Our New Normal

The Daily Escape:

Abyss Pool, West Thumb Geyser, Yellowstone NP – 2020 photo by eTeT

The “New Normal” is here. Tuesday was the first day for school buses on the streets of Wrongtown, CT since March. Until the buses rolled, we could keep lying to ourselves about the pandemic. But now that school has started up for kids in K-12, the new normal is here. We’re soaking in it.

It’s a patchwork of online and in-person formats. Here in Wrongtown, we’re following a hybrid formula of kids physically in class for some days, and participating remotely on the rest. But confusion reigns. One parent asked on the town’s Facebook page whether her kid had to log on to the class website on the days when they were at home:

“He is in school on Thursdays and Fridays but do we need to log on every day Monday thru Wednesday considering those are the days he is home? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.”

Or, this one:

“Hi does anyone know how to sign in to distant learning?”

Ok, the new normal hasn’t been completely reduced to practice, and with respect to getting our kids an education, we’ve still got lots of learning to do.

But other things also dominate our new reality. First, despite the happy talk about the economy, many jobs aren’t coming back. Temporary layoffs are now starting to look permanent. From Barron’s: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Before the pandemic, a temporarily unemployed worker had a roughly 60% chance of finding a job in the next month. Lately, that probability has fallen to about 40%, while the chance for a permanently unemployed worker to find a job in a given month is about 20%.

The US workforce is becoming increasingly divided into two groups: Those who are confident in keeping their jobs, and those who are pessimistic that they will ever return to their old jobs. The question for them is how will they cover their expenses as federal jobless benefits decrease or expire.

And we’re still more than 11 million jobs down from where we were in February.

Even if there is some GDP and jobs growth in the September report (the last one before the election), it won’t be enough to bail out the unemployed. The pandemic disproportionately hit workers in the leisure and hospitality sector (restaurants, hotels and travel); employment in that sector is still down around 25%.

Trump and the Republicans didn’t create the problems faced by low-wage Americans, but they made them worse by not dealing promptly with the pandemic, and then, by stressing the economy over the pandemic, which allowed Covid to roar back. And what economic recovery we have is bypassing those who most need to recover!

Finally, our new COVID reality: About 30,000 Americans died of Covid-19 in August.  And the number of new coronavirus cases has plateaued. Between Labor Day fun, and school re-openings, there’s a pretty good chance that America’s virus situation is about to take another turn for the worse.

Hundreds of colleges that had planned on having their students on campus have reversed their stances and decided on a virtual semester. The NYT reports that colleges have seen 51,000 cases since schools opened.

Kevin Drum reports that from August 2nd to September 2nd, the US recorded 1.4 million new cases of COVID-19. And according to a new study, 19% of those cases (266,000) were caused by the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.

The riders refused to mask up, just like the college kids. People are tired of wearing masks, and they are tired of being cooped up. Apparently, six months of compliance is all that Americans can do. They want normalcy, but there’s a new normal that’s already here.

Until we have a safe and effective vaccine, there is no alternative to wearing a mask and staying physically distant whenever possible. We’re nearing 200,000 deaths and the flu season is coming. Think for a minute about that possible vaccine:

  • It needs to be approved, and 600M doses have to be manufactured and distributed.
  • We need 600M doses because the best guess now is that people will need to get two shots.
  • And we’re not sure how much time is required between shots.

Only when all people mask up, will most companies hire again. Only then will most kids be physically in school. Only then will most people be able to pay their bills with money earned in a paycheck. Or we can wait for the vaccine.

We have just 54 days until the election.

People shouldn’t get distracted from surviving the new normal by BS from the Trump campaign about Nancy Pelosi’s salon visit, or Biden’s supposed cognitive issues.

The new normal is the only issue that matters.

Vote to turn that into a non-toxic normal. And get your friends to vote for a non-toxic person.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – September 5, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Rocky Mountain NP, CO – August 2020 photo by mister69darkhorse

Let’s take a break from talking about politics, and talk about the economy. The NYT reported that the US added 1.4 million jobs in August, and unemployment fell to 8.4%

“Employers continued to bring back furloughed workers last month, but at a far slower pace than in the spring, and millions of Americans remain out of work.’

