I know there is coronavirus doom and gloom everywhere you look on social media right now — in particular with viral predictions of millions of coronavirus deaths on the horizon — but I believe most people are missing the key detail in this outbreak: the number of daily new infections.
Don’t focus on the raw numbers of infection or their growth or death rates — the kind of fear porn you see peddled far and wide on social media — just look at the rates of daily new infection that have occurred in coronavirus outbreaks around the globe and you can divine, to a great extent, what the future is likely to hold.
As a preliminary, yes, I am a lawyer who now makes a living writing and talking primarily about sports. No, I am not an epidemiologist and I’m not a doctor either. So if you don’t want to read any further or want to denigrate my opinions for that reason, you’re certainly entitled to that perspective.
But for the rest of you, let me cite my primary source here at the beginning, I am using this website which has been fantastic at providing factually accurate and up to the date infections around the world.
For those of you who have watched, read or listened to my opinions over the years you know that I love to devour data and I’m not afraid to have opinions that run contrary to the masses. Sometimes those opinions focus on sports, other times they deal with politics, media, or business. When I become fascinated by a subject, I can’t stop thinking about it, I want to consume all the information I can about a particular subject.
And for the past month I have been absolutely fascinated by the coronavirus outbreak around the world. I’ve spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours reading about this virus and studying the public data arising from outbreaks in countries all over the world.
Many nights in the past several weeks, especially since sports has been shut down, I have slept three or four hours because I haven’t been able to stop devouring information before waking up at 4:30 in the morning to do my national sports talk radio show. And for those of you who have listened, watched or read what I’ve been saying you know that I’ve been more optimistic about America’s ability to withstand this viral outbreak than most people have.
As a result I’ve been denigrated online by many media members with blue checkmarks by their names on Twitter for not being enough of an alarmist, for downplaying the threat of the coronavirus to our nation’s health. That hasn’t been my intent at all, my intent, as it always is, has simply been to share factual data with my audience. As I always say, you can disagree with the opinions I come to based on the underlying facts, but I struggle to ensure I get all my facts right, especially in cases such as these.
While most in the United States have been focusing on the United States outbreak I’ve paid quite a bit of attention to what’s happened in China, South Korea and Japan.
Because all three of these countries had coronavirus outbreaks before ours and all three had essentially ended the viral outbreaks in their respective countries before our outbreak really took root. That is, the factual evidence clearly established that when these countries attacked the spread of the virus, they succeeded.
Interestingly, all three countries took different paths to end that outbreak — China, with the worst outbreak in the world to this point, was more draconian in its restrictions, while South Korea and Japan handled their outbreaks with much less significant disruptions to their economies and daily life.
Certainly in the months and years ahead it will make a great deal of sense to study every country’s response in an effort to find out the best possible model to adopt for future pandemics, but as I write this China, South Korea, and Japan have a total of 126 new infections today.
This means all three countries have effectively ended the viral outbreaks they were combating. (It’s certainly possible the virus could re-emerge in the future, but right now it seems to be beaten).
Now let’s pivot to our country.
Yesterday the United States saw our highest number of new infections to date, adding 1748 new cases. (It’s important to note that daily “new” cases doesn’t mean new in the context of they just happened. “New cases” are the result of infections that generally occurred five or more days in the past.) As I write this we are on track to exceed yesterday’s number of daily new infections again today and probably for the next several days as well. (If you watch the White House press briefings and listen to Dr. Birx –who has been PHENOMENAL in speaking to the media, alongside of Dr. Fauci — she forecast this occurrence several days ago. Letting astute listeners know that as the testing ramped up in a big way in this country the number of infections would surge as well.)
But, and this is key, despite the number of new daily infections that doesn’t mean the virus is continuing to spread at this rapid of a rate, it means that we are catching up to the infections that have already occurred in the days and weeks prior to our aggressive action. That is, since the average incubation for this virus is five days, pretty much everyone testing positive today got the virus before the social distancing and quarantines began in substantial numbers in this country.
Right now the fear porn purveyors — all too many of whom are in the media — are spinning these infection numbers as hard as they can to terrify people and convince them we are about to descend into abject despair. That our efforts to combat the virus are failing. But the number of daily new infections is a rearguard action, it’s measuring where we were several days ago in the fight against the virus, not where we are today.
And I think that means most of the people panicking in this country right now are missing the signal amid the noise.
Peak new daily infection rates in this country are closer than most think and, and this is significant, hitting a daily new infection peak is a very good thing because it signals we are moving to the backside of our outbreak.
And I think we’re going to hit peak new daily infections very soon.
Well, the data in other countries suggests that our peak daily infection rate is likely to come next week.
How can I project this?
By looking at what already happened in China, Japan and South Korea.
As I said earlier in this article, those countries have a total of 126 combined new infections today.
That’s because once their infection rate began to decline it do incredibly rapidly, the inverse of the rapid rise.
In other words this virus ramps up rapidly, but it also declines rapidly.
Okay, some of you are saying, but those Asian countries did X, Y, and Z and we aren’t doing X, Y, and Z!
Well, let’s leave Asia behind and move to Europe, in particular to Italy, which has been the fear porn proxy for most American social media users. “ITALY, ITALY, ITALY THEY WAIL! Look at the curve in Italy! We match it perfectly we are never going to be able to survive!”
