Some Ask a Taboo Question: Is America Overreacting to Coronavirus?

With “social distancing” now widely adopted nationwide, a small group of contrarians urge a more careful weighing of the harm as well as the benefits of such policies.

Comments: 240

  1. Overreacting? Yes at the grocery store; no at the White House.

  2. @Steve Carol This is exactly what is going on.

  3. Maybe now is the time to "fire" the White House know -nothings, and hire a competent team. Many of us may not survive until Nov 3rd!

  4. Until we can test more people we will never know.

  5. @CN Until we can test who HAD the disease, a 'who has it' will be less useful as you have to test every day.

  6. @CN Oh we will. We will.

  7. It would help to have a competent leader.

  8. Can Obama’s shadow government take over?

  9. @Bill: I considered holding my "tongue," especially given the acrimony triggered by making a partisan statement in these circumstances. However...after reading this article and conjuring the image of the two profs having their cozy little chat over coffee, another image flashed into my mind. Bill Barr. Are we witnessing another "audition" for some higher-profile role in that incompetent administration?

  10. @Bill Yes. Much of the panic or stress arises from a lack of confidence in the competence of the Trump administration. That isn't politicizing the pandemic; it's a wake-up call, as if we needed any more of those, that if we want a great country we need a highly functioning government run by qualified people.

  11. Sometimes I WaPo and everyone else would learn moderation. The question of whether the USA is overreacting is not taboo. Trump and his supporters implicitly ask it all the time. It's a reasonable question, but from a risk analysis pov, the answer is fairly easy. If the nation under-reacts, many people die. If it over-reacts. it may enter an avoidable recession or make it worse. Which one do you choose?

  12. @31today But also many people dying would lead to a recession eventually. So you are getting one either way - the only choice is saving lives or not.

  13. "Dr. Thunstrom was in her kitchen, drinking coffee" Meanwhile, my brother and his wife are doctors at Kaiser in the Bay Area where the ICU is over 100% capacity. They have no goggles. They don't have enough masks and are re-using them while making life or death decisions. They don't have time and are asking me to go online to search for goggles and masks. They're also trying to find the time to buy life insurance. So yea, it's a taboo question, and you shouldn't be asking it.

  14. Thank you. My husband is an emergency room physician. It is taking 3 days for test results to come back and the hospital is going through unnecessary quantities of masks, gowns, and goggles until test results come back negative. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center is postponing elective surgeries not because of lack of doctors and nurses, but for lack of gloves, masks, and gowns. Please have the economists focus on how to get enough tests, rapid test results, and more protective equipment to hospitals. My husband updated his will on March 2. He did not have time to meet with a lawyer, so he wrote it himself and had the town clerk witness it.

  15. thank you @jay fox. my two brother-in-laws are hospital doctors. one does a lot of intovating of patients. to protect his family he is isolating himself with no contact with his kids. and at this moment two doctors lie in critical condition. and we will expect these doctors to triage who lives and dies based on who gets a ventilator. many deaths will be under 50... agreed, this question should not be asked. find something else to ponder while these Americans are risking their life to save yours.

  16. @Jay Fox My husband is a doctor and will begin to be exposed to not only the virus but people who aren’t symptomatic yet want the test. Add to that a staff barely able to follow basic instructions when things are “normal” and he’s concerned about a mess. Not all staff need to be in his office but he practices with two other physicians whose philosophies differ—one will try to do everything, including testing of a symptomatic staff members who are justifiably worried, but to the detriment of having testing available for patients. My husband would like to use a FaceTime software for some visits so vulnerable patients can avoid going out but the hospital/healthcare group has been slow to okay these basic changes, making it necessary to adopt “gonzo” or rogue practices while waiting for everyone else to catch up. I say this because altho I half believe in prayer, I want you to know we’re thinking about you and are willing to do what we can to help. If you read this, any advice?

  17. At this point the situation feels so unnecessarily extreme for a virus most will get eventually and survive (unlike an Ebola type illness). I’m now More worried about the economic fallout than the illness.

  18. @Dana Roughly twenty percent of the people who have gotten the virus are hospitalized for it. And, no, they are not all elderly or have underlying issues. True, many of those tested were likely far sicker than those who had only mild symptoms, so the real percentage may be far lower, but for the millions or tens of millions who could potentially wind up in the hospital even if they don't die, the health issue is more important than the financial issue.

  19. @Dana How lucky you are that you don't have any comorbidities that make this virus more dangerous for you. I have genetic COPD and am over 50 (as do my siblings). A coworker has had an organ transplant and takes immunosuppressives. Wouldn't it be nice if we could hold off getting this until some treatments are approved? Maybe until hospitals aren't overwhelmed? Maybe we can skip it altogether? If my kids' school weren't cancelled and me working from home - I could not avoid exposure. In this circumstance... I might be able to.

  20. @Dana That description also applies to the 1918 Spanish Flu. Most got it. Most survived. Of course, if you were one of the unlucky 50-100 million who got it and didn't survive, it was a pretty big deal. As the article mentions, current estimates range from the hundreds of thousands to millions of Americans who will die from this in the next 18 months. That's way past causes of death like murder, traffic accidents, and drug overdoses and approaching or surpassing cancer and heart disease. And whether the number is 160,000 dead Americans or 1,600,000 dead Americans depends substantially on choices we make now in the next few weeks with incomplete information. Yes, it could be an overreaction, but even it is, it's not an unreasonable overreaction.

  21. If testing was widespread and determined that the virus was only prevalent in certain geographical areas those areas could be targeted for controls and the rest of us could go about our business. Unfortunately we do not, which leaves us with the ancient remedy to disease -- isolation from others.

  22. @M145 South Korea is almost 100 times smaller in area than the USA and I don't know what population difference - what works in that density might not work in ours. their government structure is more federal than ours - where much control is in the state or city. And we have a right to assemble in our founding document, and other controls on what the government can do, outside of martial law/war. If I test negative today - i might not be negative tomorrow. So isolation is still needed. And what we don't know about China - is how much are they reporting accurately any more - now that they have rounded up the sick or exposed and put them in camps out of view. They have excellent propaganda reasons to claim they have beat it - but their methods we cannot duplicate.

  23. @Paul Americans are masters of excuses. It's actually pretty remarkable. I know because I am one. What you are saying is that the richest country in the world can't do what South Korea did. And while you are right that our government is set up differently, you are also wrong that we can't get it done.

  24. This is a fair question. The problem right now is that we are uncertain about the scope of Covid19. Will it be like SARS or MERS which were deadly but containable, or is it like the Spanish flu which could not be contained and killed perhaps 100 million people? Without resolving this uncertainty we cannot do a cost benefit analysis.

  25. @Alan White We've already lost the containment fight. Now it's about mitigation.

  26. @Alan White The cost benefit analysis comes AFTER the fact, each time, and proves we need to feel like we're "over-reacting" when in fact, we're not. If "over-reacting" saves lives versus losing money... This really is a Science vs Trumpism question; a "We" vs "Me" question. What side of common sense, morality, and decency do you want to be on?

  27. @Alan White: If you mainly seee this as something we need to do a "cost benefit analysis" on, you're already on the wrong side of everything that matters. What's the "cost benefit analysis" to you or to someone you know, if they lose a loved one to this virus?

  28. we simply don't know enough to "get it right" and every response, or non-response, has huge consequences, medically, public health and economic. I'm an epidemiologist and I've seen an almost daily evolution of opinion on what to do by my colleagues. We're in something huge and anyone who says they know what is absolutely happening should be treated skeptically.

  29. The problem is that economic models, and many economists, offer just educated guesses about most things. Harry Truman's two-fisted economist is alive and well ("on the one hand...on the other hand"). These measures may be extreme, but if they manage to save even a few lives, then they are worth it. I love it when economists grandly announce the "value" of a life versus measures taken to save it. But every life (ok, most lives - forget about serial killers, child beaters, etc) are valid. And who pays the highest price for staying open? Cashiers, janitors, public service workers: I am certain the economists do not equate this population with the wealthy. Whatever the cost saving lives is better.

  30. I disagree that “saving lives” is automatically the right choice. It is an irrational statement.

  31. @Tom This reasoning of "saving a few lives" is worth it is a bit off. Then why are we not doing much more with cancer or with drug overdosing epidemics and the many other killers of American lives every year?

  32. @tdb , we spend hundreds of billions and decades of efforts to fight them. And if people could make others overdose by breathing, or killed other people by having cancer, we’d do more.

  33. It can feel cold to weigh human cost against economic cost. But the economic cost is broad and could carry it's own human costs. A drastic change to our way of life (not just cruises and fancy dinners but to our jobs, our freedoms or our safety). For all it's flaws, our society provides one of the most secure environments in human history and it hangs in a delicate balance. Anything that seriously disrupts that balance could thrust us back into the cycle that has defined human history...one that promises the constant threats of disease, famine and violence.

  34. You are assuming that there is some other alternative. The virus will carry economic costs. The question is whether we contain the economic costs by containing the virus, or not. If we don’t we will be in for a complete societal collapse.

  35. @Matt Yes. And what is the greater threat to societal collapse. A rampant virus, millions of deaths and overloaded hospitals? Or the shutdown of all businesses, institutions, education and social activity? I don't think anyone can know for sure. But it's clearly not a slam dunk in favor of extreme social distancing.