The August job growth number includes 240,000 temporary Census workers. Most of them will be laid off at the end of the month. Private-sector payrolls, (unaffected by census hires), rose by 1.0 million in August, down from 1.5 million in July. And the results were down sharply from the 4.8 million jobs added in June.

But despite the improvement in the headline unemployment rate, payrolls remain more than 11 million jobs below their pre-pandemic level, and permanent jobs lost increased by 534,000 to 3.1 million. Back in April, nearly 80% of unemployed workers reported being on a temporary layoff or furlough. In August, less than half say what they’re experiencing is a temporary job loss.

At the rate of job gains in the past two months, it will take another 8 months to regain all the jobs lost in the first two months of the pandemic

Also, the shift from temporary to permanent job losses is worrying, because it suggests that companies don’t foresee a quick rebound. It means many of today’s jobless workers will have to start their job searches from scratch. Worse, Wolf Richter reports that:

“Continued unemployment claims jumped by 2.2 million to 29.2 million, worst since Aug 1, as claims by gig workers under federal PUA program soar.”

The PUA program means the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Wolf says that those 29.2 million lucky duckies now equal 18.3% of the civilian labor force.

Most of the media are saying that this report is relatively helpful to Trump. Those who see it that way should explain to the rest of us how it’s helpful to have 18% of the workforce on the sidelines. There will only be one more jobs report before the election, and unless there is a jobs miracle next month, Trump is going to face Election Day with an extremely poor jobs record.

For some context on Trump’s economic performance, the IRS now predicts that the US economy will have almost 40 million fewer jobs in 2021 than they predicted before the pandemic.

We’re maybe a month away from people understanding that despite Trump’s cheerleading, the economy isn’t going to “bounce right back” to near-full activity. In fact the current jobs depression will most likely continue for a long time, regardless of COVID, until there is widespread acceptance that we have a vaccine that is safe and effective.

Once again, there are just 58 days to go until Election Day. Biden needs to stay on offense, and attacking Trump on his poor economy is as good as attacking him on his COVID response. Sometime in the next two weeks, Coronavirus deaths will top 200,000. Yet there are still 17 states in which residents are not required to wear masks outside their homes. And all but one (Hawaii) have Republican governors.

No masks means a continuing weak jobs market. Even the Fed Chair Powell told NPR on Friday:

“There’s actually enormous economic gains to be had nationwide from people wearing masks and keeping their distance…”

But hey, this wouldn’t be happening if Donald Trump was president, right?

One final thought before we leave the politics bubble: Kamala Harris is older now than LBJ was on the day he signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law.

On to our long Labor Day weekend, when we can unplug and finish a couple of projects that we swore we’d get to while working from home. Forget them. Let’s get the holiday going with our Saturday Soother!

Start by brewing up a vente cup of Ethiopia Dame Dabaye ($16/12oz.) with its flavors of orchid, red plum, and lemon verbena. It’s brewed by Spokane, Washington’s Indaba Coffee, whose mission is “radical hospitality.” Not sure that’s something Wrongo wants to see.

Settle back at a proper physical distance, and listen to “September Song”, with music by Kurt Weill, and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson. It was introduced in the 1938 Broadway musical “Knickerbocker Holiday”. Here it is sung by Sarah Vaughn, backed by an all-star group including Clifford Brown on trumpet and Herbie Mann on flute. It was recorded on December 18, 1954, and you’ll enjoy Clifford Brown’s long trumpet solo:

Although the song was written as the lament of an old man on the passing of his youth, many women have recorded it, including Ella Fitzgerald, Eartha Kitt, Jo Stafford, Patti Page, Lena Horne and Eydie Gormé.

Facebooklinkedinrss

The Coming Eviction Tsunami

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Northern CO near WY border – 2020 photo by Maxwell_hau5_caffy. Note the beetle kill.

On Monday, the Republicans released their latest coronavirus stimulus package, the so-called HEALS Act. HEALS stands for Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools.

