Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Mixed Signals?

Are we fighting to save lives or save the economy? Or, will saving lives ultimately save the economy?

The Governor of New York prophetically said it yesterday--"we are your future!" He was referring to the increase in coronavirus cases in New York, specifically the NYC region during the past days.

The New York Times reports:

Thousands of new coronavirus cases are being identified across the United States each day, including in large clusters in the New York City area, along the Gulf Coast and in the Pacific Northwest. As of Wednesday morning, at least 53,852 people across every state, plus Washington, D.C., and three U.S. territories, have tested positive for the virus, according to a New York Times database, and at least 728 patients with the virus have died.

The graph below, from the same New York Times article, shows the numbers of new cases being reported in the U.S. each day. Here is the real rub, because of inadequate testing, we really do not yet have a handle on the actual numbers of cases out there. The virus is weeks ahead of our response.

Now is NOT the time to think about changing directions, despite the Lieutenant Governor of Texas being willing to die of the coronavirus for his grandchildren economic well-being and suggesting that other grandparents should likewise be willing to sacrifice themselves. My opinion: that is not the reasoned opinion of responsible leadership!

The shortsighted approach says that "we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself." The problem is that we really do not have a good handle on the magnitude of the problem! Look at Italy! The virus is a generation killer! The country has stopped. The medical system is overloaded and failing.  People are afraid.

There is a sobering article in Vanity Fair about the change of directions. The article, 

Surprise: Trump Started Itching to End Social Distancing After His Six Most Profitable Clubs Closed

opens with the following paragraph:

Over the past 24 hours, Donald Trump’s coronavirus journey has gone from telling people the disease is bad and they should stay home to pushing to “open up” the country by Easter, even if it means hundreds of thousands, if not millions, dying as a result. Obviously, some of his about-face can be attributed to caring more about the economy than literal lives, a genetic condition doctors describe as “being a giant asshole.” But on Tuesday evening, a shocking new report from the Washington Post shed some additional light on the president’s thinking: It’s possible Trump is suddenly gung ho about getting people back to work far earlier than public health experts recommend because—and you may want to sit down for this—his own financial situation will suffer otherwise.

If you want to try to digest some scientific analysis of the growth of the virus in the U.S. compared to other countries, I recommend a Forbes article titled Population Adjusted Coronavirus Cases: Top 10 Countries Compared. It is difficult reading, but provides a scientifically based assessment of where we are right now in the spread of the virus. The scary assessment is that we have not yet affected the spread of the virus in the U.S. and it is growing.

So is now the time to change "horses mid-stream?" I think not. The economy is down, but we should not be willing to sacrifice potentially thousands of Americans. I could not find a good projection of the potential death toll, but using Italy's numbers and comparing with the U.S. would translate to 37,000 US deaths--and the number continuing to rise. Remember, Italy is a few weeks ahead of us. AND, according to my analysis of the Forbes article, we are not being as effective at controlling the virus as Italy as this point. 

Leadership and encouragement is what we need. We need hope. 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt
So let me give you some hope and encouragement. President Roosevelt closed his December 8, 1941 address to the nation after the Japanese attack on Hawaii with the following words:

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.

This is our time. Let us be united in purpose and not be confused by the mixed signals that our elected leaders are sending.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

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