Yes, Italy has suffered a substantial loss of life — 2503 as I write this afternoon — but as a result of this loss of life Italy has undertaken drastic measures to fight the virus. And, significantly, these drastic measures work and they appear to work rapidly against the virus.
On March 14th Italy hit 3,497 daily new infections. On March 15th Italy hit 3,590 new infections, the viral peak for daily new infections so far in their country. Then came 3,233 new infections on March 16th and 3,526 on March 17th. Now it’s still possible, of course, that the number of new daily infections could pop above 3,590, the present high set on March 15th — update they did on 3/18 after I clicked publish — but even with a still vacillating total infection number it seems pretty clear that at a minimum Italy has hit an infection plateau. (The number of daily deaths also peaked in Italy on March 15th at 368 — a new peak death rate came on March 18th after publication — and has declined since then.)
Far from being an example of exponential growth run wild, Italy stopped the coronavirus’s growth of daily new infections in its country in the space of a week. (This is why so many of these viral epidemiologist studies that go viral on social media are worthless. All of them presume nothing changes. If you want a fascinating read about a man who saw all this before the Chinese outbreak ended, go read the opinion of Micheal Levitt, a biophysicist who won the Nobel prize in chemistry.
Here’s the essence of Levitt’s analysis from that article: “The rate of infection of the virus in the Hubei province increased by 30% each day — that is a scary statistic. I am not an influenza expert but I can analyze numbers and that is exponential growth.”
Had the growth continued at that rate, the whole world would have become infected within 90 days. But as Levitt continued to process the numbers, the pattern changed. On February 1, when he first looked at the statistics, Hubei Province had 1,800 new cases a day. By February 6, that number had reached 4,700 new cases a day.
But on February 7, something changed. “The number of new infections started to drop linearly and did not stop,” Levitt said. “A week later, the same happened with the number of the deaths. This dramatic change in the curve marked the median point and enabled better prediction of when the pandemic will end. Based on that, I concluded that the situation in all of China will improve within two weeks. And, indeed, now there are very few new infection cases.”
Back to Italy, the data now reflects that from this point forward their infections will begin to descend, just like happened in China. And if Italy’s infection rate descends like they did in China, Japan and South Korea that will be a rapid descent which will allow a rapid return to normal life.
Now Italy appears to be further along in its viral outbreak than either France, Spain, Germany, or England are, but the lessons of Italy appear to reinforce the lessons of China, Japan and South Korea. Indeed, both France and Spain also appear to be close to hitting their peak numbers of new daily infections also. (By the way, the most interesting data point I have seen is from Germany. Somehow Germany has 11,973 infections and only 28 deaths. That’s a death rate for infected patients of .23%. What are they doing better than everyone else? Because that rate of death is very similar to the flu.)
Which is why if you extrapolate the data from China, Japan, South Korea, Italy, France and Spain to the United States then it seems highly likely that our rate of new daily infection will peak sometime late next week.
From that point forward we will be on the backside of this particular outbreak and our daily infection rate will decline rapidly.
That is, I believe rates of daily new infection in America will peak and then begin to drop precipitously starting at the end of next week. That doesn’t mean that new hotspots might not emerge around the United States or that our fight against the coronavirus is over, but it does means there’s a very good chance the worst of our outbreak will have passed by next week.
We will, in the words of Dr. Fauci, have flattened the curve.
What does that mean for America?
Well, since this is primarily a sports site it means our sports may well return faster than we thought. Already the KBA and CBA, the two pro basketball associations in Korea and China, are preparing to start back up their leagues in those countries.
But, much more significantly, it also means our economy may well bounce back more rapidly than many fear. Hopefully by early to mid-April we can begin to embrace a bit more normalcy in our lives once more.
And in what might be the most lasting legacy of this outbreak, hopefully we will have put in place a series of pandemic systems to allow us to respond more rapidly to more significant and deadly outbreaks that might arise in the future.
The good news is this virus is (probably) not going to kill you and we (likely) only have about a week until we hit the viral peak of new daily infections in America. Loss of life will be in the thousands, at most, and not the tens of thousands or the hundreds of thousands or the millions as the most terrifying of these forecasts have suggested. That doesn’t mean you should stop social distancing and staying at home if you’re ill, by the way, but it does mean that this containment is likely going to work very, very well.
What should you do if you believe my forecast is accurate? Buy stocks. I believe Wall Street has baked in far worse expectations than what the reality of this coronavirus will represent.
That’s why I spent all morning buying stocks myself. Yes, I’m putting my money where my mouth is.
And, by the way, if you hate me and you believe I’m totally wrong in my forecast, you’re entitled to that opinion as well. Indeed, if I personally end up dying of the coronavirus, you have my full permission to make as much fun of me as possible on social media.
“Writer who said no one would die of COVID 19 dies of COVID 19” is a hell of a headline.
I’d click on that link.
And like most of you I’d be too busy to actually read the article, but I would make a witty and sarcastic comment and share it with all my followers, ensuring it was one of the top trending topics for the day. So have at it.)
The reality is, spoiler alert, we’re all going to die.
But the evidence from around the world suggests that for the vast, vast majority of us, it won’t be from this virus.