Back in early March (March 9th for me), employers, and officials began acknowledging that the COVID-19 outbreak was spiraling out of control, and that the prudent course of action was to institute drastic social distancing to slow the spread and to prevent the healthcare system from collapsing.
Ostensibly, this was to “flatten the curve” and to allow proper long term mitigation efforts.
The US Federal Government was reluctant to act, only “recommending” shelter in place and self quarantining, but you could tell that President Trump was uncomfortable issuing the recommendations, as his whole schtick had been to deny, deflect, and obfuscate the risks.
Hence his proclamation in late March that he wanted the restrictions lifted by Easter so that he could see all those wonderful pews in churches packed with worshippers (as if that fat fuck ever set foot in a church unless he got something tangible out of it). Alas, he finally relented when the projections of infections and deaths broke through his shields, and he realized that if 500K Americans died because he refused to make the common sense recommendations to reduce the risk.
However, we are now in mid-May, and states are accelerating their reopening. Well, mostly the Red states with some cautious Blue states doing a more nuanced effort to lift the restrictions.
We are watching a science experiment unfold in real time. States like Georgia and Florida are rushing to get back to “normal” ASAP, and blue states like California are being far more measured (for the record, I live in San Jose, and our 6 Bay Area Counties will be under shelter in place orders until June 1) in their approach.
While my wife is ultra paranoid, we all need to recognize that it isn’t possible to remain like this until there is a vaccine. Remember, this is a similar virus to the SARS outbreak that happened in 2004, and the MERS outbreak later. Neither was conquered by a vaccine (a vaccine eluded the researchers) but were a) far less virulent, and b) far less deadly.
The last 9 weeks (for me) of sheltering in place were to first slow down the growth of serious cases. If you go back to late March, NYC was blowing up, swamping the hospitals, and stressing the healthcare system. That stress has abated (and in fact, NYC has become far less stressful) but there are still many states where the growth in cases is alarmingly high.
What we should have done for these weeks
Parts of the world who have successfully prevented melt down have applied some logical, consistent, and rational policies.
- High rates of testing of many citizens. While the US has done more tests, we are also a very large country, and what counts is the number of tests per 100K people per day, and on that metric, we lag significantly.
- Isolation and contact tracing for those who are infected. China was first on this, but South Korea, New Zealand, Germany and most of the Scandinavian countries have excelled at this, and their infection and death rates are low
Unfortunately, the disarray in the US is sadly predictable. The federal government has resisted assuming control, blaming states for not preparing, blaming the prior administration (from 3.5 years ago) for not preparing (a claim that is utter bullshit. There was a dedicated team focused on pandemic responses and war games, and the Trump administration disbanded it) and arguing with governors from states they dislike (*cough* New York *cough*)
Instead of building a national infrastructure for testing and contact tracing, instead of replenishing the stockpile of medical equipment, instead of doing targeted aid to individuals/small companies/entities that need it, the $2.2T of aid has largely propped up massive businesses (airlines, Boeing, and far too many publicly traded companies) who have friends in high places.
So, instead of spending half of March, all of April, and part of May building the infrastructure to allow a measured reopening, we have states ignoring the already sketchy recommendations for reopening (as in 2 weeks of declining infection and mortality rates, having contact tracing in place, and plans to phase in openings to reduce risk) and we will begin to see some pretty mind boggling statistics coming from states like Florida, Georgia, South Dakota, Texas and Arizona (in Arizona, the state government essentially fired the epidemiologists who were monitoring the progress in their state, and reporting the truth – truth that didn’t match the desires of the leaders. Remember, you can’t spell Crazy without R-AZ..)
So, soon we will see how “normal” these states will be.
Ostensibly, the opening orders insist upon social distancing being in place. So in a restaurant, they are blocking out every other seat. Reality is that this will limit occupancy by 50%, but realistically, this will require no more than 30% occupancy.
Restaurants are a business I know well, having spent about a quarter of my life working in one. 30% occupancy means you can’t make money. Restaurants live and die by their Friday and Saturday nights. If you have a great lunch location, you can do well too, but not many establishments can drop 70% of their business and remain open.
So, where do we go?
Instead of a measured opening, with enough testing and contact tracing to give confidence to the general population, we are going to be headed into uncertainty, and likely uncontrolled growth of individuals.
In the interim, the Trump Administration has sidelined the scientists, muzzled the truth tellers, promoted snake oil (Hydroxyoquine and AZO), mused about injecting disinfectant into people, and washign their hands, essentially saying that some people are going to die, but we need our economy back.
Yep, it is a fucked up time to be alive. The rest of the world looks at the US and shakes its head in pity.
And now that it looks like the public is not buying Trump’s assurances, and polling shows that he is likely to lose bigly, the new message is transitioning to greatness.
Update: It is now 110 days since I have been in the office, and I anticipate that this working from home, at least for me and the industry I am in, will become the new normal.
The states who have rushed to return to business as usual are experiencing alarming rises in the cases. Wall Street seems to be completely in denial about the long term effects, and still there are more than 1M weekly applications for unemployment.
Santa Clara county is slowly opening – albeit with massive restrictions – while all the neighboring counties have thrown up their hands and are accelerating the opening. I suspected that this was going to happen, as there are limits to how long you can keep things shut down.
And we are seeing daily growth in new cases (state, and nationally)
Fuck, we’re all in trouble.