More people die of heart attacks than cancer. That doesn’t make cancer less horrible or less worth fighting. More people die from Alzheimer's disease and diabetes than from the flu. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get your flu shot.
And if “only” 30 Americans have died from 2019 novel coronavirus so far … everything possible should be done to keep it that way. A key part of that is remembering that this is not the flu, as people around the world are finding out in tragic ways. Or as a 23-year-old Italian translator said on Monday:
The Twitter account with the message above doesn’t belong to a medical professional, but it still provides some excellent insight into conditions in Italy and into the kind of questions that are being asked around the world.
As with so many of the issues where Donald Trump spreads disinformation, he’s not the originator of most of the ideas he’s throwing around in conferences and on Twitter. Trump is just one of those people who believes he has the “inside scoop” on everything: that his magic hunches allow him to always have more insight than the scientists, generals, doctors, or insert-experts-here. But behind Trump there are millions of other people who suffer the same delusion, people more likely to believe the late night lizard man chat on InfoWars over a discussion by noted scientists on PBS, explicitly because they think of it as secret information that is better than what the mainstream media is pushing.
The difference with Trump is that he is able to use his position not only to spread this disinformation from the highest bully pulpit, but is also able to force people like the surgeon general of the United States to provide slanted, incomplete information that is costly to individuals and the nation. For example, here is some information from Italy that matches precisely with what studies are showing, but doesn’t match with what Washington is selling at the moment.
If what this Twitter account was pushing represented unnecessary panic, it would be just as harmful as the information being spread by Trump. However, this information is not just in line with the outcome from the joint WHO-China report published two weeks ago, but is also descriptive of the daily information coming out of Italy, where there are now 631 deaths.
Unfortunately, Italy, like the United States, is beset with alt-right politicians and a matching culture that is all too dismissive of science. Statements from Italian politicians have also shown that, even as coronavirus was spreading across the country, the sensitivity to the role that tourism plays in the national economy led to some … missteps. And those missteps have now resulted in the incredible spectacle of an entire nation on lockdown.
As Bianca said in another of her tweets, “They don’t lock down Italy because of the flu.” However, you can see why the government was forced to take this drastic step when looking at Italy on this chart.
As we talked about on Monday, South Korea has done an absolutely remarkable job of acting early, testing broadly, and using a combination of screening and isolation to bring what seemed like a skyrocketing epidemic under control. But as South Korea was driving cases down and preserving the integrity of the local health care system, Italy was having exactly the opposite experience. It shot past South Korea on Saturday and is still moving sharply upward, though there may be some sign that the lockdown of 16 million in northern Italy that began over the weekend has had some effect in slightly blunting the growth rate on Tuesday. Let’s hope so. Iran’s numbers have also passed South Korea, but as always, the relationship of those numbers to reality is unknown.
Here’s your sobering thought for today. As of 3 PM ET, U.S. cases for the day were three times those of China and South Korea, combined. And the day’s not over.
Some version of this chart has run every day since this started being a regular feature. However, this may be the last day for awhile. At this point, I don’t think the global chart is really providing much other than evidence that this thing is not contained. There’s enough of that. I may bring it back in a few days, or sooner if something happens to affect that all-too-steep curve of incoming cases.
Instead, I’m likely to run with charts like this for both the United States and selected other countries.
The data for the last day on this chart is incomplete … but it’s scary enough as it is. In fact, the first time I ran through this post, the top number was 870 cases. But before I could finish, that number was at 950. It seems likely to be at over 1,000 by the end of the day. That growth rate is even more disturbing when you check back just over a week and see that the numbers in the United States are going up faster than the growth rate Italy followed in the last week of February.
Also, despite claims over the past two days that the United States has shipped 1 million COVID-19 test kits to health departments across the nation, the actual number of people tested by the end of Monday was … 4,800. Considering that 1,800 had been tested by last Wednesday, the rate of testing to this point remains inexcusably low. This isn’t a containment strategy. This isn’t a mitigation strategy. This isn’t a strategy.
No matter where you live in the U.S. or around the world, please do not assume all is good. Practice social distancing, practice frequent hand cleaning, take advantage of sanitizer sheets offered by stores and restaurants to wipe down carts and anything else you touch. Go read that first tweet from Bianca again. In fact, read the whole thread that goes with it. Then maybe read this one.
Flattening the curve may seem like a minor accomplishment. It’s not. Flattening the curve is the difference between the over 5% case fatality rate in Italy and the less than 1% rate in South Korea. Flattening the curve is tens of thousands of lives: maybe many more than that.
Resources on novel coronavirus:
World Health Organization 2019 Coronavirus information site.
World Health Organization 2019 Coronavirus Dashboard.
2019-nCoV Global Cases from Johns Hopkins.
BNO News 2019 Novel Coronavirus tracking site.
Worldometer / Wuhan Coronavirus Outbreak.
CDC Coronavirus-2019 (COVID-19) information site.
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Information on preparing yourself and your family:
Some tips on preparing from Daily Kos.
NPR’s guide to preparing your home.