Coronavirus: When All Else Fails, Try Reason

I’m phlegmatic by nature. It gives me an edge up when mass hysteria seems to take up so much space in the news and the pronouncements of Democratic leaders. Looking at the best information available to me, I find it beyond question that the President has taken the right steps to deal with this variant flu; that few people in this country will perish from it; that while there may be some economic consequences of the supply disruption from China, the fact that we’ve been decoupling ourselves from China under this administration means they are likely to be smaller and more short-lived than the market manipulators would have us believe.

1.  What is the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and How Does it Compare to the Flu?

The most informative reports I can find on this are from Johns Hopkins Medicine, the New England Journal of Medicine, and the Director of the CDC.

One of the difficulties of diagnosing those stricken with this novel virus is the symptoms are very similar to those of the other more common infectious respiratory illnesses we call flu. We have a vaccine to prevent some of the most dangerous types of flu or to reduce its severity. Right now, there is no vaccine to treat the new virus. (But Israeli researchers believe they will have one in weeks. Of course, it will be longer than weeks to bring it to market, but if it proves effective this virus, which is likely to be around the world for a long time will prove even less lethal than it presently is.)

Does the Johns Hopkins report seem to belie the scare reports from the CDC earlier? Yes, it does, and even the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has walked back the original message.

CDC Director Robert Redfield this week said CDC official Nancy Messonier, (sister of Rod Rosenstein) misspoke when she said an epidemic outbreak of COVID-19 in this country was inevitable.

Redfield’s clarification is in accord with an editorial last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, which speculated that this virus “Could turn out no worse than a ‘severe seasonal influenza’ in terms of mortality.”

Citing an analysis of the available data from the outbreak in China, the authors note that there have been zero cases among children younger than 15; and that the fatality rate is 2% at most, and could be “considerably less than 1%.”

Those who have died have been elderly or were already suffering from another illness--as with ordinary flu. The underlying data suggest that the symptoms vary, and fewer than one in six of the cases reported were “severe.”

The authors note that coronavirus looks to be much less severe than other recent outbreaks of respiratory illnesses:

[T]he overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza (which has a case fatality rate of approximately 0.1%) or a pandemic influenza (similar to those in 1957 and 1968) rather than a disease similar to SARS or MERS, which have had case fatality rates of 9 to 10% and 36%, respectively.

The vast majority of patients recover, and among those who are hospitalized, the median stay thus far is 12 days.

Coronavirus, they note, does spread easily, and the average infected person has infected two other people. That means the U.S. should expect the illness to gain a “foothold.” But they note travel restrictions on China (imposed by President Trump over the objections of some critics) “may have helped slow the spread of the virus.”

In his press conference to transparently inform us of the situation and the best means to prepare for it (a conference CNN broke away from to cover a Bloomberg town hall), Trump detailed the health status of Americans confirmed to have the virus, our preparedness for it, confirming  that “our great sanitation, access to  excellent medical care, and good diet” doubtless play a role in recovery and make it less deadly than elsewhere.

2.  The Democrats' Fact Free criticisms of the Trump Administration’s responses Are so Bad Even the AP Fact Checkers Had to call Them on It

“Democratic presidential contenders are describing the federal infectious-disease bureaucracy as rudderless and ill-prepared for the coronavirus threat because of budget cuts and ham-handed leadership by President Donald Trump. That’s a distorted picture.”

The best timeline of the administration response I’ve found is by Victoria Taft writing for PJMedia who contrasts this response with the Obama administration’s tardy, ineffectual response to the swine flu pandemic in 2009 which “infected millions of Americans” and resulted in “more than 1,000” deaths in America according to the CDC: 

On December 30, 2019, scientists in China "a cluster of patients with pneumonia of unknown etiology was observed in Wuhan, China, and reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) China bureau in Beijing. A week later, January 7, 2020, a new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) was isolated from these patients."

As we suspect, the Chinese government tried to keep the virus outbreak secret--for what reason we don't know. What we do know, however, is that by January 31, 2020, President Trump had declared a public health emergency and began restricting U.S. access to non-citizens from China. Flights filled with U.S. citizens who were in Wuhan were brought to America and those people were quarantined on U.S. military bases for two weeks.

