Last week: Covid-19 6/18: The Virus Goes South
Off-topic reminder that this is happening: New York Times, Please Do Not Threaten The Safety of Scott Alexander By Revealing His True Name
The United States has failed to contain Covid-19. The fight is over in large sections of the country. We have lost.
There is no state capacity left to fight this. No will. Faced with this disease, large sections of the country have chosen herd immunity.
We can only hope it kicks in at a relatively low threshold, that our treatments have improved, and that immunity is long lasting.
Hospitals are already being overwhelmed throughout the South. Things there rapidly getting worse day by day. Even here in New York, where hope for containment is strongest, there are troubling signs. My declaration of local victory might prove premature, at least when it comes to the city itself.
Let’s run the numbers. They’re pretty alarming.
Note that starting next week I plan to truncate the numbers for space reasons, unless I get feedback that I shouldn’t do that.
Positive Tests by Region
|Mar 19-Mar 25||5744||6293||7933||8354||28429|
|Mar 26-Apr 1||15684||20337||24224||34391||52901|
|Apr 30-May 6||23216||49205||37880||51693||24287|
|May 7-May 13||22419||43256||37591||40209||16683|
|May 14-May 20||22725||42762||40343||39273||13709|
|May 21-May 27||23979||39418||42977||26434||10595|
|May 28-June 3||32200||31504||50039||24250||9120|
|June 4-June 10||35487||24674||55731||16622||6071|
|June 11-June 17||41976||22510||75787||12905||4986|
|June 18-June 24||66292||26792||107221||10922||4524|
|Mar 19-Mar 25||138||104||144||116||278|
|Mar 26-Apr 1||380||615||572||606||1656|
|Apr 30-May 6||1012||2413||1747||4908||2582|
|May 7-May 13||1082||2288||1597||3911||1416|
|Apr 30-May 6||775||1723||1290||2341||667|
|May 28-June 3||875||1666||1387||2121||436|
|June 4-June 10||743||1297||1230||1611||325|
|June 11-June 17||778||1040||1207||1270||225|
|June 18-June 24||831||859||1204||908||153|
Positive Test percentages:
|Date||USA tests||Positive %||NY tests||Positive %|
|Mar 19-Mar 25||347577||16.2%||88,882||32.0%|
|Mar 26-Apr 1||728474||20.2%||117,401||45.1%|
|Apr 30-May 6||1,759,548||10.6%||183,446||13.2%|
|May 7-May 13||2,153,748||7.5%||202,980||8.2%|
|May 14-May 20||2,643,333||6.0%||246,929||5.6%|
|May 21-May 27||2,584,265||5.7%||305,708||3.5%|
|May 28-June 3||3,022,469||5.1%||417,929||2.2%|
|June 4-June 10||3,252,870||4.6%||438,695||1.4%|
|June 11-June 17||3,470,057||4.6%||442,951||1.1%|
|June 18-June 24||3,629,478||6.0%||440,833||1.0%|
Things are even scarier than these numbers imply. The scariest part is that this jump is largely concentrated in the last few days.
Here’s the daily trend in positive test rates over the last two weeks, Ex-NY:
|Date||Ex-NY Positive %|
May 16 was the last time prior to this that we had a positive rate (excluding New York) of 7.1% or higher. We have to go back to May 9 to see one above 8%.
Unless something highly unexpected has already happened to prevent it, things are about to get very bad, very quickly.
Talk To Your Area Man About Lagged Exponential Growth
People are bad at exponential growth. We now have had the opportunity to run a natural experiment. Having been bitten not only internationally but also domestically, will people act any differently the next time around? The answer is no. They will not.
Twitter is full of people trying to help who feel the need to repeatedly and forcefully say that this result is not due solely to a rise in testing. Who feel the need to keep insisting that things are getting worse, that the epidemic is not essentially over.
It seems that only when the ICUs are full, which is happening about now throughout several southern states, do normal people take notice that something might be wrong. Only when the death rate itself rises do people think that there might be danger.
Others think that so long as the situation is getting worse sufficiently slowly, things will turn out fine. That is not how this works. That is not how any of this works. When Cuomo put up the slide that said goal of R0 less than 1.1, the mind boggled. If your R0 is 1.05, everyone gets infected. This isn’t a hard thing to reason out. And yet.
