It’s April Fool’s Day, but I think most of us just aren’t in the mood for wacky pranks — at least not ones that involve the coronavirus. Maybe we could all use something along the lines of “Taco Bell purchases the Liberty Bell and renames it the Taco Liberty Bell.” Unfortunately, today the news is mostly grim, both at home and abroad.
‘This Could Be a Hell of a Bad Two Weeks.’
When a president who is known for his ability to spin just about anything goes before the American people and declares, with brutal honesty, “this could be a hell of a bad two weeks,” all naivete and denial should be dispelled. The #FilmYourHospital loons running around the country filming empty parking lots at hospitals, and contending that this is some sort of epic hoax, should stop. (Hospitals with coronavirus patients don’t allow visitors, so you’re not going to see lots of cars in the parking lots.)
If you’re the kind of person who thinks every government all around the world would get together to make up or wildly exaggerate the effects of a potentially lethal virus,
You can find plenty of videos of the recently deceased at Brooklyn Hospital Center and Maimonides Medical Center and Bergamo, Italy and elsewhere. This is the equivalent of running around the United States in mid-December 1941 and insisting that the Japanese didn’t really bomb Pearl Harbor and that Franklin Roosevelt is trying to trick everyone. And the coronavirus is as deadly to those who think the media is overhyping it as it is to everyone else.
Certain parts of the country are starting to bump up against their hospital capacity limit, and it’s not just the places you would expect.
Arizona: “Northern Arizona Healthcare, which operates Flagstaff Medical Center, and Tuba City Regional Health Care will reach critical care capacity by Saturday due to care of COVID-19 patients, Coconino County officials said Friday.”
Michigan: “Unfortunately we know several of our hospitals in the state, particularly in southeast Michigan, are at capacity,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health in Michigan, said in a news conference Monday. “Based on the trajectory of the spread of this disease and the number of people who are requiring hospitalization, we need to utilize alternative nontraditional sites of care.”
Chicago: “Dan Regan, a spokesman for Sinai Health System, confirmed in an email that ICUs in its system were running at 95 percent to 100 percent capacity Tuesday, and it was ‘ramping up our surge plans’ to expand.”
New York City, obviously: “At Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center in New York, the intensive care unit is at capacity, patient beds line the hallways of the emergency department, and the morgue is overflowing.”
Meanwhile, outside of the country’s bigger cities, the surge hasn’t arrived yet . . . but the hospital capacity and ICU beds just aren’t there in the numbers they are in our biggest cities.
Georgia: “While most hospitals have stopped elective procedures to free up beds and the state is ordering “medical pods” that have up to 25 beds and can function like a regular hospital, 57 Georgia counties have no hospitals while 93 have no ICU beds.”
New Mexico: “Estimating the number of intensive care unit beds at 365, [Department of Human Services Secretary David] Scrase said that under the surge in severe cases anticipated, the state needed to prepare for 2,175.”
North Carolina: “In Wake County specifically, current trends show that bed space would be critically low if just 1 percent of the county’s population contracted the virus . . . Statewide, beds would run out if just 1.5 percent of people have the disease.”
Here in Virginia, the hospital administrators are asking the federal government to open up military and veterans hospitals for testing and treatment of coronavirus patients. This state has about 2,000 ICU beds, 1,250 known cases, 165 hospitalizations, and 27 deaths.
The Asian Countries Aren’t out of the Woods Yet, Either
Most of the discussion about the coronavirus has lamented that the United States hasn’t contained the spread of the virus as well as South Korea has. The South Korean government indeed has done an impressive job, involving massive amounts of testing, the widespread use of masks, and more or less the end of privacy: Authorities use security camera footage, credit-card records, GPS data from cellphones, and car navigation system to track every move of someone infected. Those who test positive are required to download an app on their phones that tracks their movements and relays that information to authorities.
But it’s worth noting that even with all of these measures, South Korea is still having 100 to 150 new cases and five to ten deaths per day. And we should keep in mind that tracking the virus spread among a smaller population in a smaller area is easier than tracking a larger population in a larger area. South Korea has about 50 million people in about 38,000 square miles. That’s the population of California and Ohio squeezed into an area the size of Kentucky.
This morning the New York Times reports, “Across Asia, countries and cities that seemed to have brought the coronavirus epidemic under control are suddenly tightening their borders and imposing stricter containment measures, fearful about a wave of new infections imported from elsewhere.”
SARS hit these countries much harder than the United States from 2002 to 2004, and H1N1 as well, so their populations were already conditioned to take warnings about viral outbreaks seriously. Wearing masks to stop the spread of colds and diseases was more or less mainstream in Asian cultures well before this. One also cannot help but wonder if proximity to mainland China made the region’s governments and populations more skeptical about the Chinese government’s early assurances that COVID-19 could not be spread from one person to another.
If you dive into the numbers, it becomes clear that no country has really managed to completely stop the spread. Since March 19, Hong Kong has required all arriving passengers to enter quarantine for two weeks and wear an electronic wristband with a tracker. Once an arrival returns to his house, he is “instructed to walk around the corners of his house, upon arriving home, so the technology could precisely track the coordinates of his living space in which he would remain under quarantine.” Lying to the Hong Kong Department of Health can be punished with a fine of about $600 and imprisonment for six months. Right now, more than 200,000 residents are quarantined at home.
And even with those far-reaching measures in place, Hong Kong is still seeing growth in the number of cases, anywhere from 82 to 32 new cases a day, although they thankfully haven’t suffered any new deaths since March 13. Hong Kong is home to about 7.4 million people.
Singapore closed its borders to most visitors, is threatening people with prison time for violating social-distancing rules, and is threatening to shut down companies if they don’t do enough to help their employees work from home. That country has 926 cases and is trying to figure out 100 cases that are “local unlinked,” meaning they cannot track where the patient caught the virus. Singapore is home to about 5.6 million people.
And then there’s Taiwan, the independent country that some staff at the World Health Organization would prefer to pretend doesn’t exist, lest discussing them offend the government of China.
In a perfect irony, the country that the Chinese government probably hates the most appears to be handling the coronavirus really well. Taiwan implemented their quarantine-phone tracking early. The Taiwan CDC literally started tracking visitors from China last year — right before New Year’s Day. They had their first reported case January 20, the fourth-earliest among all the countries in the world. They banned the export of masks on January 24. They mobilized their armed forces to assist in the production of medical equipment on February 2. The Taiwanese were doing from the word “go” just about everything we’re scrambling to do now in the United States.
Taiwan has 329 confirmed cases as of this morning, out of a population of almost 24 million.
The Chinese government birthed and exacerbated this problem, and the authoritarians in Beijing have become so powerful around the world, that most Western elites are afraid to even look at Taiwan as a potential part of the solution.
ADDENDUM: When I get together with Jonah Goldberg to tape The Remnant, it’s usually a jolly time. We had our share of laughs yesterday while taping remotely, but we covered a lot of serious topics — the lies of China and the need for consequences, how the coronavirus is going to change American society and political thinking, and Jonah’s apparent reluctance to shower while the rest of the family isn’t in the house. Give it a listen.