Earlier this week I predicted that the US would soon overtake Italy and China, to have the most confirmed cases in the world. Per capita, Italy is still far worse – but the US has only a quarter of China’s population. And bear in mind that the US *still* does not have widespread testing or any kind of coordinated national response; it’s likely the actual number of cases is far higher.
* Tonight’s statewide numbers from the Department of Health: total cases 3,207 (up 627 cases from Wednesday night); King County 1,577: Pierce County 186; Snohomish County 778. King County passed 100 deaths today, and now has 109; Snohomish County still has 16. The statewide death toll is now 147. The statewide growth of both confirmed cases and deaths is accelerating.
* The DoH also said that while it is having some success locating desperately short medical supplies. it is still struggling with finding hand sanitizer and medical gowns.
* A University of Washington epidemiology model says that social distancing is starting to work – but still projects that 1,400 people statewide, and 81,000 nationally, could die from the virus by the end of June. Hospitals and intensive care units, the model predicts, are likely to be overwhelmed by the second week of April, only two weeks away.
* WSDOT announced the suspension of the SR 520 bridge construction project.
* But construction on the refurbished-for-hockey Key Arena continues…The Seattle Mariners’ Opening Day was to have been today. At least they’re not as likely to lose 90 games this year…
* The Army Corps of Engineers is mobilizing to build hospital capacity in all 50 states, utilizing existing buildings like motels, dorms, and sports arenas. Locally, it is already working to convert the area under CenturyLink Field.
* Gov. Jay “Snake” Inslee confronted President Nero on a conference call this morning between Trump and the country’s governors, calling out Trump for the president’s insistence that the proper role of the federal government was to backstop the states (which, thus far, it hasn’t even done very well). Inslee: “We don’t need a backup. We need a Tom Brady,” referring to the legendary NFL quarterback. Trump, not surprisingly, responded defensively, and, again not surprisingly, mocked Inslee during a Fox News interview this evening.
* The governors of Louisiana and Maryland also reportedly complained during the conference call about the lack of federal support. (In her show this evening, Rachel Maddow pricelessly characterized the lack of coordination as “national crisis government by dumpster diving.”)
* The House of Representatives, hamstrung by rules that require in-person voting, is now set to vote tomorrow on that $2 trillion emergency bill. Rep. Ben McAdams (D-UT), one of two congresspeople to have contracted the virus, is still in the hospital and is receiving oxygen.
* Ten states have now been declared major disaster areas, including Washington.
* Today’s White House press briefing was actually two briefings: the awful one, by President Nero, and the factual one, by the scientists who followed him. Dr. Deborah Birx, who is heading the White House Task Force on the pandemic, struck a note of cautious optimism by noting that the rate of contagion seen in the field is quite a bit less that epidemiological models have been predicting. Of course, what she left out – as she is wont to do – is that without widespread testing, it’s impossible to tell how meaningful that trend is. We still have no clue how many Americans *actually* have the virus.
* But first, President Trump announced a truly terrible idea: sending Americans back to work after Easter based on numbers in each county, with all 3,044 US counties placed in high, medium, and low-risk counties. Why is that so bad? Because Trump wants to do this in two weeks, when tests aren’t widely available yet in much of the country – and where they are, generally only symptomatic people can get them. Plus, numbers are based on residence, but people move frequently across county lines to work or shop, especially east of the Mississippi, where counties are geographically smaller and where a majority of the country’s counties lie.
* For example, Harris County, Texas, home of Houston, has over four million people – and will be a high-risk county. But neighboring Chambers County – pop. 35,000 – likely would not be. Chambers County, like most US counties, doesn’t have its own hospital, either. From a public health perspective, this plan would be a disaster. But it *does* enable Trump to proclaim a “victory” that wins the news cycle, maybe, but that would be extremely short-lived.
* The 15-day White House “guidelines” for responding to the pandemic are in day 12, and expire over the weekend. Expect new guidelines early next week. Hopefully the ludicrous county-by-county approach to containing COVID-19’s spread won’t be included.