Area Man Confesses To Heinous Crime
He also held a rally in Tulsa.
At that rally, he said that more tests meant more positives, which looked bad. So I told my people, “slow the testing down.”
I will repeat that. The President of the United States ordered coronavirus testing slowed down.
The defense was that he was kidding.
He wasn’t kidding.
When asked to deny the statement, he sidestepped it. When asked about whether he had been kidding, he responded, and I quote: “I never kid.”
I do not point this out to ask why it has yet to become an article of impeachment. I point it out for its logical implications. We need to understand what is actually happening.
To what extent are our numbers manipulated or fraudulent? In predicting the path of the pandemic, to what extent will our government actively interfere with our attempts to save people’s lives and their livelihoods? We know that the federal government has at many points actively interfered with our ability to test for Covid-19, and has waged a war of banditry and piracy to seize medical supplies.
I have seen numerous reports that Florida, along with other states, is manipulating data in order to justify reopening.
This all helps us answer the next question, which is:
What Went Wrong?
There has been a dramatic worsening of the trend lines over this past week. Even here in New York, what looked like clear steady improvement now risks falling apart. What made things go so wrong so quickly?
My current model says that it is a combination of factors.
The central thing that I believe is going on is lockdown fatigue combined with a relative-to-others sense of responsibility, and no state capacity to do anything else.
It has been several months. A lockdown can be a fun change of pace for a week. It can be not so bad for a few months. But after a while it takes its toll. One goes stir crazy. You miss your friends. You lose your job and your savings start to run out. You can’t take it anymore.
Combine that with people adjusting to the behaviors and norms they notice around them. When most people judge who is being responsible, they are grading on a curve. If others are doing unsafe things, and you’re doing unsafe things but things that are less unsafe than others are, or that seem to you more justified, then that’s not being irresponsible. That’s doing what is necessary. That’s living one’s life.
The dam broke on that. The secondary effect of the protests was something between the straw that broke the camel’s back and the unleashing of a tidal wave. People saw others breaking the rules to protest. Many did so mostly to blow off steam after such a long lockdown. The rhetoric shifted to things like ‘defund the police’ and other unpopular far-left agenda items.
People noticed. Then others noticed them noticing, and adjusted expectations. Then others noticed them in turn, and so on. With the perception that a large portion of people was doing whatever it wanted, when a lot of other people ran the program ‘be about as responsible as other people’ that quickly spiraled in many places to very little in the way of precautions.
That is then combined with the problem of air conditioning, especially central air, and it being too hot to want to be outdoors throughout the South.
Mask wearing helps where it is present, but has turned into a political issue. And it turns out that in many places, most people will do an annoying thing for only a brief period before they stop doing it. What I saw in Westchester was an exception.
Then state capacity comes in.
We don’t have any ability to reimpose restrictions at least until after the death rates skyrocket. It’s unclear we’d be able to do anything even then.
We can’t contact trace, even in places like New York City where we hired the people to do it and have a manageable case load. A tracking app is dead in the water. Our blue cognoscenti has decided that anonymity for protesters overrides any motivations to trace. Our red cognoscenti was never on board with the idea.
In Texas it’s like New York in March, ICU capacity is being maxed out and we can’t even get proper PPE to the hospital workers let alone take extra measures.
The good news is we’re starting to finally see a consensus that masks are the only way forward without complete disaster. The mask message is increasing in intensity and more people are getting on board, including red voices.
The bad news is we’re starting to finally see a consensus that masks are the only way forward without complete disaster. We’ve agreed that we don’t have the ability to do much else that is useful.
My real answer to what went wrong is that our civilization is profoundly inadequate. We have lost our ability to do things. If you haven’t read the Moral Mazes sequence, it may help explain how we got to this point. So will understanding simulacra levels. That post was originally intended to be called ‘Simulacra Levels and Covid-19’ and to connect it to the claims of Covid-19: My Current Model, but that turned out to be too ambitious for one post. My work is not yet done to connect it back to our general situation, but essentially we have lost not only the ability to focus on the object level, but where decisions are made we have lost the ability to acknowledge the object level even is a thing. Our top people don’t believe in a physical world the way our grandparents did, and deny that anyone ever believed in one in that way. I’m working on explaining this further, and hope to get the next post out in a few weeks. Can’t rush this.
