So, good news is starting to trickle in – the virus bumped us off routines, rituals and run of good economic news. But the fight is not over – and we will not stay on our backs. Americans are strongest in a crisis, quick with personal courage, and it is on display.
Congress passed and President Trump signed – a major recovery bill. The CARES bill helps individuals, small businesses, health care workers, seniors, and students. Another is coming.
Data is stacking up, too. It tells us the virus will run its course, even as Americans hunker a few more weeks, manufacturers retool, people “social distance,” and necessities are bought online.
We can live with that, if we keep perspective and humor. America has been through worse.
A few things are clear. In many states, “contact prevention” is plainly working. Cases are minimal and staying minimal. Incremental restrictions are making sense. Outliers exist, but most are voluntarily protecting themselves and others.
Looking at numbers – not headlines – helps. Fully 33 states and three US territories have less than 1000 cases, which means below one percent infection rates. In 24 states, less than 500 cases are reported. In 18 states, less than 300 are reported.
Are case reports rising? Yes, but several factors explain the spike. First, test kits did not exist, and now do. Even with new kits, numbers are not running away in most jurisdictions. Jurisdictions that see a doubling from 100 to 200 are not overrun, just getting accurate.
Second, lab processing has been painfully slow and is picking up. As a result, old swabs – many a week or two old – are getting identified positive, so appearing to boost the infection rate. The rate may be slowing in states which are getting returns on old lab tests.
Third, even in places like New York City, there is no exponential growth in cases. An exponential curve tips upward faster over time.
Some variable – say, infections – increases faster with each passing increment of time. That is not happening.
To see progress, one must understand exponential growth. Imagine someone offered you a penny on the first day of a month, promising to double it every day of the month. You might think it impossible you become a millionaire by end of month, but you would.
The penny in two days would be two pennies, in 10 days $5.12, in 20 days $5,242 and 88 cents, but in 25 days $167,772 and 16 cents. By the 30th day, you would hold $5,368,709 and 12 cents. That is exponential growth. That is patently not what we are seeing with this virus.
New York is the worst hit of all states. New York has more than 19,453,000 people, New York City alone 8.74 million. Overall, the State has 53,363 coronavirus cases. So, in that State, chances are one in 364 you will be infected, in the city one in 163 – of which 80 percent recover with mild symptoms, no hospitalization. Of those hospitalized, a single digit percentage require a ventilator.
On March 29th, New York’s Governor Cuomo confirmed these numbers. He went further. He noted what had been a doubling of cases daily – had slowed to doubling every six days, and the rate of growth in cases continues falling. There is no exponential growth of cases.
Fourth, use logic. Two weeks ago, a small but material percentage of younger Americans thought – as younger people will – they were invincible, immortal, had no civic duty. They learned fast that is not true.
In the past two weeks, they have turned inward, started staying home. Meantime, 41 governors have initiated travel, retail and gathering restrictions to shut down the virus. These restrictions have largely been heeded. The President has offered similar recommendations.
As a result of citizen compliance with state-level restrictions, the number of transmissions – which will lag actions taken by at least a week – will almost certainly continue falling.
Will we see a sudden end to transmissions, spike in recoveries, V-shaped economic return? We will not know until we get there. What we do know is that America is doing what Americans always have in a crisis to the nation – pulling together. We are acting responsibly.
Yes, we still have – and will continue to suffer – shameless, self-interested, behaviorally adolescent, politically-craven politicians who decide this is either President Trump’s fault, or sling arrows at each other over state and party lines. That is a plague with which we are stuck.
Seeing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) say, “as the President fiddles, people are dying” is disgraceful demagoguery, utterly inappropriate, unnecessary and unhelpful in this moment. Watching her tear up the State of the Union address was no less disreputable. For such inexcusable behavior there is a consequence in democracy. She and her House colleagues will answer in November. But in this moment, the nation is being well-led.
More to the point, we are doing as we have always done in crisis, working to surmount obstacles, lift our load together, suspend criticism, and assist in assuaging one another’s worries.
At a critical turning point in World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill contemplated his war-weary nation. It was a tough moment. Little bits of encouraging news were coming, but it was a slog, no fun for anyone and especially for him.
At what seemed an invisible “inflection point,” he saw hope where others did not. His aim was to reassure and inspire, but never to overstate. His words apply today. Said Churchill: “This is not the end, nor even the beginning of the end … but it may be the end of the beginning.”
In our conflict, data is likely to continue to hearten, even as we concentrate, cultivate new habits, and remind each other to stay with this program. Soon enough, perhaps by State, we will begin to unbundle, uncoil, smile again. We will go back to former habits with renewed purpose.
But for now, we are in that spot to which Churchill pointed – end of the beginning, hoping for a turn toward beginning of the end … of an unwelcome, uninvited, discomfiting and surreal – if unifying – experience.
Said the wartime leader, after dust settled: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.” It was then – and it is now. Americans have a reservoir of the quality. We have learned it, saved it up over generations. Now is the time to use it, count on it, be confident in it, take comfort in it.