  36. @SJG Your initial post is familiar triumphal nonsense. We live in greater danger than any society in human history. Apart from the corona virus, we are facing extinction due to our economy destroying the ecosystem and we face the threat of nuclear annihilation from the actions of two hot-head idiots, or a flock of birds being mistaken for incoming missiles. You are working off of too small a sample size.

  37. I’m saying this everywhere I can: Because of the nature and highly contagious capabilities of this virus, we humans are: - a target, each and everyone of us and when we get it - a spreader, a viral machine gun, and a danger to others, if we luckily don’t then become also one more life to save in the ICU. We had this debate in Italy 2-3 weeks ago, which seems like years ago now, just as they did in South Korea, and could have in China had it been allowed. There are no social measures too exaggerated to contain the damage this pandemic will do. The bottom line is: an equation with lives on one side, and economics on the other. Sacrifice one on side for the other. Countries are doing their math. The US should seriously be doing some too.

  38. Advise we seek asylum in South Korea. Good for them. Our intellectual, ethical, and spiritual poverty stands exposed.

  39. @Lui Cartin > “There are no social measures too exaggerated to contain the damage this pandemic will do.” There are _always_ possible responses that would be helpful but “too exaggerated,” e.g. not providing food to the elderly or out of shape. Rationality is needed, not virtue-signaling.

  40. Over-reaction or not, the benefits to the environment can be seen: reduced air pollution. Perhaps we could have a few weeks every year where the same reductions could be achieved.

  41. @Margo Another benefit of social distancing is that there are likely to be fewer people stricken by the regular 'flu.

  42. @Margo So the more people that die the better for the environment. Got it.

  43. Am I missing something? It is my understanding that in an outbreak of any pathogen, we should all be listening to EPIDEMIOLOGISTS, not social scientists, economists, or policy makers except where they are also listening to EPIDEMIOLOGISTS. Thoughts?

  44. @Clark Foerster Of course we should listen to epidemiologists. They have the best models on disease propagation and mortality. HOWEVER, their models are focused solely on the outcomes of one specific disease. Optimizing part of a complex system never optimizes the whole. This is where other experts can COMPLEMENT the work of epidemiologists. For example, let's say that moving from moderate to aggressive containment efforts would reduce COVID-19 deaths by 20,000 and 18,000 of those reduced deaths were for people over 80 (and thus, say, added on average another 3 years to their lives). OK, what other the OTHER impacts of moving from moderate to aggressive? How many lives will be lost due to other factors associated with the aggressive actions? Isolation and economic recession --> increased suicides, for example. This is not an either / or proposition.

  45. @Clark Foerster not necessarily true. They are looking at stopping the spread of disease ... That shouldn't be the only goal here to the exclusion of all others. The bear market is a larger threat to American life (and lives) than a virus

  46. @Clark Foerster I think so. Almost all of us will survive this. There has to be some consideration made about what the welfare of the survivors will be when this is all over.

  47. At this rate of increase in New York City (35%) the number of cases will nearly doubling in two days. By Friday, NYC would have 1,472 cases, 20% of which will be severe, and 5% critical. How many hospital beds are ready for that number of new cases in the days and weeks to come? In metro areas like NYC and Seattle, closing down and isolating ourselves likely should have already happened. But NYC seems to be in for the worst of it. Hard to imagine that closing down schools and bars etc is overreaction.

  48. It bears remembering that all of these statistics depend on positive tests, and given how few people are currently being tested, there are quite likely tens of thousands of infected people in NY and NJ. Overreaction my foot.

  49. @Sherry If by Friday,NYC does not have 1,472 "cases" (how defined?) will you agree that this is an overreaction? Since "cases" could mean anything, actual deaths might be a truer measure.

  50. Dr. Anthony Fauci already answered this question when he said that, when people accuse him of overreacting, he knows that he has it exactly right.

  51. @Steve Griffith Someone compared this time to WWII. But this time the enemy is among us and everyone has to be prepared to sacrifice to save lives. We need effective leadership. And now.

  52. @California Man I think a useful thought experiment (I tried it, after thinking along your lines for the past few weeks) is that while you were living your life you contracted the virus. Before you had symptoms you passed it on to at least 40 other people, one of whom might not survive it. Then imagine that once you showed symptoms, the virus was far worse than you thought, due to some weakened immune system issue of which you weren't aware. Then imagine going to your local hospital to get help breathing and faced a shortage of ventilators. Your comment that you plan to life your life seems very 'glib' in these circumstances.

  53. @California Man please, please stay away from people at highest risk, like me. You may get through this unscathed, but many of us won't be so lucky. How is under reacting better than over reacting? And given what we've seen in other countries, are our measures really overreacting? The problem as I see it is that no one seems to be addressing the unintended consequences. That should also be a part of our response,

  54. It is very disappointing that the political leaders make decisions based on panic. They are racing who can take more extreme measure more. Instead of calculating the cost and benefits of such kind extremem measure carefully, they follow the wrong example of China which is very far from democracy. This extreme measure destroy the values we have created after WWII. Xenophobia and racism and sotical distrust is spreading already. Instead of calming down the panic, the extreme overreaction by the political leaders are pouring oil to the burning fire. Before calling others heartless cruel elderly killers, we need to calm down and understand the economic fallout or another Great Depression will kill more people.

  55. I believe you are promoting the “values” that preceded WWII.

  56. Overreaction is nearly impossible. Overreacting at this point would be mandatory 24 hour curfews for everyone, immediate Testing for everyone and banning ALL Travel, including by automobile. We are not yet at that point, and hopefully will not be. It’s easy to talk about overreacting when you are young and healthy. For those most at risk, we are placed at Risk by those that ignore the current guidelines. I’m talking to you, Millennials. Stop Bar-hopping, Now. You may not get sick, but you WILL expose others. Also, do you wonder why Males are contracting the Virus at much higher rates ? Easy. Most men are dirty, compared to most women. Wash your hands. It’s really simple. Use Soap. Study after study have shown that the majority of men do NOT wash their hands, after using the facilities. Think about THAT. Hand washing, Social distancing, and self isolation for those with symptoms. NOT rocket science.

  57. Gosh, there is no plan? Despite the fact that we have all heard that is isn't a matter of whether we will have a pandemic, but when? For decades? At least Obama set up an office to deal with this very issue. But then Trump had to shut it down. I'm sure conservatives cheered, because, you know, socialism and deficits. "We don't need no communist plans." Maybe after this is all over, we will have a commission that will be authorized to study and implement plans for the US when the next pandemic occurs. In the meantime, I will shake my head over the fact that all these issues, paid sick leave, medical testing for all, shared burdens, and so on, have been discussed in the past decade and we've made no progress on any of them. Perhaps now Americans will wake up and realize that viruses don't care if you are left or right, Christian or atheist, Trump supporter or not, and realize that today's society is bound up with the success and fortunes of all, not just the rich.

  58. @randy I am also hopeful that all Americans will wake up and have the realization you describe. But my fear is that it won't happen because too many have got their heels dug in so deep in the mud that they cannot extract themselves. They'd rather be right and sick, then wrong and well. I'm afraid that will cost us all dearly.

  59. @randy: Can anyone get Mitch McConnell to wake up to exactly the issues you've outlined? HE is as much to blame as anyone else in government, for his efforts to prevent legislation being considered or voted on. And you'll notice he is keeping a VERY low profile at the moment.

  60. Pandemic. Write this word down in large capital letters. Then erase the”dem”. Now ask which is worse? The tragedy is we don’t know.

  61. It kind of feels like America is held up by toothpicks when asking people to distance themselves from others temporarily causes this much concern. I can't think of a better case for a stronger welfare state than these current events.

  62. The US is taking the actions it needs to at this point given its utter failure at the start of the epidemic. South Korea and Singapore showed that you don't have to shut down the country to stop the virus, but you DO have to test a lot more and track people's contacts, and then do targeted quarantine. The US (and Europe) dropped the ball on these early actions in epic fashion. So here we are, almost masochistically bleeding out our own economy so we can stop the spread of this virus. Granted I could see an argument that a pretty small % of people die from this virus and letting everyone get it would guarantee the survivors get immunity and get back to life in a month. But I don't think anyone is ready for this type of action and it would be really hard to explain it from a moral perspective. I think we just need to shoot ourselves in the foot and stop this virus.

  63. @Daniel It's not known yet if having coronavirus leads to immunity, or if it does, how long that immunity lasts. It would be great if it did, like measles. There just hasn't been enough time yet to know.

  64. @Daniel Unfortunately, if everyone got this thing at once, most of the 15-20% that need hospital care would be unable to get it, and the fatality rate would greatly increase. We don't have enough ICU beds, medical staff, and ventilators to handle even a moderate outbreak. I would agree that a better early response and testing would have lessened the need for some of the more draconian measures.

  65. @Daniel I think the question of whether targeted measures work better is a good one. Unfortunately, I agree that it is likely too late for that and that we would need tremendous political will and action to expand testing and reinforce a broken health care system in order to do what South Korea and Singapore did. Though I do not find it acceptable to write off the 2-5% of primarily elderly Americans that would likely die if we let the virus go unmitigated, I think we make a mistake in not counting indirect crisis-related deaths when assessing potential impacts. As with ebola and other epidemics that overwhelm health systems, the deaths caused by blocked access to health care (e.g - women dying from not accessing maternal care b/c hospitals have become ebola wards) can exceed those caused by the virus itself. The % affected in that scenario is the one we should worry about.

  66. I would much rather look back on this horrible crisis and say we overreacted, potentially saving many lives and the spread of the virus, than saying we didn’t do enough.

