Coronavirus Update V — Madness Has Arrived

Coronavirus Update V — Madness Has Arrived

All the good stuff, caveats, code, and explanations are linked, some in Update III, and the most important in Update II, Update IV, and Bayes Theorem & Coronavirus, so go to them first before asking what-about-this. Skip to the bottom for the latest model.

Good Numbers

The thinking seems to be this: It was horrible in Wuhan, it is horrible in Lombardy, and horrible in some other country nobody gives a damn about. Therefore, when it happens to my town—and it’s when, not if—it will be equally horrible everywhere. And worse than horrible, because we are not as prepared or as willing to be as draconian as the Chinese. It isn’t horrible this moment, right now, here, but because it will be horrible means it is already horrible.

That seem a fair summary? One survey found “1 In 5 Americans Expect They’ll Be Diagnosed With Coronavirus“.

None of it is right.

In Wuhan itself, the City of Doom, some 2,446 souls departed their fleshly existence earlier than expected. Google tells us the city has between 11 and 19 million, depending on whether you count the entire metro area as “the city”.

The city had 49,995 cases. The case rate was 0.26% to 0.45%, depending on what China called “the city”. The total dead rate was 0.01% to 0.02%. The case dead rate was 4.9%.

People fixate on that last number, forgetting you first have to get the bug before you can die from it. But everybody now seems to believe they’ll get it with certainty. Review Bayes Theorem & Coronavirus!

If everywhere will eventually be as bad as Wuhan, then, given 7.7 billion of us now speak with authority on “social distancing” and “flattening the curve”, as if we’ve been using these neologisms from birth, from 20 million to 35 million the world over will get the bug, and from 1 million to 1.7 million will croak from it. (Fifty million died from 1918’s Spanish flu.)

That will beat the yearly regular flu total, which, on an average year, only performs half that good. Poor flu! It tries hard, but not every disease can be above average.

Did somebody say flu? CDC on week ending 7 March (again, they’re always a week behind on these):

CDC estimates that so far this season there have been at least 36 million flu illnesses, 370,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 deaths from flu.

That’s in the United States alone, friends. Mostly pneumonia and old folks (God bless them). Worldwide at least ten times that number.

If the Wuhan numbers apply globally, losing a million or two of us worldwide is not welcome news, but it’s not panic-level, end-of-the-world, buy-every-roll-of-toilet-paper-in-sight news. It’s wash-your-damned-hands, stay-at-home-if-you’re-sick news.

Right across the Yangtze from Wuhan is a city named Huanggang, still in Hubei province. They had 2907 cases and 125 dead. Google says 7.5 million population. That’s a 0.039% case rate, and 0.0017% dead rate. And again a high 4.3% case dead rate.

Applying Huanggang to the world gives about 3 million cases and maybe 130,000 dead bodies.

Shanghai, you ask? The city about 500 miles east—and downwind—of the City of Doom? Shanghai, clustered and claustrophobic, had 352 cases and 3 dead. Shanghai has 24.2 million souls. That’s a 0.0015% case rate, 0.000012% dead rate, and 0.85% case dead rate.

Applying those numbers to the world gives 112,000 cases and 955 dead bodies. We’re at more for both, so obviously applying Shanghai to the world doesn’t work.

Neither does Wuhan!

There is no evidence to suggest that everywhere will be as horrible as Wuhan or Lombardy. There is lots of evidence it will not be as horrible. There is instead evidence that many places will be like Huanggang and Shanghai, and somewhere in between, and that there will be only a few Wuhans and Lombardys. Look all around Wuhan and the rest of China and East Asia for confirmation.

Not only that, but look at China as a whole. Their case number has barely budged since last week, and the number of dead has fallen to about 0 (some days none, some days a few). And it wasn’t like every single city in China welded people into the apartments, or whatever.

China has 1.386 billion (Goog), 80,860 cases and 3,213 dead (these are mid-morning Monday numbers). That’s a 0.0058% case rate and 0.00023% dead rate, and a 4% dead case rate. Applying to whole world (China included): 450,000 cases and 18,000 dead bodies. Applying to just the USA! USA! USA! gives 19,100 cases and 750 dead bodies.

China is not homogeneous, neither is the USA, and neither is the world. So none of these extrapolations taken without considering uncertainty should be trusted.

“Briggs, you fool. I tried to tell you last week that China is lying about their numbers.”

No kidding? How do you know?

“Look at everybody running in circles! This proves it’s worse than they’re saying.”

That so? How does prove the numbers are wrong?

“Because they’re lying about their numbers!”

Maybe, but the numbers are all we’ve got.

I do find it touching that so many people have such a simple, child-like faith in medical statistics. Many seem to think they are as accurate as your counting the number of cars in your driveway. It’s much more like trying to guess the number of pennies in a jar that’s been covered by a sock, and which you can only see from the couch on a high bookshelf.

To be fair, this simple faith is shared by a large number of researchers. Which accounts for all the breathless headlines we constantly see. And the studies we regularly take apart.