We know that it drastically reduces unemployment assistance, but it also doesn’t include an extension of the federal eviction moratorium. Last Friday, the federal moratorium on evictions in properties with federally backed mortgages and for tenants who receive government-assisted housing expired.

They should have called it the Republican HEELS Act.

Since Republicans want to cut the amount of federal enhanced unemployment insurance from $600/week to $200/week, it’s likely that many fewer Americans will be able to make their rent payments.

Housing advocates had been pushing for at least $100 billion in rental assistance, as well as a uniform, nationwide eviction moratorium. According to the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, we may be looking at something like 19 to 23 million, or 1 in 5 people living in renter households could be at risk of eviction by October.

But that may be optimistic. CNBC published this map of potential evictions by state, based on an analysis by global advisory firm Stout Sirius Ross. It shows the percentage of renters in each state that could face eviction:

For example, 59% of renters in West Virginia (highest) are at risk of eviction, compared to 22% in Vermont (lowest).

The average number for the US is about 43% of tenants are at risk of eviction. That equates to 17.6 million households. The study estimates that there will be 11.9 million eviction filings in the next four months. They think that there will be two million evictions filed in both August and September, leaving 8 million for October and November.

Let’s have a thought experiment. The study assumes that there will be two million evictions filed in both August and September, and another four million in each of the following two months.  Let’s stipulate that each household averages 2.5 humans.

August: 2 million evictions equals 5 million homeless

September: 2 million evictions equals 5 million homeless

October: 4 million evictions equals 10 million more homeless

That totals 20 million people who are casting about for shelter as the cold weather hits the US, with another 10 million to come in November, for 30 million total.

This is an apocalypse.

An important consideration is that perhaps as many as 7 million of them may be registered voters who will be disenfranchised in November, since they no longer live at the address where they are registered.

Think about what’s coming from this change to the Republican bill: Millions of people will be realizing that they have absolutely nothing left to lose, people who feel as though there’s no way out. Then they find they are suddenly ineligible to vote.

2020 has forced our eyes open. All generations that are younger than the Boomers already feel as though any opportunity they had for a sound future has been stolen. In the midst of a global pandemic, they’ve seen Washington deny them healthcare, a safety net, and fritter away most of the societal stability they had.

So where are we heading?

If evictions occur on a grand scale, we’ll be in uncharted waters. It’s not just people being thrown out on the street, there’s no one else moving in. Residential landlords with no tenants face a dilemma, the same situation that has already affected commercial landlords: Few tenants and those who remain are looking for lower rents. When residential properties in the cities become vacant because of eviction or other reasons, and nobody is around to move in, what happens?

Squatting is likely. Carving residences into smaller and smaller units was common during the Depression, and that’s likely to happen again. Our biggest problem is that there is no obvious way to get America off the current Road to Ruin. DC is a disaster on all fronts.

Once the pandemic emergency is past, we will understand the extent to which the rich and politically well-connected have been taken care of, while the poor have largely been destroyed.

We’ve learned beyond a shadow of a doubt how political action, including $multi-trillion bailouts can be mobilized quickly for the right class of people, while helping the rest of us can be dismissed out of hand.

Same old story in America.

What can/should Biden do to change this?

Facebooklinkedinrss

Where COVID Goes, the Economy Will Follow

The Daily Escape:

Hetch Hetchy, Yosemite, CA – 2020 photo by sfo2phx. This reservoir was created by damming the Tuolumne River in the Hetch Hetchy valley in 1923. The project remains controversial, since the valley was thought to be as beautiful as Yosemite.

Where is America going? It’s clear that wherever our economy is going mostly depends on where our Covid-19 pandemic goes.

Congress passed the CARES act to provide us with a financial bridge until August, when the Coronavirus was expected to be under control, and life would be able to return to something like normal. But the pandemic is now worse than we imagined in March. From the WaPo:

“Sunday marked the 41st straight day that the seven-day average for new daily coronavirus infections in the United States trended upward. Six months after the novel coronavirus reached America, more than 3.7 million cases have been detected, and at least 137,000 people have died.