  67. @Tam I agree with that but we need to consider the effect on the economy. This will kill as well. Hundreds of thousands, millions, laid off will have predictable effects on mortality.

  68. @Tam And fast. This is a move fast and break things kind of time. If it works keep doing it. If it doesn't, stop. We are already behind, but shutting everything down for two weeks will be necessary; if nothing else to get people's attention. As Americans we are waiting for some technological solution and it all goes away. Like winning the lottery.

  69. @Tam -- One thing we learned from the AIDS epidemic -- panic is always the wrong response.

  70. In Italy, doctors are actually having to make decisions of which patients to treat and which patients to effectively let die by not treating them. Some people in the US are likely overreacting (I am not sure a year's supply of toilet paper is necessary?), but in general the reactions of many Americans indicate that they do not at all grasp the enormity of the problem. Unfortunately, those attitudes probably are not going to change until someone close to them becomes severely ill or dies in an overloaded, under-prepared health care system.

  71. @Max Do you know that everytime if you have sick family members like from cancer or such things, you have to make decision at some point whether you will continue the treatment or stop at some point. Sadly economic cost is one important thing. You cannot sacrifice indefinitely for your dying parents. In Europe under public healthcare system, such kind of decision is made by doctors. If doctors believe that the cost is too high, they stop the treatment. Do you think that is too cruel?

  72. @Jen , it’s not just your mother and father you’ll be okay with killing. In Italy nearly half the victims are under 50, including people in their 20s and 30s and medical workers of all ages. Maybe seeing that you yourself, and not just your disposable parents, may die will pry the blinders of self-interest from your eyes.

  73. @jb half the infections, maybe, not "half the victims" if by victims you mean fatalities.

  74. I understand the impulse to pose the counterfactual: is the cure worse than the disease? But we also have to ask, is a benefit-cost analysis that differentially prices human lives (the life of a school teacher, a paramedic, or an emergency room technician is worth less than the life of a Wall Street banker or do-nothing politician in terms of the net present value of their expected lifetime incomes) really democratic or the touchstone by which we want to evaluate policy responses to a virus whose transmission mechanisms we are still struggling to understand? Perhaps if we had a more robust public health system and a competent administration in charge, we could indulge in counterfactual thinking. We have neither.

  75. @levgid " . . . is a benefit-cost analysis that differentially prices human lives (the life of a school teacher, a paramedic, or an emergency room technician is worth less than the life of a Wall Street banker or do-nothing politician in terms of the net present value of their expected lifetime incomes) really democratic . . . ." Let's not forget pricing the life of an economist vis-a-vis the others above-mentioned.

  76. We'll always have the folks who want to throw a hurricane party rather than evacuate. And quite often, the party turns out OK. But I still evacuate.

  77. @Chris I think the analogy here is a hypothetical situation where hurricane survivors evacuate, but while doing so they ALL slip and hit their head on the pavement and have moderately severe head trauma.

  78. It’s far better to overreact than under-react. Italy didn’t “overreact” in time to avoid a lot of needless deaths.

  79. It's easy for those who are well-compensated or can work from home to think staying home is a minor annoyance. However, for a lot of people in this country, a shutdown is not a minor annoyance but rather a major hardship--not everyone is a job that lends itself to working from home, nor can everyone weather going 2+ weeks without pay. Question whether the situation warrants putting people on the economic brink is not selfish or ignorant but a perfect valid question.

  80. @Louis I think as you say it is an important question to ask, and we need to offer help to those facing unemployment over this. But if I am asked to choose between saving lives and preventing financial difficulties, I will always choose saving lives.

  81. @Numa, Financial difficulties could literally mean homelessness for some people, unless they receive assistance, so it's not something to minimize.

  82. @Louis , I think people are quite aware of that. Many have spent chunks of our lives in such jobs. Support must be given to those out of work. But lives lost do matter more than suffering two weeks, or more, without pay. We can help with that, but we can’t raise the dead.

  83. Anyone is free to ask the question, but the answer is no, America is not overreacting to the crisis at least medically, social distancing wise and self quarantining. Shopping and hoarding are certainly way out of control though certainly not nationwide. All you have to do is look at how seriously ill some people get, the death toll worldwide and how easily the virus is spread through community contact to see we’re not overreacting. Impossible to do, but the best course of action would be for everyone to self isolate, restrict travel, and have mobile medical teams come to the sick. Draconian, yes, possible to do, no, but it would stop the spread of the disease.

  84. My sister is in a nursing home that has gone the "no visitors" route. She is in hospice care, so a month (or more) with no visitors is a huge consequence. Sure, I can talk to her - but she is developmentally disabled as well so she frequently has issues she can't fix with her phone and tablet. Until she is "actively dying" I have no physical access to her. That really hurts.

  85. @Renee Hoewing Just keep talking to her. It probably helps more than you know. Even if you can't visit, you can always show up at the door and insist you fix the tablet, outside. That is hardly a break in protocol, if wiped down. Also, I saw a picture of someone talking to family outside of a window of a nursing home. They had to shout, but the effort in part of the message. If you can, do that.

  86. We'll never know if we did too much. But it will be abundantly and tragically clear if we do too little.

  87. @George Cx I may quote you on this one, if that's ok?

  88. @George Cx: This is true, and cleverly says why we are not even asking the "hard questions." Everyone please calm down. I am not criticizing any restrictions now being suggested or required. They may be entirely right, or even insufficient. Or, they may be poorly applied. We are a species that tends to over-react. We inherently give greater weight to loss/negativity than we do to gain/positivity. We exaggerate fear of the unknown, only to whittle down that fear over time and through experience. A rustling in the Serengetti - is it wind, or a predator? If the former, fine; if the latter, we're toast. Thus, we inculcate ourselves to treat every risk as a predator. To over-compensate, even in face of the wind. There are many risks. Social isolation causes loneliness, illness, death, depression, suicide. The worsening of poverty causes all kinds of social and physiological ills. Fear ITSELF causes stress, illness, and other dangerous conditions. Life is complicated, and complexity tends to confound us. Go ahead. Ask the hard questions. It is actually enlightened to do so. The answers are usually not easy, but it is too easy simply to decline to ask them at all, because the supposedly isolated value of a human life precludes all thoughtful analysis. I admire those who are considering our circumstances with breadth, depth, and wisdom.

  89. I was thinking much the same thing 2 weeks ago when infection rates and mortality rates were being presented with wide margins or errors...and yet no data, control sampling or otherwise appeared to be being gathered... my guess is because there were few tests and fewer people to administer and manage them. A feast of hearsay and conjecture.

  90. The covid-19 mostly kills people aged 60+. Right now the Italy case fatality rate has climbed to 7.3%. Those aged 60+ account for 23% of the Italian population. That means--for old Italians (age 60+) once infected there is a 7.3/0.23= 31.7% chance to die. Yes that could be an overestimate--so how about 20%? If you do not love your parents or grandparents, remember you will be old one day. In terms of economic cost, if it is too huge then fix the system.

  91. @Guangda Half the deaths in Italy have been of people under 60.

  92. @Guangda this math is entirely incorrect. First of all, dividing the overall fatality rate by the percentage of people over 60 does not equal the fatality rate of people 60+. And, even if it did, your use of decimal places for your percentages is inconsistent. It should either be .073/.23 or 7.3/23. But again, the equation doesn't even make sense in the first place, so it's a moot point. This post should be removed as it's spreading false information.

  93. @Guangda "In terms of economic cost, if it is too huge then fix the system." Easy to say, but when this subsides, the same conservative forces that thought it was smart to eliminate preparedness capacity so they could cut taxes and interest rates to stave off an overdue correction will be right back flogging bailouts for themselves and austerity for the rest of us.

  94. "It may prove impossible to know whether the policies the country adopts were just enough, or more than necessary, to quell the spread of the virus." I would insert, inadequate, before "just enough." We simply don't know yet.

  95. It is absolutely the responsibility of government to weight the cost benefit analysis of any decision. Our current elected officials are in a contest to out safety each other. There's no end in that.

  96. @Rob R And if they weren't erring on the side of safety, you would be complaining that they weren't taking it seriously enough.

  97. The social pressure to close businesses has been heartening because we are starting to come together as a society to help prevent the most vulnerable among us from certain death. I do feel bad about hourly and service workers who have been laid off or told they will not be paid. The answer to this conundrum is not to risk a mass epidemic, it's for the government to step in and provide swift, complete assistance for these people. If that means more taxes for those of us who can afford it, I'm on board.

  98. @Scott M Exactly, I'm fortunate, not wealthy by a long shot but prepared for a tax increase to aid those who become unemployed thru no fault of their own.

  99. Professor Campbell seems not to know that his students attend other classes than his own which could be taught at a distance. Also, their interactions in dorms, dining rooms etc. brings them into close contact. The decision to close the college seems prudent, despite his misgivings. Perhaps he could given them a take home assignment in which what they have learned in his class could be used to track the disease.

  100. If our government had been more serious about this pandemic when it first became aware of it, these measures would be less necessary. We should have been throwing money at preparedness rather than at the market.

  101. I don't know whether we are overreacting or not -- yet. But what I do know is that we will be facing many more of these difficult health/policy/economic tradeoff decisions in the coming years unless we make radical, proactive changes now to our health care system, environment, pay equality policies, etc. The key word here is that we are REACTING, and it is expensive no matter what. Planning ahead may seem like a costly investment, but we'll be far better if we learn from this experience and make long-term adjustments accordingly.

