The Morning Jolt

Health Care

We Have a Difficult Five Weeks ahead of Us

First responders evacuate sick crew members from two cruise ships, the Costa Favolosa and Costa Magica at the U.S. Coast Guard station at the Port of Miami in Miami, Fla., March 26, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

I wish the news were better, but it is not. The country needs to prepare itself for the coronavirus outbreak and its consequences to get really bad for the next five weeks or so. Also, we know China is lying, but we can only make educated guesses as to how bad the truth really is. The president continues to focus on what interests him. And a long, difficult look at what New York City mayor Bill de Blasio told city residents about the coronavirus that turned out to be wrong.

Brace Yourselves. The Next Five Weeks Are Going to Get Rough.

Someone I respect a great deal said a few days ago that Americans would perceive coronavirus as a true disaster if 10,000 Americans died. That number struck me as a number that could be reached painfully quickly.

We are at 2,489 as of this writing. We are likely to hit 10,000 in a matter of days, and the final death toll is probably going to be measured in the tens of thousands, perhaps well past 100,000. I don’t say this to depress anyone or frighten anyone, but to prepare people. Maybe we will see that curve bend and flatten. I certainly hope it does.

Everything we are seeing right now indicates that the coming five weeks or so are going to be brutal. You can quibble with this projection or that projection, because all of them are trying to account for a million little variables that aren’t easily seen: How strong are the immune systems of those currently infected? How well will the hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin treatments work? How well are health authorities keeping the virus out of nursing homes and retirement communities? How much are people practicing social distancing? We’re hoping the worst projections are wrong — and perhaps they’re so scary, they spur people to take additional steps to stop the spread and prevent the bad outcomes that they project.

But here’s what we know: For the last week, the number of new cases is increasing by anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 each day. Yes, some of that increase reflects more widespread testing. Yes, many of those people will recover without needing hospitalization.

More cases overall means more people need hospitalization, and more cases inevitably means more deaths. We’re starting to see names and faces attached to the numbers: Isaac Robinson, a Michigan state representative, age 44. Maria Mercader, CBS News correspondent, age 54Chef Floyd Cordroz, age 59. Country musician Joe Diffie, age 61. Western Michigan University student Bassey Offiong, age 25. A Chicago infant, less than one year old. April Dunn, advisor to the governor of Louisiana, age 33. Joseph Lewinger, Queens Catholic high school girls’ basketball coach, age 42. Songwriter and musician Alan Merrill, age 69. Cedric Dixon, NYPD detective, age 48.

You notice few of those figures listed above would be considered “senior citizens.”

I have criticism of the president below, but I want to encourage one of the president’s better instincts: Give people hope. Show them the signs of progress. Remind us of how strong we can be. Reassure us the country and the world that we can get through this, because we are going to need all the reassurance we can get.

We all know the drill. Stay home unless you absolutely need to go out, and when you go out, try to stay six feet away from people. Don’t gather in groups. “Wash your dang hands.” Right now, America’s manufacturers are rolling out masks and ventilators as fast as they can. Health officials and local and state governments are expanding hospital capacities as fast as they can. (An emergency field hospital is being built in Central Park in New York City.) All around the world, medical researchers are looking for ways to treat the infected and to develop a vaccine. Hang on, hang tough, try to stay out of a hospital if you don’t need emergency treatment.

If we can get through the next five weeks, the worst will probably be behind us.

We Know the Chinese Government Is Lying. So Just How Bad Is the Truth?

Perhaps the most significant and underdiscussed aspect of the biggest story in the world right now is the real status of the coronavirus inside mainland China.

Right now, the Chinese government insists they have defeated the coronavirus and provided a role model to the rest of the world. They contend that there are almost no cases of Chinese people spreading the disease to other Chinese, and that almost all new cases are Chinese citizens returning from abroad.

Wuhan’s bus and subway service has resumed and the train stations have reopened. Students are returning to school in Xinjiang. Chinese government officials say the country’s major industrial provinces fully resumed production today. “China’s National Health Commission reported 31 new infections Monday, almost all of which were among people who were recently abroad, taking the country’s total to 81,470.”

Those numbers are extremely likely to be false. There are several pieces of evidence suggesting that the death toll from the coronavirus was significantly higher than the official numbers.

The official death toll in Wuhan was 2,535 people.

Radio Free Asia: “Seven large funeral homes in Wuhan have been handing out the cremated remains of around 500 people to their families every day, suggesting that far more people died than ever made the official statistics.”

Bloomberg: “Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500 urns on both Wednesday and Thursday, according to Chinese media outlet Caixin. Another picture published by Caixin showed 3,500 urns stacked on the ground inside. It’s unclear how many of the urns had been filled.”