In the swine flu case, transmission came to the U.S. from Mexico. And absent any serious border control by that administration, we were countering yet another swine flu outbreak in 2015. (Even in the early days when U.S. immigration was largely unchecked, officials at the entry point, Ellis Island, selected out and returned home those with transmissible diseases. How irrational is it to now refuse to recognize that border control is, among other things, disease control?)

It’s not hyperbole to claim the Democrats have tried to impede every effort to treat our borders as a barrier to disease transmission from elsewhere, demagoguing it as “racism.”  Not only did the Democrats oppose every reasonable act to confine the virus outside our borders, but also they refuse to play any constructive role in dealing with it. Just as CNN refused to carry the President’s message about the extent of the disease here, how we were dealing with it, and sensible precautions for us to take, Nancy Pelosi refuses to play more than critic.

Acting deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli tweeted that he’d given several congressional briefings on the virus “at least 2 of which Speaker Pelosi was present “ and in contrast to her publicly calling the work “shameful” and the concern too little, too late, “she never asked a question or was critical of the work the administration was doing.”

3. The Ability of Governments to Deal with this Health Crisis Depends of the Nature of the Government

Responsive, open governments with sound infrastructures--like ours--are the best gauge of how rapidly the disease will be contained.

Right now, the autocratic closed systems in China and Iran seem to be doing the worst, while free countries like the U.S., Taiwan, Singapore, and Australia are doing the best. The comparison of Taiwan and China is instructive.

The Chinese government has been working to tackle the coronavirus outbreak by using multiple measures to contain the spread of the virus as well as information about the outbreak. Most famously, the government imposed an extreme quarantine in Wuhan on January 23, which is still in place over a month later...

Besides these measures in the physical world, the Chinese government has attempted to quarantine discussion of the epidemic in the realm of public opinion. From the first appearance of the new virus last December to the lockdown of massive cities in mid-January, the Chinese authorities chose to restrict public access to the information about the epidemic by silencing people, most famously the whistleblower Doctor Li Wenliang. In the early stages of the outbreak, the Chinese government issued a statement asserting that “the disease is preventable and controllable,” and announcements sent by Chinese officials to World Health Organization (WHO) office in Beijing claimed that there was no evidence of the disease being transmitted between humans.

But the Chinese scientists writing in The Lancet medical journal later revealed that the first patient known to have contracted the novel coronavirus had no link to the Wuhan seafood market that the Chinese government pointed to as the source of the outbreak. This would suggest that the virus all along was spreading via human-to-human transmission -- and that the government was lying to the public from the very beginning of this catastrophe.

Chinese news outlet Caixin covered the story of Dr. Li Wenliang, who became famous after being detained for posting about the new virus online. Li later died of the coronavirus himself, inspiring rare public anger against China’s censorship system. “There should be more than one voice in a healthy society,” Li told Caixin. When his death was reported, Chinese social media platforms were flooded with netizens’ anger and calls for freedom of speech. 

That moment of transparency was brief, unfortunately as the Chinese government tightened media and online reporting of the disease. Its goal is not virus control but retaining power. 

Taiwan, in contrast is not quarantining the news about the virus but making it easier “and more convenient for people to access relevant information. It has been conducting press conferences to announce policies and information almost every day, and to respond to rumors. It also uses “digital tools to communicate with the public.” And as there is no central control and civic participation outside the government is encouraged, these groups have played an active role in disseminating useful information.

3.  Why This Constant Appetite for Doom?

Over at the Spectator, I found the most useful analysis: 

There is something more to the Covid-19 panic. It is the latest phenomenon to fulfil a weird and growing appetite for doom among the populations of developed countries. We are living in the healthiest, most peaceful time in history, yet we cannot seem to accept it. We constantly have to invent bogeymen, from climate alarmism, nuclear war and financial collapse to deadly diseases. Covid-19 has achieved such traction because it has emerged at just the right time. At the end of January, Brexit had just been completed without incident. The standoff between the US and Iran--which preposterously led the ‘Doomsday Clock’ to be advanced closer to midnight than during the Cuban missile crisis--fizzled into nothing. The Australian bush fires, which caused an explosion in climate doom-mongering (even though the global incidence of wildfires has fallen over the past two decades) had largely gone out. What more was there to worry about?