Here’s some sobriety from reminiscing about the 1957 pandemic. (Believe it or not, there were pandemics before this one.)

And how about that 2009 pandemic? Forgotten already? Why didn’t we freak out then and do now? Twitter et al. wasn’t what is was then, maybe.

The H1N1 flu killed about 12,500 Americans in 2009 (there’s some +/- here, considering we also have the regular flu); so far, coronavirus has slaughtered fewer than 100 (79, Monday evening). Curiously, Washington was also disproportionately represented in the H1N1 breakout, as it is in this one.

The ordinary, and so far much deadlier than the coronavirus, flu follows a seasonal pattern for the reasons you already know: when it’s warm and sunny outside, people stop clustering together inside and get out in the healthy air, a natural germicide.

No, it is not guaranteed sunlit warm air and outdoor living will kill or slow this virus, but it’s where to put your money.

Here’s the thing: I’ve seen dozens of explanations for the origin of this new bug, more dozens of explanations of how it spread, theorizing from everybody on how to stop it. Nobody is blaming—or crediting—nature. Everything bad is some person’s fault, and every success is because of some person or persons. Many are sure their personal level of concern is inversely proportional to the rate of spread. There’s too much credit going around on either side. If you think the politics now is bad, wait until this is over. The blamestorming and trophy-giving will be truly nauseating.

We don’t get this with the flu, or the common cold (sometimes also a coronavirus). These outbreaks always stop, even without active intervention, except for the initial vaccinations (for flu) and admonitions to wash hands. Natural causes account for most effects (good and bad), and we’re happy to say so. Because flu and colds are mundane, and coronavirus is new and panic-worthy.

“Briggs, you’re an uncaring ass. Your advice could make people not care, and not caring kills. You are personally putting old people and children at risk!”

Well, no kids anywhere have died from coronavirus. How about you? You drive, right?


Some 37,000 people a year die horribly and painfully in motor vehicle accidents. The only way to prevent this is a complete shutdown of the nation’s roads, highways, and byways. Every time you get into a car you are selfishly putting children and old people at risk.

That’s just the USA. WHO estimates “1.25 million people die in road crashes each year, on average 3,287 deaths a day.” On top of the deaths, in the USA “An additional 2.35 million are injured or disabled”. Driving is deadly.

About 22,000 people this year died wheezing and strapped to machines of the flu. The only way we could have prevented this was a complete shutdown of all social gatherings, all restaurants, all schools, everything. Every time you go outside you are selfishly exposing your neighbors.

“Those are different.”


“You don’t understand. This is new.”


It seems no one is willing to admit to being responsible for having somebody even get sick in their jurisdiction—the threat of lawsuits in American is always huge—whether this is a political or commercial jurisdiction. Shutting it all down removes blame. Forget who it ruins or what it costs.

Also, part of the terror comes from the clustered nature of the deaths, as well as the newness. Flu is spread out. This virus, being new, hits and runs.

On that newness, this wonderful graph of media-induced panics, contributed by reader Harry Goff. Remember how we were all going to die from ebola? Zika? Bird flu? SARS? MERS?

One last word about good numbers, or all numbers. All numbers are conditional. The Wuhan numbers were condition on Chinese behavior, biology, geography, economics, food, everything that it causally involved. Extrapolating Wuhan numbers to everywhere says everywhere will be like Wuhan in these causal aspects.

There is no single unique case dead rate! Or there is, but it’s 0% or 1% for each person who has the disease. Please be careful in extrapolating.

Bad Numbers

The faith folks have in numbers is nothing next to the absolute conviction that medical tests are perfect.

One of Trump’s advisers said they were developing point-of-care test kits, which might be made widely available. In the hands of a real doctor these can be fine. But they are more inaccurate than lab tests. Trump’s advisers rightly said that not everybody should rush to be tested. The number of false positives and boost in panic that these would cause can only be imagined.

Some guy on Twitter points us to this Italian study of swab testing. They had (Table 3) 32 people tested twice. Results: 18 tested negative both times, 6 tested positive both times, and 4 each inverted the results, a 25% mismatch rate; 12.5% switching either way.

I reiterate: mass testing asymptomatic people is nuts because of false positives, and would lead to even more panic.

False negatives are also a problem. But you have to account for disease severity: ~ 80% experience cold-like symptoms, requiring no treatment. ~15% need treatment, and ~5% die even with it. Tests probably correlate with this, meaning least sick are most likely to test false negative. So the false negatives only directly affect 15%; however, people said to be clear could also pass on the disease. It gets complicated, but the effect is small than false positives, especially in the face of over-reaction.

There is also the distinct possibility of the tests being confused with flu, in the sense that some people dying from the flu will also have coronavirus in them. The deaths can then sometimes wrongly attributed, making coronavirus seem worse. One German doctor is convinced this is the case.

