0.1% of the US has died of covid-19

2020 December 27

As of today, 0.1% of the US has officially died of covid-19; the true death toll is likely much higher. (population 332.0m, covid deaths 333055)

The states with at least 0.1% deaths are NJ (0.2%), NY, MA, ND, SD, CT, RI, LA, MS, IL, MI, IA, PA, IN, AZ, AR, NM, and DC.

The countries with at least 0.1% deaths are Belgium (0.16%), San Marino (0.16%), Slovenia (0.12%), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy, North Macedonia, Peru, Andorra, Spain, Montenegro, the UK, Bulgaria, Czechia, and the US. Note that Belgium is unusual in classifying many suspected cases as official deaths.

Why did this happen? Overwhelmed each day with the extraordinary evil and ineptitude of the Republican organization, it is easy (and right) to blame the spread of the disease in part on them and their supporters. However the US did not uniquely fail among all countries.

Neither was the disease so terrible that failure was inevitable. China, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and possible a few other countries (Saudi Arabia?) all succeeded at fully containing the disease after widespread community transmission had begun.

Rather western governments, in every country and at every level, regardless of political affiliation, give the appearance of being impotent to respond to change.

Dealing with the covid pandemic required a large and rapid response. Within 45 days of the first unambiguous case of human-to-human transmission (the infection of a healthcare worker on 2020 January 10), China had already employed more than 9000 contact tracers for the city of Wuhan alone, tracing tens of thousands of possible contacts per day; about 90% of contacts underwent medical observation. At the same time, more than 40000 healthcare workers were brought into Wuhan from other regions to deal with the outbreak. For comparison, by the end of the outbreak, there had been fewer than 83000 confirmed cases in all of China.

Proportionate to the number of confirmed cases, which are grossly undercounted in the US, this would be as if the US had hired 2 million contact tracers and almost 9 million additional healthcare workers. The US and other western countries failed to devote anywhere near sufficient resources to the problem, even with the benefit of months of advance notice and very specific advice given by the WHO.

Of course, had the US dedicated such resources early, not nearly so much would be required. In Hubei, (note that parts of these claims on Wikipedia are unsourced)

Since Wuhan’s healthcare system was overrun which could have tremendously under diagnosed patients, new laboratories had to be built at a rapid rate. On February 5, a 2000-sq-meter emergency detection laboratory named “Huo-Yan” was opened by BGI, which can process over 10,000 samples a day. With the construction overseen by BGI-founder Wang Jian and taking 5-days, modelling has shown cases in Hubei would have been 47% higher and the corresponding cost of the tackling the quarantine would have doubled if this testing capacity hadn’t come on line.

Testing in China was very thorough, and a key component of their success. In May, after the epidemic had passed, 93% of Wuhan was tested and no infectious people were found.

I have not gone into detail for New Zealand or Australia as I do not have such information, but their success demonstrates that a totalitarian government is not necessary to defeat covid.

Besides testing, tracing, and healthcare, China imposed mandatory restrictions on the movement and gathering of people, beginning with the lockdown of 11 million people in Wuhan on January 23, 13 days after the first unambiguous human-to-human transmission. I am unaware of a single lockdown taking place in the “West”, other than some partial restrictions imposed in northern Italy. Although months later, some western governments did eventually make proclamations concerning mask wearing, curfews, or restrictions on travel and businesses. I’ve observed and read about many flagrant violations of these “mandates” (including by those proclaiming or “enforcing” them), but never heard any instance of a violation being penalized.

Defeating the disease pays for itself. Among the 48 countries listed here, China is the only whose economy grew from Q2 2019 to Q2 2020; only Ireland, Turkey, China, Luxembourg, and New Zealand grew year-on-year in Q3 2020, with South Korea performing the best among OECD countries. Note that ordinarily about 20% of New Zealand’s economy is based on tourism. Taiwan grew year-on-year ending both Q2 and Q3 2020. Most other economies that grew in the last year were in Africa, south-east Asia, or Guyana (due to recent oil discoveries). Unsurprisingly, the OECD’s 2020 December macroeconomic report mentions covid on almost every page.

Returning to the US, it is facile to exclusively blame Republicans when failure to meaningfully act in the face of the pandemic seems to be ubiquitous at all levels of government (though degree of failure is correlated with Republican-ism). What accounts for this inaction? (While actually defeating the pandemic is impossible without help from the federal government, lesser interventions would still be helpful.) Did areas not fully captured by the Republican organization passively sit by because they are insufficiently politically progressive? Even liberal “stronghold” Massachusetts has a Republican governor and voted 32% for Trump in 2020. Or is there another factor besides politics, some underlying tendency towards bureaucracy and inaction pervasive in western institutions that New Zealand somehow escaped?

Either way bodes poorly for addressing climate change. I’d trade ten more of these pandemics, equally ineptly handled, to fix the climate. …Although I wonder if pandemics might be a regular feature of our future regardless.

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