The University of Washington has done projections illustrating the growth of cases in the U.S., versus other infected nations (per NPR, Mar. 12). Our acceleration rate is similar to Iran, Italy and South Korea, which have done an extremely poor job of containment. The rate of case growth in the U.S. is much, much higher than Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan, nations that have really taken “aggressive action” (like early testing, which we have yet to do on a reasonable scale) to contain the pandemic.
I understand why the health care experts don’t want to give figures on how bad this might get. That want to avoid public panic. Well, panic has already set in, based on the shelves of food stores.
So, I’ll give very rough projections a try. Note that I’m not an epidemiologist. But I did spend over two decades doing health planning for the state of Georgia and hospital companies, including many projections.
There are 93 million Americans over age 55 (Kaiser Family Foundation). Based on age alone, they are “high-risk.” Plus, lots of younger folks have underlying diseases (COPD, cancer, asthma, and so on) making them high-risk as well. So, for the purposes of discussion, let’s estimate that we have 100 million in the high-risk pool.
No one truly knows how many of them will get the virus. However, we do know that despite the flu vaccine, 12% of our population still gets the flu annually. That could equate to 12 million people in the high-risk group getting the Coronavirus if the rate is similar.
Many will recover, but some will not. How many will die is anyone’s guess. We know that at least one Trump official (DHS’s Wolf) attempted to mislead Congress into believing the overall death rate was similar to flu. It’s likely much higher, 2%-3%, based on Chinese figures.
But, what's the percentage for at-risk populations? I've heard one public health official predict it could be 50% of those who previously were severely ill and catch it. No one really knows for sure, but the World Health Organization says that for those 60 and over, it ranges from 3.6% to 14.8%, depending on age.
Applying these figures to Georgia, we would have 2.694 million people in the high-risk group (Kaiser, 2018). With the flu, 12 % of the U.S. population catch it. Using the lower 3.6% figure, that could mean about 11,000 Coronavirus deaths in Georgia alone. Note: John's Hopkins initial national death figures appear lower. So, it could be half that number. But Columbia University researchers predict a 22% infection rate in Fulton County, for example (New York Times, Feb. 20). Who can say for sure?
So, why did Trump wait until the middle of March, after the AHA, AMA, and ANA all pushed him via a joint letter to declare a national emergency? Could it be self-interest, hoping the market wouldn’t fall? If the market collapses (and it did, for now, despite the Administration saying it would not) and stays that way through November, does anyone believe Trump has any chance at all of re-election?
Trump has constantly misled the public over the last three years, but this time his lies about being “prepared” for an impending disaster have caught up with him. And the pity is that the American people will unnecessarily suffer as a direct result.
Jack Bernard, the first director of health planning for Georgia, has been an executive with several national health care firms. A Republican, he’s a former chairman of the Jasper County Commission.