Kentucky, Louisiana, Oregon and South Carolina all set new single-day records on Sunday….Idaho, Nebraska, Iowa and five other states have seen their seven-day average for daily new fatalities rise by more than 40% in the past week. More than 100 Florida hospitals have run out of ICU beds for adults.”

We’ve spent $ trillions, but we’re no better off than when the pandemic started. And we’re got a lot to think about as these programs start to end. Bloomberg prepared this timeline of what financial benefits are ending, and the likely impact on America:

These looming cutoff dates come amid signs the labor-market recovery has stalled. While the Senate is willing to send new financial bridging legislation to Trump, Republicans and Democrats disagree on number of issues, and Trump has his own demands. The WaPo reports: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“Senate Republicans were seeking to allocate $25 billion for states to conduct testing and contact tracing, but certain administration officials want to zero out the testing and tracing money entirely…. [the administration] is also trying to block billions of dollars that GOP senators want to allocate for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and billions more for the Pentagon and State Department to address the pandemic at home and abroad…”

Trump wants the states to own the responsibility for testing. The Coronavirus spending bill Congress approved in April included $25 billion to increase testing and also required HHS to release a strategic testing plan. The agency did so in May, but the plan simply asserted the administration’s insistence that states, not the federal government, should take the lead on testing.

Another sticking point is that Trump wants the legislation to include another payroll tax cut. The payroll tax is used to fund Social Security and Medicare, so cutting it is a stealth way to cut Social Security in a time of crisis. Trump is also trying to fund a new FBI building.

In May, the House approved a $3.5 trillion relief bill. Pelosi’s bill funnels $100 billion to help schools to safely reopen and calls for $1 trillion to be sent to cash-strapped states to pay essential workers and prevent layoffs. The impact of shortfalls in sales, income, hotel, and gas taxes are already biting.

The White House has said the final package shouldn’t exceed $1 trillion, showing how far apart the Parties are.

Axios has it right: (brackets by Wrongo)

  • We blew it on testing…America hasn’t built the infrastructure necessary to process [tests] and trace the results….
  • We blew it on schools. Congress allocated $150 billion for state and local governments as part of the CARES Act. [But] there was no money earmarked for schools to buy new safety equipment, or to hire additional teachers for [adding many] smaller classes.
  • We blew public health….Had we all been directed to wear them [face masks] in March — and done so…you might not be reading this post.
  • We blew goodwill. Millions of Americans sheltered in place, pausing their social lives for the common good. But many millions of other Americans didn’t. Some were essential workers….Some just didn’t care, or didn’t believe the threat.
  • All of this was complicated by mixed messages from federal and state leaders. Top of that list was President Trump, who claimed to adopt a wartime footing without clearly asking Americans to make sacrifices necessary to defeat the enemy.

That was the same mistake that GW Bush made with America after 9/11.

Michelle Goldberg in the NYT said this:

“Lawrence O. Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown, told me he doesn’t expect American life to feel truly normal before summer 2022. Two years of our lives, stolen by Donald Trump.”

We’ve lost more than two years. We may have lost the enonomy.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – May 18, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Colorado River, from South Kaibab trail, Grand Canyon NP, AZ  – photo by DJ Memering. The bridge is called the Black Suspension Bridge. It is 5,260 ft below the canyon rim.

The CARES Act was sold as emergency funding for individuals and small businesses. In all, Congress has authorized $3.3 trillion in coronavirus relief in four separate acts over the last two months. The stated intent of those bills was to protect the American economy from long-term harm caused by the overall impact of the virus.

Alas, Congress also took care of their true constituents, Big Oil and other fossil fuel companies. Those companies got CARES Act tax breaks. The subsidies were supposed to help bail out small businesses pounded by the pandemic, but at least $1.9 billion of it was sent to fossil fuel companies and their executives.

