I, like a lot of people, have immersed myself in the COVID-19 pandemic and our reaction to it, including my friends’ reactions to it, which has been eye-opening.
Everything from conspiracy theories for overthrow of our government to big pharma or even the president staging it all to make a buck. On the left side of my friends there’s this idea that the US was uniquely caught flat-footed and had the worst reaction in the world, on the right this was cooked up by an evil cabal. The Feds are “holding back” needed equipment, out of spite or wonton incompetence. “We’re hearing …. ” “People are saying ….”
Now … I would NOT rule out an escaped virus from the bio lab in Wuhan. But by that I mean if we found that to be true down the road I wouldn’t be completely shocked. I just don’t think that’s what happened. Not only have epidemiologists been warning us for decades about outbreaks like these, they’ve also been warning us about the almost perfect conditions some of the practices in Asian wet markets, particularly in China with respect to the wild animal trade in many of them — create. And we’ve seen it happen there before, recently, with a very similar virus, in 2002 in a different area of China. It was even a corona virus. SARS-COV. As with SARS-COV2, it broke out in November, the CCP was less than forthcoming about it through December and January. And it spread to many countries from there.
This one is worse, it appears to be more contagious, and is particularly nasty to the lungs in late-stage severe cases.
Countries all around the world have basically followed China’s and South Korea’s lead in implementing very strong social distancing measures, which has crippled the world economy — only not as severely as China did, especially in Wuhan.
That’s all for the most part, the facts. Now on to more opinion. Mixed in with supporting facts.
I think the big social shutdowns were done largely because by the time symptomatic cases started breaking out world-wide, too many people were already infected and it was too late for early-outbreak contact tracing. This was largely due to China’s dragging its feet for 6 weeks, even destroying lab samples of the virus, arresting doctors who sounded the alarm to other doctors, not allowing Western epidemiologists to come in and both assist and learn about the virus, and denying human-to-human (H2H) transmission of the virus until late January. You know, about the time it was pretty obvious because cases started popping up in country after country and they could no longer deny it. Oh, and they kicked all at least Western journalists out of the country, if not all non-Chinese journalists. That’s not fishy at all.
Ah, the journalists. If it bleeds, it leads, and the early predictions were bad. Really bad. 2.2-4 million dead in the US alone. Now of course this was a new virus and we had very little data on how it actually behaved outside of what we could garner from China and South Korea at first. There is no other way it could happen. As I’ve said many times, models are not reality. Dr. Fauci said it better yesterday. “Models are hypothesis. Data is data.” Good data makes your model more accurate. But you can’t have good data at the beginning of an outbreak of a brand new (to humans) virus. Journalists make much out of saying “but two weeks ago, you said this, now you’re saying that.” As if it were intentionally misleading. Well, duh! we freakin’ know more about it now. “At first you said it was nothing to worry about.” Yes. So did China, to which it was mainly confined and without foreign observers. And the WHO said the same thing. The we got more data.
I think Hollywood has a lot of people thinking that we can (maybe this is a bit of an exageration, but not much) merely ask, “Computer! How many people will die from this virus? “And the computer will quickly answer “if nothing is done, 2.2 million people will die” and that’s the answer and it is right because it came from a computer and computers “know”.
Well they don’t. They “know” only what we tell them. They can just do math faster than we can in our heads. That’s it. And if we tell them garbage, their answers will be garbage, only they can do it really fast and sometimes with errors exaggerated exponentially. Don’t confuse fast answers with certainty.
I can tell the journalists have no clue what’s going on by virtue of the questions they ask. For instance, there seems to be this idea that we can’t be safe until every single person is tested. All 330,000,000 of us in the US. Finally, yesterday one of the task force members essentially said, “we’re not going to do that”. Of course we’re not going to do that. It’s impractical and unnecessary. We’ll test sample populations and model the rest, like we do with pretty much everything else.
I’ve said from the beginning that the so-called “lockdown” is simply a measure to buy us time to catch up to the virus. Not to stamp it out. It was nearly two months before H2H transmission was confirmed, with tens of thousands of people from China flying all over the world during flu season with flu-like symptoms (sometimes) when nobody was looking for a new virus.
It had to have been sometime in January that our CDC started working on a test for it. They wanted to take it a step further and test for mutations in case this virus started to do that. That was a good idea. They shipped it out to 50 state and local labs in very early February, but only 8 of the 50 labs could get it to work. It turned out that it worked fine for detecting the virus itself, but the third vial, to test for mutations … was faulty.
Now government regulatory agencies are not built for speed. Regulation, by its very nature slows things down. Which is normally (within reason) a good thing (“Dont be hasty” – Treebeard). But not in an emergency. It took the FDA another 16 days to ok the test’s use without the third vial. THEN mass production could begin.