Here’s another story (hat tip) on testing:

The tests are so new — and have so little history behind them — that Maron said he’s been told they are 90% accurate at best. And that’s for patients presenting with the known symptoms: fever, respiratory issues, gastrointestinal distress. For those who aren’t, Maron said, the accuracy is much lower…

So, if you’re symptomatic, meaning you have a fever and cough, and I swab you and send that sample in, the accuracy of that is 90%. There’s a 10% chance it’s wrong, which is a pretty big window. This is opposed to the flu test, which is 99.999% positive. We’ve had enough testing on those and they have refined that the processes that they know for sure.

“This is complicated. It’s complex science. And, the best we can tell, it’s only 90% accurate. And there is no evidence whatsoever to indicate it’s otherwise.”

None of this is new: every person working regularly with medical data knows these things. How long before this is assimilated by the media, the Lord only knows.

Many headlines are like this next one, designed for clicks and panic inducement: The Worst-Case Estimate for U.S. Coronavirus Deaths

Between 160 million and 214 million people in the U.S. could be infected over the course of the epidemic, according to one projection. That could last months or even over a year, with infections concentrated in shorter periods, staggered across time in different communities, experts said. As many as 200,000 to 1.7 million people could die.

This is wrong, not even close to being right. You want the worst case scenario? This: everybody is infected and reinfected with the coronavirus until they die from it. Almost eight billion dead!

Now, with that idiocy out of the way, can we talk about the more likely scenarios?

Incidentally, anybody remember how news media make their money and politicians win their support? Clicks, eyeballs, followers. The more freakish the headline or pronouncement, the bigger the profit the larger the following. Now, honestly, do you think any editor or politician has succumbed to the temptation to exaggerate the coronavirus threat?

Another: “Half Of America Will Get Sick”: Here Is What Goldman Told 1,500 Clients In Its Emergency Sunday Conference Call“. Of all the BS out there, this is the BSiest. Are they short selling?

Here’s a guy (thanks to C-Marie for the tip) who had millions of hits on his ACT NOW OR WE’LL ALL DIE article. A series of impressive looking plots, soberly put advice, and the call for immediate China-style crackdown. Here’s the chart he uses to prove this is necessary:

He shows the “Lockdown” on 23 January, and the day after he adds the label “True new cases immediately plummet”, by which he could have only meant “True new cases continued to increase and even to spike, eventually falling well after the lockdown.”

Here’s an expert: “Ohio health official estimates 100,000 people in state have coronavirus”. At the time this official made this estimate, there were 5 confirmed cases. You’d think an expert mind addled by panic would still know the difference between 5 and 100,000. But, no. They have since walked this number back, but not before increasing the frenzy and closing all restaurants and bars. In Cincinnati, the mayor has threatened to use the police to break up gangs of more than two people on the sidewalk. Mom has to walk the kid alone, or in shifts, if it’s kids.

There was this Washington state doc on Twitter who said his colleagues were reaching the end, exhausted from all the death surrounding them. He made it sound like they were in an active war zone. I called him out on it, saying, “So then Seattle is lying to the rest of the country? Because only 65 people in the whole USA have died from coronavirus (so far). Or maybe they’re dying from fright? And thus not being reported.” He didn’t answer and deleted his tweet.

Everybody wants to be part of the story.

Here’s a random collection of headlines, a small sample taken on just one day; there are hundreds of examples since our last update (I won’t do links): “We’re not going back to the way life was before”, “China bought the west time. The west squandered it”, “The Internet can’t save us from loneliness in pandemic”, “China bought the west time. The west squandered it”, “You will adjust to the new normal”, “Complete shutdown on the table.” On and on.

Our problem is that we, our culture, lives only in the moment. The past is long forgotten, the future an impossibility. This now, is it. And it must be perfect, for there is nothing else. Safety above all is the favored slogan, but this is effeminate.

Just like SARS (remember?), a few areas outside the hot zone had higher case death rates, like in Lombardy with coronavirus.

You have to hand it to Italians, though. They maintain their soul while imprisoned.

Then this.

Modeled Numbers

Monday, the White House mentioned they were doing “modeling”, inputing various parameters such as R0 and “social distancing”. These models said “Panic!” Now I’ve told you many times that what comes out of these models is exactly what you put into them. They are built to say what they say. This does not mean they are wrong, because they might make good predictions. But they’re not used for predictions primarily. They’re used for guidance, to decide what to do before the predictions come in to be verified. Meaning what to do was, in a sense, preordained.

Wasn’t it always obvious that if there is no contact between people that any virus would have a difficult time propagating?

Forget about all that R0 mumbo jumbo. That kind of number is for modelers. Just as there is no single unique case death rate, there is no single unique R0 either. Concentrating on it is like concentrating on the case death rate as if it applies to you as your own personal chance of dying. We’ll just look at actual numbers, and nothing else.

The numbers above suggest a better model than the naive one we have been using is one which models outbreaks in population centers, where the population size varies by how it does in real life. Somebody want to pay me a lot of money to do that? No?

