a team sport, 60 percent wouldn’t want to attend a religious service and 51 percent are still uneasy with the thought of going to a retail store.
And while some governors and business groups are increasing their pressure to “reopen the economy,” nearly half of workers don’t expect to return to their organization’s facilities until August or later. A quarter believe they’re go back to work in May, and 28 percent expect to do so in June.
The fear for many health experts is a rebound of the disease. The rebound will do far more damage to the economy than people realize. It will also make the point to people who think it’s nothing but the flu, or worse, a hoax, of how real this is. We have a precedent. In 1918 the second wave, much deadlier than the first, led to more shutdowns in many cities across the country. Reopening proved tricky. Incidentally, we expect a second wave in the fall.
We also have real-time examples during COVID, as nations have reopened regions, then had to shut down then again. See Hokkaido for example. According to Time:
Hokkaido’s story is a sobering reality check for leaders across the world as they consider easing coronavirus lockdowns: Experts say restrictions were lifted too quickly and too soon because of pressure from local businesses, coupled with a false sense of security in its declining infection rate.
“Hokkaido shows, for example, that what’s happening in the U.S. with individual governors opening up is very dangerous; of course you can’t close interstate traffic but you need to put controls in place,” says Kazuto Suzuki, Vice Dean of International Politics at Hokkaido University. “That’s what we now know: Even if you control the first wave, you can’t relax.”
Time will tell (the virus has a two week lag in showing symptoms) how hard it will return. We also know it’s now growing in rural areas that went for the president in 2016. This matters, because humans tend to be poor at assessing risk. People in Counties that had no disease bought the bunk theory that it only affected those living in badly run Democratic cities. Yes, it was a liberal disease. Now that will start to die, as people they know get it. Some will perish as well.
Anecdotally we have some stories of people who believed this was a hoax until they got it. Of course, they changed their view of the virus. The disease has a way to do that. They were lucky to live and be able to change their opinion.