Then along came a novel strain of disease and the cycle of panic began again. But there are already strong signs that it has peaked. In the seven days before 24 February, the WHO recorded 6,398 new infections in China--down from 13,002 the previous week. On Monday it was 415. Very soon we are going to have to find another thing to agonise about. Asteroids? The next ‘freak’ weather incident, now the storms have died down? Who knows, but we will certainly find something.

4.  Economic Affects

Luckily for us the President has taken major steps to decouple us from our decades-long supply chain reliance on Chinese manufacturers. But why is the market tumbling? Tom Maguire asks that too, and suggests supply chain disruption may well not be as worrisome a problem as it’s made out to be:

So yes, if it gets bad enough the global economy could slide into recession and take the US with it. But unlike in the 2008 collapse, where slack regulatory oversight of the mortgage market was a real problem, it would be hard to blame a coronavirus recession on Trump. After all, he's the guy who wanted to cut back our dependence on China and bring manufacturing back to this country. As a result of his tariffs, many companies began exploring alternative non-Chinese suppliers. And Trump is not afraid of travel bans.

Beyond that, does anyone think Bernie Sanders can run as the guy who'll get the economy going (Hmm, Bloomberg could...)? C'mon -- if Trump positions himself as the guy who has been trying to separate us from China for three years and knows how to get this economy going again, he'll be well positioned to ride out a dip that really is not his fault. But if he pooh-poohs it AND it gets notably worse, well, he'll be out of touch and out of office.

MORE: Here is the NY Times in January on Trump's travel ban:

Many companies said they were relatively well positioned for the disruption, thanks in part to the recent easing of the trade tensions between China and the United States. Faced with the threat of tariffs, many companies--particularly retailers--had stocked up on imports from China, or found suppliers in other parts of Asia.

But if the restrictions in China are kept in place for many months and the virus keeps spreading, profits will suffer.

Well, yes.

Maybe we should be bothered that we are running out of things to worry about. Nah. The Democrats and media are creative in finding new and more original ways to manufacture angst.

I’m phlegmatic by nature. It gives me an edge up when mass hysteria seems to take up so much space in the news and the pronouncements of Democratic leaders. Looking at the best information available to me, I find it beyond question that the President has taken the right steps to deal with this variant flu; that few people in this country will perish from it; that while there may be some economic consequences of the supply disruption from China, the fact that we’ve been decoupling ourselves from China under this administration means they are likely to be smaller and more short-lived than the market manipulators would have us believe.

1.  What is the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and How Does it Compare to the Flu?

The most informative reports I can find on this are from Johns Hopkins Medicine, the New England Journal of Medicine, and the Director of the CDC.

One of the difficulties of diagnosing those stricken with this novel virus is the symptoms are very similar to those of the other more common infectious respiratory illnesses we call flu. We have a vaccine to prevent some of the most dangerous types of flu or to reduce its severity. Right now, there is no vaccine to treat the new virus. (But Israeli researchers believe they will have one in weeks. Of course, it will be longer than weeks to bring it to market, but if it proves effective this virus, which is likely to be around the world for a long time will prove even less lethal than it presently is.)

Does the Johns Hopkins report seem to belie the scare reports from the CDC earlier? Yes, it does, and even the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has walked back the original message.

CDC Director Robert Redfield this week said CDC official Nancy Messonier, (sister of Rod Rosenstein) misspoke when she said an epidemic outbreak of COVID-19 in this country was inevitable.

Redfield’s clarification is in accord with an editorial last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, which speculated that this virus “Could turn out no worse than a ‘severe seasonal influenza’ in terms of mortality.”

Citing an analysis of the available data from the outbreak in China, the authors note that there have been zero cases among children younger than 15; and that the fatality rate is 2% at most, and could be “considerably less than 1%.”

Those who have died have been elderly or were already suffering from another illness--as with ordinary flu. The underlying data suggest that the symptoms vary, and fewer than one in six of the cases reported were “severe.”