  102. There are no questions that should not be asked. The problem is we needed the answer three months ago. Epidemiologists study the progression of disease and mortality. Deaths are easy to count. The economic and social costs of the covid-19 are not as easy to 'count' and model. We need a broad systems understanding in order to made decisions that alleviate the worst outcomes. "Just saving one life is worth it" is a naive maxim that may ignore the broader harms. The goal of policy should be to alleviate the worst outcomes broadly understood, not only the counting of deaths. For instance, what will the suicide rate look like over the next four months? How will the youngest and most vulnerable workers in the service industry cope with being laid off? What small business will never come back? How will this impact retirement strategies over the next decade? What are the consequences of social isolation for trust, conflict within homes, mental health? I understand these extreme measures are meant flatten the curve and not overwhelm the nation's health care system. If these measures are not capable of doing that, then the system was too far rationalized to begin with to protect other aspects of societal life. Given how Western nations tend to run lean rationalized health care systems (beds and icus have been dropping as reported by the NYT), the difficulty of triage, life and death decisions, seems inevitable and a horrible position to put health care workers in.

  103. Being in Italy, I, also underestimated the gravity of coronavirus. No more. Rick Wright is right. This is the potentially deadly part: many asymptomatic people are passing it to others, and, as each individual produces a unique response to this virus, it can go on for days without problems, yet be life-threatening for others. It has threatened and even in some cases, brought on the death of those who are responsible for our care - our doctors, nurses and emergency health operators-healthy people, not just the elderly or fragile health groups. We have seen entire ER departments, and hospital wings close as the virus has spread on, thus, limiting even more patient care. Italy is doing a tremendous job in dealing with this emergency. A country normally seen for its frivolous, lighthearted approach to matters, is biting the bullet and going far beyond its means, with excellent experts and health care operators leading the way. The country is united to beat this invisible enemy. Just a word on health care in the US- I read about Senator Biden's comment during the debate about how single-person health care in Italy isn't working in order to combat coronavirus. Dead wrong. The single system has allowed Italy to organize as a whole country instead of bickering about a multi-service system, or worse - leaving those without care completely out of the picture. Please stop writing about how doctors in Italy are forced 'which patient to save'- This is coronavirus pandemic.

  104. @Verde Yes. People like Joe Biden can get back to us in ten days. That's when we will find out how our largely private, profit-oriented healthcare system compares to Italy's, not now. On March 5th Italy had about as many cases as we have now. In ten days we will have at lease 25,000 cases and -- I suspect -- will do much worse than Italy.

  105. @bored critic You completely missed the point of this aspect of Verde's post. "The single system has allowed Italy to organize as a whole country instead of bickering about a multi-service system, or worse - leaving those without care completely out of the picture." Peace.

  106. @Verde Actually Americans should look north for an example of how a medicare system for al performs. Canada started preparing for the pandemic last December when medical professionals heard about what was happening in China. Having gone through the Sars epidemic which hit Canada particularly hard we had a pandemic plan and our hospitals are ready for it. So far we have one death for a population 10% the size of the US. There are currently about 350 cases of Covid 19 almost all travel related. Health care workers are very vigilant and the population is totally cooperating with the social distancing and hygiene recommendations.

  107. This morning the Washington Post has a useful graphical essay that shows, first of all, the contagion has entered a phase of exponential expansion (76 cases March 1; 2179 cases March 13) and that the best way to 'flatten the curve' turns out to be extensive social distancing, which is more effective than moderate social distancing, which is more effective than quarantine. Obviously, there are immense costs and consequences, but without serious intervention, there is the real possibility that the virus could sicken millions and kill tens of thousands, this year, and, become a regular thing, like flu, only worse. The great crime is that the government wasted two months in denial, foot dragging, slow-rolling testing and finger pointing.

  108. “Are we overreacting?’’ is not taboo because it's callous. It's taboo because there's no way a University of Wyoming economist or anyone else can know the answer. Fauci and other epidemiologists are wise enough to know that underreaction is far more common and far more dangerous than overreaction. We should follow their lead and not listen to amateur second-guessers.

  109. Wyoming? They have less people in their state than I have in my county.

  110. Undereaction is Fauci not calling for the president’s removal from office that the president is a threat to our survival as a nation. Fauci has the credibility but he is too timid. If he speaks up he won’t be alone. Millions will support him or as the expression goes “have his back”.

  111. @Alexander Bain I'm fairly certain economists know what happens when the economy shuts down for months. And it ain't pretty.

  112. No reasonable discussion that take an expansive view of a complex problem should be "taboo". This new mode of shaming people into supporting preexisting policy positions is antithetical to democracy.

  113. @Mike James You may have the right to cross a street with a green light in your favor, too. But self preservation may depend upon temporarily abrogating your right to do so when a speeding car that just ran the red light careens through the intersection. Did you need to be shamed into doing so? How about if you were helping an elderly person cross the street?

  114. @Mike James Everyone has a right to gamble with their own life, but no one really has a right to gamble with other people's lives. This present crisis ought to be a learning opportunity, because, as population grows, one day there WILL be a pandemic that is extremely contagious, stealthy, and has a very high morbidity rate for persons of all ages. If it is dealt with as this pandemic has been dealt with, civilization will be brought to its knees in a very short time. This crisis needs to be taken very seriously, not just for what the consequences may be now, but for what it means for the future. It will be a grave error if people one day look back and say we overreacted.

  115. @Mike James I think the knee-jerk reaction to my comment illustrates my point. Notice that I'm not advocating any positions at all. I'm only stating that free and open discourse be the basis for arriving at decisions as opposed to emotional reactions to the first things that people hear. it is absolutely absurd that anybody would take the time to object to a call for "reasonable discussion". What's so controversial about reason these days?

  116. 6 x 45 million = 270,000,000 cases of cv according to a prediction in the article. If 2% die that is 5,400,000. Think social scientists should be a bit more specific in their cost benefit analysis.

  117. @Okbyme In this mortality calculation appears the denominator being use is far too low. There are many hundreds of thousands who have already been exposed to this virus to little or no effect. If a person doesn’t present for care, they don’t get counted. Thus the mortality rate is probably overstated - possibly significantly. This feeds anxiety, fear, and panic. This does not mean seniors and/or those with underlying illnesses are not at risk, they are. However, take a deep breath, wash your hands frequently, social distance yourself, and carry on.

  118. @T Smith To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go to calculation with the figures you have, and I took mine from the article and the CDC. But let's say that you're right, and the mortality rate is 1%, that is still 2,700,000 dead in the US alone. I went to Whole Foods in Santa Fe this morning. It was crowded at 7 Am, and keeping 6 feet away was not a priority for anyone in that space. I think a little fear would be quite beneficial. And, btw, I recommend yoga for immune boost.

  119. The economic costs are familiar. We saw them after the dot com bubble/911, and with the Great Recession. We recovered and will again. But this time, for millions including the old and the vulnerable, personal survival is on the table too. So a messy, hard-to-quantify social distancing is happening. I’m not sure government has as much role in that as it thinks it does. Just one tiny example: parents in Western Washington started keeping their kids home a few weeks before schools closed. It wasn’t hard to measure. It showed in absentee rates.

  120. Our economy will always come back, Social distancing is a necessary, temporarily measure to save lives. If there is an equation to be solved it’s: when do we start to come off (and which ones) the social distancing measures so that businesses can get back to normal? The answer maybe is: when our health system can handle the load of patients -either by expanding and supplying what is needed and by having ubiquitous testing so that we know who is “cleared” -either by recovery from the disease or not having it active-to come off social distancing.

  121. The answer here is simple. Do everything we can to stop the spread, and in the coming weeks back off on those actions that can, with time, be deemed too extreme and either unnecessary or too costly. By not acting now we foreclose the chance to change our minds later. It will simply be too late.

  122. This is ghoulish. It's typical in these times to act as if economic activity is somehow sacrosanct, more so than human lives. Listen to yourselves. No work, no rent, free health care, free food stamps, for all, are needed right now. The government must act. We can afford endless war, so we can afford to have the best response to this crisis to combat the coming deaths. There are things more important than money.

  123. @James Gyre "We can afford endless war." YES, a thousand times. This debate is pathetic, evidence of a lack of understanding of just how wealthy this country is and on what the politicians have been spending that wealth for many decades. An informed, educated electorate would never allow these clowns into office. And now we're having exactly the debate they want us to be having. Pretend that resources are more limited than they are, and debate how to use that tiny percentage to alleviate pain, suffering, extreme loss of quality of life, etc.

  124. I would be glad if we were overreacting, but looking at what other countries did, it seems we are not. Countries which did much more than us are doing badly. It is spreading very quickly, even without everyone being tested who would like to be tested, or who has been exposed. Even the current numbers look bad and it is clear they are an underestimate. I'm glad some people are getting a very mild case, that's fantastic, good to hear. But that also means that many people who are walking around are carrying it and don't know it. It has killed many people who were healthy and strong before they got it, and who weren't elderly or obviously at risk in some other way. And there are many people in the at risk category, too. I really hope that this article doesn't look completely ridiculous in 2 weeks. Those who benefit from everyone else being careful and cutting back will maybe get to say we overreacted, I fervently hope so. I hope it doesn't get as bad as expected. It won't make them right but it will save lives, maybe even theirs or lives of those they care about.

