27 March 2020 – Friday – #12

China is approaching the Covid-19 finish line, Italy is rounding the final corner, Spain isn’t far behind, and the US can’t find its car. As the Trump administration stumbles into a new county-by-county Covid-19 plan of action, yesterday was America First in the Covid-19 cases department. None other than The Financial Times characterizes the US response to Covid-19 as the “death of American competence.” How is it that the US is so far behind the rest of the world in its response? Perhaps because, unlike China, Italy, and Spain, Americans are not all in this together.

One reason the Trump administration might be considering a county-by-county approach is that Covid-19 looks different in different states, and the required level of response at this point in time is different for each state. Here are today’s state-by-state recommendations from Covid Act Now:

The Trump administration seeks to impose lockdown restrictions based on the Covid-19 activity in each county. It seems like a good idea because it would allow more economic activity in areas where there is less Covid-19. There are two reasons it probably won’t work.

First, consider how one social gathering can spread a disease over long distances to random places. Here’s a cool video showing where mobile devices and their owners went after they attended Spring Break events on Florida beaches. [Hint: everywhere]. [Hint: if your phone is on, “they” can find you].

Second, Europe already did this experiment. Each country responded differently to Covid-19 at first. One problem was that people did travel everywhere, as in the Spring Break example above. Another problem was that some country’s responses worked better than others. After a few weeks, even the UK, whose Prime Minister tested positive for Covid-19 today, responded the same as Europe.

Eventually each European country went into lockdown. Eventually every US county will have to go into lockdown, too. Better to do lockdown early and in lockstep. Smart to ramp up testing, too.

Speaking of testing, one European country that isn’t getting the recognition is deserves for its Covid-19 response is Germany. NPR reports on why the German Covid-19 mortality rate is just 0.5%. It’s early to tell for sure, but it appears the country’s extensive testing programs started identifying infected people sooner and faster than other countries, except perhaps South Korea. It’s also possible that Germany is identifying more infected people than other countries, pushing the denominator in its mortality rate higher and, therefore, pushing its mortality rate lower than other countries with less testing.

While the US is fumbling its response to Covid-19, China is taking diplomatic advantage in Europe by sending aid.

[EU Commission President Ursula] von der Leyen said the latest proposed Chinese relief cargo, including 2m surgical masks and 200,000 N95 respiratory protection masks, was ready to ship immediately. She noted that the consignment — which EU officials said would be for free — came after the bloc provided 50 tonnes of protective equipment to China when the Covid-19 crisis erupted there earlier this year.

Financial Times

Lest you jump to the conclusion China has all good intentions, it continues to run social media disinformation campaigns about Covid-19, Hong Kong protesters, and other politically sensitive issues. In the disinformation campaign discovered by Propublica, China hijacks dormant Twitter accounts, switches them to fake Chinese personalities, and targets disinformation at Chinese speakers outside China.

At a worldwide level, Covid-19 numbers look terrible.

Even with closed borders, countries aren’t insulated from each other. Trade continues and significant supply chain infrastructure exists in poorer countries. As Covid-19 infects poor countries, they will struggle to respond. If a family in, say, India spends the money it earns every day for next day’s food, that means someone in the family has to work every day to buy food. That, in turn, makes social distancing nearly impossible. Even in the unlikely event that closing borders stops Covid-19 infections from traveling out of poorer countries, the economic issues of trade and supply chains will be long-lasting.

An unexpected benefit of Covid-19 may be long term improvements to the health of the planet. While the EPA is using Covid-19 as another excuse to reduce enforcement of environmental protection, one Covid-19 environmental silver lining is better data on climate change. It’s a little early to know how much CO2 emissions have dropped, but certainly major portions of the transportation sector have shutdown (Spain’s trains and mass transit were running at about 10% of normal ridership last week) and presumably offices are not using as much heating or air conditioning as normal. Information systems use is probably up as people communicate more online, but that accounts for less than 5% of the world’s CO2 emissions. Environmental data collected in the coming months may provide clues about the relationship between CO2 reduction and climate.

Turning to domestic matters, as in what’s going on at home, rent and mortgage payments come due for most of the world next week. A lot of people can’t pay.

Also, although it seems unlikely that fecal transmission plays a role in the spread of the virus, we’ve learned that toilet paper shortages are common at the beginning of a country’s Covid-19 lockdown. But eggs? I noted early on in Spain’s lockdown that eggs were in short supply at the supermarkets and speculated that people who don’t cook at home bought them because they’re easy to cook. It looks like the same egg shortage phenomenon is true in the UK and the US. The Washington Post reports today that the US shortage is due to a stay-at-home baking frenzy.

I can’t possibly write about each individual Covid-19 death, but yesterday I started seeing a lot more obituaries in my social feeds. This is going to be as bad as AIDS, probably worse for my straight friends. It is likely all of us will know someone who dies of Covid-19 in the coming days. Here are six people of note whom I will never have the opportunity to meet.

  • Tony award winning Playwright Terrence McNally, 81, who wrote dozens of plays, musicals, and operas including Love! Valour! Compassion! which Matt and I saw together in New York in 1995.
  • Broadway artist Josh Wallwork, 45, a friend of several of my New York City friends.
  • Kious Jordan Kelly, 48, an Assistant Nursing Manager at a New York City hospital.
  • Mark Blum, 69, actor in the TV series Law and Order and in the film Desperately Seeking Susan.
  • An as-yet anonymous New York City homeless person, age unknown, the first confirmed death of a homeless person in the city.
  • Marguerite Derrida, 87, psychoanalyst, translator, and widow of Algerian philosopher Jacques Derrida.

With all the deaths in New York City, you can count on Broadway in genral, and Randy Rainbow in particular, to come up with something to ease the pain.

Six feet away or six feet under, the choice is yours.

%d bloggers like this: