March 21, 2020

NO, We’re Not Over-Reacting!

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

We’ve been under-reacting, seriously under-reacting. We have only just begun to deal with Novel Coronavirus (or Covid-19) as the threat it really is. We’re desperately trying to play catch-up.

So, who under-reacted?

The President. Our intelligence agencies were aware of and began warning of the threat of a global pandemic nearly two months ago. By the end of January, the United States was chartering flights and began evacuating US diplomatic personnel from China. We stopped all commercial flights from China, but the virus was already on our shores and the public-health establishment knew it had to be spreading.

While our intelligence agencies and public health officials began sounding alarms and expressing concern to the White House, it seems the President made a classic mistake in dealing with the threat of a looming pandemic. Even after the first cases reached our shores, the White House waited to see just how bad it would get in the United States. That, as it turns out, is a classic mistake. Most Presidents would have probably hesitated to do what had to be done. We had a slim chance to stop or at least slow Covid-19 from spreading throughout the United States, but it was a small window of opportunity, and we had to act fast and decisively. The nature of a virulent epidemic is that data about the spread is always behind the curve because the epidemic is invariably moving faster than data can be collected.

It is not hard, however, to understand the hesitancy to act. Stopping a virulent epidemic before it takes off is a terrible responsibility. It would mean shutting down the country quickly. But it is also the only defense we have. Covid-19 is a novel Coronavirus. That means mankind has never seen it before. All we know is that it can be deadly and that mankind has no vaccine and no cure, therefore we are totally exposed to whatever Covid-19 might visit upon us. It is the fact that it is a novel Coronavirus that called for immediate and drastic action. It doesn’t seem the President ever really understood that, although he now says he understood that all along.

So, the White House delayed even suggesting that it was serious, or that it was a threat or that we didn’t have it under control. Quite the contrary, President Trump claimed, until barely two weeks ago, that we had only a few cases, that cases “could” be down to zero in a short time, and that we had it very well under control. There was zero chance that cases of Covid-19 might have dropped to zero. Zero chance! Even today (Saturday), the President stated at the Coronavirus daily press briefing that “no one saw this coming.” That just isn’t true. Every epidemiologist in the country probably saw this coming, including our own public health officials. Certainly, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the revered director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases saw this coming.

Now, it would take an extremely wise and selfless President to do what had to be done, especially in an election year. We’re not sure any President would have acted with the urgency for which the circumstances called. There is a chance, but only a very slim chance, that the draconian measures now taking hold throughout the United States will slow the spread of Covid-19 enough to enable the country to deal with it effectively.

Here’s Why

Johns Hopkins University has logged data regarding the spread of Covid-19 in the United States and Italy from the time the United States and Italy experienced their 100th confirmed cases. As recently as March 2nd the United States had 101 confirmed cases, Italy had 155 confirmed cases. One week later the United States logged its 704th confirmed case and Italy had logged about 1,000 confirmed cases. It is estimated that each infected person probably passes the virus on to two or three others, who in turn, pass it along to two or three other individuals and so it multiplies, thereafter, pretty much geometrically. So, a week later on March 14th, 2943 confirmed cases were reported in the United States and Italy had just logged close to 5,000 cases. As this essay is being written (yesterday) confirmed cases in the United States had climbed to 19,383. As of Friday, (March 19th) Italy had confirmed 41,036 cases of Covid-19. So, in less than three weeks the United States has seen the number of confirmed cases rise from 101 cases to 19,383 and Italy has seen the total number of confirmed cases soar from 155 cases to 41,036 cases.

These statistics reflect the confirmation of Covid-19 cases actually tested. Given that, so far, so few tests relative to the need have been conducted in the United States we know the actual number of infected individuals is much, much, higher and spreading. Remember, it is believed that each infected individual infects two or three other individuals which is why the need to quarantine is so great.