  125. It's beyond a fair question: it's the cancellation of things that are outside and that do not involve many people that show me that it's moved beyond reason into hysteria. The lack of testing is at the root of the problem because the information void feeds both opinions - overracting or end times. The hoarding of 144 rolls of toilet paper by most, leaving none for others, makes me think that this is all going to get very ugly on an interpersonal level, so maybe social distancing is best for that reason.

  126. There is no way to know if we are overreacting or not because the country is so far behind the rest of the world in testing. We don't know what's out there. Trump and his administration closed offices designed to track these kinds of diseases, whittled away at access to healthcare, and under funded research generally, and then crowed about the cost savings and their horrific tax cuts. And Trump himself bragged about how he was keeping "his numbers" down, before heading off for a long weekend of golfing. It sounds as if we are still a week or two away from really understanding the scope of the problem, when either more people will develop symptoms, or we'll finally start the process of identifying those who are -- or are not -- infected through more widespread testing. Either way, this president and the Republicans generally should be held accountable. They can take their near-drowned government home with them. The nation needs to breathe new life into one that works for all Americans, not just the rich and powerful and those currently sitting in Washington.

  127. The incompetence of our leadership makes it impossible to feel confident about the response. Is it too much or too little? No way to know for the average citizen. Information has been so slow to be shared and so confusing, I don't know what to make of it. I am "social distancing" (I work from home regularly so it's kind of like boycotting a product I would never use anyway) but I'm also feeling skeptical. A lot of people I know, including myself, think we already had the virus back in January.

  128. It is incredibly inconvenient, but we’ve got to err on the side of caution. This isn’t like the time you weren’t sure you locked your door, but decided not to get off the freeway to go back home and check.

  129. I am highly suspicious of the recent virus counts provided by China. A country on 1.4 billion people that had 80,000 cases last month now only has a few a day now that people are congregating again? That just does not seem logical. Have they simply stopped testing? Or are they under-reporting for political or economic reasons? It matters because their recent success is often referenced as a beacon of hope for their rest of the world.

  130. Factor in this and I will listen to the economic arguments: There are not enough medical resources to treat the expected number of infected persons who need them. Not enough by a lot. Period.

  131. A leader with a reputation for good faith in the use of their power may have the credibility to make such the kind of “calculated” argument the article explores. By contrast, a leader known for acting primarily in their own private self-interest and lying for their own benefit enjoys no such goodwill. Trump is firmly in the latter category. Not only is Trump perceived (with good reason) as being incapable of comprehending such calculations, he is also perceived (with even BETTER reason) as being an untrustworthy messenger to relay such an argument. Lastly, he is incompetent to execute any long term, disciplined strategy; being more likely to attempt to float the greatest hardships upon his political enemies. And since he has largely and conspicuously populated his administration with grifters and sycophants, there are few surrogates (if any) capable of inspiring confidence in the country at large. So sadly, even if one could pinpoint the PRECISE trade offs to be made, Trump’s administration would be (for lack of credibility and competence) incapable of implementing such policies. Just the Trump administration’s reputation makes it virtually impossible for them to convince the markets they have things under control, no one is likely to trust in the good faith of any “calculations” Trump’s people assert as to the “statistical value of human life.” Period. Trump’s (dare I say?) “deplorable” reputation is harmful to the country, especially in a crisis like this.

  132. Thank you. We're talking about a disease which, for the vast majority of patients, will feel like a bad cold, which will go away by itself. By all means we should take precautions to protect older, susceptible people who are in real danger. But cratering the economy is not a reasonable response to the risk.

  133. @Max We are *all* in real danger. Even a moderate outbreak of this will overwhelm our hospitals, crippling their ability to handle this or other illnesses. A "mild" case of this (80% of cases) is not like a cold and can include pneumonia. A "severe" case (roughly 14%) requires hospital care. A "critical" case (roughly 6%) means multiple organ failure. Take a look at what's going on in Italy. I don't want to see us crater the economy either, but this virus is a serious threat.

  134. @Mini Overwhelming our hospitals is a very serious possibility. But that risk still needs to be carefully weighed against shutting down all commerce indefinitely. Health authorities, like military generals, can offer their expert opinions. But it's the civilians, looking at the big picture, who need to strike a risk/reward balance.

  135. One doesn't need to look further than Italy to see that we are not overreacting. But we should also look at what worked and didn't work from those who have successfully reduced infections - Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea.

  136. With such a clear and overwhelming lack of national leadership - we’re behind! If we had the infrastructure and leadership we previously had, we might have had the opportunity to ask just such a question. But this White House has put itself first, forcing the nation to make decisions on its own. No guidance; lots of second guessing. It’s a tragedy - we could lose an entire generation over this pandemic.

  137. During a pandemic, simply listen to the WHO, CDC, your state and county health experts. Economists, Investing Gurus, TV personalities, Political stars, College Professors, the President or his men, etc. should focus on listening more and talking less.

  138. Why is it taboo to ask this question? What kind of crazy world are we creating when asking an incredibly obvious and rational question is something to fear? I'll add another obvious question that might be "taboo." Does this mean that we're going to start these extreme measures to control other, demonstrably higher risks? Why is saving 400 lives in Seattle from coronavirus more important than saving thousands of lives from the flu? Or from car accidents? I genuinely want to know the answer to this - I'm not being snarky. I am truly confused by what's happening. From everything I've read, the risk is lower for this disease than many other diseases and activities. I'm not even resisting it, just want to understand it and not be afraid to admit my confusion.

  139. @Juliet O in Turin, a proposal is being drawn up to deny ICU access to those over 80 and those with pre-existing health conditions that make their survival less likely. The flu never does that, nor do car accidents. We have systems in place to deal with the flu and car crashes, but this disease is overwhelming systems. It did in Wuhan, it did in Italy and it will in other places if allowed. This isn't about 400 lives in Seattle, it's about millions of American lives, primarily those who are elderly and immunocompromised. With a fatality rate of 2% - higher when access to medical care isn't available - and exponential growth rates in infection, the stakes are up to 7 million American lives. In many areas of life, like driving or the flu which you mentioned, we accept a certain level of death as acceptable. The levels of mortality we are looking at with Covid-19 fall outside of what is acceptable.

  140. @Juliet O I appreciate your candor, Juliet. Hope this helps... when have you ever seen a hospital buckle under during a bad flu season? When have you ever seen doctors and nurses get so critically ill so fast during a flu season? When have you seen dozens and dozens of residents and nursing assistants get so critically ill with lightning speed in one nursing home during the flu season? Have you ever seen a person drop dead on a city street (Wuhan) during a typical flu season? I'm almost 70, and in my entire life, I have never known anyone personally who died of the flu. Never. Not as a child, not as an adult. NEVER. I did the math, and based on reports this morning, the death rate for coronavirus in Italy is well over 10%. That's at least a 100 times more lethal than influenza. I fully expect to know people personally who die of this.

  141. @Juliet O This new virus is most like the 1918 flu which had a death rate of about 2%. That's 20 times higher than the regular flu. The share of infected who will need intensive care is 5%. If 9,000,000 Americans get the new virus flu (low end estimate of how many get the regular flu), then half a million people will need intensive care. There are only 94,000 ICU beds in the whole country. That's why we have to slow the virus down or else hospitals are going to be swamped. It's on the verge of happening in NYC, sadly.

  142. Try to have a little patience. Flatten the curve means buying time for leaders and hospitals to prepare. Years back I was bedside as my mom went down with pneumonia. Not pleasant and very hard to imagine w/o oxygen, intubation — ICU care.

  143. It's a fair question when our alleged president has done little but used the virus as an excuse to spread baseless campaign rhetoric in his desperate stab for reelection. From an economic standpoint, consumers will lose more, but have no voice compared to businesses, large and small. Cries of overreaction from business will silence consumers. I disagree with Mayor de Blasio. Hard numbers don't exist while firm evidence from China and Japan both show closing schools appear effective. Japan closed schools early on and the outlook is positive.

  144. There is one major reason to hunker down: your health care providers. You are putting these brave people at severe risk if you don’t isolate - and risking social chaos if they start staying home because they don’t feel you are doing what you can to protect them.

  145. It's way to early to know if we are overreacting or not. If it comes back in the Fall and we have to shut down again we may wish we would have let more people get sicker sooner. OTOH maybe vaccines will be ready in time for the next wave? One thing is for sure, this is an excellent case study in group-think and confirmation bias. If you want to see this as an epic disaster there are plenty of stories and data to focus on. If you want things to look good, likewise, there are plenty of good things to focus on. So disaster-minded people focus on the exponential growth in recent data. Glass half-full people will point out that China, a country with 1.3 billion people, held it to less than 100,000 cases and 3000 or so deaths. compared to a typical flu season that appears pretty good!

  146. @The Hang Nail ...don't want to pull at the threads too hard but there was some question about the statistics coming out of China...

  147. What we need is more testing and the government at all levels supporting those who need to self isolate. We are taking extreme measures based on very little actual data in this country. Look at the Fed--after cutting interest rates to satisfy Trump's ego and wallet, now it cuts them again to nothing. How does that help anyone but speculators? How does that support prevent an economic collapse? Wall Street is not the answer to a global health crisis.

  148. It would help to truly evaluate the risks, if the media was not constantly alarmist. We were all going to die of climate change, or deep water oil well leaks, or acid rain, or killer bees. None of that has become real. If the media truly had disinterested perspective, then the severity of real crises would be easier to judge.