Bloomberg News reports:

“$1.9 billion in CARES Act tax benefits are being claimed by at least 37 oil companies, service firms, and contractors”

Bloomberg used the example of Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. who manipulated the bailout: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“As it headed toward bankruptcy, Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. took advantage of a little-noticed provision in the stimulus bill Congress passed in March to get a $9.7 million tax refund. Then, it asked a bankruptcy judge to authorize the same amount as bonuses to nine executives.”

But, Diamond’s refund wasn’t all. Some went to their larger competitors. More from Bloomberg:

“…$55 million for Denver-based Antero Midstream Corp., $41.2 million for supplier Oil States International Inc. and $96 million for Oklahoma-based producer Devon Energy Corp.”

In addition, Kevin Crowley reports that Marathon Oil got $411m, Occidental $195m, and Valero $110m.

Hats off to all of our Senators, Congresscritters and the Trump administration! They all continue pursuing a pro-fossil fuel agenda, even as the economic disaster of the pandemic unfolds. Bernie Sanders tweeted:

“Good thing President Trump is looking out for the real victims of the coronavirus: fossil fuel executives,”

But, Bernie apparently voted for the bill, which passed the Senate in a unanimous vote. Hypocrisy much, Bernie?

These loopholes in the Act were deliberately written in so that corporations could feed at the trough along with small businesses, and we the people. Moreover, the initial bill was written in the House, although presumably in consultation with Trump and the Republicans. So, you can view this as either the cost of doing business for Democrats, or as just another day at the office listening to the lobbyists. Subsidy legislation has been a bipartisan objective.

Its always been this way. Here’s a cartoon from 1920 that could be drawn today:

Let’s remember that a big issue was the requirement for oversight, particularly after Trump said he wasn’t interested in having any. A compromise was struck so that an oversight commission could be empaneled to keep track of how the money was spent.

Today, it remains without a leader. Four of the five members of the Congressional Oversight Commission have been appointed, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-KY) have not agreed on a chair.

While the current members of the panel can perform some oversight, without a leader, it can’t hire staff or set up office space. In addition, the four members have not met as a group since the economic rescue law was passed. The PBS NewsHour quotes John Coates, a professor of law and economics at Harvard Law School:

“If the commission is not functioning — which it is not — then there is no oversight on a huge part of the economic rescue law…”

We seem to be able to bail out the rich every few decades, and we always seem to do it on the backs of the poor. It will probably happen again in another 10 years or so. Between these bailouts, politicians and pundits appear on all of the news shows, and write very serious articles proclaiming the need to resist socialism and to preserve “the free market” for the sake of “wealth creation and innovation”.

Time to wake up America! This great con has been going on for all of Wrongo’s lifetime and by looking at the cartoon above, for a few lifetimes before. Yet voters seem to be oblivious to this insidious form of corruption each and every time they go to the polls.

To help America wake up, let’s listen to Drive by Truckers, and their tune “Armageddon’s Back in Town” from their 2020 album, “The Unraveling

Sample Lyric:

There’ll be no healing
From the art of double-dealing
Armageddon’s back in town again

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – Get Back to Work Edition, May 11, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Pileated Woodpecker chicks – photo by JH Cleary

Americans are starting to peek out of their nests again. Governors have decided, and 30 of them are re-opening their states. Those states are not exclusively Republican; there are a few Democratic states too. The logic behind reopening is that of risk assessment and risk management. Somewhere between prudence and overreaction lies today’s American toxic politics.

We judge risk versus gain for everything, including for other causes of death. We try to model healthy behaviors. Most of us wear seatbelts, most watch our diets, and have stopped smoking years ago.

We also have to judge the risks associated with whether to end, or continue the lockdown. That means deciding which steps to take that will minimize both the spread of the virus, along with minimizing the crushing economic hardship being experienced by many Americans.

Ignore that the government isn’t currently taking care of healthcare and housing if you are unemployed.

The lockdown could go on for much longer if the federal government was willing to underwrite living costs for those who are out of work, until such time as it was safe to go back to work. But they have no intention of doing that.