* A new poll suggests that in Trump’s false choice between public health and the economy, a supermajority of Americans want to prioritize public health: 81 percent, versus only eight percent who think the economy should come first.
* Almost two-thirds of Americans now live in states, counties, or cities covered by stay at home orders.
* Trump also insisted today, again, that “nobody could have seen this coming.” Of course every public health expert in the country “saw it coming,” as did Trump’s own intelligence agencies. Now, it turns out, a 2016 National Security Council document laid out a detailed “blueprint” for how to address a pandemic exactly like this one. But, like the White House pandemic response office and a CDC group stationed in China to monitor newly emerging diseases there, that was an Obama initiative. So it was discarded.
* Earlier this week Trump promised that the federal government wouldn’t be outbidding governors of states desperately trying to procure needed medical equipment. Several large states’ governors – including those of Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York – complained publicly today that the feds were still doing exactly that – and were also bidding up the price on equipment, a nice bit of corporate welfare for equipment makers and distributors.
* Equipment shortages remain a huge concern. At one New York City hospital, medical personnel are reportedly using Hefty Bags in lieu of needed protective gowns. First responders and TSA airport screeners are also now complaining about shortages of protective gear. American automakers announced it would take “several months” to retool plants to make ventilators. More hospitals said they were using single ventilator machines to simultaneously treat two or four patients – which means it’s impossible to calibrate the machine to the needs of individual patients.
* The White House today cancelled a plan to produce 85,000 ventilators, saying the $1 billion price tag was “prohibitive” – even though Trump is likely to sign into law tomorrow a bill worth about 1,800 times that, not counting guaranteeing loans to big companies. Once the death toll from lack of ventilators during America’s pandemic is calculated, we’ll be able to work backwards and calculate just how much of a price tag to save a life this administration thinks is too much.
* As New York City’s hospitals fill up, the city reported a one-day record for the number of EMS calls yesterday – breaking a record set on 9/11. The number of hospitalized patients in the city increased 40 percent in one day. Almost a quarter of NYC patients are in intensive care.
* Beyond Detroit and New Orleans, Chicago and Boston emerged as new hotspots today. In particular, the Boston area infections include an alarming percentage of health care workers. Florida also remains a huge danger, with its combination of Spring Break tourism and elderly residents; Florida’s Republican governor has yet to prioritize testing in that state
* Ohio announced that it would hold its presidential primary in late April and would conduct it almost entirely by mail – the first Republican-controlled state to do so. The emergency bill being passed this week contains $400 million to help states transition to mail-in systems by November, far short of the $2 billion Democrats said was needed.
* The US today not only passed both Italy and China, but set a record of over 20,000 for the highest number of new cases in one day anywhere in the world. We’re #1! So much winning…
* Efforts in the US, at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, and in the UK are underway to develop blood tests – with much quicker results – based on COVID-19 antibodies in the blood. Preliminary studies suggest that patients who contract COVID-19 *do* develop immunity to it. Anecdotal reports to the contrary may have been false positives.
* The number of confirmed cases in the world blew past half a million Thursday and now stands at 532,788, with 24,077 deaths.
* Countries with over 2,000 cases (Wednesday’s total in parentheses):
USA 85,991 (65,778)
China 81,782 (81,661)
Italy 80,589 (74,386)
Spain 57,786 (49,515)
Germany 43,938 (37,323)
France 29,566 (25,600)
Iran 29,406 (27,017)
UK 11,813 (9,640)
Switzerland 11,811 (10,897)
South Korea 9,332 (9,137)
Netherlands 7,469 (6,438)
Austria 6,909 (5,588)
Belgium 6,235 (4,937)
Canada 4,046 (3,251)
Turkey 3,629 (2,433)
Portugal 3,544 (2,995)
Norway 3,372 (3,066)
Australia 3,143 (2,364)
Israel 3,035 )2,369)
Brazil 2,985 (2,433)
Sweden 2,840 (2,526)
That’s all for tonight. Sleep well, and at least six feet away from other people. And before you retire, WASH YOUR HANDS