Bloomberg: “China Mobile subscriptions fell by more than 8 million over January and February, data on the company’s website show. China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd. subscribers fell by 7.8 million in the period, while China Telecom Corp. has said it lost 5.6 million users last month.” That comes out to 21.4 million subscribers that stopped service. Some chunk of that number probably represents workers who were laid off or sent home and who stopped service because they couldn’t pay their bills. But what percentage of that number . . . simply passed away from the virus?

It appears that local officials in other parts of China simply do not believe the central government’s assurances that residents of Wuhan and Hubei province (the surrounding state) are no longer potential carriers of the virus.

The Financial Times: “A strict lockdown of [Hubei] province ended on Wednesday, but many of its 6 million residents who work in other parts of China are finding it impossible to leave as other local authorities defy central government orders and refuse to lift travel restrictions. On Friday that opposition erupted into violence as thousands of Hubei migrant workers tried to cross over a bridge linking Huangmei in Hubei to Jiujiang in neighbouring Jiangxi province. Video footage posted online showed police officers from Jiujiang and Huangmei wrestling with each other and hundreds of people attacking police and overturning their vehicles. Hours after the incident took place, police from Jiujiang and Huangmei issued statements online, which were deleted shortly afterwards, accusing each other of causing trouble.”

The Daily Mail: Prime Minister Boris Johnson “has been warned by scientific advisers that China’s officially declared statistics on the number of cases of coronavirus could be ‘downplayed by a factor of 15 to 40 times’.

60 Minutes Australia: “Two weeks ago the head of Emergency at Wuhan Central hospital went public, saying authorities had stopped her and her colleagues from warning the world. She has now disappeared, her whereabouts unknown.”

China’s official numbers point to a recovery rate of 93 percent. Overall, 21 percent of the world’s cases are classified as “recovered.” In Italy, 13 percent of cases have recovered so far; in Spain, 19.6 percent; in Germany, 14.7 percent; in France, 17.9 percent; in the United Kingdom, six-tenths of one percent; and in the United States, 3.1 percent.

The Chinese ambassador to Ghana declared at a ceremony in that country that although the COVID-19 first broke out in China, it “does not mean that the origin of the virus is China.”

To Paraphrase Rumsfeld, You Go into a Crisis with the President You Have

I realize complaining about President Trump’s Twitter feed is like complaining about the existence of rain in Seattle. But in recent days, as the country has faced a worsening viral epidemic that has claimed an increasing number of lives and brought commerce to a halt, the president has found time to repeatedly tweet about how great the television ratings of his briefings are, made up a new nickname for the governor of Michigan, retweeted Gateway Pundit’s claim that ‘Fox News fired Trish Regan for telling the truth about President Trump,” — this was over her “Coronavirus Impeachment Scam” segment — boasted about how high his poll numbers are and how the Washington Post is understating his public support, declared that the U.S. government would not pay for the security protection of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and also retweeted a two-year-old tweet from Florida governor Ron DeSantis about Andrew McCabe. He tweeted that he was thinking about instituting a quarantine of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, which is probably the perfect way to get people to leave a particular area in expectation of a quarantine. A few hours later Trump announced, via Twitter, that a travel advisory was sufficient.

Perhaps most egregiously, President Trump tweeted that he had “much respect” for Chinese president Xi, who is probably more responsible for this worldwide pandemic than any other human being on earth.

This president cares about what he chooses to care about, and he prioritizes what he prioritizes, even amidst a global pandemic that is killing several hundred Americans per day and stands as the greatest challenge to this country in at least a generation. We will have to get through this with a president who simply cannot stop obsessing over television ratings, what’s being said about him on television, Fox News personnel moves, whether governors are giving him sufficient praise, minor decisions involving the royal family, and how nice the leader of China is.

ADDENDUM: In case you missed it, on Friday, NR published my comprehensive (nearly 5,000 word) timeline of coronavirus-related statements from New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and other key city officials from January to the closing of schools on March 15. By the end of the project, I found myself feeling sorry for de Blasio. No one expects him to be a virologist or immunologist. When the mayor repeatedly insisted, all the way into early March, that the virus could not be spread by “casual contact,” he no doubt was repeating what other people in the health profession told him. But that information was wrong, and some doctors in the United States were warning it was wrong starting in mid-February. As March progressed, the mayor gave self-evidently contradictory advice — that large gatherings were dangerous for the elderly and the immunocompromised, but not for the young and healthy. (Whom did he think the elderly and immunocompromised interacted with?)

New York City is facing this current calamity for many reasons, not just the bad advice from city officials. But when it counted, de Blasio got it wrong — and the city is paying the price.

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