So, from the Trump perspective, the choice is clear: Businesses need to open and their workers need to go back to work, despite the risks. Their argument is that living with COVID-19 isn’t as risky as it seems. Twenty-two states have had fewer than 100 deaths. So far, only 15 of 50 states have had total deaths for the crisis that are higher than NYC’s current rate of 500 a day

The original goal of lockdowns was to keep the health care system from being overwhelmed, and in the largest cities, that risk seems to be behind us. Whether that will be true in rural America where few hospitals operate, remains to be seen. Derek Thompson said in the Atlantic:

“This crisis represents an existential threat to America’s small businesses. Almost half of all job losses in April occurred in leisure and hospitality, where small businesses are overrepresented in companies like restaurants and stores. The decimation of small business would have long-lasting implications. It would destroy jobs that would be unlikely to return quickly, while creating a crisis of long-term unemployment.”

And all of those restaurants, cafés, theaters, community centers, and specialty shops that are part of the local fabric of our towns and villages could be wiped off Main Street. Losing many of them would be an economic tragedy. More from Thompson: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The virus is real, the hospitalizations are real, the deaths are real, the need for masks and social distancing is real, the threat to millions of restaurants and shops is real, and the incomparable levels of unemployment are real, too. The White House plan to reverse this cavalcade of horrors is to “reopen” the economy. But 20 million Americans just lost their jobs in the past few weeks, not because the government shut down the economy, but because a pandemic scared millions of Americans into staying at home. There is plenty to be wisely afraid of, but Washington thinking that a pandemic economy is like a garage door that it can reopen by pressing a button might be the scariest thing of all.”

No one knows what will happen between now and Election Day. It’s not just a matter of businesses opening up. For people to go back to work, schools must be open, day care must be open, public transportation must be safe, and customers must show up.

Are you up for all of that?

In the Great Depression, we learned that unemployment at today’s scale required massive government intervention to address: Jobs programs, infrastructure investment, and a robust social safety net.

It required an FDR to galvanize the country. Needless to say, neither Trump nor the Republican Party have the desire to provide that leadership. They will be every bit as uncaring and incompetent at rebuilding our economy as they have been at stopping the pandemic.

Time to wake up America! The economy has been opened, and you need to protect yourself whether you’re back to work, or trying to find a new gig. And you know that Trump isn’t going to help you protect yourself and your family, and he’s certainly not going to help you find a new job.

To help you wake up, listen to Guns ‘n Roses cover Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” which played during Trump’s visit to an N95 mask manufacturing plant in Phoenix:

Remember all of this in November.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 10, 2020

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has an interesting new report showing that New York City’s subway system was a major disseminator of COVID-19 during the coronavirus’ initial infection of the city during March 2020.

They show that subway ridership correlates directly with new cases, particularly in Queens. The near-shutdown of subway ridership in Manhattan (down by 90%) at the end of March correlates strongly with the reduction in the rate of increase in new cases in Queens thereafter.

They superimposed maps of subway station turnstile entries with zip code-level maps of reported coronavirus incidence. That showed Coronavirus propagation followed a process strongly consistent with subway riding. Moreover, local trains appeared to have a higher propensity to transmit infection than express trains, perhaps because people spent longer on those trains. Bus hubs served as secondary transmission routes out to the periphery of the city.

The subway was shut down because of staffing issues on March 25, not because the mayor or governor thought it was an important disease vector. Since then, at least 98 transit workers have died from coronavirus. On to cartoons.

Jogging in Georgia requires evasive tactics:

Trump did it again:

It never ends. On Fox and Friends, Trump said there is “no question” the video of the Ahmaud Arbery shooting is troubling. But, he hinted that further evidence might emerge that could possibly exculpate the shooters:

 “You know, it could be something that we didn’t see on tape. There could be a lot of — you know, if you saw things went off tape and then back on tape”

BTW, the NY Daily News reported that no burglaries had been reported for seven weeks before the shooting.

Small man sits near a great man:

America grows smaller as the president tries to make himself bigger, all the while failing at the actual mission of leading the Republic.

Pro-life doesn’t get in the way of reopening:

The only animal Trump wants at the White House:

Dropping charges against Flynn looks partisan:

Another reason to stay indoors:

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother, Covid Plateau Edition – May 2, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Spring flower bloom at Keukenhof Garden in Holland. (Hat tip to Ottho H.)

