03 May 2020

COVID-19 - The Wind Up and the Screw Ups and The Refusal to Lock Down

This is my last entry about Coronavirus/COVID-19/SARS CoV-2. I kept trying to think things through and look for the best sources I could find for actual statistics and studies. This got responses which ranged from "Look at NYC, you idiot! We're all doomed if we sniff the air outside our house!" to "You want to kill everybody's grandma just so you can go to a movie!" and have gotten more and more strident as the original sources and models failed and it became clear that, with the probable exception of NYC (the city, not the entire state), the reactions across the US were overreactions taken without considering the massive damage they could cause.

Mind you, if any politician worth his salt is told by the Imperial College that 2.2 million Americans are going to die if nothing is done and by his own federal government that up to 240,000 will die even if we lock the country down under quarantine, he is going to act. And by and large they did. They did this on blind faith and without considering the how massive the damage their solution could do long term.

I don't blame them for this. Garbage in = Garbage out and they were fed garbage. The impetus came from a source we now view as less trustworthy than expected. A lot of the reaction came from ignorance; we just hadn't studied the disease enough to know what we were dealing with (we still haven't even though the picture is clearer). And finally, they were told that they had to act NOW! The fact that some of them didn't and got better results is more than a little amazing.

The Imperial paper turned out to be mostly fiction. And it's our experts' fault for believing it. They took the paper at face value without considering that the man who produced it is known for making extreme predictions that at least one prior time led to economically devastating consequences.  In 2001 his flawed modeling for a foot and mouth breakout led to the destruction of 6,000,000 animals in Britain destroying the rural economy. That same year, he predicted 136,000 deaths from Mad Cow Disease over a period of decades - there have been 176 deaths in the United Kingdom since 1996.  In 2006 he predicted up to 200,000,000 deaths from the bird flu - the total number of deaths between 2003-2015 was less than 500. This man does not need to be the person upon whom governments depend to set policy. It's not surprising that with a beginning based on imaginary numbers the models crashed and burned - again and again.

Other facts surfaced. Some were predictable. One, the government's report that the virus, SARS CoV-2, dies when exposed to heat and humidity is similar to its predecessor, SARS CoV.  Another, that the disease is primarily dangerous to those with pre-existing medical conditions and the elderly (CDC: 49,701 deaths 55 years or older / VDH: 558 deaths in Virginia 60 years or older) is consistent with what happens with many viruses (CDC: similar to "recent high severity influenza seasons.")

Many other facts were unusual. The fact that it barely affects school age children and has a mortality rate that is, with a few very far out outliers, 0% is not something that was expected (CDC: 12 deaths in US under 14 years  / VDH: 0 deaths in Virginia under 20 years). It also seems that, unlike the flu, children are unlikely to spread the disease (Australia / Switzerland / United Kingdom). Also, the fact that the stay at home orders have not accomplished the results promised has been shown by a growing number of studies once antibody tests became available (Heinsberg: 15% infection / Los Angeles: 4.1% [28-55% higher than reported cases] / NYC: 21.2% / Chelsea [Boston]: 32%).

To be fair, I haven't been the best prognosticator either. I thought the resistance to the various governors' orders would start sooner and that the governors would try to hold out until they were getting weather in the 70's to make viral spread more difficult and help avoid the spike the media is working up everybody's fear over (personally, I thought the disease would hang on in various states until the temperature started hitting 70's every day in that state). While there were plenty of people passively resisting the orders, more active resistance didn't start until recently. As to the end of the semi-quarantine, I think the pending economic collapse of the medical industry, petroleum industry, the various state unemployment funds, etc. scared them into quicker action. None of the big dominoes has fallen yet, but they can see them starting to lean and it scares the living daylights out of people in charge. They sure as heck weren't motivated by the damage they have done to millions of small businesses around the country; there the general point of view seemed to be "Who gives a bleep about the kulaks?"

So, where are we? Well, we've set a course. We will come out of semi-quarantine in the next month or so and wait to see if the pressures against the economic suicide of going back into lockdown are enough to counterbalance the panic which the media will gin up with even the slightest spike. Assuming we don't turtle back up, the next worry of everyone will be that COVID-19 / SARS CoV-2 will hit again in the fall like the flu or the common cold. That's not really consistent with what happened with SARS CoV, but of course we'll never be able to prove it won't happen until we've gone through the time frame.

Of course, assuming things wind down and all the predictions of doom come to naught, next will come the claims of victory and that the lockdowns saved us all. With that in mind, let's look at what actually happened.

Comparing Non-Lockdown to Lockdown and the Worst

 Method: To avoid getting told I was cherry picking or data mining, I looked up a map published by the NYTimes that had States which had never had a lockdown and States with shorter lockdowns (as well as the remainder who were locked down). I put both of those groups into the list I was checking. Then, I added all the States about which I remembered there being big stories about COVID-19 being a big problem. Finally, I added Virginia and all the States bordering her including D.C. Then, I broke them down into the 10 States that suffered the least harm, the 10 States that suffered the most harm, and leftover States. Here are those charts:

States That Fared Best
States That Fared Worst
The Remainder
And here's a map of it:

All Greens=Fared Best / Red=Fared Worst / Lt Grn=No Lockdown / Lt Grn Dots=Shorter Lockdown / Purple or Purple Dots=Remainder States

Looking at it, here's my hypothesis of three factors which I think probably combine to make this disease bad in certain locations:

1. High density population area.
2. Significant use of mass transit.
3. Colder temperatures.

Of course, like all things of this nature, that's a simple answer subject to all sorts of variables depending on each State's particular circumstances. For instance, New York seems to be the only place that required nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients and purposefully moved COVID-19 patients into nursing homes. However, if you step back and look at the trends, each has a city with a serious mass transit system (except maybe Washington State). All but two of the States are north of that line which starts at the bottom of Virginia and goes across most of the United States. All of them have high density populations concentrated in older cities. The one which most breaks the model is probably Georgia where Atlanta seems to be a more modern suburb dominated city with people driving their own cars and it's clearly Southern (admittedly this is all based upon impression - I have not done in depth research into the city).

Conversely, the States which have fared better haven't done better because they are filled with saints. They are generally States where development has occurred in more modern times and people drive their own cars rather than use mass transit. Their population densities tend to be a lot smaller. And the ones without lower population densities are in the South. Texas, Tennessee, and North Carolina all have major metropolitan areas, but their populations are more spread out and suburban and the vast majority of people drive themselves rather than use mass transit.

It's not a perfect model and like all things in this sort of non-testable area of study it can't be proven or disproven entirely. All you can really do is step back, look at the big picture, and look at trends. These seem to be general trends that match what has happened in the US. Admittedly, they come first from an examination of NYC with its massive overpopulation, overcrowded mass transit (which city officials insisted was safe), and temperatures topping out in the 50's or lower when the disease ramped up. However, the same factors do seem to apply generally across the country.


And, that's it. No more COVID-19 discussions unless something really, really interesting happens and I can't help myself. Which, once we open up and I can start working again, I hopefully won't have time for.