Sunday Commentary: Where Are We Headed with Coronavirus?

On Friday we closed our local schools starting Monday for four weeks.  Probably longer.  The rate at which public events have proceeded is mindboggling, considering we went from a series of precautions to a series of shutdowns in a matter of a few days.

Last week Italy became the first European nation to basically do a shutdown.  That has been followed now by Spain and France.

The New York Times reports, “Across Europe, there was a widespread feeling that the health crisis flaying Italy for weeks had arrived at the doorsteps of its neighbors, and that the time for hoping the threat would somehow dissipate without sweeping intervention was over.”

France has had trouble getting people to stay home—until Saturday, cafes and restaurants remained busy, but now officials are saying “the crisis could be disregarded no longer.”

Writes the Times, “The time of classic Parisian nonchalance had come to an end.”

They quote one leader saying, “Our society is more libertarian…  As long as you don’t put people under any real constraints, they’re going to continue to live the way they want.”

In Davis, the streets are more empty.  Parking places on Saturday afternoon in the downtown, normally jammed, were half empty… or less.  Supermarkets see shelves bare, at least where water and toilet paper are sold.

My question is, where are we headed?  Are we headed for a lock down like Italy, France and Spain?

The answers are not appearing in the news accounts—at least not yet.  What should concern us perhaps most is the prospect that people can transmit before they get symptoms, and our lack of available testing makes it hard to self-quarantine and difficult to know how serious a crisis we already have.

While the federal government has been criticized for a slow response, state and local governments have stepped up and made difficult choices.

But in a country that values freedom, how effective will self-quarantine measures be?

The US has been a bit more lucky in this crisis so far, in that our exposure to the virus came a little later and thus we can watch what other countries are doing.  Those countries already in mid-crisis can provide us with guidance.

Look at the chart—first note it is from Friday morning, and that means two full days ago.

That is a lifetime in the course of this virus.  The New York Times reports this morning that the new measures in France came after a doubling of cases to 4500 with 91 deaths and another 300 people in critical condition.

It is worse in Spain, where at least 6200 are infected and 190 have died.

There is comfort and alarm in the chart.  We can see the trajectory of Italy, the first country to impose such severe conditions in Western Europe.  Then we can see Spain.  Finally there is France, which seems to be closest to the path of the US—extend that chart out by two days to 4500 and that could be the path that the US is on.

The NY Times reported this morning that the US has 2759 known cases—bad news for us is that one of the big concentrations is around the Bay Area, lagging behind only Washington and New York.

The chart might be false comfort.  Without widespread testing, we may only know the tip of the iceberg here.  As testing improves the number will go up.  By how much?  At what point will our health care system be overwhelmed by this?

We don’t know.

On Friday, CNN compared the responses between South Korea and Italy.  On the chart you can see that Italy continued to explode while South Korea has flattened its curve.

The two countries are similar in population, reported their first infections around the same time and reported a rapid rise in cases initially.

However, South Korea has a low death rate of less than one percent, while Italy’s is over 14 percent as of Friday— “the country reported another 250 deaths in just 24 hours. More than 1,200 people have died in Italy, which has more than 17,600 cases, officials there say. The global average death rate is currently between 3-4%.”

Meanwhile, South Korea believes its outbreak has peaked.  The number of confirmed cases has slowed and they have been most ambitious in tracking the virus, “using smart technologies to trace, test and treat people.”

Under its health care system—that’s right, universal health care—the country is diagnosing 15,000 per day and over 200,000 in total as of Friday.

CNN notes that one lesson the US has taken on board is setting up the drive-through testing booths which allows people to get tested while reducing face-to-face contact.  The President is working to expand locations across the country.

Compare that to Italy where they could not even identify the first person who brought the virus into the country.  “That made tracing who that person had come into contact with impossible.”

Italy already had a poor economy, which has left them economically vulnerable and resulted in cuts to what was once a good health care system.

That has left them in trouble: “The country has been desperate for more beds, face masks and ventilators to deal with the high volume of coronavirus patients.”

Where does the US end up?  The scariest part of this is we lack good data on where we are.  Until we have that, we won’t know.

