The Long Duration
I watched the president Monday afternoon, and was surprised by how much more sober and realistic he seemed. This story in The New York Times explains why. If this comes to pass, it is impossible to imagine how the world will be changed by what has just started:
Sweeping new federal recommendations announced on Monday for Americans to sharply limit their activities appeared to draw on a dire scientific report warning that, without action by the government and individuals to slow the spread of coronavirus and suppress new cases, 2.2 million people in the United States could die.
To curb the epidemic, there would need to be drastic restrictions on work, school and social gatherings for periods of time until a vaccine was available, which could take 18 months, according to the report, compiled by British researchers. They cautioned that such steps carried enormous costs that could also affect people’s health, but concluded they were “the only viable strategy at the current time.”
Dr. Birx’s description of the findings were consistent with those in the report, released on Monday by an epidemic modeling group at Imperial College London. The lead author of the study, Neil Ferguson, an epidemiology professor, said in an interview that his group had shared their projections with the White House task force about a week ago and that an early copy of the report was sent over the weekend.
The group has also shared its fatality estimates with the C.D.C., Dr. Ferguson said, including that eight to nine percent of people in the most vulnerable age group, 80 and older, could die if infected.
“We don’t have a clear exit strategy,” Dr. Ferguson said of the recommended measures. “We’re going to have to suppress this virus — frankly, indefinitely — until we have a vaccine.”
“It’s a difficult position for the world to be in,” he added.
It’s … hard to know what to say about this. We could all be forced to live like this for a year and a half. The alternative is mass dying, and the destruction of our health care system. The Imperial College report is what made the UK government do an about-face, and abandon its “herd immunity” plan, which would have pretty much let the virus run its course.
If we all really do have to live like this for 18 months, it is impossible to comprehend the economic destruction and hardship. The degree to which the state will have to be involved in our lives just to keep life going will make the New Deal seem like nothing. Think of all the unemployed! Think of what it will be like not to be able to go to school, or church for a year and a half, or to a party, a restaurant, or a wedding. If you allow yourself to start thinking like this, it becomes paralyzing.
And to bear in mind that it came upon us all so quickly…
No wonder Trump was a different man at the Monday presser. He even praised the media. Either he is feverish, or he stared into the abyss, and realized that this is a challenge that cannot be defeated by his usual methods.
This is going to take some time to absorb. Let me suggest something to you, though. We are all going to be doing a lot more reading in the months to come. Please buy from your local bookseller if you at all can, or order from small book retailers. As the NYT reports, these decisions are going to be the difference between survival and bankruptcy for these retailers. The world without Eighth Day Books of Wichita, Kansas, would be a much poorer one — please order online from Warren Farha and the gang.
Seriously, let’s you and me make a commitment right now to stop going straightaway to Amazon.com to mail-order things, and instead make the extra effort, and pay the extra money, to support small retailers who can fulfill the orders by mail. It’s a small thing, but a lot of us doing those small things can save at least some people’s livelihoods. I encourage you, in the comments, to put in links to small businesses that your fellow readers should consider ordering from. Please explain why. I’m not going to approve comments that are nothing but ads for businesses. Make it personal. Tell us why you love this small business, and why you are urging readers to support it through their orders.
UPDATE: A great coronavirus news aggregator I follow summarizes the paper like so:
UPDATE.2: The concluding paragraphs of the paper:
Perhaps our most significant conclusion is that mitigation is unlikely to be feasible without emergency surge capacity limits of the UK and US healthcare systems being exceeded many times over. In the most effective mitigation strategy examined, which leads to a single, relatively short epidemic (case
isolation, household quarantine and social distancing of the elderly), the surge limits for both general
ward and ICU beds would be exceeded by at least 8-fold under the more optimistic scenario for critical
care requirements that we examined. In addition, even if all patients were able to be treated, we
predict there would still be in the order of 250,000 deaths in GB, and 1.1-1.2 million in the US.
In the UK, this conclusion has only been reached in the last few days, with the refinement of estimates
of likely ICU demand due to COVID-19 based on experience in Italy and the UK (previous planning
estimates assumed half the demand now estimated) and with the NHS providing increasing certainty
around the limits of hospital surge capacity.
We therefore conclude that epidemic suppression is the only viable strategy at the current time. The
social and economic effects of the measures which are needed to achieve this policy goal will be
profound. Many countries have adopted such measures already, but even those countries at an earlier
stage of their epidemic (such as the UK) will need to do so imminently.
Our analysis informs the evaluation of both the nature of the measures required to suppress COVID19 and the likely duration that these measures will need to be in place. Results in this paper have
informed policymaking in the UK and other countries in the last weeks. However, we emphasise that
is not at all certain that suppression will succeed long term; no public health intervention with such
disruptive effects on society has been previously attempted for such a long duration of time. How
populations and societies will respond remains unclear.