For those of you tired of the hype in the news media, and wanting the "straight dope" on what's actually happening around the world, here are some reports that give us the facts and don't exaggerate.
First, health news. COVID-19 continues to spread with alarming speed. You might want to bookmark the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker, and refer back to it from time to time. It provides detailed, up-to-date statistics on what's going on. Among its other information, it shows the following graphic representation of the current spread, and number of cases per region:
Keep going back there to track what's really going on, medically speaking, to the extent that the facts are known and not guessed.
There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding what COVID-19 will do as summer draws near. The spread of most viruses of its type is slowed by heat and humidity, but no-one yet knows whether that will be true of the current epidemic.
“If this virus behaves like others and peaks sometime in the next 60 days, that will give us time to work on vaccines and treatment because it will not likely return until next October and November,” said ... Dr. Joel N. Myers.
“On the other hand, if this virus is different from all the others and the sunlight, heat and humidity are not its natural enemy, then the threat to the health and welfare of humanity as well as the negative impact on the economy has the potential to be severe. I would estimate that chance to be less than five percent and perhaps minuscule. But until we see how the virus reacts to sunlight, heat and humidity increases over the next few months, we will not know for sure."
The virus is already impacting a great many aspects of social interaction. I'm amused to hear that Tinder, the dating and hookup app, is warning its users about the impact of the coronavirus.
Users have recently discovered that the dating app has included a warning about the dangers of the highly contagious and potentially deadly disease, also called COVID-19. The pop-up appears during the app’s browse function as a user flips through potential matches ... [It] includes tips and a checklist of the basic protocol for avoiding a viral infection.
. . .
Now, social media is reacting with what they consider to be more pressing concerns ... “Gonna need to wash a lot more than their hands after meeting someone on tinder,” noted @HollyConroyx.
Quite so, Holly!
One useful piece of information is that even if they're past their "best by" or expiration date, some items of medical hygiene such as isolation masks, N95 respirators, etc. can still be useful. In a time of national shortages, that's very important to know.
This week the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health published new reports on expired respirators tested for performance at 10 stockpile facilities. Nearly all of the respirators tested, including some as old as 15 years, met the agency’s standards, according to the reports. Most facilities had stocks between eight and 12 years old.
The NIOSH testing assessed the masks’ function and inspected them for visual damage ... Supplies of the masks globally have been stretched thin as individuals and facilities race to snap up the respirators.
. . .
One federal emergency manager who spoke on condition of anonymity said supplies are sometimes discarded if they are past the expiration date, even if they appeared usable ... On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency request to let health-care workers use N95 respirators intended for industrial settings. While the FDA regulates N95 masks used in medical settings, most respirators are used in construction or other industrial settings to protect workers from particles or fumes.
I've been aware of that since my days in Africa, where mission and aid hospitals often had (and still have) to use time-expired isolation masks, gloves and gowns (sometimes years out of date) because that's all that was/is available. (Many such "donations" to the Third World from abroad are, in fact, a tax write-off scheme to get rid of time-expired or out-of-date supplies while making some money out of them.) However, in First World nations, people with more refined sensibilities sometimes react with horror at the prospect of using them. Folks, if that's all you've got, beggars can't be choosers. Time-expired gear is mostly better than nothing, and much of it will still be entirely serviceable. It's also likely to be rather more useful and effective than improvised equipment like this!
Since we can't predict how, and how quickly, the virus will spread, it's impossible to say for sure what its effects on countries and societies will be. However, several can be inferred from current events. Italy, for example, has just closed every school and university until at least the middle of March. Imagine what that's going to do to families where both partners work. Suddenly someone has to be home with the kids all day, every day. Can they hire someone to do that, when many other working parents are trying to do the same? Can they afford to take time off work and sacrifice the pay they would have earned? They may have no choice in the matter, because communal care centers aren't going to be allowed when they're an obvious route for the virus to spread. Expect similar measures to be implemented by other hard-hit countries and regions. What would it mean for you and your family if you were affected by them?
Economies all around the world are going to be hit hard. We've discussed that in these pages several times, most recently on Monday. Do please read the discussion on container shipping in that article - it's one of the keystones of why economies are going to suffer. China used to handle over 700,000 TEU shipping containers per day. That hasn't happened for over a month now. Do the math - that means over 21,000,000 (yes, twenty-one million) TEU containers that should have been emptied, or filled, or moved, but haven't been. That's an economic disaster in the making in anyone's language - and it's still like that. China claims it's clearing the backlog of containers in its domestic facilities, but no-one knows for sure whether that's true or not; information out of that country is rigidly controlled and censored, so facts are suspect until verified.
Disruption to the shipping industry worldwide has been, and will continue to be, massive. The New York Times reports:
Some docks in China are clogged with arriving shipping containers or iron ore. Warehouses overflow with goods that cannot be exported for lack of trucks. And many factories are idle because components are not reaching them.
