COVID-19 Tuesday 3 March 2020 Update

I didn’t really plan to do daily updates on this (and probably won’t unless things change), but I did listen in on the CDC briefing that just wrapped up at a few minutes ago (1:30pm ET) as well as some earlier telcons.  All told, I didn’t hear anything that changed my view that:
a) Most people getting COVID19 have mild symptoms and many probably don’t even know it or confused the symptoms with a normal cold, flu, or (if you live in the south), allergies from the god-awful pollen coating everything in sight;
b) The usual vulnerable populations (over 65, anyone with health issues) need to be especially cautious and use good hygiene;  So does everyone else.
c) Panic is still a bigger threat than the virus.
d) The Medical Community needs to prepare for a spike in respiratory distress cases even if total case counts stay manageable and below normal influenza rates;
e) The economic and political impacts of COVID19 will be disproportionate to the medical impacts.

The bottom line is everyone needs to practice good “flu” season behavior, as much to protect the vulnerable since if we can limit the spread it limits the opportunity for vulnerable people to be exposed.  If you feel bad, stay home.  Don’t spread the joy.  If someone is sick, it’s safe to take care of them, just frequent hand washing, vigilant surface cleaning, etc.  There are some indications are this isn’t quite as communicable as thought, but be sensible.  You’ll hear the phrase “social distancing.”  That’s doing things like not shaking hands, touching people, etc.  Ditching Facebook might help – can’t hurt, and might make you more sane 😛 …

The key issue in the US is right now is the roll out of wide scale testing. The emphasis is now shifting away from the CDC and national authorities to state and local officials. This is going to generate a huge amount of confusion as to case counts, since the increase in testing is going to cause a huge spike, and different localities will have different standards. I expect some will go overboard with school closings, etc.  Some won’t do enough.  It’s the American Way! This also means that the information flow is going to get muddy, and decisions will be different as various local authorities have different quality levels in decision making capacity.  CDC will still do daily updates at noon, but it will be confusing.  So ignore the horse race, sports analogy reporting.

Beware scary media reports, and especially beware mortality rates that don’t clearly state what population they are based on.  Even CDC can be confusing on this.  In the briefing, Dr. Messonnier said most “cases”are mild, but “16% of cases are serious.”  But what is a case?  Earlier she said that negatives or “persons under investigation” (PUI’s) are not counted. As noted above, she also briefly noted (and I’ve seen data on this) the transmission rate may be less than originally thought.  What does than mean to you?  Nothing.  Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face.

As usual, the best source of practical information as to what to do are at the CDC web site, and the DHS/FEMA “ready.gov” site.  Essentially, these are common sense actions.

On the economics side, the central banks are running scared and are cutting interest rates – the US FED by half a point today.  I think that’s a bad move – so far today it hasn’t had any impact, with the markets swinging up then down markets are more down than up, with fear taking priority over greed.  There is so little room above zero right now, and if there is more economic turmoil later in the year (as the realization sinks in that China is likely to have negative GDP growth this year), they may wish they hadn’t acted so soon.  If you care about what I think on this subject, I was on Bloomberg TV yesterday, skip to the 23 minute mark.  There is an opportunity to improve the resilience of the global economy here, by preserving local production of key materials rather than just trying to shave every fraction off of unit cost to increase profits.  Will we take it?  We can always hope …

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