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Bruce Bialosky

Things People Don’t Want to Say About COVID-19

You might already be sick of reading and hearing about the coronavirus (CV). Since this column rarely writes on matters about which others have flooded us with their thoughts, there must be a good reason to write about this subject. Here goes.

While reading a piece from the WSJ’s James Freeman, my head was knocked back. He stated that in the prior four days 2,700 people had died of CV worldwide, while 600,000 total had died. I checked his math. He was wrong.

Bear with me here as I run through some calculations. Let’s say there are 7.7 billion people alive today which is a low side estimate. Let’s say that they all live to age 75, which is a generous estimate. That means 281,279 people die every “typical” day. That means over those four days, 1,125,114 people died of which 2,700 were from CV. Just a little perspective.

Saturday’s New York Times headline cited 14 people had died from the CV in the last day. New York has 9,000,000 people. Statistically speaking 329 people there in a “typical” day. Yet everyone in New York is alarmed.

One can point to 1918 when an estimated 50,000,000 people died (675,000 in the U.S.) of an H1N1 virus (multiple sources including CDC) and say that is a guide. I tend to believe that we have advanced as a society medically and scientifically since then.

And you can believe that the CV numbers we are seeing now are just the tip of the iceberg which is true. Separate of that there are some who are a little skeptical of the reaction our governments have taken.

In 2005, life changed in America after Hurricane Katrina. Elected officials want zero blame for any deaths caused by a weather event (or any other crisis for that matter). They make decisions that are largely for the protection of their political status without concern for the dislocation of their constituency. Certainly every life is precious but there are risks in life and we cannot protect everyone from everything. Hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes often kill people. We want to minimize it as much as possible, but life brings risks.

If you doubt what I say, here are some facts from 2009 regarding the H1N1 (swine flu). Fifty-nine million Americans contracted the flu. Of those, 283,000 were hospitalized and 12,000 died over roughly 15 months. We didn’t go crazy, shut down commerce, cancel the NCAA tournament. As for testing, there were 5,000 initial tests in the early period and one million were sent out in the first five months (source: CNN). That means possibly 1.7% were tested. That means .47% were hospitalized. That means .02% of victims died. No blame placed on President Obama – just facts. We are now 59 days into this. This reaction now is the full onset of the “Katrina effect.”

Watch as governors and mayors ratchet up their reactions. A governor says I am going to “full lockdown” and the next one has to follow in kind because they think if they don’t they will be abused by the press akin to what President Trump experiences for every decision he makes.

I did speak to a medical expert about this who has been affected by interacting with other doctors, etc., who are seeing patients with negative reactions from the virus. Here are some thoughts you should keep in mind:

1. This is not a normal flu. It seems to spread easier and can be more deadly. People who get the virus have had serious lung problems which are the principal reaction caused by the virus.
2. The idea that this virus was started in a lab in Wuhan does not meet scientific analysis. Scientists believe there is no way this virus with its elements could have been developed in a lab.
3. Though the virus spreads mainly through someone coughing or sneezing, you must be cautious about surfaces where the virus can live. Make sure to clean doorknobs, etc., to assure the virus is not breeding there.
4. Even though the shutdown is negatively impacting him financially, he believes it is worth it with this virus. The sooner we abate the spread the fewer people will be severely impacted. That includes millennials.
5. The policies the President has put in place are excellent. He should go off script a little less.

The question that must be raised is whether the threat of the virus is worth devastating our economy. And do not doubt it is doing so. The people advising on this don’t think of that. They consult and show political leaders the computer models that allow for the most extreme outcomes. When asked by Fox Business Channel’s Stuart Varney whether she had considered the economic impact of her decisions, an infectious disease expert stated “We don’t take that into consideration.” If the medical expert tells a governor or the President that possibly millions will die, they shudder and lurch toward extreme measures like shutting down all “non-essential” businesses.

It may sound silly but the Feds shoveling out a trillion dollars to help people and businesses is just a trickle. We have a $21 trillion economy. That means we generate as an economy a trillion dollars every 18 days. How many trillions of dollars can Washington shovel out?

And that may help some, but getting a $1,200 payment from the Feds is only going to carry a restaurant server so long when their income is shut down and they have $1,900 in rent. We are going to devastate our restaurant industry. Art’s Deli, an institution of more than 60 years in Studio City, CA, typically has 40% of their business in take-out. Most restaurants would kill for that today as a base. But they cannot sustain themselves even if they raise their numbers to 50% during this crisis. And the workers they had to lay off can only last so long.

