July 30, 2020 Corona Update

For data buffs, this link has more comprehensive information than I have seen previously on the status of the Corona Virus in every state.


It should, it is the weekly report of the Coronavirus Task Force, headed by Vice President Pence. It is reassuring to know that this detailed data is being collected. 

It is certainly not clear from public presentations, and current decision making, that all of this information was known and being put to use.

One interesting piece of data from the report is that the average rate of new cases per day in the United States is 140 per 100,000 population. Maryland’s average is 89/100,00 and Florida’s is 350/100,00. Maryland’s percent of positive cases remains low at 4.7% and Florida’s is 16%. Twenty-one states have new case rates at greater than 100/100,000 and are considered “red zone” states by the task force. These are the list of red zone states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

Maryland’s data is not straightforward: Though the percentage of positive cases has remained stable at 4.4 – 4.7% since mid-June, the number of recorded cases has gone up considerably, and this is in fact due to improved testing. In June, Maryland averaged about 10,000 tests per day and now we are averaging over 20,000. Most counties in Maryland, including Anne Arundel, have caseloads below the national average of 140/100,000. But two Eastern Shore Counties Dorchester and Worcester, have caseloads well into the red zone. Dorchester may be due to the poultry industry workers and Worcester, the home of Ocean City, due to people working on their tan.  (It’s hard to drink a margarita with a face mask on.)

Deaths in Maryland have remained steady at under 10 per day since the beginning of July. Total hospitalizations for Covid have increased, but the ICU portion of these hospitalizations has not. This is indicative of more admissions for moderate level disease. These patients will tend to improve and not leave us, thus the stability of the death rate.

The data for Maryland is not terrible but could be better. Most public health experts believe that the main source of viral transmission now is occurring at bars and indoor restaurants. Crowded outdoor areas where people are sans mask may also pose a problem. A walk-through downtown Annapolis on a Saturday night will quickly answer the question, “I wonder why this virus is still spreading?”

The statistics for the country as a whole just look plain bad.  Total new cases have remained consistently over 65,000 per day, up from 30,000 in the early peak of the pandemic when you decided to postpone that trip to New York.  Deaths from the virus nadired at 343 (7-day average) around July 4^th and have more than tripled to 1106 now.

Here’s the thing:  We really do, now, after watching the success and failures of states and other countries, understand how to stop this thing, or at least starve it so that it does not ruin our lives.  We have slowly snuffed out transmission by wearing masks, avoiding crowds, distancing, washing hands. Working from home, spreading out essential workers in the workplace and dining outside have helped in depriving this virus of a mechanism to spread.  We do not have to shut our economy down; we just have to be smart about how we interact until a vaccine becomes available.  This will allow us to survive literally and economically.

When I perused the data from the Task Force, above, I was astounded at the amount of work that goes into preparing this report every week. It is breathtaking and I encourage all of you to take a glimpse at it. But I am equally astounded at how this information is squandered and not put to use.

Watching the Covid -19 press briefing yesterday, several minutes were spent by the President first discussing his own use of hydroxychloroquine, then taking questions about it from the press. The President had retweeted a video of a doctor in Houston who said that there was no need to wear masks and that hydroxychloroquine was a cure for Covid-19. A reporter pointed out that this doctor also believed that the virus came from alien DNA and that women could be impregnated by demons in their sleep. (I am not making this up). Last night I received two emails questioning whether this doctor’s thesis about hydroxychloroquine had merit. I would just say, consider the source.

There is an opportunity cost to wasting time on this nonsense. Here’s an alternative idea for using the data accumulated by the task force and discussing it at press briefings. 1) Identify counties across the country that are the hardest hit by the virus and amp up the public health messages there and enforcement of behaviors that slow the virus. 2) Identify where testing is inadequate and use a national strike force to bring resources to these areas including rapid tests and case tracking. 3) Instead of just opening up schools in red zone areas, (this is like prescribing a Bavarian Cream donut to a patient with uncontrolled diabetes) use the data to postpone opening schools in counties that are sure to exacerbate the problem and open schools in counties with low viral loads. 4) Utilize the power of the federal government to get rapid tests to all of the places that need it – schools, medical facilities, and offices where essential employees work.

And in case you were wondering how the airline industry is doing, I came across this yesterday in a New York Times article:

Dubai’s flagship airline, Emirates, says (https://www.emirates.com/media-centre/emirates-covers-customers-from-covid-19-expenses-in-industry-leading-initiative-to-boost-travel-confidence/) it will now provide all passengers with free insurance covering medical expenses up to 150,000 euros (about $175,000), and €100 daily for a 14-day quarantine period, should a passenger be found to have the virus within 31 days of traveling on one of its flights. Should a passenger die from Covid-19, the airline will provide €1,500 toward funeral costs. To qualify, customers must book a ticket before the end of October.

Now that’s reassuring:  the airline will pay for your funeral expenses should you die from Covid after you fly on their plane. Better hurry, tickets are selling fast.

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