Then we’re stuck with the naive model, which only assumes this infection will spread like most infections do. Small initial increases, then GOING EXPONENTIAL!, then tailing off and puffing out, all this in waves or peaks, and finally the news cycle moving on to new hobgoblins.

Given all that, it’s clear the naive model has been under-predicting the second peak. This is due in part because of the delays and choppiness in reporting, especially from Italy. They’re not exactly running on a 24-hour precise reporting schedule.

The naive model is also biased to the initial slope, and is thus over-certain. We have to keep that in mind. Meaning, since it’s under-predicted before, it’s a good bet it will continue to do so, until the second peak becomes obvious, because the model did well in China (initial peak) after that point, too. Also, the model cannot see any future peaks, which of course might happen, maybe even as late as the fall.

All right, enough of that, here we go, the latest projections, which numbers current as of Monday 8 PM EST.

This says by about the 15th of April, there will be 825,000 total cases, and 14,000 total deaths. That’s conditional on the model; adding in under-prediction says these totals will be higher. How much higher? Depends on how far from the second peak we are.

The daily new cases:

Probably not there yet, though the model has it coming in about two weeks. The choppiness in reporting, however, is now readily apparent.

Incidentally, this choppiness, even averaged over the whole world, shows why models on a country level would be even more variable. The worldwide totals averages out some of the variability.

Here are the daily new deaths:

If we’re not at the case peak, and you can’t die before having the bug, the closer predicted death peak can’t be right. Or if it is right, then that means the new cases likely have a healthy dose of false positives. Or that many have a less deadly strain of the bug.

This is doubtful because of the simple case death rate, pictured here:

Recall that this is just the simple dividing of total deaths by total cases. That inflection point a little more than a week back speaks Italian. The individual city case dead rate in the most troubled areas of China were about 4%, and this total is pushing that direction. Just like SARS (as I have been repeating endlessly), there were areas outside the Chinese hot zone that had higher case dead rates in the secondary peak.

Recall too the initial dip in this is caused after the first peak forms, which is after the initial sickest people meet their maker. Same thing for the second smaller dip.

Do focus on the total numbers of deaths to date: 7,113 (as of Monday evening). That seem lower than you might have guessed given the media and political frenzy?

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  1. Michael Dowd

    I agree. The cure is worst than the disease. Send everybody back to work. Old folks (like me) can stay home where most of them stay anyway. No big deal. Move on.

  2. Dr. Bruce A. Wineman

    Dr. Briggs, Thank you for making the attempt to halt the “Panic”. Unfortunately, panic is “self-propelling” and once that ‘stampede’ begins attempts to turn the herd are much more difficult. I will do my part, having been trained as a Physician and Microbiologist but Right and Reason are hard to bring back to the charging herd!

  3. Nym Coy

    Stop raining on my parade. Social distancing has been awesome! I finally get to homeschool. I don’t have to take my kids to playdates and activities. It’s like a grand holiday! I hope it lasts forever!

  4. Nate

    The Goldman thing was a hoax. Probably by a short seller though.

  5. I may have just gotten over the Kung Flu. I’m not really sure. It may have been spring allergies, or an exceedingly minor cold.

  6. Excellent post and correct. Manias and panics are a human thing. They are contagious, too, in their own way. They exist in human minds, even when the events that prompt them do not.

  7. David B

    An excellent post – and I especially appreciated the link to the Medium article on sunlight as a disinfectant – I was completely unaware of that tested history.

    Here in Seattle (as in other places) the local government – pushed and egged on by the chicken-with-their-head-cut-off media – have gone nuts and closed all restaurants etc. etc. This in a city which led the $15/hr movement precisely because it is filled with restaurant workers who completely depend on their jobs working in our many eateries. How destroying their livelihoods for the next several months – with all the follow on effects that will have on them – will help them is not clear to me.

    I’ve lived through three major earthquakes – but the one that sticks in my mind today is the San Francisco “World Series” 1989 earthquake. I was living in the “Sunset” area of San Francisco, and happened to be walking around with her when that earthquake hit. Nothing has ever been so scary in my life as seeing 19th Ave – a major 4 lane road – actually ripple up and down like a wave hitting the beach. (The neighborhood in that area is literally built on sand.) On the way home we saw cracks in the exterior walls of buildings and some plate glass windows broken on the street. There were some incidents that were very very bad in very local areas. Especially that elevated freeway in Oakland which collapsed killing many. Then too the section of the bay bridge which collapsed – i think one person died there. And finally, there was a building in the Marina district that pancaked (that area is build on sand) possibly killing a couple of people but also causing a large smoky fire. Now, I am not minimized the tragedy of the deaths of those people (or a few others scattered about the area) – by no means! BUT! My mother, in Los Angeles, was in a complete panic for us because ALL the news channels were showing those three incidents from hovering helicopter video over and over and over for hours. To her watching the TV it looked as if the entire city was collapsed and burning, destroyed.

