[LMB] OT: So, what's the endgame here?

Brad DeLong brad.delong at gmail.com
Fri Apr 24 18:16:26 BST 2020

As I understand it, the purpose of the quarantine is to (a) give doctors,
nurses, & their backup time to figure out how to fight the disease with
antivirals and other treatments (where they still do not know nearly enough
about what to do when), (b) keep the emergency rooms from being overwhelmed
and thus our death rate from going up from 1% to 3% of cases.

Figure, ultimately, an 70% attack rate from this thing: that is 270 million
people in the U.S. At the current 1% death rate, that's 2.7 million people.
At a 3% death rate, that's 8 million people. If nurses, doctors, & backup
can figure out good antivirals and cut it to 0.5%, that's only 1.3 million

So it is imperative to keep the caseload low enough that we are in the 1%
death rather than the 3% death rate regime. And it is desirable to stretch
out the disease even further, so that we have time to figure out how to cut
the death rate to 0.5% before the bulk of the cases hit, and possibly push
the bulk of the cases out beyond the vaccine date.

Now a country with a half-competent government bossing the public health
workers can do this. Other countries have managed to achieve enough social
distancing to put the number of virus cases on a downward trajectory, and
have promise of in a month or two or three getting to a state where they
can keep the virus rare via test-&-trace-&-isolate and wait for the one
year, two years, three years, or more before humanity’s virologists work
miracles and develop a vaccine. Italy and Spain are down from 700 confirmed
deaths a day to 500. Germany, Canada, and Turkey appear to be turning the
corner at between 100 and 300. Ireland looks unlikely to get above 50.
Australia is at 1. Austria is at 12. Denmark is at 10. Greece is at 4. Hong
Kong is at 0. Japan is at 30. New Zealand is at 2. Norway is at 7. South
Korea is at 2.

With test-&-trace-&-isolate, and limited social distancing, once they have
the caseload down they will be able to push the bulk of cases out

If we could join them, we could move on to the next stage: test as many
people as possible for virus and antibodies as often as possible; hand out
green armbands to people with antibodies who are presumably resistant; have
them do the human-contact jobs; keep people who do not have green armbands
masked and more than six feet from one another; wipe down hard surfaces
where the virus might lurk, and then wipe them down again. Then employment
and the economy could recover and the cases could be kept down, so that the
virus is a tragedy to the few who die and their relatives and friends and
an annoyance to other Americans, while we wait for the miracles in the
forms of effective antiviral treatments and a vaccine.

It does not seem that we are going to get there. New confirmed cases each
day have been about the same at roughly 30,000 for three weeks now. Testing
for coronavirus per day has been about the same at roughly 150,000 for
three weeks now. The share of those tested for whom the test comes back
positive for the presence of coronavirus has been the same at about 20% as

The United States thus appears to have flattened the epidemic: the current
R[t], the average number of new cases to which someone infected spreads the
virus, is no longer much greater than one—the epidemic is not growing. But
by the same token R[t] is not less than one: the epidemic is not dying
away, even slowly, but continues to burble along.

Perhaps the U.S. will make a renewed effort to increase social distancing,
and get the epidemic on the decline. But that does not seem the way to bet
right now.

Right now we see Rudy Giuliani on TV sneering at the idea of test-and-trace
as a goal <
and demanding that the FDA fast-track approval for clinical trials of
biotech company Celularity’s stem-cell therapies. And all Stat News
reporter Adam Feuerstein will say about this is that there are “critics”
and “fears of political meddling” <

Right now we see Donald Trump and Michael Pence egging on Georgia Governor
Kemp to relax Georgia’s social distancing measures <
and Kemp today, April 24, reopening businesses like bowling alleys,
gymnasiums, and tattoo parlors <

Right now we also see Trump denouncing Kemp for “opening too soon”, and
calling for people to experiment by injecting themselves with Lysol and
Clorox <
and using strong ultraviolet light—the last of these being how the
behavior-altering parasites were killed in the 1967 Star Trek Episode
“Operation—Annihilate!” <
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_--_Annihilate!>. And all that New
York Times reporters Dan Levin and William Broad could bring themselves to
say was that Trump was theorizing “dangerously, in the view of some
experts” <https://twitter.com/AdamSerwer/status/1253637064396070912>—thus
implying that there were other experts who were open-minded and agnostic.

Right now we see Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota—thirteenth and rising
among the fifty U.S. states in coronavirus cases per million—claiming that
social distancing does not work because in South Dakota’s hotspots “99% of
infections” are happening not in workplaces but in people’s homes among
people “liv[ing] in the same community… same buildings… same apartments”.
And we see spokesperson for Smithfield Foods backed her up with respect to
Smithfield’s employees: “Living circumstances in certain cultures are
different than they are with your traditional American family”.

Noem then denounced people in other states “giv[ing] up their liberties for
just a little bit of security” while stating that she “believe[s] in our
freedoms and liberties.” <
She also, with the encouragement of Trump and Pence, launched a statewide
clinical trial of hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment <

Our government, to put in bluntly, is not on the public health program that
East Asia and Continental Europe are.

We will not just burble along with things as they are—something will
change, for good or, more likely, for ill. But as long as we continue to
burble along, the country will continue to suffer about 4000 true
coronavirus deaths each day and about 20% unemployment as, each day,
400,000 new people begin developing at least temporary immunity to the
virus, and we thus each day come 0.2% closer to achieving nationwide herd

Sincerely yours,

Brad DeLong

J. Bradford DeLong
Department of Economics, U.C. Berkeley
5th Floor, Evans Hall, Mining Circle #3880
Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
delong at econ.berkeley.edu <brad.delong at gmail.com>
925 708 0467

On Thu, Apr 23, 2020 at 4:42 PM Matthew George <matt.msg at gmail.com> wrote:

> I am pleasantly surprised that my society has taken an active stance
> regarding pandemic; I devoutly wish this sort of response had occurred, if
> only on a regional level, when there was that outbreak of Ebola last year.
> That's a clear example of a severe and acute crisis.
> Unfortunately, this crisis seems destined to be a chronic problem rather
> than acute.  Cold viruses are noted for persisting through the warmer
> months - IIRC there are actually more cases of 'colds' in summer than
> winter, it's just that they tend to be less severe and short-lived, so that
> they are less noticed.
> So what is the purpose of the extended quarantine that's occurring across
> most of the Western world?  Vaccines - even effective and reliable tests -
> are supposedly not viable for two years - let's say eighteen months, to be
> optimistic and take account of time that's passed.  And vaccination isn't
> generally used with colds because the strains change so rapidly.  We don't
> even truly know how many variations exist at present.
> What will happen when warmer weather comes?  More importantly, what will
> happen when that warmer weather gives way to autumn and winter again?
> Matt G.
> --
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