Coronavirus Alert: CoVid-19 spreading across the United States

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Coronavirus Covid-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE (as of March 8, 2020)
Coronavirus Covid-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE (as of March 8, 2020)

My various thoughts on the novel coronavirus as it blankets the Earth

We heard about this novel coronavirus back in December. A new disease happening in China. They supposed it started in a “wet market” in the city of Wuhan.

I never heard of a wet market before, nor the enormous city of Wuhan, but I’m pretty sure most Americans are painfully familiar with these things now. These are basically meat markets where animals are slaughtered live. And not “normal” fish and farm animals either. And not even inclusive of the stereotype of edible house pets: cats and dogs. But rather a market that slaughters wild animals of all sorts, and therefore has all sorts of potential viral and microbial pathogens mixing together. It’s quite horrifying to us — Americans who are used to going to the supermarket and eating processed foods — to see koalas, bats, and pangolins being slaughtered as some type of expensive food fetish rather than only for sustenance. No doubt that we have some hypocrisy in there; but the problem is that there is recent history of a different, deadly coronavirus being set free upon the Asian people in 2003: SARS.

Now, the “conspiracy theorists” believe that the origin of this novel coronavirus is not the wet market at all, but instead it is some kind of escaped experiment from a nearby research facility. Now, I’m not a conspiracy kind of person; but at this point, I feel like, it doesn’t matter where it came from. Bat soup, meat market, bioweapons lab — it’s out there, and it’s coming here, very quickly.

So, what is this novel coronavirus? First off, it has a few different names: The coronavirus, CoVid-19, 2019-nCov, and SARS-Cov-2. According to reports, it is a common type of virus that is found in animals, and occasionally becomes zoonotic — transmissible from animals to humans. They believe that bats are frequently the origin of these types of viruses, but that they don’t directly come from bats, but rather from an intermediary species of animal. In this case, they think it may be pangolins.

Coronavirus 3D image -- Credit: Medical Animations via Wikimedia Commons
Coronavirus 3D image — Credit: Medical Animations via Wikimedia Commons

And what happens to someone who gets this novel coronavirus, Covid-19? The CDC says between 2-14 days after exposure, an infected patient may develop a fever, tiredness, dry cough and experience shortness of breath. And in the most serious cases, people can develop pneumonia, requiring hospitalization and intensive care. In some cases people may die. Other symptoms associated with Covid-19 may include cold-like nasal issues, sore throat and diarrhea, but that is not as common. There are tests available, but for some reason, in the US, these are not widely available yet: restricted to the most significant cases. The most vulnerable are said to be the elderly and those with preexisting health conditions such are diabetes and heart disease.

I started tracking this virus in early January of 2020. It seemed odd, but serious. You wouldn’t know it from the American media, before this past week. But from other countries, the headlines were much more serious and warning of impending doom — Australia, Germany, Canada, Singapore. Well, it wasn’t long before the virus “escaped” out into the larger landscape. At first it was in Hong Kong and Singapore and then it got to South Korea, where a significant number of people became infected (over 7,000 today). A couple of luxury cruise ships had passengers put into quarantine, and the Diamond Princess had over 500 people infected. The city of Wuhan was put into lockdown, but people fled before the lockdown. And the virus may have spread because of that, or may have already been spreading. Iran and Italy is the other major hot spots now. China is seeing a leveling off of cases, and everywhere else is seeing cases spring up randomly. It’s is quite alarming.

Here in D.C., we have our first two cases this weekenbd. One of no known travel. And one who allegedly traveled from Nigeria. An Episcopal church may have been a hot spot of infection. In nearby Maryland, there are 3 people in Montgomery County who had traveled to Egypt. Allegedly, an attendee of the wretched CPAC gathering came down with CoVid-19 infection symptoms after attending here in D.C. There is another case in Hartford County, MD, but that may be one of the people who lived in D.C. There are 2 cases in Fairfax, Virginia. A soldier at a base in Virginia is reported to have tested positive after traveling. There are no cases in West Virginia or Delaware at this time. There are a few cases in Pennsylvania and several dozen in New York state.