Furthermore, while most cases among those under 65 tend to be milder than the over-65 cohort of cases, many younger Americans will still need hospital care. The young do not get off scot-free. We have about 50 million Americans who are 65 or older. Of the remaining 277 million Americans, even a 1% infection rate will result in nearly 3 million new cases among those under 65 years of age, and even if only 1 percent of those cases require hospital care that would equate to a demand for 30,000 beds. Thus the need for widespread quarantine if we are to greatly reduce, if not eliminate, chaos in our healthcare system.

Columnist Tom Friedman said it well. “We must manage the unavoidable if we are to avoid the unimaginable.”

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6 responses to “NO, We’re Not Over-Reacting!”

  1. Susan duman says:

    Every update has been valuable, but this far and away the most.
    Do you think the federal government will take the responsibility of shutting down all 50 states?
    Do you think the federal government will allow the vast stockpile to be used to aid the states and private philanthropy?
    As always,

  2. Larry Fox says:

    The talk now is about how many test kits have been distributed. Different question: What’s the plan? A back-of-the-envelope calculation is that we need roughly 277 million tests to target therapy, and to know the infection rate, transmission rate, morbidity (severity and likelihood), and fatality rate.

    Why don’t we know how many tests are planned to be available and in what time-frame? Why aren’t the plans updated on a known schedule?

    Leadership in the time of crisis depends on information – the best available and frequently updated – to give people a feeling that the leader is in control and doing something useful.

    This is a national (and worldwide) problem requiring a national response, not a patchwork.

    This is not or should not be a political set of issues. This is science. Everything else right now is bull.

    What we know is That the only alternatives to mass testing are total, rigorous quarantine or needless deaths. Not a fun realization, but certainly not hard to understand. As a practical matter, we are likely to use all three, with too much death for want of adequate planning and discipline on testing and quarantine.

  3. judy allen says:

    I suggest that we look at CDC site to stay informed. This is not the time for spreading fear and blame .

  4. Ted Goldman says:

    The responses to the Chinese virus , by this administration, with expected learning curve errors, has been extraordinary.

    Each day lengthy and transparent news conferences have been broadcast updating the public on the different steps being taken to protect us.

    Despite the President being subjected to instant and ongoing vilification by many in the Main Street news media this administration has responded admirably.

    Testing is important but not as significant as isolation and following the protocols already widely recommended. Millions of testing kits are being manufactured from scratch and are being distributed. Even if anindividual took a negative test on any given day it does not guarantee that person has not subsequently contracted this Chinese virus.

    Starting from ground zero administration efforts have grown exponentially. Part of these efforts have been attempts to assuage the fears and anxieties experienced by millions.

    One would have hoped that the press might have assisted in these good willed efforts The animus of many questioners at news conferences are palpable and offensive to many who understand these attempts. Intentional fear mongering by the press is
    unfortunate and contemptible.

    Compounding this blatant bad faith bias against the Trump administration is the Main Street media’s repeated efforts to absolve Communist China of their total responsibility for causing this dangerous pandemic.

    God bless the Trump Administration and their whole hearted efforts on behalf of all of us.

    Where are the justified accolades for these heroes?

    Ted Goldman

  5. Perry says:

    To blame the POTUS for downplaying the threat is not helping
    to contain the virus. The continuous media campaign against
    this president has been a total disaster. Am sure that the President wanted people to be calm and not panic which if he had said “We must prepare for the worst” am absolutely certain we
    would have had instant panic as evidenced by the long lines at
    Costco and empty shelves at groceries. While this virus will take
    it’s toll, am certain we will find a solution and perhaps we might
    see full churches and religious belief become stronger and more meaningful as well when this subsides.

  6. Chris Haedt says:

    I have to agree with Judy, Ted, and Perry.
    Blame,, blame, blame, or who is to blame? That’s all I heard this morning. Fox News is at least keeping me up to date every hour with ongoing new information working toward containment nationally and globally. Hal, I think we need to get through this…and then post blame , if it’s even necessary at that point.

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