There are many who believe that US citizens will not tolerate the kind of draconian restrictions we have seen in Italy, France and Spain.  Perhaps learning from their lessons, we will see clearly what works and what doesn’t.

But, given the rate of change, it is anyone’s guess what next week will bring.  My guess is we have not reached the equilibrium point of being able to ride this out.  That is still to come.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Tia Will

    “But in a country that values freedom, how effective will self-quarantine measures be?”

    I believe Americans have a very limited view of “freedom”. Many seem to see freedom as “I get to do whatever I want to do regardless of the impact on others.” This attitude is present in all areas of our lives from gun ownership to medical care. From DUIs to vaccination avoidance. But there is another side to freedom. Freedom from hunger, from illness, from mass shootings, from fear.

    I would like to see Americans expand our definition of “freedom” to include the freedoms of others, not just our own.

    So my pleas to my fellow citizens in the time of coronavirus are: stay home, protect the vulnerable, don’t stockpile, and let’s see if we cannot expand on that most precious freedom of all, the right to live.


  2. Keith Olsen

    Not mentioned in the article, the U.S. has 40 deaths (which 18 came from a nursing home in Washington) out of 2952 cases.  That’s 1.3% and coming down fast as more testing is leading to more cases being identified.

    1. David Greenwald

      The question I keep asking people who are more knowledgeable than me – how much of the early death rate is the result of health care systems that don’t have access to current technique. The answer I keep getting is no one really knows.

      There are factors:

      1. You can’t take the known deaths and divide by known current cases and get any sort of accurate death rate. Why? Because on the one hand, there are a lot of unknown cases that are mild and will remain unknown. But second, a number of those current cases will result in death, we just don’t know it yet.

      2. What will be the cumulative effect on the system – if you end overwhelming our health care system, more people will die that could have been saved. Another factor is that not only will more people with coronavirus die, but more people with other ailments could as well.

      3. Even at one percent, which is what some think the true death rate is, it is still 10 times more deadly than flu and at the number of flu cases would generate 340,000 deaths. At 100 million cases, you are looking at 1 million deaths. Those would be catastrophic numbers and could create the kind of health care crisis to drive the overall death rate much higher.

      In short, the figures you cite are really not of a lot of comfort at this point in part because we are still dealing with too much uncertainty.

      1. Keith Olsen

        Where are you getting your flu statistics from?

        This is from the CDC website:

        CDC estimates that so far this season there have been at least 36 million flu illnesses, 370,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 deaths from flu.

        That’s a death rate of .06%

        So far in the U.S. according to the stats the death rate of COVID 19 is twice the rate of the flu, not 10 times.

        1. Keith Olsen

          Thanks for the link.

          Did you read this?

          Seasonal influenza may lead to death from other causes, such as pneumonia, congestive heart failure, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It has been recognized for many years that influenza is underreported on death certificates. There may be several reasons for underreporting, including that patients aren’t always tested for seasonal influenza virus infection, particularly older adults who are at greatest risk of seasonal influenza complications and death. Even if a patient is tested for influenza, influenza virus infection may not be identified because the influenza virus is only detectable for a limited number of days  after infection and many people don’t seek medical care in this interval. Additionally, some deaths – particularly among those 65 years and older – are associated with secondary complications of influenza (including bacterial pneumonias). For these and other reasons, modeling strategies are commonly used to estimate flu-associated deaths. Only counting deaths where influenza was recorded on a death certificate would be a gross underestimation of influenza’s true impact.

          1. David Greenwald

            I definitely agree but I think the same principle is going to apply to coronavirus

      2. Keith Olsen

        According to John Hopkins interactive COVID-19 tracker (which updates several times daily) there are now 3774 cases in the U.S. with 42 deaths.

        The current death rate from the virus is 1.1% in the U.S.

        The percentage is coming down daily as more people are screened.

        1. David Greenwald

          I don’t think that is a valid way to calculate. Nor do I think it’s very meaningful. All that simply says is that we are Identifying people faster than they are dying. That would be expected.

