The Wuhan virus: Six notes & queries

The economic devastation wrought by the pandemic continues as we see from the news this morning that another 6.6 million Americans filed unemployment compensation claims last week. For those keeping score at home, that brings the two-week total to about 10 million due to the self-imposed economic shutdown. In the spirit of inquiry and concern, and subject to correction, I have put my head together with that of our friend Brian Sullivan to compile the following notes and queries in the form of bullet points. I trust there is no harm in asking:

• New York has 10 times more Wuhan virus cases per capita than the rest of the country. If banning travel from China made sense, why doesn’t it make sense to restrict the interstate travel of New Yorkers in some fashion?

• The elderly and those with underlying health issues are most at risk of dying from Wuhan virus. Why don’t we find ways to isolate and protect them without shutting the entire country down?

• The United States has reported 14 deaths per million of population. Italy and Spain have reported over 200 deaths per million. France, England, and Germany have reported an average of 35 deaths per million. Critics claim Trump’s response is costing American lives. If relatively fewer Americans have died than every other major European country, what is the basis for the critics’ charge?

• Governor Cuomo said New York would start enrolling patients in clinical trials to test hydroxychloroquine last week, but the trials are described as “not yet recruiting” on the ClinicalTrials.gov site? Why are these trials delayed? (Note: Brian adds: “There is typically a long lag time from the time you post a trial on ClinicalTrials.gov to the time it is activated and ready to enroll patients…my concern is about whether NY and the feds can get out of the way so the regulatory and logistical burdens that hamper rapid activation and then enrollment are eliminated.”)

• On January 21 the first case of Wuhan virus was confirmed. Ten days later, after Trump promulgated his order limiting travel from China, critics condemned the step as unnecessary and xenophobic. Are these critics still of the same opinion? (Note: Thank “The Senator who saw the coronavirus coming.”)

• The model Minnesota government officials used to justify our current shutdown policies projected that 1.5 percent, or 74,000, of all Minnesotans could die from the Wuhan virus. If these modelers used these same assumptions to estimate deaths in the United States, their model would project 5,000,000 Americans deaths. This is roughly 3 times more deaths per capita than died from the Spanish flu in 1918-19. Do Minnesota government officials think the Wuhan virus is possibly 3x more deadly than the Spanish flu? What model are they using?

NOTE: I should have made Kevin Roche’s proviso explicit: “Be careful with comparing per capita death rates now. Time from onset of disease to death can average over three weeks, so if we are just on the front end of a surge in cases, and other countries are further along, it isn’t an apples to apples comparison….I would still think, however, that our per capita death rates may end up being much lower than that of other countries.” I’m with Victor Davis Hanson: “Humility, not certainty—much less accusation and panic—should be the order of the day.”

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