As Beijing tries to jump-start an economy hobbled by its coronavirus epidemic, one of the biggest obstacles lies in the country’s half-paralyzed logistics industry. China has some of the world’s biggest and newest seaports and airports, but using them has become a lot harder because of roadblocks, quarantines and factory closings.
Global shipping has been one of the biggest casualties. More tonnage of container ships is idled around the world now than during the global financial crisis ... Daily charter rates for tankers and bulk freighters have plummeted more than 70 percent since early January as China buys less oil, iron ore and coal ... Ports and their customs offices are operating fairly smoothly ... The difficulties lie in getting goods to and from the docks.
The slowdown in China is already being felt in the United States.
Nations that depend on China to buy much of their commodities exports - including Australia, Brazil, South Africa and others - are now finding their trade volumes and foreign exchange income severely restricted. There's a serious question whether all of their exporters can survive this. If some fail, their production won't be available to the rest of the world, either. This may affect factories and suppliers all around the globe, not just in China. Look at the fall-off in manufacturing there, and consider what would happen to your country's or state's or region's economy if it happened where you live. That's not a happy thought. (On the other hand, if your manufacturers can take advantage of the suddenly diminished international competition, they're in a very good position to increase their market share - like US toy makers, for example.)
China's sudden economic weakness is going to have major geopolitical implications as well. That country's been working on its Belt and Road Initiative for almost a decade. Now, funds to continue that expansion are likely to be unavailable, or at least severely restricted, for the foreseeable future. The BRI is already taking a hit as a result.
The deadly outbreak is prompting delays and disruptions to China’s construction and investment plans overseas, risking years of planning and hundreds of billions of dollars in economic diplomacy. Quarantine measures are preventing Chinese workers from making it to foreign building sites, domestic firms supplying overseas projects face acute labor shortages and fears are mounting that workers will inadvertently spread the virus to new locales.
In terms of China's foreign policy, I remain very concerned that its leaders might deliberately foment some sort of external crisis to divert their peoples' attention from internal problems like the coronavirus, and the Chinese Communist Party's mishandling of it. An attack on Taiwan, to reintegrate it with mainland China? A renewed dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands, or other territorial disputes in the South China Sea? A violent confrontation with US naval forces over freedom of navigation in the same waters? Any or all of these is/are possible, as are other disputed issues. Keep your eyes open for such developments.
As far as local medical facilities in the USA are concerned, I defer to those who know them better than I do. Aesop, writing at Raconteur Report, is not very positive about the impact of COVID-19 on US emergency rooms and treatment facilities. I point you to three of his recent articles for more information (and please do click over there and read them: I think they provide essential information that you won't find elsewhere).
- "Welcome to the s*** show": "You'll know TPTB are taking this seriously when they start sending out dedicated EMS rigs to deal with pickups, already wearing Ebola-style hazmat gear. And when hospitals have separate triage and assessment areas, let alone treatment areas, for potential Kung Flu cases. We have none of that. No one does. Anywhere."
- "Natzsofast...": "An N95 mask is worthless if you haven't been fit-tested to assure it works for you. (And for 25-33% of people right off the bat, it doesn't). For probably 90% of everyone ever, that's shocking news they never knew. An N95 (or anything else) won't work if you have facial hair that blocks a tight seal. It requires a bit more than just slapping one on to use it properly." (See also our discussion of types of mask and their protection levels. The respirator I recommended there will work if you have facial hair. I made sure of it by fit-testing mine [yes, I'm trained to do that], and I made sure it works. However, keep your facial hair trimmed short and neat - it makes it easier for the respirator, and healthier for you.)
- "Wednesday Sunshine: Brace For Impact": "How many ICU beds are vacant tonight in FUSA, and how long will they remain so? Ours are full-up, we’re holding ICU patients in the ER for hours/days, and that’s with no Kung Flu cases in either place ... If general hospital visits go up 10%/day because of this, we’re hammered. If they go up 20%, everyone’s f**ked until it ends. Period. And due to lack of space, staff, and PPE, in short order, if you aren’t ICU-sick coming in if/when this gets hot and heavy, you’ll be bounced RTF out. That’s how triage works in a pandemic. That’s before we talk about staff/EMS calling in sick, or actually getting sick."
Aesop doesn't pull his punches, and he knows whereof he speaks. Go there often for straight, honest information without any sugar-coating. Another perspective comes from John Mosby, who writes (often profanely) about what he's seeing in his part of the USA.
That's all for now. There's a lot happening, and things look likely to snowball over the next few days and weeks. Be prepared for quarantines and disruptions to your normal social activities, and expect many places of work to shut down temporarily under the impact of such restrictions. In big cities in general, and inner-city "ghetto" areas in particular, I suspect things will get "interesting" - and not in a good way. Be prepared for that, too.