        2. Bill Marshall

          David… remember the admonition, “figures don’t lie, but liars can figure”… methodology, and base assumptions can be used to even ‘prove’ the sun revolves around the earth… or any other ‘theory’… one has to drill down into both methodology and assumptions… same with another of today’s topics… traffic analysis for ARC…

          Only way to separate truth from spin…

          Some facts and analysis can come to the conclusion that the corona virus thingy is apocalyptic… others can be used to come to the conclusion it is de minimus… the truth lies elsewhere, likely somewhere in the range of “in between”… we have gone from a ‘de minimus’ view, to actions based on the ‘near apocalyptic’… neither are likely valid.

          Prudence, not panic, I say again. You have one thing definitely right … we are still lacking comprehensive testing/data.

        3. Keith Olsen

          Let’s dig a little deeper:

          South Korea…..8236 cases….75 deaths….0.9%

          Germany……6672 cases…..14 deaths……..0.2%

          Belgium…..1058 cases……5 deaths……….0.47%

          Sweden……1103 cases…….6 deaths………0.54%

          Austria…….1018 cases…….3 deaths……….0.3%

          In these countries the numbers compare to the common flu.

          Is it because they have better healthcare?

          Here in the U.S. we have good healthcare too.




          1. David Greenwald

            California 392 cases, 11 deaths. 2.8%. Again, I don’t agree using that methodology, just using this to illustrate the point.

        4. David Greenwald

          In fact as I read this stuff, it seems like things are really lining up for something catastrophic…

          In the United States, the sense of being cut off increasingly seems to apply to the states themselves, as Washington has been slow to produce either promised aid or a coherent strategy and President Trump advised governors — some of whom were shocked — that they should look to buy their own ventilators and respirators, which are in desperately short supply.
          And families were left to worry about lost wages, about inadequate supplies of medicine and protective gear, about leaving the ill and elderly even more isolated and vulnerable, and about jobs, institutions, relatives and neighbors that might vanish and never return.

          from the NYTIMES

        5. Keith Olsen

          I see you left out this part where Trump stated:

          “We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself.”



        6. Keith Olsen

          Well apparently it appears the NY Times left out the entire quote, does that really surprise you?

          “Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves,”
          “We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself.”

        7. Keith Olsen

          In fact I see where the NY Times is being called out for their deception:

          At least eight New York Times authors shared a deceptively edited quote Monday from President Donald Trump’s recent call with state governors, creating the false impression that the president is denying federal support for ventilators that are needed in hospitals treating coronavirus patients.

  3. John Hobbs

    US citizens accept many Draconian restrictions since G.W. Bush’s 9/11 rollback of rights. The entitled mentality of some in this case could seriously impact the rest of us. As someone who has no issue with jailing anti-vaxxers, I am fine with the government taking measures to forcibly restrict assembly and movement during this crisis. I’d be ok with them locking up hoarders/profiteers too.

    As an older American who spends an inordinate amount of time and money in health care facilities I want my providers to take all reasonable measures to isolate me for everyone’s health and safety.What the government, educators and medical professionals are up against is the “It’s just the flu'” mentality, proliferated by some commenters on this site.

  4. John Hobbs

    A side note, the economy is rapidly tanking as a result of this. With petro politics driving oil prices into the ground, puns intended, and the event cancellations/travel restrictions, pump prices for gas are dropping to insane lows, $1.60/gal. in DFW and about $2.40/gal. here, we have nowhere to go and no place to spend the savings.


  5. Bill Marshall

    Just a snapshot in time… I called a travel agency that we had engaged with, about a month ago…a trip in July from Vancouver to Calgary (and spend 2 days @ the Calgary Stampede)… I asked about what if either Canada or the US had travel restrictions in effect, whether we could get a full refund…

    But, my conversation with the woman I spoke with was interesting… she lives in Calgary, well away from the American/Canadian ‘epicenters’… they are having a similar ‘Calgary stampede’, like we are experiencing locally… hoarding of isopropyl alcohol, toilet tissue (? this is a RESPIRATORY bug!), canned,  other ‘storable foods’, etc.  [Tia, your admonition against hoarding is ‘way late’ (not your fault!) to be effective]… many shelves were empty at Nugget last night… when CVS get i-p alcohol in, folk are rationed to one bottle (I bought mine, to mix with aspirin, to deal with a muscle ‘owie’).

