- March 24 coronavirus update: As of Tuesday morning, there have been more than 46,000 cases of the novel coronavirus confirmed in the US, along with almost 600 deaths.
- And even though the World Health Organization thinks the US could soon become the epicenter of the pandemic, President Trump insisted on Monday that he wanted to reopen US businesses again soon.
- Health experts warned about this tendency to reverse course too soon, and one reason why is because today’s numbers don’t reflect today’s reality.
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President Trump sent everyone’s head spinning at a news conference yesterday in which he insisted that he would press for businesses to reopen soon, the coronavirus-related quarantines and shutdowns to end, and the US economy to start getting back to normal. “Our country was not built to be shut down,” Trump said. “We are going to be opening up our country for business because our country was meant to be open.”
Not only does this fly in the face of pretty much universal warnings from health experts who stress that the deadly virus is nowhere close to having run its course in the US yet, but this is also exactly what many experts warned about during the early days of the fight against the virus — that it would be tempting to want to react to coronavirus-related shutdowns early, even though what you see today doesn’t reflect the conditions of today.
In actuality, today’s numbers — more than 46,000 cases in the US, along with almost 600 deaths — reflect where we were about two weeks ago.
That’s because of a mix of factors, including that symptomatic cases of the deadly virus don’t manifest themselves for several days. The time between infection and the first symptoms showing is around five days or so. Add a few more days for the person to actually get tested and diagnosed and to eventually get added to the official counts — which, by the way, are only just now getting where they need to be, since states and cities are still ramping up their testing capabilities.
Around two weeks ago, testing was still lacking around the country. People in many cities were still going about their everyday lives — and potentially coming into contact with carriers of the virus.
Any interventions we make today will not show up in our data for 1-2 weeks. The time it takes to show symptoms after being infected is about 5 days, and then it takes a few more days to get diagnosed and counted. For a while it will feel like nothing is working but it takes time. https://t.co/qeokaMuJSw
— Caitlin Rivers, PhD (@cmyeaton) March 18, 2020
Still don't think people get that the change in the number of detected coronavirus cases *today* reflects:
1) what was happening ~10-12 days ago, since that's roughly the lag between when transmission occurs and when positive tests show up +
2) changes in testing volume
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) March 23, 2020
All of which is to say, there shouldn’t be a rush to abandon social distancing measures yet because their impact, by and large, is not yet reflected in the data. We won’t see for another 10 days or so the effect of quarantines and various stay-at-home measures around the country.
Meanwhile, a new Associated Press investigation has found that one reason the US isn’t farther along in its fight against the virus has to do with the disastrous early federal response that combined hardly any testing with an insistence from the White House that the coronavirus is nothing to worry about. “There were many, many opportunities not to end up where we are,” Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the director of the Global Health Institute at Harvard, told the AP. “Basically, they took this as business as usual. … And that’s because the messaging from the White House was ‘this is not a big deal, this is no worse than the flu.’ So that message basically created no sense of urgency within the FDA or the CDC to fix it.”