  149. @Carol Gebert as someone who lives in Louisiana, deep water oil well leaks are real and they almost destroyed our entire wetlands 10 years ago. Also climate change is real and it affects us every day now.

  150. @Carol Gebert as someone who lives in Louisiana, deep water oil well leaks are real and they almost destroyed our entire wetlands 10 years ago. Also climate change is real and it affects us every day now.

  151. It’s fair to be concerned about people losing their livelihoods or access to food because of social distancing measures, and such concerns need to be addressed. But economists, Tim Draper and college students are not public health experts, and experience has shown that this virus can spread quite rapidly. To illustrate, a biotech company called Biogen had an executive meeting last month in Boston attended by a few execs who were infected. They soon infected others, and now more than 100 employees have the virus. Some infected Biogen executives also attended an investment conference earlier this month, and just this weekend the CEOs of other two biotech companies who attended the same conference stated publicly that they tested positive. So no, this is not overreaction, and contrarianism - that pseudo-intellectual tendency to disagree for the sake of disagreement - is irresponsible.

  152. Are we overreacting? YES! The GOAL is to overreact. The GOAL is for us to punish politicians in a few months time because they overreacted and made our lives less convenient. This is one of the few situations where overreacting will save lives.

  153. We can always earn more money after this is over. No one can replace my elderly parents who might like to stay alive. Why don't we ask them about trade-offs. They've earned it.

  154. We are over-reacting for one simple reason - we are unprepared. Our healthcare system, our Federal government, and many other institutions lack any clear operational strategy for a global health emergency. Worse, it's not like there haven't been warning signs! We will get through this. Perhaps we'll learn some valuable lessons. Perhaps not...

  155. @Henry Daas we are unprepared because we never cared enough about other people we didn't know, such that half of us didn't bother to get a flu shot or wash our hands outside of the shower or stay home while sick. We only seem to care when people we know are in danger - government is just a reflection of us.

  156. One thing we need is a reliable, verifiable way to identify people who have been infected and are certified as no longer carrying and being capable of transmitting the disease. These "early cases" could be hugely beneficial to society. On a "war time footing" they could take on assignment to make deliveries to nursing homes and do other things that reduce the risk to vulnerable populations. Thoughts?

  157. Too late. It is widespread across the nation at this point. Seven or so weeks ago there was opportunity to start aggressive testing and measures to curtail spread, to start with temp facilities for treatment, to ramp up production of masks, ventilators, even toilet paper. That window is just about closed and the wave of illness will now roll over the nation. We'll have to do the best we can with what we've got. A powerful argument for competent governance. Let's vote for that in November.

  158. It makes some sense for a small, isolated college to keep its staff and students on-site. By closing, they are dispersing them through a travel system, and exposing some of them to virus hot-spots once they arrive home. But what do you tell parents who want their children with them as things start to shut down? What happens if the epidemic doesn't slow, and they reach mid-May and can't send the kids home then?

  159. We did experience one encouraging site this past Friday. While the toilet paper section at the local supermarket was largely empty (there were still multi-roll packages available), on the way out, we saw in the parking lot, a older man walking towards his car with his purchase - one single roll of toilet paper. Just one. Not one package, one single roll. There still are sane people out there.

  160. As a non-economist (thankfully) and sentient human paying attention, I believe US social distancing and abrupt shutdowns are just the reset that "markets" need to fall back into realistic territory. The recent irrational run-up in equity pricing over the last six months made absolutely zero sense. The .01 percent was long due for a shakedown.

  161. Unfortunately, I do not think we can overreact at this point. ICUs in Boston are already starting to fill up with coronavirus patients. Until we have therapeutics and a vaccine, this outbreak will have to be contained with social measures. No one's life is worth the risk.

  162. Why is it a taboo question? It's important to remain critical. As if we should trust any news or scientific organization without question? Because they've never steered us wrong before.

  163. @Mike We should not question anymore. Sign of someone who is not properly integrated.

  164. Clearly, the professor doesn’t have an 85-year-old parent with COPD and diabetes living in her household. I also have friends and family members barred from visiting their parents in nursing homes and rehab facilities. I’ve noticed that the biggest contrarians are people for whom privilege and ease have never been challenged—until now.

  165. @PABD So everyone should adjust their lives to accommodate your choices? At any cost to themselves?

  166. @OneView I too have a parent at extreme high risk and a friend who needs advocacy, who was just moved into a nursing home, and is cut off from me. I'm worried about them. I guess it is my choice to worry. Have you no close friends or family?

  167. Might it not be the case that we are so willing to accept "social distancing" for the simple reason that we are all so disconnected from society already?

  168. I think the people who ask this question don't understand the math of exponential spread. If they did, they wouldn't be asking it.

  169. @carhy Yep, they must have their logarithmic curves confused with their exponential curves. They just need to invert their logarithmic curves if they really want a sense of what is occurring.

  170. I see so many Facebook, etc. posts from people who are downplaying this and telling people not to panic. The same people often suggest activities that are completely at odds with the current social distancing warnings. I get angry reading these comments as they weaken the current "herd effort" to slow down the spread. "Just a few weeks of compromises" we say to ourselves. But what if this lingers beyond that? What if it's the next few months or even years? That's the part that is the most terrifying about this - the uncertain future.

  171. @jt I am a scientist and I do not believe anything out of trumps mouth, but I can say I do believe we will have an effective vaccine in a year.

  172. I'd rather overreact because I fear of the alternative. There is no playbook but we do now have China and Italy to look to and learn from, something we should have done a month ago. How some people are still trying to compare losing money to losing lives is simply beyond me.

  173. by dragging "feet" re: testing, these questions gather several feet off the ground. If we can't quantify the outbreak and evaluate how people are doing, then talk, while interesting, unfortunately is so much hot air.

  174. I’m struggling with this question as well. My partner works with international students at a large public university. He’s been covering this for months now and was warning people weeks ago to stock up on what they consider essentials. He’s reached the point where he doesn’t want to go to the gym, to a bar, to the gardening center or anywhere else. It’s beyond irritating because we are not in a hard hit area There are less than 10 confirmed cases in our entire state! I’m not worried about businesses. I’m worried about employees who rely on tips to pay rent. We may stop going out, but landlords may still expect their rent. I’m still going to bars and coffee shops and tipping extra. But the. I wonder if I stopped going would they lose for a few days and maybe pay those employees anyway?

  175. Restaurants are going to a takeout only policy here in WA. Not a complete answer to the economic question, but it helps.

  176. @Phneyda confirmed cases. How many untested cases?

  177. @Phneyda "confirmed cases", given the stringent regulation on testing along with the demand for tests not equal to supply, ought to give you thoughtful pause. Houston, we (do) have a problem here.

  178. It's not an unreasonable question to ask, but the answer is no. In any case, as Tony Fauci said recently, it is much better to overreact in a situation like this than to not do enough. We don't know what the course of the virus will be but we already have several examples - China, Korea, Italy, Germany - all of which underline the seriousness of the situation.

  179. The problem is there is no single, reliable, easily available source of information. Nor will there be. We are expecting citizens to listen and behave rationally, when nothing validates the truth of that expectation. I chose to stay home because it's easy to do (I already worked from home, food delivery is reliable here), and because I don't trust everyone in my region to be careful.

  180. S. Korea's approach is the one we should have adopted, but it is far too late for that now in the US. S. Korea has achieved a stable infection rate. For the last couple days they are reporting more recovering patients than new cases. But to achieve that, right from the start they instituted MASSIVE TESTING. They have tested a much larger portion of their population than any other country. Besides testing the obvious cases (i.e. people with flu like symptoms) they have been doing considerable random sampling of people in the general population with no symptoms or mild symptoms. That way they can detect local flareups promptly and douse them. They have achieved this with nothing like the societal disruptions and economic devastation China and Italy and now Spain were forced to do (soon to be joined by the US). But the only way to make that approach work is MASSIVE TESTING. Did I properly repeat and emphasize the concept of massive testing?

  181. Exactly, there wouldn’t be a need to overreact if there was leadership from the government — with scientifically backed methods implemented (which we’ve already seen other countries do successfully). With parallels to climate change, I’m afraid that we’ll consider everything an over-reaction until we see our loved ones suffer. In the meanwhile, let’s listen to the doctors, nurses, and people on the frontline when they say that the situation is dire and they are maxing out on capacity to save lives. Instead of listening to pundits and other folks with a vested interest in downplaying the situation - that do not have their own lives on the line.

  182. Jack Ma of Alibaba and also South Korea have offered to supply the US with millions of test kits. Our “government” turned them down but did offer to buy a German firm working on the vaccine, alarming the German community. Ego, vanity, lining the pockets of our leaders, losing face to Asian countries - our “leaders.”

  183. @Michael Cole Yes, near universal testing, or at least a good scientific sampling, would allow us to focus on isolating infected people rather than the entire population.

  184. Dr. Thunstrom wouldn't be asking that if she lived in NYC.

  185. This debate would have merit if we had a competent federal government. Instead we have an incompetent personality cult. Instead of preparing for the worst, our government has devoted all its energies and efforts to protecting our President’s fragile ego.

  186. Up until coronavirus, the big threat was climate change. Well, I'm looking for a population reduction of about 3 billion from coronavirus. That should have a major impact in reducing climate change for the planet. It will make it easier to eradicate starvation as well. And it should improve my daily commute, assuming I survive.

  187. @bored critic Thanks! I didn't know the Gaia theory applied to commuters.