The total in the United States, right now, is at 537 confirmed. That is 100 more in one afternoon. And it was about 12 or 15 a week ago. Our “President” has put his “Vice President” in charge and declared that the virus will “just end” when the warmer weather hits — “We’ll be down to, like, 5 in no time.” Well, that was more than 500 patients ago. And so, he’s wrong. And the VP is thought of as a religious extremist who is not interested in science and at best moves too slow in medical emergencies because he’s busy “praying on it.” We have a HHS Secretary who was a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical giants. And the President has ordered the famed Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIAID Director, and other Federal health authorities, to not to say anything to the media that isn’t pre-approved of by the President and his people. They don’t want to “spook the markets.” I would not be part of the pile-on with the Administration’s inadequacies if he were being intelligent and serious about the entire issue, but the President, his family and his spokespeople are not being effective leaders. Rather, they are turning this into a political clown show — blaming former President Obama somehow, and blaming “liberals” for “wanting the president to fail and millions to die.” It’s typical political madness, unfortunately. If they wanted to be leaders, they would sidestep all of the criticism and stick to the facts in this important time. Congress has authorized $8 billion in emergency funding, and Trump has signed the bill at least. Some progress at the very least.

But no, this is how the near-panic has started — the virus got into Europe, in Italy, and hundreds of people became sick seemingly overnight (over 7,000 now). And the stock market had a freak out for several days. Honestly, pretty much everyone knew the stocks were overbought and that any little thing could set off a tumble. My friend and I were talking about this just a week before. He said he did not want a particular candidate to win the Presidency, and then the market crashes and it’s seen as all the Democrats’ fault. And I said, “The market is going nuts. Super high, records again and again. Everyone knows it’s not sustainable and irrational. And the market will crash under Trump, or it will crash later, or whatever happens. The market is going to do what it wants when it wants — its greet is largely independent of whomever is in office. But something will happen and” … boom. A week later, Covid takes off, and the markets tumble. I sold earlier, about 1/3 of what I had, at the end of 2019. I “lost out” on quite a bit, but ended up saving quite a bit with the crash — not totally though. I bought a little on Friday, and it went down and came back at the end of the day. Now, I’m thinking it will go down further, with a big drop-off today. Oh, well — dollar cost averaging. My best guess, we will see below 20,000 on the DOW at some point, and then it will spring back quickly. Right now, the VIX is at a level which is comparable to some of the greatest buying opportunities. Only the Bush-era 2008 mortgage lending crisis/banking disaster was worse.

Volatility Index (VIX) -- March 8, 2020 is at a near high level of fear.
Volatility Index (VIX) — March 8, 2020 is at a near high level of fear.
Dow Jones 2015-2020 (March 8) -- remarkable increase, with Covid-19 correction in 2020.
Dow Jones 2015-2020 (March 8) — remarkable increase, with Covid-19 correction in 2020.
Dow Jones 2020 -- drop and volatility since Covid-19 hit Italy and seems to be spreading
Dow Jones 2020 — drop and volatility since Covid-19 hit Italy and seems to be spreading

But this is going to have a huge impact on businesses of all sorts. Travel and entertainment especially. And much of our family jobs are based on exactly that — people wanting to go out in groups and have fun at large gatherings, doing group activities. And … boom. It will be a financial disaster for us. I have enough on the side at the moment to get by, but I was hoping to get some paychecks cashed. Too late. I was told we lost one supporter. Events and conferences and travel are being canceled by businesses already. The only businesses making extra money at the moment are grocery stores with the panic buying and allegedly 3M, maker of face masks, and surely toilet paper manufacturers.

Yes, I overbought a bunch of canned food and TP — sadly, I do need it after my recent surgery. The freezer is full, and the cabinet is half full of canned food that I never would have bought except for this kind of emergency. I’ve got plenty of Tylenol ready, but no face masks. They beat me to the face masks before I got totally serious about this. I did not look for hand sanitizer, but all the stores are supposedly out. I do have a bad habit of touching my face, but most people do, they are reporting. Honestly, I would have thought the stores would have been crazier in my area, but not so much. The virus just got here officially yesterday, so not a lot of reason to panic.

Coronavirus Doomsayers: Panic buying? Or smart preparation?
Coronavirus Doomsayers: Panic buying? Or smart preparation?

I’m not afraid of the virus itself. I am concerned for my mom and mother-in-law somewhat as they are both seniors and vulnerable. But the virus’ impact will potentially be significant on businesses like ours that rely on income from group entertainment. Other than that, I imagine about people just acting too crazy for their own good. I would project, if the warm weather does not stall the spread, that many thousands of people will get the virus here within a month, and many schools will close, including mine. Online activities only. I do not anticipate that they will be nabbing and punishing people like they did in Wuhan. The laws would not allow for it. Still, people act crazy — scared people, desperate people, people who are power hungry, people who are stressed out from being tasked to take care of other people.