So we basically lost January to China, and February to a mishap and a slow regulatory response. Too late for contact tracing. And this thing happened all over the world.
By mid March, the NYC area was exploding with the virus. Mardi Gras. Spring Break. Ski-trips to Colorado. You know the rest.
The world economy is shut down, and we can’t keep it that way for too long or the cure may be literally be worse than the disease. Here’s the problem. We don’t know how bad the disease is. And we may never know how bad it is. If we do, it will be from looking back at what happened and piecing it together. Why is this?
Because it began as an unknown, and the more we found out about it, the more we were able to react to it, which in turn changes what we know about it because we are tinkering with R0 through social distancing and with mortality rates with new treatments.
So as a good friend of mine sincerely asked me yesterday, “What’s the end game?” — speaking to the economic shutdowns, specifically.
And here’s the bare, naked, honest answer.
We don’t know. [yet]
Why don’t we know? We don’t have enough data to figure out what we’ll have to do, and to what extent — to contain this when we lift the restrictions. We’ve all basically agreed to stay shut down through April. In the mean time we are quickly getting that data and coming up with new ways to get more and better data, and developing medical mitigation (treatments) and developing and testing vaccines. Like I said, we’re buying time.
As Fauci said yesterday when we do open up, it won’t be like flipping on a light switch and everything goes back to normal, ESPECIALLY not uniformly, everywhere. But the end game is starting to come into form out of the fog as we get data in. If you listened to Dr. Birx yesterday, she talked about smaller communities, specifically about our Inidan Nations, but smaller areas like where I live where there are now few enough cases where full contact tracing is plausible again. That’s PART of the plan.
The whole thing depends on 1) controlling the spread 2) making the disease less deadly with treatment 3) protecting our most vulnerable until we either (back to 2) have treatments that make it less deadly or (back to 1) we develop a vaccine.
But we’re not making nuts and bolts here. When you’re developing something, you can’t say, like you can with making nuts and bolts “We can have 50,000 nuts manufactured by Friday”. You can’t say “In 13 days, we will have a sure treatment that will keep people out of the ICU”. But we CAN be optimistic that we will get it figured out, and soon. We just can’t tell you what day that will be right now. Over the next few weeks, we will have a MUCH better picture and can start saying more definite things.
We have multiple people, multiple companies and organizations, myriad doctors in the field working to figure this thing out and how to beat it.
People are motivated. People are motivated right now, partially out of alturism (yes, we do have some semblance of it, despite what Ayn Rand says). And partially for profit. Yes, that’s right. It CAN be both. But the motivation is pushing hard on both sides of that coin right now and I’m confident it will be done.
Fauci and Birx and the other task force members have all given us a little glimpse of what the unfolding will look like.
Less infected areas will have stay-at-home orders lifted first. There will still be guidelines to follow when we’re out and about. These guidelines will be informed by the data that is rolling in and will continue to roll in over the next few weeks. Yes, you can go back to work BUT … you should do these things until we get a vaccine. Yes, you can have gatherings and concerts BUT … take these precautions. And in the more infected areas they will be lifted more slowly as the numbers get down to some sort of at least rudimentary contact tracing is possible.
The “end game” isn’t really an “end”. It’s more like “the rest of this will be managable from this point forward”.
That’s why we must, as they are saying, keep our foot on the gas over the next couple of weeks to drive those numbers down as low as we can get it before we start lifting restrictions. It will most definitely NOT mean the disease is beaten. Only beaten back to where it can be better managed. It will flare up in spots. The forest fire analogy is not a bad one. And if good enough treatments come out, and I think they will, that make getting this thing literally “no worse than the flu”. At which point restrictions become less warranted, and things will literally get back to “normal”. But socially, at least, it may be a new “normal”, where we wash our hands more, are more encouraged to stay at home when we’re sick, etc.
If you want to know what’s going on, watch the daily briefings. Pay no attention to the press – most of their questions are not insightful at all. It’s stupid cat-and-mouse “gotcha” games mixed with sheer ignorance about how things work, and an inability to listen. That’s because most of them didn’t come to listen. Some of them are clearly agenda-driven, and are statements rather than questions. Don’t get your information from the media. Yeah, I know Trump rambles and repeats himself. Just wait for the various task force members to get up to the podium. Watch the entire breifings. Trump is trying (badly) to echo what he’s gotten from them tempered with some of his own judgement, and he’s just not a good speaker. But the other task force members are. They will tell you what they’re thinking, individually, and those things are driving what direction the group is headed, and the president’s job is just to gather that and make decisions when you get to the point of “well, it’s either A or B, we can’t have both”. As a facilitator and decision maker, I think he’s pretty good, and I think that’s what task force members are saying when they say he’s doing a good job.