  188. @bored critic ...you should read “diet for a small planet” by Frances Moore Lappe. We absolutely have the capacity to feed everyone on the planet a nutritious diet. We just choose to use our resources differently.

  189. I find that the 'precautionary principle' is a more useful way of thinking about risk than the typical cost/benefit analysis. The principle suggests that the more scientific uncertainty as to the distribution of a future risk – that is, a larger variability of beliefs – should induce society to take stronger prevention measures today. This principle informs the way the EU has regulated its economy. For instance, if scientists disagree about the risk of a particular drug, chemical or genetically modified modified foods, the stronger the regulation. The bottom line is that we should act if the risk is high enough to lose one life. It's a far cry from placing a price tag on a human life, the preferred approach in the US. Interestingly the precautionary principle is consistent with most religious beliefs about the sanctity of human life. Jesus, in other words, would not calculate costs of a loss of human life.

  190. Yes, we are over reacting to the Corona Virus. However, the virus is only one part of the story. Its not so much the virus. We could have been attacked by aliens as well. It is the reaction and lack of action, the confusion and the lies in our Federal government. Trump and his people have got to go. I'll bring the rail, some one else needs to bring the tar and feathers.

  191. There's a difference between smart preparedness and panic. Following the guidelines of scientific experts makes sense. Buying years worth of toilet paper does not.

  192. @dc Yes, they definitely need to bring that TP back. People need it.

  193. I don't think we are overreacting, but it is interesting to see what we put up with simply because we are used to it. The flu kills tens of thousands a year in the U.S. If we took the steps we are taking now--shutting stores, bars, planes... during flu season surely there would be dramatically fewer deaths. But we don't. Many of those deaths are children who are immune compromised or otherwise in poor health. it's also out of sight for most of us. If the NYT reported on every flu death, and did stories about the horrible suffering of the patient and family, we'd think differently about the seasonal flu. People weigh new risks completely differently than existing risks even if the old risks are more dangerous. While the US is thankfully not allowing economic fallout to lift combating the disease, this is simply not the same for so many other risks we live with everyday. I just find this a fascinating aspect of human psychology

  194. @Atruth the flu kills thousand the coronoaviurs is millions. 20 times the flu.

  195. @Atruth If people would just get flu shots, the flu wouldn’t be a problem. There is no vaccine for Covid-19. The mortality rate is 20 times higher than the yearly flu. We do have the medical capacity to deal with the flu. As Cuomo pointed out, we don’t have the beds or ventilators to deal with this epidemic. Emergency measures are the only things we can use to deal with this, including using the military to help with the logistics. Dr. Trump’s happy talk isn’t going to cut it.

  196. @Atruth Have the influenza victims gotten their flu shots ? Has there been a study whereby the fatalities from the flu have a record of getting their flu shots?

  197. It's a valid question to ask. But I suggest those doing so should get some input and insight from people living in Northern Italy. They were somewhat nonchalant toward the virus like many in this country are today. We are roughly a week behind them in experiencing the effects of this pandemic. I suspect their advice would be that knowing what they know now, they didn't take it nearly seriously enough. We are not either.

  198. Epidemiologists, public policy analysts and most members of the general public agree that vigorous measures to increase "social distancing" in order to "flatten the curve" of infection rates are necessary despite the costs. Particularly in the case of the people who are most vulnerable to serious sickness or death, it is essential to limit their exposure to other individuals who might carry the disease or to high-risk locations or activities. But then we get to other issues that have not been adequately addressed. We also need to think about how, in the long term, the epidemic can end and how life can get back to normal. What can we do now and in the future to finally reduce the number of people who will become infected months or years in the future and reignite the epidemic?

  199. Is America overreacting to Coronavirus? It is, if it's OK to have hundreds of thousands infected and close to a hundred thousand of Americans dead.

  200. @JCA I think you meant more like 1.7 dead. At least.

  201. Feels like post-9/11 all over again. Humans have a shoot first, think later mindset. I wouldn't be surprised if Michael Moore would be making movies on this 20 years down the line detailing how everyone went crazy trying to prevent the inevitable.

  202. @Deepak I’m not sure if you were in New York, the tristate area, or near the pentagon on 9/11, but as a native New Yorker, I can tell you that you are wrong. In response to 9/11, our citizens and the entire world had an outpouring of love, warmth, and mourning for New York. We were shook to our core and broken. Aid was available and provided willingly. Our country became belligerent and sought revenge. The exact opposite is happening here. Our citizens and the entire world do not care for our plight. The world has their own outbreak to handle, and our citizens are surprisingly apathetic, not shook or broken (yet). There will be no aid. China won’t even export masks yet. But perhaps you are correct on one point: we may become belligerent and seek revenge on our political elites for failing us so deeply.

  203. @Chrissy I couldn't believe my eyes yesterday when even the bigger supermarkets in Toronto ran out of essentials like table salt. Also, I was referring to the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq which have now concluded with the US making a peace deal with the Taliban.

  204. While it is a taboo question, it is one worth asking. The lockdown, in Europe, is now unlikely to last less than 3-4 months and the virus will still be there once it is over. I find it legitimate to ask about the economic cost, but it is even more pressing to evaluate the human cost of the anti-pandemic measures, including deaths. 6700 people have died so far from the virus worldwide, but how many have died and will die because of the lockdown? Across Europe planned surgeries are being cancelled, which may include anything from hip replacement to a bypass. In-person doctor's appointments are being replaced with various e-options like chats, but a physician can help you only so much if they don't see you. It may work for a week or two, but now we're bracing for months. And then there's the problem with medications, with queues to the pharmacies etc. Coronavirus is not the only health risk out there, people suffer from other ailments and catch other infections too, and in much higher number. There are also health risk associated with sitting at home: sedentary lifestyle, putting on weight, lower quality diet based on non-perishable pantry staples rather than fresh vegetables and fruit, the lack of outdoor activity, insufficient exposure to sunshine, and, finally, social isolation - these are non trivial factors that will make us weaker and more prone to get more sick when we eventually contract the virus, which, as studies show and scientist confirm, we are likely to do anyway.

  205. Of course this is an overreaction. And only the mainstream media would call that "taboo". Putting aside the long term harm that a recession would cause and putting aside the politics of the issue for a moment, the medical reality of this pandemic is pretty benign. We're looking at a seasonal illness that everyone is likely to get at one point or another if we don't have it already. Just like other seasonal illnesses, we'll build a certain amount of immunity and accept it as a fact of life. Fear is the biggest threat we face. And the way that the media has propagated fear as part of it's business model is a disgrace.

  206. What utter nonsense. OF Course each type of reaction carries risks and problems. And can be dissected in hindsight as to which one cost more. However, if you listen to the scientists who specialize in managing pandemics, the KEY is the TIME frame in which a specific number of people get critically sick. The system can handle a surge in one city (like a hurricane for example.) But if there is a surge across many major cities for hospital beds and respirators, and medical professionals, the system can fail, leading to much wider and deeper problems. Imagine a wave by the crowd in a football stadium. We cant get everyone to stop moving, but if we get most of them to stop, the wave will dissipate. If we get the timing wrong, it can go very bad, very fast.

  207. Overreacting? Not when our great leader tells us it's all a hoax. That we should just relax and that it will all go away some day, by some miracle or other, or maybe in warm weather. Or something. Of course we overreact when there is nobody with a brain in charge. Overreacting might be to have a surplus of ventilators, respirators and hospital beds. This disease is deadly. Unless we accept that death is just an unfortunate by product of bad leadership and horrifying lack of morality, then there is no such thing as overreaction.

  208. A more taboo question is how long has the coronavirus been in America. The director of the CDC has admitted that there were probably some deaths earlier on from the coronavirus that was not attributed to it simply because the patients were never tested for it. Prior to March 1st, there were only less than 500 tests carried out for the entire US!!! Why? Was there a cover-up?

  209. The sad fact is that IF we actually had diagnostic tests available, we could make far better decisions who to quarantine. Instead, we are walking into the firestorm blind. As it stands now, without any real ability to understand community spread, anyone and everyone is self-quarantined, working from home, etc. This approach leaves a far larger economic wake. Shame leaders in DC couldn't get their act together to have tests like Korea was able to do. It is more than a question about economic trade-offs. It's life and death if we exceed the thresholds for treatment. Criminal incompetence, really.

  210. Small number? This describes the attitude of most people in my community.

  211. If you wait to consider all the costs and benefits before you enact a policy, it’s already too late. As one WHO expert who has worked on Ebola responses recently said: “The virus will always get you if you don’t move quickly... Speed trumps perfection... The gravest error is not to move. The gravest error is to be paralyzed by the fear of failure.”

  212. In general, many Americans do not feel we are members of a community unless we so choose...certainly not a member of the global community. Sacrificing for others we do not know only seems reasonable if we think they are deserving. Individualism and the wealth gap in the economy has exacerbated this problem as Trump, who preaches and displays self-absorption and selfishness daily. His daily lies and dodging responsibility are broadcast widely (can’t the major networks stop or run fact-checks on the bottom of the screen?) Fox News’ regurgitates his inaccuracies and paranoia focused on Democrats and the Republicans still pay homage to this horrible emperor with no clothes (not an image I like to think of but it is apt). I have rural WI relatives who are MAGA fans who do not understand the severity as they keep their channel fixed on that station and believe the NYT is fake news. These same relatives are over 70, have diabetes and one has respiratory issues, severe lymphedema, and cellulitis she cannot get under control. Their grandkids (middle and high school)visit several times a week to help clean their home and play cards. That is lovely but I tried to tell her that they have to isolate themselves immediately including from grandkids, shopping at WalMart, etc as they are at high risk. It is beginning to dawn in them but just in the last two days. Trump’s incompetence endangers all our lives. Visual media need to do live fact check on him now. Please.

