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COVID-19, April 28 and Beyond: From Here, The Math Doesn’t Lie

The math doesn't lie. COVID-19 will be a terrible problem for New York City. The federal government should apply a maximum amount of aid and effort to help them. The rest of the nation should swarm areas like Albany and other places where solid outbreaks are occurring.

The truth of COVID-19 is no longer a matter of speculation. The math doesn’t lie.

Whether you believe China’s official figures or not (I don’t), the U.S. is experiencing a doubling of Coronavirus cases every three days. If unchecked, that leaves us in a very bad place (32 million cases in 15 days).

But take heart: The model doesn’t go there, because the U.S. has been flattening the curve for two weeks now. On February 26, we had 60 cases in America. The number doubled every two days, by my back-of-the-envelope math, until about March 9. Then we started to bend it down in many places.

The bad news is that, by the diversity of response, and by demographics, and by statistical misfortune, some areas have had it much worse than others. Albany, Georgia, a city of about 75,000, nestled in three or four sparsely populated counties in the state’s agricultural southwest, is completely overwhelmed.

New York City is still on a logarithmic doubling every two days. But keep in mind that health data (including the CDC’s) is looking back up to 10 days, due to delays in testing, results, and data aggregation. To look at “today” data, we have to extrapolate based on the math. And like I said, the math doesn’t lie.

Currently, New York City has about 25,000 cases, fully one quarter of the entire nation, and the social distancing measures there have only just begun to bite–if they have had any effect at all–in the community spread of the disease. If we expect, for the next 10 days, that number to double every two days, we’re looking at 400,000 cases by the end of next week. That number won’t be reported right away though–it will take another week to see it.

For the rest of the nation, we’ll see more examples like Albany. The key to our response will be to isolate those pockets and aggressively treat the sick there, while keeping the hammer down on the rest of the country’s social distancing.

Then, maybe by Easter, we will have enough testing capacity to start aggressively going back to what CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said, “It’s going to take rigorous, aggressive public health — what I like to say, block and tackle, block and tackle, block and tackle, block and tackle.”

“That means if you find a new case, you isolate it,” he added. Of course, we’re way, way past “a new case.” We’re in full bloom of unchecked community spread in some places, and operating without testing data in most others. That’s scary. But again, we rely on the math.

The math is telling us where to apply resources.

President Trump’s “quarantine” of the NYC Tri-State metro area, though facially unconstitutional, may be the right strategy. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ call for those fleeing south from New York to self-quarantine is also a good call. Rhode Island is adopting a similar strategy, by pulling over those with NY license plates (I’m not sure it’s the most efficient way, but R.I. does its own thing). In any case, keeping New York’s outbreak contained is wise, lest it spread outward like a plague.

Where does the math take us from here? It’s hard to say, but let’s say the goal is to reduce the measured R0 (“R-naught” – the number of persons one already infected person is likely to infect) below 1.0. That means the case count will continue to grow until we achieve it.

If NYC can get their cases under control, and the rest of the nation exercises maximum social distancing until around April 24 (coincidentally, the end date for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s school closure order), the country may top out at between 4 and 9 million cases, with NYC having anywhere from 800,000 to 3 million. That may seem like a lot, but it would be a total victory for social distancing and flattening the curve.

We could, however, do much better: we might top out at 2-3 million with NYC having half of those if the rest of the nation does better. Much of this depends on how quickly mass testing comes online.

The math doesn’t lie. COVID-19 will be a terrible problem for New York City. The federal government should apply a maximum amount of aid and effort to help them. The rest of the nation should swarm areas like Albany and other places where solid outbreaks are occurring.

In about six months, we should be able to reassess and look back. The math won’t lie (except for China, which has never been close to honest–the same math used here would mean China had at least 3 million cases, not the specious under-100,000 they are clinging to).

New York City will be scarred by COVID-19 in a way that hasn’t happened since 9/11. But the city will make it through. And the nation will make it through.

Don’t listen to me, though. Rely on the math, and stay safe–six feet away please.


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