The authors note that coronavirus looks to be much less severe than other recent outbreaks of respiratory illnesses:

[T]he overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza (which has a case fatality rate of approximately 0.1%) or a pandemic influenza (similar to those in 1957 and 1968) rather than a disease similar to SARS or MERS, which have had case fatality rates of 9 to 10% and 36%, respectively.

The vast majority of patients recover, and among those who are hospitalized, the median stay thus far is 12 days.

Coronavirus, they note, does spread easily, and the average infected person has infected two other people. That means the U.S. should expect the illness to gain a “foothold.” But they note travel restrictions on China (imposed by President Trump over the objections of some critics) “may have helped slow the spread of the virus.”

In his press conference to transparently inform us of the situation and the best means to prepare for it (a conference CNN broke away from to cover a Bloomberg town hall), Trump detailed the health status of Americans confirmed to have the virus, our preparedness for it, confirming  that “our great sanitation, access to  excellent medical care, and good diet” doubtless play a role in recovery and make it less deadly than elsewhere.

2.  The Democrats' Fact Free criticisms of the Trump Administration’s responses Are so Bad Even the AP Fact Checkers Had to call Them on It

“Democratic presidential contenders are describing the federal infectious-disease bureaucracy as rudderless and ill-prepared for the coronavirus threat because of budget cuts and ham-handed leadership by President Donald Trump. That’s a distorted picture.”

The best timeline of the administration response I’ve found is by Victoria Taft writing for PJMedia who contrasts this response with the Obama administration’s tardy, ineffectual response to the swine flu pandemic in 2009 which “infected millions of Americans” and resulted in “more than 1,000” deaths in America according to the CDC: 

On December 30, 2019, scientists in China "a cluster of patients with pneumonia of unknown etiology was observed in Wuhan, China, and reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) China bureau in Beijing. A week later, January 7, 2020, a new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) was isolated from these patients."

As we suspect, the Chinese government tried to keep the virus outbreak secret--for what reason we don't know. What we do know, however, is that by January 31, 2020, President Trump had declared a public health emergency and began restricting U.S. access to non-citizens from China. Flights filled with U.S. citizens who were in Wuhan were brought to America and those people were quarantined on U.S. military bases for two weeks.

In the swine flu case, transmission came to the U.S. from Mexico. And absent any serious border control by that administration, we were countering yet another swine flu outbreak in 2015. (Even in the early days when U.S. immigration was largely unchecked, officials at the entry point, Ellis Island, selected out and returned home those with transmissible diseases. How irrational is it to now refuse to recognize that border control is, among other things, disease control?)

It’s not hyperbole to claim the Democrats have tried to impede every effort to treat our borders as a barrier to disease transmission from elsewhere, demagoguing it as “racism.”  Not only did the Democrats oppose every reasonable act to confine the virus outside our borders, but also they refuse to play any constructive role in dealing with it. Just as CNN refused to carry the President’s message about the extent of the disease here, how we were dealing with it, and sensible precautions for us to take, Nancy Pelosi refuses to play more than critic.

Acting deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli tweeted that he’d given several congressional briefings on the virus “at least 2 of which Speaker Pelosi was present “ and in contrast to her publicly calling the work “shameful” and the concern too little, too late, “she never asked a question or was critical of the work the administration was doing.”

3. The Ability of Governments to Deal with this Health Crisis Depends of the Nature of the Government

Responsive, open governments with sound infrastructures--like ours--are the best gauge of how rapidly the disease will be contained.

Right now, the autocratic closed systems in China and Iran seem to be doing the worst, while free countries like the U.S., Taiwan, Singapore, and Australia are doing the best. The comparison of Taiwan and China is instructive.

The Chinese government has been working to tackle the coronavirus outbreak by using multiple measures to contain the spread of the virus as well as information about the outbreak. Most famously, the government imposed an extreme quarantine in Wuhan on January 23, which is still in place over a month later...

Besides these measures in the physical world, the Chinese government has attempted to quarantine discussion of the epidemic in the realm of public opinion. From the first appearance of the new virus last December to the lockdown of massive cities in mid-January, the Chinese authorities chose to restrict public access to the information about the epidemic by silencing people, most famously the whistleblower Doctor Li Wenliang. In the early stages of the outbreak, the Chinese government issued a statement asserting that “the disease is preventable and controllable,” and announcements sent by Chinese officials to World Health Organization (WHO) office in Beijing claimed that there was no evidence of the disease being transmitted between humans.