Remember when we had fifteen COVID-19 cases, and they were just going to be gone, like a miracle?

If you ask Trump, that’s where we are, plus a few orders of magnitude. All of the recent happy talk about reaching or being past the peak have omitted the detail that so far, “flattening the curve” isn’t substantially reducing the number of cases, or deaths.

The theory was that once we “flattened the curve”, we could ease up on social isolation, mask-wearing and get back to work. When we think about the downside of the curve, we think bell curves, with a sharp rise and fall from a high peak. As Wrongo said on April 20, that was unlikely to be the outcome, because it didn’t happen like that in countries that started fighting the virus long before us. And that’s how it seems to be working out. Here is where we are:

Source: Washington Post

The chart tracks a 3-day average of cases, since that smooths out some of the big day-to-day variances. As of April 29, it seemed clear that we have reached a peak, but we’re not showing any real signs of a rapid decline. This means the COVID-19 curve could remain elevated for a long time.

And we should remember that 878,839 cases are still active.

Politicians are obsessed with “the peak.” Are we at it? Are we past it? When will it come? Has it come? Now they’ve turned to communicating their plans for reopening the economy. That makes sense. Re-opening is becoming urgent, with more than 30 million Americans out of work, but it’s dismissive for politicians to say we’re past the worst of it “medically” while more people go to the ICU every day.

Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker (R), sees the plateau, and wonders when the curve will start to decline:

“Baker focused on hospitalizations and ICU admissions, saying, we’ve basically been flat for 12 days. We’re flat at a high level. But 12 days, 13 days counting today — you’re not going to find a lot of other places that just sit like this for 13 days.”

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb MD, an advisor to Baker, tweeted:

IHME (mentioned in the tweet) is a closely watched model from the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

What we do over the next few weeks will determine whether we get this right, or whether COVID remains a large ongoing threat. We need to understand the potential risks that come with a decision to reopen, and make plans to mitigate these risks as best we can. Some states, like Connecticut, are planning carefully.

If we look state by state, in about half of the country, the numbers of cases are still rising. In about another third of the country, there is a leveling off. Only in a minority of states are the numbers actually coming down on a daily basis. New York, Washington, Louisiana and Idaho have had reductions of more than 50% from their peaks in new infections.

According to STAT, there are several possible outcomes: Recurring small outbreaks, a monster wave of cases, or a persistent crisis. And no one knows which outcome is most likely. We should expect new infections to start rising again in states without much testing, but with large populations that opened early like Texas, Florida and Georgia.

We should also realize that in some states, cooking the books about new cases and deaths will happen. Newsweek reported data compiled by Florida medical examiners was no longer being reported by the state government. The official state data has not been updated in over a week.

Acting like we’re flattening the curve when we really don’t know if we are, is likely to create a San Andreas-sized political earthquake if cases spike again.

But let’s try to get past all this, because it’s time for another Saturday Soother, when we stop checking Twitter, and think about spring.

Here on the fields of Wrong, the pear, plum and cherry trees have flowered, while the crab apples are soon to bloom. We have bluebirds nesting in both bluebird houses. Our weather remains cold and wet, so stay indoors and brew up a hot mug of Bengal Spice tea.

Now grab a socially distant chair and have a few minutes of fun with a song parody by the Opera Guy, Matthew Ciuffitelli. Here’s his parody of “Phantom of the Opera”, called “Phantom of the Quarantine”. Wrongo promises you won’t be disappointed:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 19, 2020

One week ago, the cumulative US COVID-19 death toll was 15,000. Seven days later, the death toll is now 36,000. That means in a week, about 21,000 Americans have died, a growth rate of 140%. In the past two months, here’s how US coronavirus deaths have grown:

  • Feb 17: 0 deaths
  • March 17: 111 deaths
  • April 17: 36,997 deaths

Although deaths are a lagging indicator for how successful we are in our efforts to contain the Coronavirus, and despite all the happy talk about flattening the curve, this looks like a rocket ship leaving the launch pad.

