March 30, 2020

Task Force Issues 30-Day Extension of Fear and Misery

“No state, no metro area, will be spared.”

Last week, regarding the dire need for an exit strategy from the current CV19 shutdown of major economic sectors, I noted that implementing this exit strategy will be the most difficult and complex policy decision by any president in decades. Then, President Donald Trump, endeavoring to remain optimistic, declared, “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” which is 12 April.

But Trump noted that the CV19 Task Force would reevaluate its 15-day guidelines on Day 14, and indeed, yesterday, the Task Force took the extraordinary measure of extending the guidelines until 30 April.

In a very somber press briefing Sunday, Trump said, “Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before victory is won. It’s very important that everybody strongly follow the guidelines.” He then noted that the Task Force’s objective is to hold the 2.2 million death projection (in the absence of any mitigating efforts) “down … to 100,000 to 200,000,” about twice the fatality range of a very bad flu season.

The president was taking his cues from the Task Force’s primary medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci and coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, the latter saying earlier Sunday, “If we do things together well, almost perfectly, we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities.” Birx added, “I think in some of the metro areas, we were late in getting people to follow the 15-day guidelines.”

Fauci concurred, saying he now anticipates “between 100,000 and 200,000” deaths. But, he added, “I don’t want to be held to that” because this pandemic is “such a moving target.”

Indeed, Dr. Fauci’s estimates have been moving targets, which is why Birx is correct in her assessment that “we were late” issuing the 15-day guidelines. Hindsight is, sometimes, 20/20.

Four days earlier, in the New England Journal of Medicine, Fauci declared: “If one assumes that the number of asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic cases is several times as high as the number of reported cases, the case fatality rate may be considerably less than 1%. This suggests that the 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%).”

As for modeling, Fauci notes: “There are things called models, and when someone creates a model, they put in various assumptions. And the model is only as good and as accurate as your assumptions.”

Most viral outbreaks in the U.S. have a mortality rate in the 0.1%-0.5% range, much lower than the fatality rates based solely on positive test samples — which do not take into account all those who have had the virus but were not tested because they were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms. The CDC bases its mortality rates on the latter.

Since test-result data was first available, at the end of each day I have been tracking the fatality rate. Initially it was dropping and seven days ago had declined to 1.2%, which basically meant the denominator (the number of tests) was outpacing the numerator (the number of deaths). But that shifted as fatalities outpaced testing, and today it’s up to 1.7%. That number will be higher in the next week or two and should then top out and start to drop again. That is what the Task Force is trying to achieve — and we all pray the measures we are taking now do produce those results.

The majority of U.S. deaths today are limited to New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Washington, and California, meaning the rest of the nation is experiencing fatality rates on an order much lower than an average flu season. But the hard reality is that the rest of the nation is not going to dodge this bullet. Dr. Birx made that clear: “No state, no metro area, will be spared. … It may look like two cases today—that become 20, that become 200, that become 2,000.”

Meanwhile, as all the “nonessential” government employees in and around the Beltway are still receiving their paychecks, the record 3.8 million jobless spike last week will continue in the coming weeks. On that note, let me again offer a novel viral proposal: How about the House and Senate pass resolutions to stop their government paychecks (with no back-end reimbursement) until all Americans are receiving paychecks again?

For his part, President Trump has listened carefully to his Task Force, saying, “Anthony and Deborah have been doing this for many years, and I’m going to rely on them.” He added that, according to their assumptions, “The peak in fatalities will not arrive for another two weeks.” At the same time, he has done well to maintain the calm in the storm.

As Trump and Congress reluctantly return to the deepening well of national debt to authorize the Treasury to print trillions of dollars for additional checks to be mailed nationwide, recall that as of the end of last year, when China was still concealing the pandemic it seeded worldwide, it held $1.07 trillion in U.S. debt. Forgiveness of that debt is certainly in order as a down payment on the trillions of dollars in debt being heaped on future generations of Americans as a result of CV19. When communist dictator Xi Jinping balks, move to default!

Finally, it’s worth noting again that Donald Trump rose to the presidency campaigning in large measure on how we needed to unhitch our wagon from China. That, and his efforts to do so since, seem more prophetic by the day. And to Trump’s credit, we would be much worse off today if we did not start the partial idling of major economic sectors in response to CV19 in the strongest economy in our nation’s history. On the circumstances we face today, Trump said: “The battle in which we’re now engaged has inflicted many hardships on our nation and our families… But through it all, the world has witnessed the unyielding resolve of our incredible American people. We are not only a country of vast resources; we’re a nation of colossal strength, towering spirit, soaring patriotism, and exceptional character. And you’re showing it to the entire world. … We are one family, bound together by love and loyalty … with the determination of the American people, and with the grace of God, we will win this war…”

However, we are still waiting on an exit strategy…

(Visit our comprehensive China Virus Pandemic response and recovery page, and see our related pages.

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