    And that’s what’s happening now.

  8. Sheri

    It’s much easier to terrify the public, which is THE GOAL OF THIS POLITICAL WEAPONIZATION OF A DISEASE, if you use an unknown and insist that it is nothing like any other flu or SARS-type outbreak, even when the original designation of covid 19 was SARS-CoV-2, indicating there is a relationship to the original SARS. SARS burned out completely in two years time.

    The testing may actually backfire. Many test positive, few die–government was an evil liar and ruined businesses for nothing. It won’t be pretty. There may have been cases before we found out the virus was out there–people coming from China all the time. What was labelled flu death or illness may well have been covid 19. That throws off all the numbers.

    Nym Coy: There is a danger here. You may decide to stay home and home school the kids, develop new activities you enjoy, rather than do “because all the parents do it”, and that the government has zero to with, etc. You may find you can live without constant social interaction and the government nanny state. It’s a risk I don’t think the government recognizes at the moment anyway.
    Business owners will hate the government, thus further destorying the “nanny state”. I wonder how the broke and deserted business people in CA, etc, are going to view their “savior” Newsom. A crucifixion perhaps???? (Wait until the homeless Newsom blew off as not worthy of human status get this….)

  9. steve

    So, I went to your CDC link… Cumulative Numbers for the current flu season…
    It seems that seasonal flu statistics are based on extrapolations (makes sense).
    The numbers from actual testing are:
    Specimens Tested – 1,073,976
    Positive Specimens (%) – 222,552 (20.7%)
    Hospitalizations – 17,889

    I can’t find any MORTALITY numbers from actual testing though (other than pediatric). They do provide a mortality number of 22,000, but this would seem to be an extrapolation.

    If we had the actual mortality number from the specimens tested, it seems like we could then have a more meaningful comparison of “seasonal flu” to COVID-19.

    What am I missing?

  10. C. R. Dickson

    One day on the road in the English countryside,
    a clergyman happened to meet Plague.
    “Where are you bound?” asked the clergyman.
    “To London,” responded Plague, “to kill a thousand.”
    They chatted a few moments longer, then parted.
    Some months later they chanced to meet again,
    and the clergyman inquired,
    “As I recall, you were going to kill a thousand.”
    How is it that two thousand died?”
    “Ah yes,” replied Plague.
    “I killed but a thousand. Fear killed the rest.”

  11. jim fedako

    Let’s also remember this virus leads to mostly mild cases. That means, many, many more folks have it, but do not show significant symptoms, so do not get tested.

    According to the numbers from this morning: the US has 4,573 active cases, with only 12 — twelve — as in two more than ten — critical ones.

    And this shut down my state (Ohio). Amazing!

  12. Josh Postema

    “Flattening the curve” of the WuFlu is meaningless unless the x and y axis are defined.

    But the y-axis is based on models with highly uncertain assumptions baked in using bad data, making the scale profoundly unreliable.

    And the x-axis is never defined any anyone. It’s trivially true that if you quarantine everyone to their home for the rest of their lives, they can’t spread illness. So what? There’s a cost curve to the damage a quarantine does, too, and its y-axis is also a body count, and it’s curve is an exponential one, not the logarithmic one that a viral outbreak has.

    If someone chants “flatten the curve!”, demand scales for each axis. Make them show their work. If they can’t, get your money back.

  13. Sheri

    Was watching TV and there was an ad for home appliance warranties. First thought: Good luck with that. Repair people are not going houses where the occupants are sheltering in place or are actually sick. Wonder how two weeks or more without a frig, or a hot water heater, or a furnace is going to play out. (Remember, these guys don’t make much money so are not inclined to take many risks.)

  14. Dave

    Your estimate for total cases was about 120,000 two weeks ago (you didn’t say this explicitly, but that’s roughly what the chart suggested: It was “~160,000” one week ago ( Today it’s 825,000. Seems as if your predictions may be growing roughly exponentially. Using a meta-model of your predictions, my prediction is that your prediction next week will be about 1.7M total cases, followed by about 4.5M total cases the following week. Of course, since the predictions are growing exponentially, you should judge the accuracy of my predictions of your predictions on a log scale. Orders of magnitude are what count here.

    No doubt things like R0 vary by density, culture, policies, etc. But it’s pretty clear that actions matter. Look at Taiwan and the very early actions they took. Right next to China and not many infections. Singapore may have been helped by weather, although it’s clear that warm weather doesn’t stop it completely. Their policies may have also helped slow the spread. Italy and Spain, far from the “hot spot” are in a crisis in the sense that their hospitals are overwhelmed. Also, let’s see what happens when China tries to return to normal after unlocking the lock downs. I’m betting they see new cases pick up the pace again (if they report real numbers).

    I think you’re missing something in your premises, and that’s reflected in how much your estimate jumped in just the last week.

  15. Dave

    I was going to say that Boris Johnson’s testing your herd-immunity/just-the-flu-bro theory in the UK, but he seems to have backed down quickly.