But the Chinese scientists writing in The Lancet medical journal later revealed that the first patient known to have contracted the novel coronavirus had no link to the Wuhan seafood market that the Chinese government pointed to as the source of the outbreak. This would suggest that the virus all along was spreading via human-to-human transmission -- and that the government was lying to the public from the very beginning of this catastrophe.

Chinese news outlet Caixin covered the story of Dr. Li Wenliang, who became famous after being detained for posting about the new virus online. Li later died of the coronavirus himself, inspiring rare public anger against China’s censorship system. “There should be more than one voice in a healthy society,” Li told Caixin. When his death was reported, Chinese social media platforms were flooded with netizens’ anger and calls for freedom of speech. 

That moment of transparency was brief, unfortunately as the Chinese government tightened media and online reporting of the disease. Its goal is not virus control but retaining power. 

Taiwan, in contrast is not quarantining the news about the virus but making it easier “and more convenient for people to access relevant information. It has been conducting press conferences to announce policies and information almost every day, and to respond to rumors. It also uses “digital tools to communicate with the public.” And as there is no central control and civic participation outside the government is encouraged, these groups have played an active role in disseminating useful information.

3.  Why This Constant Appetite for Doom?

Over at the Spectator, I found the most useful analysis: 

There is something more to the Covid-19 panic. It is the latest phenomenon to fulfil a weird and growing appetite for doom among the populations of developed countries. We are living in the healthiest, most peaceful time in history, yet we cannot seem to accept it. We constantly have to invent bogeymen, from climate alarmism, nuclear war and financial collapse to deadly diseases. Covid-19 has achieved such traction because it has emerged at just the right time. At the end of January, Brexit had just been completed without incident. The standoff between the US and Iran--which preposterously led the ‘Doomsday Clock’ to be advanced closer to midnight than during the Cuban missile crisis--fizzled into nothing. The Australian bush fires, which caused an explosion in climate doom-mongering (even though the global incidence of wildfires has fallen over the past two decades) had largely gone out. What more was there to worry about?

Then along came a novel strain of disease and the cycle of panic began again. But there are already strong signs that it has peaked. In the seven days before 24 February, the WHO recorded 6,398 new infections in China--down from 13,002 the previous week. On Monday it was 415. Very soon we are going to have to find another thing to agonise about. Asteroids? The next ‘freak’ weather incident, now the storms have died down? Who knows, but we will certainly find something.

4.  Economic Affects

Luckily for us the President has taken major steps to decouple us from our decades-long supply chain reliance on Chinese manufacturers. But why is the market tumbling? Tom Maguire asks that too, and suggests supply chain disruption may well not be as worrisome a problem as it’s made out to be:

So yes, if it gets bad enough the global economy could slide into recession and take the US with it. But unlike in the 2008 collapse, where slack regulatory oversight of the mortgage market was a real problem, it would be hard to blame a coronavirus recession on Trump. After all, he's the guy who wanted to cut back our dependence on China and bring manufacturing back to this country. As a result of his tariffs, many companies began exploring alternative non-Chinese suppliers. And Trump is not afraid of travel bans.

Beyond that, does anyone think Bernie Sanders can run as the guy who'll get the economy going (Hmm, Bloomberg could...)? C'mon -- if Trump positions himself as the guy who has been trying to separate us from China for three years and knows how to get this economy going again, he'll be well positioned to ride out a dip that really is not his fault. But if he pooh-poohs it AND it gets notably worse, well, he'll be out of touch and out of office.

MORE: Here is the NY Times in January on Trump's travel ban:

Many companies said they were relatively well positioned for the disruption, thanks in part to the recent easing of the trade tensions between China and the United States. Faced with the threat of tariffs, many companies--particularly retailers--had stocked up on imports from China, or found suppliers in other parts of Asia.

But if the restrictions in China are kept in place for many months and the virus keeps spreading, profits will suffer.

Well, yes.

Maybe we should be bothered that we are running out of things to worry about. Nah. The Democrats and media are creative in finding new and more original ways to manufacture angst.