The Navy has now tested about 94% of the crew on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the aircraft carrier that was sidelined with a Coronavirus outbreak. As of Friday, 660 crew members (of about 4,865) have now tested positive for Coronavirus.

However, of those 660 who were positive, 60% have not shown any symptoms associated with the illness. This should cause us to question the true rate of infections in the US. The proportion of people who are asymptomatic carriers worldwide remains unknown, but at 60%, the Theodore Roosevelt’s figure is higher than the 25%-50% range Dr. Fauci laid out in early April.

Taking these two data points together, America should proceed carefully as it leaves the lockdown.

On to cartoons. Another day, another spin of the big blame wheel:

With big business, some things never change:

If not his signature, then certainly his fingerprints:

The right’s narrative that can kill:

Individual responsibility has consequences:

John Roberts has to live with his Wisconsin voting decision:

 

 

Facebooklinkedinrss

Trump Not Gaining in Polls

The Daily Escape:

Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier NP, MT– September 2018 photo by shinyoutdoors

Here’s today’s update from the Covid Tracking Project:

  • We’ve added new data showing the daily change, increase or (decrease) for cases, deaths and tests.
  • There’s no good news today. Today registered the highest number of new infections.
  • The daily rate of deaths rose by 3,629, the highest so far. The percentage of deaths to total cases continues to rise.
  • Daily testing increased 280,569, the highest so far. That’s some good news, but the worst news is that the ratio of new infections to new tests is 22.1%.

We’re now down to the most likely two candidates for president, barring some last minute event. The new Quinnipiac Poll has some interesting head-to-head comparisons.

“When asked who would do a better job handling a crisis, voters say 51 – 42% that Biden would do a better job than Trump. Biden tops Trump by a similar margin on health care, as voters say 53 – 40% that he would do a better job than Trump at handling the issue.

However, voters say 49 – 44% that the president would do a better job than Biden handling the economy.”

And the pandemic scares people:

“More than 8 out of 10 registered voters, 85%, say they are either very (50%) or somewhat (35%) concerned they or someone they know will be infected with the coronavirus, a spike of 31 percentage points from early March….Three-quarters of voters say they are either very concerned (39%) or somewhat concerned (36%) that they or someone in their family will need to be hospitalized because of the coronavirus.”

Quinnipiac also says the head-to-head matchup favors Biden:

“In a head to head matchup between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, Biden beats Trump 49 – 41%. Republicans go to Trump 91 – 7%, while Democrats go to Biden 91 – 4% and independents favor Biden 44 – 35%.”

As always, it will come down to messaging and turnout, and after Wisconsin, expect a sustained effort by the GOP to hamper Democrats’ attempts to cast ballots in November.

And in the current CNN poll:

“A majority, 52%, say they disapprove of the way Trump is handling the coronavirus outbreak, and 45% approve. Both figures have risen since early March, when 41% approved, 48% disapproved and 11% weren’t sure how they felt about the President’s handling of the viral outbreak. Still, just 43% say the President is doing everything he could to fight the outbreak, while 55% say he could be doing more — including 17% among those who approve of his handling of it so far and 18% of Republicans.”

CNN says Trump’s overall approval hasn’t changed much since he started holding daily briefings:

“The President’s overall approval rating stands at 44% approve to 51% disapprove, little changed from a 43% approve to 53% disapprove reading in each of the previous three CNN polls.”

It isn’t clear why people would think Trump will do a better job on the economy than Democrats, but jobs and stock market values fell off so quickly and so steeply that it may take a few more weeks to see if voters actually blame Trump for what is certain to be a terrible economy.

Overall, Trump isn’t moving the political dial in his direction in either of these polls.

When the outbreak started, voters saw his performance as a positive. But once he began his daily briefings, acting like they were campaign rallies, or political theater, and offering unvetted solutions, his numbers returned to the basement.

Biden isn’t a lock. He is a weak candidate, and he’s far from mentally or physically robust. There’s 207 days left before the election. Anything can happen.

Facebooklinkedinrss