Daily COVID-19 Briefing: 3/28/20

Top news, reports and insights for today:

  1. America grapples with the staggering pace of exponential change
    The pace of change is nearly impossible to grasp. The rise in cases and deaths in the U.S. is doubling every 2-3 days. The three images below are taken from screen captures of the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard from February 29, March 9 and yesterday. We have not seen growth like this in an infectious disease outbreak in our lifetimes. This pace is likely to continue while some national leaders remain in a state of denial about what will unfold in the next few weeks. A new study posted online from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) used a statistical model to forecast the demand for hospital and ICU beds. They anticipate the peak in demand will not occur until mid-April till the end of May depending on the state. A story in the Washington Post says that studies like this are being accused of being hoaxes intended to harm the President. Few expected the work of epidemiologists to be so politicized during an epidemic, but this shows that multiple narratives are playing out. The exponential pace of change is so bewildering that it is hard for experts to be heard. This will make it harder to maintain a commitment to social distancing in the near term.
  1. U.S. deaths jump a record 432 on Friday; New York, Louisiana and Michigan hit hard
    As the graph below shows, the number of daily deaths nearly doubled from 253 on Thursday to 432 on Friday. This puts the number of total U.S. COVID-19 deaths at 1,584, a 38% jump in one day. Hospitals in numerous hard-hit states struggle to keep up amidst shortages of basic PPEs, long hours, heavy caseloads and the fear of contracting the disease on the job (see today’s top pick). New York state, which now has a third of all U.S. deaths from COVID-19, recorded 134 new deaths (a 35% jump). But New York is not the only hot spot. Kentucky saw it’s first 4 deaths in one day as cases there begin to mount. Massachusetts saw a 129% rise in total deaths with 20 recorded on Friday. Louisiana continues to battle a surge in cases, with 36 new deaths in one day (a 43% jump). Florida saw its first day of double-digit deaths with 18 (a 63% increase). With the nation’s attention is focused on New York and Louisiana, Michigan has seen a spike in deaths, adding 32, and becoming the state with the 5th highest mortality count (92), which is now higher than California’s.
  1. Scapegoating begins as President announces he may impose ‘enforceable quarantine’ on New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut later today
    NBC News has just reported that President Trump announced today he is considering imposing an ‘enforceable quarantine’ on hard-hit areas including New York and sections of New Jersey and Connecticut. New York Governor Cuomo says the President didn’t mention this on an earlier phone call and does not know how such an order would be enforced. The federal government does have the power to impose binding quarantine in times of emergency, but that has rarely been done and any attempt to impose it now would surely lead to a court battle and widespread confusion. Meanwhile, the Florida governor announced that visitors from impacted areas must self-quarantine for 14 days when entering the state. Officials in Dare County North Carolina are setting up roadblocks to stop visitors from entering coastal beach communities.
    Why this matters? Throughout the history of epidemics, we have seen the frequent emergence of scapegoating. This involves blaming individuals, groups and communities for a health crisis. When people believe that things are spinning out of control, there is an impulse to search for someone to blame. Despite the evidence that the epidemic is moving freely throughout the nation, with hot spots breaking out in numerous places, the tendency to scapegoat particular regions where the epidemic is more advanced are likely to continue. This has potentially terrible consequences because internal travel restrictions are not likely to keep the epidemic from traveling and because such restrictions impose stigma on the hardest hit areas and make getting needed assistance and supplies to that area more difficult.
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