  213. While many will suffer from the disruption, an ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure.

  214. Astonishing for economists, no mention of the working poor, who have no health insurance, no sick leave, and who exist paycheck to paycheck. They have no interest in being tested as they really don’t want to know. They will work until they drop, then be deposited at some ER.

  215. If there are any people from whom we should be most careful to "socially distance" ourselves, it is those who are against it.

  216. We know we do not want to end up like China or Italy. There is barely anything one can do beyond washing hands (it is still airborne of course), and, most of all, hunkering down. Stay away from others. The experiment already played out in other countries & we do not want the worst result graphs as so very many will die, and so many more will suffer. I am glad to see everything closing down, people finally taking this seriously. It is serious, unbelievably serious.

  217. Some answers are simple. Look at the death rate graphs for Philadelphia and St. Louis in the 1918 flu pandemic. Granted I'm over 70 with COPD, so I have a vested interest in containing this virus. In any case, I believe preserving human life is more important than cost/benefit analysis of business closures and "social distancing."

  218. People are worth more than their future income! If a social scientist only looks at the lost income in cost benefit analysis, then the reasonable conclusion is to let all the retired people die. You cannot make policies based on "cost" without considering the cost of individuals, family, and society of such a callous standard. Is that who we are?

  219. Our grandfathers; Grandmothers were raised when there were no antibiotics; no cures for polio, small pox, mumps, whooping cough, Spanish flu and numerous other diseases. They survived and thrived. It is downright embarrassing watching the behavior of the world and the US at this particular moment in time. True; precautions should be made..ie hand washing; not touching ones face; but to say it mildly 'we have completely gone off the deep end in our reaction to the bug.

  220. @1515732 ... My grandmother lost three siblings to diseases we now have vaccines for. Not everyone back then "survived and thrived."

  221. Read the actual numbers behind social distancing in China, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea. It’s simple: 4-6 weeks of social distancing, washing hands and isolating if unwell are all it takes to flatten the curve and give our doctors, nurses and health care system a lower rate of infection = facilities and health care professionals available to treat ill people. 4-6 weeks- not a lifetime. Get some perspective! If you or your loved ones are in an auto accident, there will be no beds, equipment or doctors available if we don’t flatten the curve. 4-6 weeks! Not a lifetime. And saves other lives. No big deal to do this!

  222. @1515732 You do realize many people neither survived nor thrived? Scores were killed and seriously otherwise afflicted by polio, smallpox and Spanish Flu. Antibiotics have saved countless lives. Vaccines and other developments have allowed many of us to live without an acute understanding of the pall of infectious disease. What's embarrassing is the willful ignorance of the collective responsibility we all bear in protecting public health.

  223. This is a dangerous article that will do more harm than good as we attempt to flatten the curve and save lives. Take it down.

  224. @Hannah I agree! Dangerous And irresponsible!

  225. Economy may be hurt pretty badly if nothing is done as well - if the majority of the population is affected and many people are not able to work due to illness. Or because they are dead.

  226. If there were competent leadership a la Jay Inslee at the top of the federal government, people might not be so gripped by panic. Other than Dr. Fauci, clear-eyed information and advice has been 100% absent from this administration and in fact, they keep telling us everything is fine, there will be plenty of tests, etc when all of that is demonstrable lying. Fox News and people like Devin Nunes only make the problem worse. If ever there was a vote of no confidence in this administration, the public's panicked response is it. The economic fall-out is clearly made worse in every way by this administration's criminal negligence in responding appropriately on ALL fronts - not only in the handling of the disease but in ensuring people like service workers, the uninsured, etc that we as a society will help them get through this time with expanded unemployment for those who are affected, guaranteed sick leave for ALL, (which does not currently apply to companies under 50 or over 500),etc. We are truly a failed society and our economy shows us just how much we are failing.

  227. No, America is under reacting. Also, the US has had the example of the virus' effects in Italy. We knew better.

  228. @Berkeley Native Mortality rate is running around 6% there, not the optimistic "1%" that Dr. Fauci has been troping.

  229. I am so tired of hearing tough-guy arguments from people who think they should be left alone to take risks if they so choose. A young, healthy person might stay completely symptom free through all of this, but a cavalier attitude opposed to preventative measures will harm their fellow Americans. None if us is a rugged individual whose status is exclusive from the well being of the larger communities in which we live. If you really are so confident about your own health that you don't mind being exposed, then try shifting your thinking to consider how your exposure could harm others.

  230. I think we are, almost all, overreacting. We will know more this time next year.

  231. It is a fair question! The problem is that the timeframe is so short and the human costs so high for delaying due to Trump’s procrastinating cavalier approach, we need to act strenuously and decisively.

  232. I wish more was being said about the mental health impacts of distancing and isolation. Recovery from substance abuse, for example, is built around going to meetings of other addicts. Addiction thrives in isolation, and it, too, is life threatening.

  233. The answer is obviously yes. The media are driving people to panic that is way out of proportion to the numbers of cases. The United States is completely different from the countries of China and Italy, which are not only far more densely populated nationwide, but they have a far-higher number of smokers, especially male smokers. I believe the majority of Chinese men, for example, are smokers. Male smokers over 50 are at higher risk than other groups from this disease. This makes sense it would be smokers at higher risk because they are more likely to suffer from respiratory damage and diseases than other people. The United States has a smoker population of only around 15 percent now. It is also irresponsible of public officials to go around speculating on how bad this disease is going to get. I keep hearing and reading people trying to lecture the rest of us about "exponential growth" which doesn't mean anything outside of math. When I hear public officials saying two MILLION American people could die of this disease, a disease which has killed a mere 60-plus as of today, and most of those in a Seattle nursing home, then I get cynical. The Spanish flu didn't have anywhere near those fatalities, and there was a world war going on to amplify the spread. No such situation exists today.

  234. @Susan Nunes You'd better think again. 100 years ago the population of the world was much less than today, but the death toll was approx 50 million. In this country +500,000 out of population of 100 mil. Doing nothing or the minimum of inconvenience to the public to restrain the present scourge will almost guarantee doubling the 1918 toll of deaths. And consider how many of us travel all over (airlines, etc, cruise ships, etc)--in 1919 most Americans never went much further than 50 miles from their home. No, I'd rather risk over-reacting for safety's sake. We can always argue about it later, if we're still alive.

  235. @Susan Nunes Give it two weeks, and post back.

  236. I hope the Times give more (headline) space to this view. The damage that these self and government-imposed restrictions is going to do is close to incalculable. Businesses and livelihoods will be lost. Financial ruin will lead to despair. Vulnerable people and businesses will face ruin. I wish I could fast forward to when this all-out response is unpacked and analysed. But it won't be able to repair the damage.

  237. I have also been asking this question. Clearly, COVID-19 is a serious issue, and we must do whatever we can to prevent its spread. But what ARE the trade-offs? On a basic level, we are altering, in some cases possibly irreparably, sections of our society. Because there is no baseline, we do not know whether things will go ever back to "normal" as we knew them. On a more dangerous level, we are moving toward a state of martial law - restriction of movement is the first step - with a president who has authoritarian tendencies and would welcome emergency powers. There is talk of cancelling the Democratic National Convention (or trying to do it "virtually" - requiring lightning-fast rules changes and logistics). Some States and localities are already postponing elections. If the president invokes the Public Safety Health Act and National Emergencies Act, he could potentially suspend the November election. Then what? We have a quasi-dictator in power, with a GOP all too happy to continue to enable him, and the U.S. becomes a third world nation politically. This is not hyperbole; it could happen. And from THIS it would be almost impossible to recover. Ultimately, all of the steps we are taking are to prevent a 2% to 3% increase in deaths over seasonal flu. Obviously, no one WANTS anyone to die. But the ugly question may be: should 330 million people lose their freedom and civil liberties to save that 2% or 3%? Sadly, the question needs to be asked.

  238. @Maani Rantel He would never get away with that. This country has held national elections in the midst of two major wars, two. This occupant of the W.H. is deeply, and widely despised, regardless of his herd-like support by the minority of us. What do you thing would happen if a minority president cancelled the election? Civil war, that's what. His side better not even think of it.

  239. @Bob It is not a matter of whether he can "get away with it." The point is he could do it, and we would have to figure out how to address it at that point. Civil War? Military coup? No choice is good once the damage is done. The fact that I got only 3 likes tells me all I need to know about how ignorant or dismissive people are of the possibility. What I find odd about this is that when the NYT recently posted an editorial suggesting that the president should call a national emergency, the 5th most-recommended reader pick (almost 1000 recommendations) was an even more eloquent explanation of my point than I have made. Now, all of a sudden, people are forgetting it. I fear for this country - as much for the potential aftermath of the virus as for the virus itself.

  240. Our health officials are expecting over half a million deaths from Corona in the country? I'll take the under on that. Curious to know who, on this thread, personally knows someone under the age of 70, who has the virus? I had a fever and a cough for 3 days and tried to get tested but was told I couldn't because I wasn't high risk. I woke up today and my fever and cough are gone. I am over 50 years of age. Fear is thriving in this country; it keeps Oligarchs and Despots in power and minimizes citizens expectations for a better life for themselves and their children.