    A lot of frequent-flyer VIPs are getting sick, many of them over 70, and they want this thing stopped NOW.

  16. bruce charlton

    Good work sir!

    You ask: “Why didn’t we freak out then and do now?”

    IMO because in 2020 ‘They’ already had a plan to crash the world economy and mount a totalitarian takeover of the developed world, well worked-out and ready to roll. But They were expecting to do so on on the excuse of the Climate Emergency. When this trivial non-event came along, They grabbed the chance, modified the excuse, and implemented the plan anyway. And it has worked. We’ve been living in a totalitarian police state for more than a week now – and every day new powers are announced: elections are suspended, universal curfew, detetion without arrest or trial etc. And it has worked a dream, and it has worked globally – with the terrified Godless psychotic masses begging for their own slavery to be imposed more rapidly and more completely.

  17. Richard A

    Well, Sheri, if they don’t make much money, they might taken any work that comes their way.

  18. Evangeline

    I’m sure you understand the facts and math in a way I don’t, but I have to sit here next to Dave. I think we had better act as if this is the bubonic, and treat it accordingly. There is something different about this illness, and perhaps it is the not-talked about aspect of how many end up on ventilators, when there are clearly not enough ventilators to go around. As I heard it, poor old people in Italy died without benefit of oxygen support, because there simply are not enough, and chances are the older you were, the less likely to get help. It is not charming to drown at any age, but apparently that is what this illness feels like, the level of sinus drip is overwhelming.
    Yes it’s extreme, but it doesn’t feel like scare tactics or manipulation to me at all. It feels like the proper response (unprecedented) so that as few people over 60 as possible will require ventilation they can’t get and die out in the parking lots of hospitals, accompanied by distraught loved ones, or in their homes where nobody knows until somebody smells something in July. That is horribly graphic, but we ought to do whatever we can now, in order to avoid that possible scenario. Just sayin.

  19. Buttercup

    Bruce Charlton, you figured it out.

  20. jim fedako

    Then every disease must be treated as a potential plague. That means lockdowns each and every flu season, for all of us.

    Is that the world you propose? It’s more scary than the disease.

  21. lliamander

    I’m going to have to agree with Dave here. Telling us “nothing to see here!” while your numbers keep changing does not inspire confidence in your predictions.

    Regarding the “sobering” analysis from Dr. Christakis, I will note a couple things:

    – CoVID-19/SARS2 is estimated to be roughly as infectious/lethal as th 1957 flu pandemic. It seems that at the time it was pretty bad, and schools were closed for a time. Were people also “panicking” then?

    – Dr Chistakis also points out that it is estimated that between 20% and 60% of the population will be infected. It seems that the 1-in-5 Americans who think they will get it are right!

    Lastly, a request for clarification: what do you mean by “panicking”? Buying toilet paper in excess is curious but will probably subside as people acquire an adequate supply. You might think people would stock up on beans and rice, but good hygiene is also an important aspect of good health and should not be neglected in a case of supply chain disruptions.

    Preparation is not panic.

  22. C-Marie

    So, a great opening for the One World Government to appear in the guise of The Great Protector of nations. Definitely, yet remember, that God is in control of all. We all have the choice of being His, or not.

    Under President Trump, there will not be a nanny state.

    We are practicing caution, self-isolating as I am 76 and have intermittent asthma difficulties. But all is well.

    We will each leave earth at sometime, by God’s will, so be prepared by living in Him Who is Love. He loves you completely.

    God bless, C-Marie

  23. Kalif

    The virus is 100% indifferent to our intentions, actions and especially ‘thoughts and prayers’. We have enough historical data to see what happened in various places (Europe after WWI influenza or St. Louis vs. Philadelphia thing) to make some kind of effort to curb this, but it’s just postponing the inevitable.
    This has been turned into a big deal because WE KNOW we are unprepared to deal with a serious pandemic. It’s not like we have to ‘estimate’ the no. of ventilators across the country. We know how many we have (a few).

    In any case, if it’s not this one, there will be another.
    Her is the podcast from 2/5 when all this was not a big deal and S&P 500 was at 33K:

  24. Arthur McGowan

    When article is this long, I suspect a snow job. I.e., an avalanche job. If there is good, solid evidence that the virus is not much of a problem, it shouldn’t take 500,000 words to make the case.

  25. Josh Postema

    “When article is this long, I suspect a snow job. I.e., an avalanche job. If there is good, solid evidence that the virus is not much of a problem, it shouldn’t take 500,000 words to make the case.”

    I’ll call it the Bumper Sticker Fallacy. It has the form “Your case for [insert position here] is longer than my attention span, which can only apprehend arguments that fit on bumper stickers, so the argument must be spurious].

  26. Jim Fedako

    Josh –

    Do you apply the “Easily Distracted Veto” to everything you read? I bet if you asked, Briggs could do a graphic novel version. You know, cartoons and limited text.

