Experts have pointed to universal healthcare, low obesity rates and expertise in treating pneumonia. More fanciful theories have gained traction – the consumption of foods, such as natto, that boost the immune system and, according to an unscientific experiment conducted by a TV network, the relatively low number of airborne droplets generated by spoken Japanese.
Japan, like the US, got off to a bad start with handling the coronavirus, but by all accounts they seem to have pivoted effectively and they’ve handled the crisis better than it looked like they would at the start.
Again, looking at the numbers tells a very different story from what I’ve experienced from my US-centric viewpoint. Japan currently has 898 reported deaths from the virus in a population of 128 million people. That’s about 7 per million people have died.
Looking at just my home state of Illinois, there have been 5,368 deaths among our population of 12,67 million people. That’s 423 people lost per million.
From the perspective of moral foundations theory, conservatives’ greater concern for purity and fear of contamination would suggest that they would respond more vigorously to a virus than would liberals. This was indeed the case with the Ebola crisis during the Obama Administration when conservative voices often expressed extreme concern about and even fear of Ebola spreading in the United States, while roundly criticizing President Obama’s more measured reaction.
It’s worth noting Ebola claimed 2 lives in the US, and only 4 people contracted it in the US. The Wikipedia article on the topic has multiple paragraphs devoted to all 4 people! About 1,600 people died yesterday from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, which is an improvement from a few weeks ago, if you wanted to compare the scale of these viruses.
With more parts of the U.S. starting to reopen, many people will be tempted to look at the data this week and start proclaiming victory over the virus. But this week’s data won’t tell us much. It will instead reflect the reality from early May and late April, when much of the country was still on lockdown.
“The data are always two or three weeks old,” Ezekiel Emanuel of the University of Pennsylvania told me. “And we have a hard time understanding that things are different from what we’re looking at.” Crystal Watson of Johns Hopkins University told The Associated Press that we wouldn’t really know how reopening had affected the virus’s spread for five to six weeks.
It’s possible that the reopenings won’t cause the outbreaks that many epidemiologists fear — because many people will still stay home, or because they will venture out cautiously, or because the virus may spread more slowly in warmer air. But it’s also possible that the country will find itself suffering through a new wave of outbreaks in June.
Either way, I’d encourage you not to leap to premature conclusions.
Long story short: acting like “we’re good, there haven’t been any spikes in the week since opening up!” is ignorant to how any of this works. It’s seeing the answer we all want to be true, but let’s take it slow and make sure things are okay before celebrating.
Of note, there seems to be a lot of overlap with those who want to cheer “it’s all better!” and people who said this coronavirus wasn’t going to impact the US in March, who said this would clear up in a few weeks, said it would be done by April 1, said we’d be back to normal on Easter, said it would be back to normal at the end of April… Things will get more back to normal, and we very well may be on the verge of that happening in many places in the US, but I think about this video a lot with people saying “it’s over” clearly before it actually is.
One thing I hear bandied about with COVID-19, specifically related to the stay-at-hope orders that have been in effect, is that “lots of other things kill more people than this and we don't shut things down for them.”
Ok then, I’m open to new information, so let’s look at the data and see how things are going.
This chart makes it look pretty good for the “this doesn't kill that many people” crowd. But you're probably ahead of me here: this is comparing 12 months of deaths to 2 months of COVID deaths. So let's show 2 months’ worth of deaths instead.
Okay, so this doesn't look as good. So over an average 2 months, cardiovascular disease and cancer still kill more people, but it's pretty close. What if today we learned that you can catch heart disease from someone else just by sharing the same space, and we don't know who has it or not? And if you get it, there’s a small chance you will die from it within weeks. Would you go to a baseball game tomorrow?
Over the last two months, this virus has become the #3 cause of death in the US. But even that doesn't tell the full story. The death toll was slow to grow in March. If we look at just the last 30 days, over 60,0000 people have died.
For some more perspective, 2017 saw a high of 70,237 deaths from the opioid epidemic, or the same number of people to die from COVID-19 in the past 45 days (aka 21x faster than the opioid crisis at its worst).
Finally, we’ve been looking at a lot of charts lately showing that we’re flattening the curve, and that’s great, slowing the infection rate is hugely important. But I also worry that these charts give people the impression, unintended as it may be, that things have leveled off and we’ve effectively “handled” this thing. Here’s the daily death count since the first reported death on February 29:
And here’s the cumulative deaths since then:
To be clear, even with all these preventative measures in place, the American death toll is still going up relatively consistently, and while we can argue about how much worse it will get if we all just go back to normal, we can agree it will go up some amount.
I think that saying we need to get back to work and stop all these precautions immediately is more crazy than before I ran the numbers. Even with us staying at home most of the time and doing everything we can to avoid each other to slow the spread, what we have accomplished so far is making this only the number one thing killing Americans.
Again, this is something we don’t have a cure for and is something that kills in days or weeks, not decades. Also, and I can not stress the importance of this enough, this is something that is contagious, and you could give it to someone else even if you don’t know you have it. If I have cancer, I can get a haircut without giving it to you. You can’t catch Alzheimer's or diabetes from me just by touching the payment terminal at Target. Almost all of the leading causes of death in the US are things that I can not get from being in the same space as someone else who has them.
I think the financial pain millions of people are feeling is a travesty and we need to do things to keep people afloat right now, but I think people who suggest we just need to get back to work now are falling pray to the “when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail” phenomenon. We need to help our fellow Americans get through these hard times, but I believe the 22% of people who think this thing is going back to normal in a matter of weeks are deluding themselves about what we’re dealing with and they don’t know what to do, so they’re sprinkling some capitalism on the problem since they think that solves everything.