"It's the end of the world as we know it"... thank you R.E.M.
Updated: Apr 28
Whatever happens next, that’s technically true. But to what extent and to what real permanent alterations, will have to wait to be seen in the coming months and years. I’m talking of course about COVID-19. (and who isn’t at this point)
We all know the numbers. Well, kind of. That’s because the numbers, STATS, forecasts, and guesstimates seem to change almost daily. Actually, that’s pretty understandable with something that is not like anything else we’ve experienced in modern times. And that’s what’s scaring the so-called professionals. Nobody likes the unknown.
As I sit in my Colorado office, noting the spring weather alternate between sunny and near 70 degrees one day, and 12 inches of snow a few days later, only to return to the upper 60’s a couple of days after that, I’m reminded of my time living in South Florida. The seasons are much more subtle there. For almost exactly 25 years I made South Florida my home. During that time, I experienced six or seven hurricanes, starting with Andrew. Floridians are somewhat accustomed to the possibility of hurricanes as just a natural part of life. We all know it could happen any year, any “hurricane season”. And we all know what transpires.
It starts with a depression, usually off the coast of Africa. The local news guys (and gals) always seem genuinely excited about it, even at the early stages of development. I don’t mean they necessarily hope to see one. But it only makes sense that if you pursue a career in meteorology, and put in the time and effort, that tracking and evaluating an incredible natural event such as a hurricane, would of course be kind of the point of pursuing said career in the first place.
Having said that…
There’s a few catch phrases that any true Florida Cracker (a moniker my wife proudly bestows upon herself) knows all too well. (We always said that makes our boys lil saltines)
The Cone! (of uncertainty). Hurricane parties! Cat 1, and 2, and 3, and 4, and well, you get the idea. Storm surge! Spaghetti model. It goes on and on. We initially hear the depression could organize and form an eye. It does. Then we start tracking wind speed, which determines the “CAT” which is short for category. Then it’s about direction and strength. Will it turn to the north before the Bahamas? Will the mountains of Haiti or Puerto Rico cause it to weaken? Or will it make it through the narrow gap south of the Keys only to end up in the Gulf. Or more likely of course, it will probably turn north and then north east, influenced by the Jetstream, and miss the mainland altogether. After a while it’s easy to get complacent. I don’t know the number of possible landfalls to actually landfalls over the years, but I would guess most are misses.
Just as the hurricanes usually follow a predictable pattern of evolution, as soon as an eye is formed, the local news media starts a predicable pattern as well. Soon after, the national news media starts to pay attention. And if it looks like it could actually impact land and cause damage, even the global media starts to follow along. At this point, pretty much the whole news media around the world is on board.
And that can be a problem.
I think the media access we all enjoy today is amazing. And useful. The problem is, news companies are also businesses. Business’s like any other businesses. Somebody owns each of them. And that somebody, just like you and me, would like to make a profit on their business. Just like you and me. I certainly can’t fault them for that. So how do you make money in the news business? Well, besides paid subscriptions, one of the ways is to sell advertising through the television station upon which you broadcast. And what decides whether you can charge a lot or a little for those advertisements?
And that is another problem.
It’s gotten to a point in South Florida that it seems every hurricane is the most powerful, or the most deadly, or the fastest or strongest ever recorded. Now before the climate doomsayers jump on board here, that isn’t what this is about. You can argue about that somewhere else. Or not.
You have to listen closely. Clearly someone went to a lot of trouble picking through innocuous historical data trying to come up with a ratings grabbing “largest” or “strongest” headline. They might say something like “THIS IS THE STRONGEST HURRICANE EVER RECORDED !!!, on a Tuesday, during a full moon, since the internet was invented”. Or maybe “THIS STORM HAS MORE ENERGY THAN 255 NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS OPERATING AT FULL CAPACITY !!!, according to Chuck in engineering” who got his AA from Palm Beach community college. I think it stems from the need to be competitive with all of the other news stations, and news guys. Ratings, remember. I get it. But it seems there should be some sort of reasonableness here.
After a while it seems every storm is going to destroy the world. They film people buying plywood at Home Depot (usually tourists or transplants) and grocery store shelves void of water, bread, and canned goods. And then there’s always an old codger who’s like 98 years old “I been heer fer 145 years, and I aint leavin’ fer nuthin’. They can’t make me leave. I was born heer and I’ll die heer!” And always a group of young people who are swearing to party all through the storm. (to be fair, I have been to a few hurricane parties myself over the years…)
One incident I remember always comes to mind. A young news reporter from "Up North" is standing on the beach, with crashing waves in the background. Light rain driven by a brisk wind is pelting his face. His perfect hair now flattened against his head like a bad hair day. And he’s speaking with an elevated voice, like he is about to be drowned out by loud machinery or something. It’s an ominous scene. Very serious. He’s telling us about the 10-foot waves already building. (you can see in the background there’s maybe 2-foot breakers) A piece of a coconut frond, or a little piece of dried seaweed tumbles by on the beach. “Oh my gosh. Did you see that? That’s just a sample of what these powerful winds are doing now, and they’re just getting started Alex. Please everyone, don’t underestimate this killer storm. Please stay inside and heed the warnings to prepare for this extreme and potentially killer storm!” All the while, the raised voice, the coiffed hair disheveled, the shirt flattened by the wind, a dire and serious situation to be sure.