They keep telling us that we are being silly to be overly concerned and focused on this infectious pathogen. That it is from droplets and not airborne. That all we have to do is wash our hands and go on about our lives. Not to panic shop or hoard food and cleaning supplies. And that people are much more likely to get the flu, and tens of thousands of people die from that every year (12,000 to 61,000 for flu, vs. 17 so far for Covid). All that is probably right and reasonable. But then there are the rest of the influential voices who are saying: Yes, be reasonable, but start preparing now. We will see a dramatic increase in numbers, because the virus is already here and has been here for a while. Stock up on dry goods and medicines. Yes, wash your hands, but also stay away from large crowds, and to have a meter to 6 feet between yourself and others. Yesterday, officially, elderly people were told not to go on cruise ships. They are talking about the possibility of shutting down regions, and arresting people.

They have done that in China and are threatening the same in Italy: arresting people and putting them in quarantine or jail for months. The early videos from China were absolutely awful. The media calls them “draconian measures” and then “necessary” and remarks that China is doing a “good job” of controlling the spread. People are being beaten and tackled and shackled. Homes are boarded up and marked as contagious, and entire provinces have shut down — all schools, transportation, social activities. People are only allowed to go out and get food once a week. The streets were empty and the shops nearly all closed. And everyone must have a mask on or you are arrested or attacked and banned from walking around. Nevermind that the masks do not really prevent the spread of the virus. They are spraying some kinds of disinfectants from vehicles all over the streets and buildings. The doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are dropping from exhaustion and from being double-wrapped head-to-toe in PPE. And they are not even able to go to the bathroom. They are real heroes. But sadly, many are being infected. Again, most people do recover, but some have certainly died. The authorities are not sure yet if one develops adequate immunity against future infections or not. Perhaps so, because the charts show a significant leveling off of cases — down to dozens of new infections per day from over 1,000 per day.  Congrats on using your draconian measures effectively, I guess.

But what about America? We don’t have laws or centralized authority to behave in such a manner. And the people are armed. I imagine that people are not willingly going to be captured, dragged out of their homes, and taken off to quarantine. There was one widespread report of an American man who agreed to come back to the states from China. And not only did he have to pay for the transportation himself, but after being quarantined, he received an ambulance and hospital bill for several thousand dollars. He complained publicly, and did receive an excess of sympathetic donations. But that whole story exposed the problem of healthcare in America. Lots of people cannot afford the bills. It is a commercial system, and everyone bills you an enormous amount because everyone wants to be rewarded. I’m not going to get into the insurance-based healthcare system now. But the irony of the situation is that: The President who complains about candidate Bernie Sanders’ as a crazy socialist because he wants Medicare for All (single-payer, government-funded socialized health care) — that President is the one who is now finding out that people who are sick in this specific crisis are not going to volunteer for quarantine because they cannot afford the bills. So, his solution: Use emergency Federal funds to pay these people’s medical bills. So, “Government-funded healthcare is bad and crazy” vs.  “Government-funded healthcare is the solution to Americans remaining healthy (in this specific situation).” A lesson learned for future needs?

Well, that’s all I have to say. Cross our fingers, say prayers, buy protection, stock up, avoid what needs to be avoided, I guess. What else is there to do by the average person?

Vaccines are being developed, and the virus has been isolated and sequenced. There may be 2 versions of it already, and the one that is spreading most may be the weaker strain. Most people do not suffer significant issues, reports say, but 15% do have respiratory problems and 1% or 0.5% do die. How awful for those people and their families, but we will get through this. If the hype is all made up and I’m adding to it — well, good: that’s the best case scenario — “how embarrassing for us all.” No biggie. If not, then this will certainly be an interesting chapter in our modern lives for sure.

Maps via Johns Hopkins CSSE — https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6

What a difference a week makes — from 60 U.S. cases mostly in California (partly retrieved and quarantined people from the Diamond Princess) to over 500, mostly with no travel links to China, and some who have not traveled at all. Notice the bright yellow trendline in the bottom right is for regions outside of mainland China.

February 28, 2020:

Coronavirus Covid-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE (as of Feb 28, 2020)

March 8, 2020:

Coronavirus Covid-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE (as of March 8, 2020)
Coronavirus Covid-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE (as of March 8, 2020)

March 22, 2020

Coronavirus Covid-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE (as of March 22, 2020)

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