Today is April 15, and the month is halfway done as of midnight tonight. At 12:01am tomorrow, we start the downslope toward May. But not too many people care about that right now. Everybody cares about whether or not we’re on the downslope of the coronavirus pandemic, and signs are hopeful. We don’t have a lot of momentum yet, but it’s certainly looking better than it did a week or more ago.
This is the third straight Wednesday that I have compared statistics published by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, perhaps the most commonly referenced model in the whole coronavirus tracking business, although by no means the only one. Here’s how its most important stats, for the U.S. as a whole and Wisconsin in particular, have compared recently (dates in italics indicate the date has passed):
NATIONAL April 1 April 8 April 15
Hospital resource peak April 15 April 11 April 10
Daily deaths peak April 15 April 12 April 13
Deaths on peak day 2,644 2,212 2,150
Last death on July 14 June 14 June 27
Total deaths by August 4: 93,531 60,415 68,841
WISCONSIN April 1 April 8 April 15
Hospital resource peak April 27 April 13 April 14
Daily deaths peak April 27 April 15 April 5
Deaths on peak day 25 20 20
Last death on June 10 May 7 May 7
Total deaths by August 4: 951 424 338
The model indicates that total U.S. deaths will start leveling off around June 1, with just a few per day for most of the remainder of the month. The model’s stats appear to be current through April 12. As a measure of IHME’s accuracy, I noted that it projected 192 total deaths in Wisconsin as of yesterday, and we had 170. As far as tracking what has actually been reported, in the States and worldwide, I’ve found that Worldometer is pretty thorough.
So what do the above IHME stats tell us? Overall, the U.S. is projected to do much better now than the model forecast as of April 1, although in the last week its prediction of total fatalities has gone up. Wisconsin, though, continues to be trending downward.
The big question: when to “open up”?
This is the question everybody wants to know and nobody can figure out. There are a lot of variables, and in trying to pay some attention to what authority figures are saying, it appears to be this: the scientists are telling us it will be months, perhaps as much as a year or longer, before we can be fully “open.” The business community is pushing for relaxation of restrictions a lot sooner than that, perhaps to start within a couple weeks. And the politicians are falling more in line with the business people than with the scientists. Although politicians are not considered to be the most reliable of people and certainly not the most objective, they do tend to have their finger on the pulse of the public pretty well, and the public is definitely not saying that we’re willing to crater the economy to defeat the virus. We’re not going to surrender to it, and we’ve shown that, but we’re not inclined to lay economic waste to the nation in order to wipe out every last microbe.
I think there’s little doubt that we will start to see things opening up in May. It will be done in phases, not just in terms of what can open up, but where. Harder-hit areas will obviously have to be kept on lockdown for a longer period of time, and the health community will still insist on strict monitoring of the situation, in order to jump on any new cases that come up. Although the president talks about having the ultimate authority to open up the country, I think it will come down to the governors. Already, the governors of some key northeastern states–New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania–have agreed to work in concert toward that end. We will likely see other pacts between groups of states. There won’t be a nationwide “We’re Back!” day, but the hope is that by June, things will be moving forward at an appreciable pace.
Then there are the doomsayers. You can hear them on TV, read their blogs, see their Facebook posts. These are the people–whether well-informed or not, and usually the latter–who have been pronouncing since March that the apocalypse, or at least the next best thing, is upon us. One prominent host on MSNBC said the other day that “everybody saw this coming” in January, although it was then noted by others that he had never said much about it back then. Revisionist history is being written at a torrid pace in the media, much faster than I anticipated. Perhaps this is because it’s an election year; the party out of power, while not necessarily hoping for the collapse of the country (at least openly), is certainly going to be pushing a narrative that the current powers-that-be should’ve seen this coming and, by implication, the next one will be handled much better if we vote those people out and the others in.
I engaged with a Facebook friend the other day who is in the latter camp. His posts are full of criticism of the current administration, and the topic that day was the process by which the economy will be opened up. Although he railed against any speculation about dates or even a process, I challenged him to provide his own guidelines, and to be specific: how much weight do you give to the scientists’ predictions? Do you measure the whole thing by number of infections reported? By deaths? Do we have to get down to zero deaths before you would open, and if so, how many consecutive days of no more fatalities? What, exactly, are your benchmarks. As you might guess, he refused to answer.
I have seen some bloggers who have been relentlessly negative about the whole situation, and who have finally let their political feelings seep into their posts, when at the beginning they were stressing that they were being apolitical in their discussion of the issue at hand. As the situation has improved, as the numbers turned out to be not nearly as catastrophic as they predicted, they have become more strident and political in their rants, giving up any pretense at objectivity. They don’t like to be challenged, either; to do so usually means being subjected to online vitriol and baseless accusations. They’re really not worth the effort, because they have no intention of saying anything like, “You know, I was wrong about this. Thanks for bringing it up.”
This is not the time to try to score points.
Complaining about those making the decisions is nothing new. Every president has faced it, going back to the first one. George Washington has long been considered one of the greatest Americans who ever lived, but when he left office in 1797 after two terms as our first president, he was not universally admired. The newspaper publisher Benjamin Bache, a grandson of Benjamin Franklin, wrote this upon the occasion: “…the man who is the source of all the misfortunes of our country is this day reduced to a level with his fellow-citizens…If ever there was a period of rejoicing, this is the moment.” But over time, the truth will come out. Washington is remembered fondly to this day; Bache is only worth a paragraph or two in historical accounts of the times. As his printed vitriol continued into the administration of John Adams, Bache found himself arrested, physically assaulted, reduced to near-bankruptcy, and finally died of yellow fever at age 29 in 1798.
More than a century later, one of Washington’s successors in office, Theodore Roosevelt, addressed the problem of what we would later call “Monday-morning quarterbacks” directly. In a speech at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910, a year after leaving office himself, TR said this:
What we need now is constructive thought that can be translated into action. We’re seeing that from untold numbers of people across the country. Many leaders have stepped forward. The president and his advisers, and the various governors, have been getting all the publicity, but each and every community has seen leaders step up and offer to help. They’re willing to roll up their sleeves and get into the arena. These are the people who will lead us out of this pandemic, and the ones whose names may or may not be remembered when the history of this time is written. But they’re the ones who will deserve the credit.