Then, out of nowhere, an elderly couple. An old man, and an old woman. Small, frail, dressed in shorts and light tops, with their little Pomeranian prancing on leash, casually and calmly walks by, behind the Yankee news kid, and they look at him like he’s an idiot...
Which he is.
I remember this exact scene of events actually happening on Juno Beach in Palm Beach county.
Surely hurricanes are to be taken seriously. As I said, I’ve been through several, even the eye of the storm a few times. It was awesome. As in "in awe" of the natural power that we still can't replicate with modern technology. But when the little boy cries wolf over and over again, just to increase his allowance (or ratings as it were) we all get complacent after a while.
I’ve wondered recently if that’s what’s happening with COVID-19. I’m not trying to downplay it. I truly have no way of knowing what to think. But it is beginning to sound a little like a Yankee hurricane news story trying to get ratings.
We all know the STATS by now.
The flu kills between 20 and 80 thousand people a year in this country. Yeah, but this is more contagious than the flu. Besides, we have a vaccine for the flu.
This virus has a mortality rate of 4 to 5%. No wait, make that 1% percent, or less.
Err…wait, we now think that there are thousands and thousands of people who are infected, and either asymptomatic, or very mildly affected, so they don’t even know they have it, so that would actually make the mortality rate much lower. Of course, to any individual who does suffer and die from it, it doesn’t really matter what the mortality rate is, they’re dead just the same. Which is kind of a big deal.
It came from bats! No, it came from live animals being kept and slaughtered in close proximity to raw meat sold in an open market! Wait, it may have been a biological weapon that got out of control. No no no, the Army intentionally released it in China (Really? Yeah, that one’s out there.) Elvis did it! (OK, I made that last one up, but it makes the point.)
Here’s what I see:
First of all, something doesn’t add up. It has a 1% mortality rate. And up to 40% of the U.S. population could eventually get infected. 40% of 330 million people is about 132 million. From here you could calculate it a couple of different ways.
Method A: 80% will have little or no symptoms. So that leaves 26.4 million that could need medical attention. If 1% of that number passes away, that’s about 260,000 dead.
Method B: start with the full 132 million, and calculate 1% of that, and you would get 1.3 million dead. That’s exactly five times the earlier method. (funny how math works that way.) That's alot, but still compared to 330 million...
Let’s be clear. Every life is precious. Every life is a branch of and to other people. A Father, a Mother, maybe brothers and sister. Every single life should be saved if possible, and reasonable.
Wait, what does “reasonable” mean? Shouldn’t every life be saved regardless of the cost or encumbrance?
Well, lets think about it. What if we found a cure tomorrow for this virus? It worked one hundred percent of the time, with no side effects, and was pretty much instant. However, the cost was 10 million dollars per dose. There’s not enough money in the world to pay for everyone to receive that medicine. (there’s about 7.7 billion people on the planet) So who gets it? (And yes, in the real world it could probably be made cheaper, replicated, synthesized, etc. But this isn’t the real word, it’s hypothesis.) Also, that money would have to come from somewhere else. Perhaps other life saving devices for other illnesses. Maybe something that was currently treating childhood diseases. What do you do?
So back to the something doesn’t add up…
Each year in America:
· Approximately 40,000 people die from car crashes.
· Approximately 1.75 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed, and over 600,000 deaths.
· The average life expectancy in America is about 79 years of age.
· There are over 600,000 abortions performed, that’s down from a high of 1.4 million annually 20 years ago.
· About 800,000 deaths are coronary and stroke related.
· Overall, just under 3,000,000 people die each year in this country.
If we go back to the STATS above, we see this virus could kill between 260 thousand, and 1.3 million. That is a lot. Depending on which end of the scale we come closest to, it could be a little less than half of cancer deaths, or almost half of all deaths in a typical year.
However, now there’s more to the story.
Yesterday during a press briefing, one of the Administrations Doctors clarified that that total wouldn’t be in a single year. Rather, those numbers were based upon us doing nothing, and just letting it run wild. No social distancing, no shutting down of jobs, no closing borders. AND, that would assume a time frame in excess of one year. The virus would run through the population, with hot spots rising and falling in random areas. Experience a lull. And then return the next season, and possibly even return again after that. So, take the range of deaths mentioned above and cut them in half, or even thirds to get an annual calculation.