Baseball! Baseball! Baseball! Baseball! Baseball! Baseball! Baseball! Baseball! Baseball! (with apologies to Bill Simmons)
For many months I have yearned for the return of Major League Baseball. Nothing would be better suited to passing the summer days while maintaining social distance. The game carries minimal risk relative to many other activities. A few can entertain so many for so long. Yet things kept being postponed, as the owners and players were locked in a battle over money.
That battle seems to have ended with the players getting most of what they wanted, through a willful (in my reading) misinterpretation of an agreement the parties reached in March. The owners of course also did not cover themselves in glory on this one. But in the end, they did agree to play ball. Whether or not circumstances let it happen is unclear. I really, really hope we find a way, even if things get bad again. Baseball will be a huge help in getting us all through this.
Football will be even more important, and that much trickier. Football is dangerous under the best of circumstances. I’m not convinced introducing Covid-19 is that big an increase in danger in percentage of risk terms for the activity, but that is not how people will think about it. We can only hope the huge psychic cost of not having it is properly respected.
I know my readers don’t get this. I do. Sports are important. Sports go sports. Athletics are number one. Participants are heroes. Go team, yeah. For real. Let me put it this way, not as a demand but as a warning and declaration of fact:
No Football, No Peace.
What Happens Now? What Should We Do as Individuals?
If you are in the area seeing the explosion in cases, expect things to look like New York City looked in March and April.
We can hope that our improved knowledge will help us better protect the most vulnerable. That is good. It does not make the world around you any less dangerous when deciding what activities to do.
This actually could make things worse. It was criminal that we let our elderly down early in the pandemic, especially by letting the virus into nursing homes. But those very deaths drove home the need for measures that contained the virus. With the new lower death rates, by the time that statistic gets people’s attention, we will be much farther along in the infection rate. A younger person’s real risk will be several times higher relative to average risk, and thus they will take even less of the precautions they need to than they would have before. Then that greater rate means the elderly in turn can’t be protected.
Florida focused early on protecting nursing homes. That is the right strategy if and only if it still lets you contain infections in general. Fail, and nothing you did will save you, unless you can protect them through full herd immunity. That’s a tall order.
Herd immunity is where the South and West are headed. A few Western states might still escape, but something would have to change. Hawaii was down to one case in an entire week, but if you don’t handle things, they come back anyway, and now they’re back up to 91 and growing fast. I think New Mexico, Colorado and parts of Northern California are the only ones who might be all right. In the South, Kentucky and Virginia might muddle through, which not coincidentally are the most northern members of the region, while Florida and Texas are looking like the biggest disasters.
The Midwest is starting to trend back in the wrong direction, and several Northeastern states looks vulnerable as well. If there’s been the same level of cultural shift here as there was down South, but delayed and/or starting from a better point, we are at severe risk of tipping back above the critical R0~1 level, and having things start to get worse again. Once that happens, unless something changes, things might go slower, but it’s only a matter of time.
You can look at my spreadsheet for further numerical details under the tab Infections by State.
If you are in the Northeast, Midwest or a relatively safe local region, enjoy your relative safety responsibly while it lasts. Wear a mask. Remember to keep things outdoors. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Get yourself psychologically prepared for things to potentially get worse again, perhaps soon. Keep an eye on local numbers.
If you are in most of the West or South, this is when the real crisis likely starts for you. Due to exhaustion and adjustment, chances supply chains break down are relatively low, but not zero. Chances the medical system collapses are very high. Be prepared. If you need to see a doctor in the next three months, now is bad but next month is worse. Be ready to not go outside for several months, or to stay within your own region of space if you have one of those within your property, if it comes to that.
Resumed The Quarantine Wars Have
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are now telling travelers who have been to any state with positive test rates above 10% that they must quarantine for fourteen days. It would not surprise me if the rest of our regional alliance followed. The rate overall of positive tests outside New York was over 8% yesterday, so it might not be long before this is the majority of the country.
Last time this was tried, we in New York were the ones being told to quarantine and stay out. It definitely feels good to turn the tables. The question of how this could be enforced remains unclear. It is also unclear whether the rest of the country will tolerate it. What will the federal government do when a blue state says red citizens aren’t welcome? So far, it seems to have been quietly accepted. These days, it’s hard to predict what will or won’t get a reaction. Perhaps the reaction will come when enforcement is attempted.
We live in interesting times.