  27. Uncle Mike

    Here is something new that will alter the graph: a cure has been found. It turns out that a common anti-malarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, is effective at both preventing and curing Corona virus infections. See:

    Somewhat overly simplistically, hydroxychloroquine alters the pH of the cell walls in the lungs, preventing entry by the virus and messing with it’s DNA so it cannot replicate.

    Regardless of how many people get infected, very few will have severe symptoms, and those who do can be cured.

    It may take a while to sink in, but the panic will end soon. A cure! It beats a vaccine. Praise the Lord!

  28. Dear Dr. Briggs

    What I don’t see from your numbers is the answer to the question to whether the low number of cases in Shanghai were due to:

    1) A timely and efficient lockdown

    2) Just keeping normal hygiene because the virus is not contagious enough

    3) The virus is so much non-contagious that even if the whole world would go on an orgy it the case number would be low

    We have a bad case of outbreak in Ischgl in Austria which the sort of “nightlife” place that is very much like a town-wide orgy:

    So, at least the kind of night clubs where people shout song lyrics in each others mouths, kiss with random strangers and so on should be closed?

  29. Sheri

    A friend of mine said yesterday about the Chinese: “I suppose they are proud they conquered the world with a virus and fear and never had to leave their country.”

    Comments above seem to indicate they are right—humans can be freaking scared to death and self-immolate over a virus that “might” hurt them. Humans are quickly reaching the “we are too stupid to breathe” level where mass death occures from lack of intelligence and ability to think. An emoting human is an evolutionary dead-end and we’re showing we are just about there, if not there.

    (There was a piece on idiot teenagers giving up Tide Pods amd now licking toilet seats because of coronavirus. One hoped she died so she didn’t get old and ugly. I suspect she has nothing to worry about with that tiny IQ nature will take her out soon. Seems we may already be at the evolutionary dead-end…)

  30. Frans van Eeden

    In the end the economy will win. We will all have stayed at home until the economic breaking point where the cost of staying home exceeds the cost of throwing the weak into the jaws of the virus.

    All will be back to normal (an adjusted normal for a short while until we forget again) in 3 – 4 weeks and survival of the fittest rules again, i.e. he with the most toys…
    Bonus rabbit hole: why are Darwinists not celebrating this virus ?

  31. Pooch

    The case death rate (stop saying dead rate) in Lombardia, Italy is over 10%. What do your numbers say if that number is extrapolated to the world instead of Wuhan?

  32. Josh Postema

    “The case death rate (stop saying dead rate) in Lombardia, Italy is over 10%. What do your numbers say if that number is extrapolated to the world instead of Wuhan?”

    It’s hard to pull statistics, but the best I’ve found put it at only 17 dead under 50 (and all but 2 of those with several severe conditions) in Italy. Considering they’ve turned away people from getting tested if they don’t have the most extreme conditions, that 10% is vastly oversampled.

    There’s also the facts that Italy has an above average mortality rate for the flu every year, has 1/3 the ICU beds per capita as the US (and one of the lowest per capita in Europe), has these 85-95% full in a good year, has one of the oldest populations in the world (second to Japan only), has a culture where many generations live within the same homes, has a lot of traffic back and forth with Wuhan directly, has high smoking rates… the list could keep going.

    It ought not be terribly surprising that they’ve been hit so hard. It’s hard to imagine anywhere being so perfectly vulnerable. It makes for a pretty inaccurate model.

  33. C-Marie

    So hope so, Uncle Mike!

    God bless, C-Marie

  34. Paul

    We’ll all get it.
    A small fraction of us will go to the hospital.
    They can’t all go to the hospital at the same time. The infrastructures are not there.
    That’s the simple math.
    It’s not for me, it’s for them.

  35. David B

    Midway down this page – – is a chart showing daily results from Coronavirus testing by the University of Washington Medical School here in Seattle, WA.

    You can see that they’ve ramped up the number of tests they’re doing – but look at the growth of the red percentage – positive tests – versus the total height of the bars – does that look exponential to you?

  36. Darin Johnson

    David B

    It’s really hard to know what to make of that graph without understanding the criteria by which they decide whom to test. Why is the number of tests dropping off the past few days?

  37. Kent Clizbe


    Here are the Washington State Dept of Health guidelines for testing for C19:

    “There are currently no restrictions for who can be tested for COVID-19 in Washington State. However, our guidance to healthcare providers (PDF) directs them to focus testing on people with COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath. The guidance makes recommendations about who is at highest priority for testing. While anyone can ask a provider to be tested for COVID-19, testing is provided at the provider’s discretion.”

    So, it’s likely that healthcare providers are following the guidelines, and testing people with symptoms: fever, cough, shortness of breath.

    Number of tests: First, they appear to be updating these numbers a couple of times a day. So the info for today is a partial count, as of the last time they updated the site.

    For yesterday’s lower number of tests: could it be that there are fewer people with symptoms, therefore fewer people tested? That is the logical conclusion–but there may be another reason.