    Again I say, prudence is good, panic is not.  [and I agree, Tia about ‘no hoarding’… have moments when I think they should be dealt with as looters were, following the 1906 SF earthquake and fire… shot on sight… then wonder if we should stock up before the hoarders get to holy it (irony intended)!]

    Watching someone’s favorite ‘false news channel’, the Vatican has cancelled Holy Week, and Easter Sunday services (but Italy is much harder hit than anywhere other than China, so, makes sense)… they’ll stream them…

    Locally, the Diocese has given full dispensation to ALL Catholics if they choose not to attend Mass, due to concerns, but the churches as of this writing are open and Mass schedules unchanged.

    In its infinite wisdom, the administration is requiring all returnees from other countries by flight, to stand, bunched up in long, slow lines to get ‘tested’… what is wrong with THAT picture?  

    Time will tell… folk should be prudent.

  6. Alan Miller

    A serious, and “honest” question, outside of the politics of it all —

    What happens when the coronavirus gets loose in the so-called ‘homeless’ population?  I’m thinking they don’t have the best sanitation practices, sometimes camp in groups, may not have the latest information, and don’t have access to soap and hot running water.  And what if it gets loose on skid-row in LA or a similar scenario in another city?

    Is a respite center a good idea — bringing many so-called homeless together in one place, and in contact with city employees possibly not prepared for this?

    I know a popular dig on the website’s comment section is “well, what’s YOUR solution?” — I don’t have a solution, but I believe this needs to be seriously considered as a health risk not only to the so-called homeless, but to everyone.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Think Dickens… Scrooge… perhaps we should just nature take its course, let them fall ill and die, and cut out the excess population (?)… would bring down the “so-called homeless” stats… fewer of them…

      Respite centers could offer showers, maybe cleansing of clothes, other possessions, testing, education as to cleanliness, some Purell, etc….

      Or barring that, we could let nature take its course, by gathering ‘them’ together, offer no support, and perhaps nature takes its course sooner… that could be a “solution”, albeit a ‘final’ one for some.

      Those are three approaches… like you, not sure what the final solution should be…

      I’d advocate for ‘door # 2’…

  7. Jim Frame

    So my pleas to my fellow citizens in the time of coronavirus are: stay home

    A lot of folks equate “staying at home” with “don’t come into contact with others,” but they’re not the same thing.  There’s no reason for a healthy person, regardless of age, to refrain from taking a walk or engaging in other outdoor activities that don’t involve contact with other people.  The virus isn’t floating in the air or lurking on the sidewalk, unless an infected person very close by just sneezed.

    As for myself, even though I’m generally lumped into the vulnerable category (over 65), I fully intend to continue working.  The project taking up most of my time these days involves visiting wells in mostly rural areas.  I work alone, and have no reason to get within 100 yards of another human during these activities.  So it’s business as usual for me (though the rain may have affected some of the dirt roads I need to use to access the wells for a day or two).

    The biggest impact of the pandemic on me so far is that I have to forego lunch at Crepeville for awhile.  🙁

  8. Alan Miller

    The biggest impact of the pandemic on me so far is that I have to forego lunch at Crepeville for awhile. 

    Some restaurants in the Bay Area already on the edge are simply closing down for good.  I am very concerned that many Davis local businesses are going to close and never open again.  I don’t look forward to the result of that:  nothing but Starbucks and the like survive.

  9. Bill Marshall

    California 392 cases, 11 deaths. 2.8%. Again, I don’t agree using that methodology, just using this to illustrate the point.

    No source… source…

    That was supposedly updated at 6 AM PDT … more cases, half the deaths… please cite your sources, as I have… then we can question the sources…


      1. Bill Marshall

        Fair enough… two sources, disparate information… both secondary or tertiary sources…

        We don’t know… I admit it.  Don’t think you can…

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