Again, every life is precious. Every life should be preserved. But something doesn’t add up. Now we’re talking about MAYBE the same amount of deaths, similar to less than half the amount that die from cancer each year. Or MAYBE one third of the deaths from coronary and stroke related each year. Something doesn’t add up. It seems we’re missing something here. To shut down the Country? To shut down the World?
Now let’s jump back to our little “what if” with the 10 million dollar cure.
Today, Congress and the White House are talking about injecting money into the U.S. economy to the tune of 6.5 TRILLION DOLLARS. That money doesn’t come from thin air. There will be a reckoning. Both financially, and economically.
When the virus first was mentioned in the press, I voiced my concern. Honestly, not so much about the virus itself, but how the World, the Governments, the media, and the Public would respond. Now we’re under a 15-day shutdown, and then “see where we’re at”.
Today, President Trump voiced his "wish" that we could ease up on the limitations around Easter. The press pretty much lambasted him as usual. Claiming that he was willing to “kill people to save the economy to help his upcoming election!” Really? Even in this critical time, hate, hate, hate. That’s all they’ve got. I mean, they really hate this guy. They are blinded by hate.
Also later today, the Surgeon General said maybe 10 to 12 weeks to cycle through. In seeming difference to Trumps Easter wish. I listened very carefully to the Surgeon General, but I didn’t hear him clarify what that meant. 10 to 12 weeks from now? Or from first case in the U.S.? If we look at China and South Korea, it seems that they “flattened the curve” so to speak in about 10 to 12 weeks from their first registered case. In our case, if we start counting 10 to 12 weeks from today, that’s still three months off. That’s the end of June. But if we calculate that from first case, in America, which was January 20th, that puts us between the first and third week of April. That’s next month! It’s hard to know what’s going to happen. Maybe that’s what Trump was thinking when he mentioned Easter?
Now let’s jump back yet again, but this time to the hurricanes in South Florida. It’s beginning to feel like I’m hearing that young Yankee news reporter leaning into the imaginary deadly wind, talking loudly to be heard over a nonexistent eminent threat, while Grandma and Grandpa walk the little dog in the background.
I think there’s one of two possibilities.
Either A, we’re not being told something, and this is extremely more deadly and dangerous than currently relayed, and it really does pose an existential threat, and not just to those in their eighties.
Or B, this is blown way out of proportion, just like the Hurricane reporter on the beach.
To be clear, I am not saying to disregard warnings and advisements. I am not saying it’s just like the flu. Personally, I am practicing social distancing as instructed. I wash my hands with rubbing alcohol after I go to the market, which is about the only place we can go now. I don’t participate in gatherings. And I worry about older people, and those with preexisting conditions who are at higher risk.
But honestly, I am more worried about the long-term ramifications of the total and unprecedented halting of a previously robust WORLD economy. Like flipping a giant off switch. Make no mistake, if this total shut down continues, this will be extremely costly for years, potentially even a generation to come. At least to the middle- and lower-income classes, which is the backbone of the world’s economies. This is going to change things going forward. It hasn’t even started yet.
Real Estate is going to recede (which is grossly overvalued anyway). We’ve already seen what the general indices are doing. Yes, they will continue to be very volatile and fluctuate wildly. But pretty much anyone with an IRA or 401k is poorer today than they were three weeks ago.
Every industry is at times dependent upon others for sustainment. If people are unemployed or broke, they won’t be buying smart phones, or new cars, or homes, or much else for that matter. That’s eventually called a recession, and potentially, eventually a depression. And that is BAD!
It could get to a point where that 10 million dollar cost for a dose of medicine almost comes to fruition, paid for by destroying a global economy that could take many, many years to recover. Is it really worth it?
As a disclaimer, I’m a few months away from 60 years old. I have pre-existing conditions, specifically a history of respiratory ailments, that puts me in the high-at-risk group. I don’t take lightly the talk of wondering whether too much is being made of this. I do have a dog in this hunt. But make no mistake, the lasting affect of this to the world population, is going to be economical. And it’s going to be substantial. We won’t actually know if we “survived” for quite some time. I may not be around to see it, but hopefully my children will. Whatever that aftermath is.
I don’t mean to sound all doom and gloom. As a People, and Country, we will survive. We will emerge stronger from it. But there will be some pain along the way. People and things will be lost along the way.
Perhaps this will bring Us, as a People, together, as tragedy often does.
Perhaps some will put aside their petty grievances and help others, others that they had previously scorned, for what now seems like silly reasons.
Perhaps we’ll discover new ways of communicating, and helping, and reevaluate our priorities, and even become a little less selfish.
And perhaps we all become a little more calm, and a little wiser, and listen a little more to the Whisperings of the World, and those whom occupy it.
Be smart, be safe, and be kind.