Then there is the privately owned clothing store that lost 100% of their business, or the drycleaner or the fitness center. The businesses will be crushed and the workers unemployed. The building owners will be unable to make their mortgages as hordes of their tenants will be unable to pay their rent. We will go into full financial crisis mode. We have to consider that. Even large companies who have been carrying their employees will start waves of layoffs.

A headline in the Washington Post on March 21st stated “Economy Deteriorating Faster Than Anticipated as 80 Million Americans Stay at Home.” Really, what did you expect? Maybe journalism schools should require a basic class in economics. A sophisticated high school student could tell you our economy would immediately go directly in the toilet.

Unless we make some decisions to allow greater freedom for people’s movement and get back to normalcy, it will not take long for severe and prolonged economic damage. Maybe the governors and our president should heed that warning. If they don’t then how many people will die from that?

Random thoughts:

Can somebody get me some 80-degree weather?

Can someone get me a basketball game to watch that isn’t 20 years old?

Attributing the start of CV on China is not racist. It is blaming a country and their government. No one is blaming Singapore or Taiwan, two countries I love, which are almost all of Chinese heritage. No one is blaming Japan or Korea or Thailand or Vietnam, all of whom are the same race as the Chinese. China is a horrid country with a despotic government. They practice backwards eating habits that helped lead to this current virus. Instead of accepting blame and courting international help, their government denied reality — largely causing the international spread of the virus.

Whether or not you like President Trump, he was very clear about a challenge to China in 2016. While his political opponents focus on Russia as our primary challenge worldwide, this crisis has potentially woken people up to reality. When Mr. Trump banned Chinese travel to America, he was called racist by some because anything Mr. Trump does must be wrong. He wasn’t wrong and his call was not racist.

If there is any lesson from all of this, avoid the sin of procrastination in terms of advance preparation. It is rarely beneficial.

I finally received a benefit from being a senior. The Beautiful Wife and I went to our local supermarket plus Smart & Final and got in both before the rest of the younger folk. Still a shock to see how decimated the shelves were.

If there is any benefit of this crisis it may be that we will now have telehealth. Two years ago I contacted my long-time doctor about a medical issue. He was insisting that I have to come in. I told him I did not want to come in, “Just bill me.” His answer “I cannot do that; it is against the law.” He did not say he needed to see me to diagnose the situation. Rather, he was restricted by insurance rules made by the federal government that stopped him from billing. Telehealth would be the biggest advance for this country. Doctors don’t go around to people’s homes anymore. Their practices should be allowed to enter the 21st century.

You may have heard that some U.S. Senators are being accused of insider trading of stocks. The media almost never includes the name of California Senator Dianne Feinstein. They focus on the new senator from Georgia and particularly Richard Burr (R) from North Carolina. The calls for Burr’s resignation have a smell of politics to them because his replacement would be appointed by a Democrat Governor.

There have been missteps. We are dealing with uncharted territory. We’ve never dealt with a medical emergency like this. Mr. Trump and his team are making necessary adjustments. As an example, people are complaining about not having enough ventilators. These machines cost money. Hospitals prepare for a crisis and then have a few extras. They aren’t going to stockpile for an outbreak that might affect millions. They would be investing in machines gathering dust most days as opposed to equipment they need every day to take care of people. We seemed to get through the swine flu with the number of ventilators on hand and we will likewise survive this one. Thankfully the federal government is moving to remedy the need with government stockpiles and encouraging businesses to manufacture new ventilators quickly.

I have had a saying for a long time: In periods of adversity there is opportunity. We are not talking about businesses or people price gauging. That is unconscionable. But there are investment opportunities and new business ideas that come from a crisis like this. While some people are in a panic, that is the time to step up and take advantage. We are already seeing that. Honest market moneymaking opportunities.

We have a country with disbursed power and millions of entrepreneurs with a spirit of wanting to conquer a problem. We are relying on capitalism with our business leaders stepping up to help resolve the situation. Waving fees, helping to check people’s health, developing new tests in record time, donating millions of pills and our government is slashing through the red tape to enable this to happen. We are seeing capitalism at its best, just like we did after 9/11. You should pray every day and be thankful you live in a beacon of freedom where we will always confront a crisis together and come out better on the other side.

Let us continue to focus on our elderly. This disease is not a threat to children. It is a minor threat to a 20- or 30-year-olds. They will almost all be fine. The people who are dying are elderly and others with compromised health. It is nice to see our society pulling together to extend their lives in a healthy manner. It is a sign of our civility.

Let’s keep it that way.