  38. Wilt Alston

    “Do focus on the total numbers of deaths to date: 7,113 (as of Monday evening). That seem lower than you might have guessed given the media and political frenzy?”

    Despite my own experience with statistics and analysis, I did *NOT* read and absorb your entire article, at least not in detail. (Mea culpa.) That does not stop me from agreeing with the intent, however. The quote above is what seals it. How in the hell can we simultaneously have only ~8,000 worldwide deaths from ~210,0000 confirmed, i.e., reported, worldwide cases AND a shutdown-the-world pandemic? Does not make sense for both to be legitimate. What am I missing?

  39. FX Turk

    Hi Briggs – I like the tough talk and the sarcasm, and I like the bravado. I like punchy text. I like swagger. I’m not sure I like the boat-loads of arguments from ignorance. You’re right to say, over and over, that the “naive case” has a lot of holes in it. The problem your view has is that it uses those holes as proof of the opposite rather than mere cause for caution.

    I also am quite sure that you, like almost every skeptic about the extreme actions being taken across the globe (not just in the US), are underplaying the impact of every form of distancing and quarantine being taken. That is: the trope “see things are not getting worse in X” ignores that in every place things are not getting worse, extreme measures to reduce the spread have been taken.

    If I am fair, you lost my belief in your good will in the beginning with your math about applying the rate of infection in China to the US. It is probably right to say that the rate of infection in Wuhan is the likely worst case anywhere, but then you never apply that worst case to the US. You apply the watered-down Wuhan-over-China case to the US, which minimizes the potential outcome. And you don’t bother, for example, thinking of how things may play out in NYC which happens to look a lot like Wuhan in terms of population density and then asking how many densely-populated areas like this exist in the US?

    The last thing Prolly worth saying here is that in every crisis, people respond as they always do to sudden change:
    Denial, blaming, anger, sorrow, uncertainty, then on to acceptance and problem-solving. Tons of people, like you, are not at the midpoint of this process of accepting the sudden crisis, and that’s fine. But camping out in denial and anger is probably (since this is a straight-talking blog) stupid. My hope is that you and your readers, since you are not actually stupid but stuck, will move on rather than drawing others into your rut.

    Best wishes.

  40. Dr. Bruce A. Wineman

    FX Turk: Don’t know what your medical background might be, if it exists. If there is such a background is it theoretical or “practical” and “in the trenches”? Having looked at the “link” it appears you are selling something. That will not help those that are in fear of “ghosts” vs. “substantive risk”.

  41. Kent Clizbe

    “That is: the trope “see things are not getting worse in X” ignores that in every place things are not getting worse, extreme measures to reduce the spread have been taken.”

    Wrong, bucko! We have very clear evidence of exactly how deadly this is–with NO measures taken to reduce the spread.

    They did a research study on that–it’s called the Diamond Princess. They took a mixed demographic group of about 7000 people, confined them in close quarters (sleeping side by side in boxes), with air re-circulated over the entire group, fed them from open trays that each of them walked by and put their hands in. Isolated them from the rest of the world. Inserted an infected person into that group. Let the infected person circulate among the others for about a week. Then kept them that way for three weeks.

    This is the absolute worst case scenario. About 7000 people locked up with each other on the ship for several weeks, with an infected person inserted during their captivity. The results? About 700 infections, and about 7 deaths.

    The guinea pigs included a large proportion of the most at risk–elderly people. And yet still in this most extreme worst case, only 7 people died out of 7000.

    In 2009, 4000 Americans had died of swine flu before Obama’s handlers began taking action. It was declared a global pandemic. It was touted as capable of wiping out mankind. But we did not destroy the American economy.

    We’ve been through this before without obliterating trillions of dollars.

  42. C-Marie

    So glad that God is leading our President, the Vice President, and his advisors through all of this.

    Maybe take a crystal clear look at these numbers:

    Daily in the United States of America, every day, about 3,000 unborn babies and babies born of abortion are murdered, are killed by their mothers.

    In the world, according to WHO, there are 125,000 murders by mothers, through abortion, each day of babies, still in the womb and including those born by way of abortion.

    In numbers alone, things are not so bad for us from the Covid-19, who were not killed in the above way. Just always be ready to meet our Creator, and pray for life and health and healing for all, and wash hands with great frequency!!

    God bless, C-Marie

  43. Macdor

    This post didn’t age well did it, you climate change denying, contrarian unctuous POS

  44. Krzysztof

    Yup, it did not.
    New York alone already has doubled confirmed cases of his estimate for the entire USA.

  45. Krzysztof

    Wilt Alston – that a week later the number of deaths is triple than this and the actions needs to be taken before we see the final numbers and not in the retrospective, that’s what you missing, thanks for question.

  46. FX Turk

    Hi Dr. Winemann – I’m not a doctor. My critiques are not about medicine but about math — and how Briggs is misusing math.

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