Pandemic gloom from Scott Aaronson

April 8, 2020 • 1:00 pm

Reader Paul Topping called my attention to Scott Aaronson‘s latest blog post (yes, he calls it a “blog”), which is deeply depressing. In fact, there are two big reasons why you could find it depressing, but I adhere only to the first. Click on the screenshot to read the short post.

The first, which has given me angst for a while, is that we’re all deceived, either by ourselves or the Administration, into thinking this pandemic is going to be short-lived: perhaps over by July or August.  I don’t think that timespan is realistic, and, as my doctor said, we need to think of the fight as a marathon rather than a sprint. It could be a year or more; after all, we’re not going to have a vaccine for about a year and a half, and other palliatives and treatments are over the horizon. “Flattening the curve” seems to be regarded by many as “the end of the pandemic”, but of course it’s not. It’s just the elimination of an exponential trend of ever-increasing infection. The virus will still be with us.

So the thought that we may be locked down for a year is intolerable to me. But Scott goes farther than that with his musings:

If you suspect that all those earnest, well-intentioned plans and slogans about “flattening the curve” are wonderful and essential, but still, “flattening” is only a desperate gambit to buy some time and nothing more; still, flattening or no flattening, the fundamentals of the situation are that either

(1) a vaccine or cure gets discovered and deployed, or else

(2) we continue in quasi-lockdown mode for the rest of our lives, or else

(3) the virus spreads to the point where it definitely kills some people you know,

—if you suspect this, then at least in my book you’re not crazy. I suspect the same.

If you still don’t understand, no matter how patiently it’s explained to you, why ~18 months is the absolute bare minimum needed to get a vaccine out; if all the talk of Phase 1, 2, and 3 trials and the need to learn more about rare side effects and so forth seems hard to square with the desperate world war that this is; if you wonder whether the Allied commanders and Allied medical authorities in WWII, transported to the present, would agree that 18 months is the bare minimum, or whether they’d already be distributing vaccines a month ago that probably work well enough and do bounded damage if they don’t—I hereby confess that I don’t understand it either.

If you wonder how the US will possibly hold an election in November that the world won’t rightly consider a sham—given that the only safe way will be universal vote-by-mail, but Trump and his five Vichy justices will never allow it—know that I wonder this too.

Well, all three of these possibilities imply either a long period of social distancing and lockdown, or a lot of deaths. That’s horrible to contemplate, but my own fear is that December will still see us in lockdown mode as the virus rages in other parts of the world. Matthew, on the other hand, thinks it will be sporadic, as it might in Wuhan. We’ll be released, business will start up, the virus will begin spreading again, and bingo—another lockdown. Either way, it’s grim.

The second reason why Scott thinks we should be depressed is one I don’t agree with—at least as far as I understand his words. He seems to see the Trump administration’s mishandling of the crisis as deliberate: an attempt to destroy the republic and promulgate Trumpian dictatorial powers.  At least I read these words that way:

If you see any US state that wants to avoid >2% deaths, being pushed to the brink of openly defying the FDA, smuggling in medical supplies to escape federal confiscation, using illegal tests and illegal masks and illegal ventilators and illegal everything else, and you also see military commanders getting fired for going outside the chain of command to protect their soldiers’ lives, and you wonder whether this is the start of some broader dissolution of the Union—well, I don’t intend to repeat the mistake of underestimating this crisis.

If you think that the feds who literally confiscate medical supplies before they can reach the hospitals, might as well just shoot the patients as they’re wheeled into the ICU and say “we’re sorry, but this action was obligatory under directive 48c(7)”—I won’t judge you for feeling that way.

If you feel like, while there are still pockets of brilliance and kindness and inspiration and even heroism all over US territory, still, as a federal entity the United States effectively no longer exists or functions, at least not if you treat “try to stop the mass death of the population” as a nonnegotiable component of the “life, liberty, and happiness” foundation for the nation’s existence—if you think this, I won’t call you crazy. I feel more like a citizen of nowhere every day.

If you’d jump, should the opportunity arise (as it won’t), to appoint Bill Gates as temporary sovereign for as long as this crisis lasts, and thereafter hold a new Constitutional Convention to design a stronger democracy, attempting the first-ever Version 2.0 (as opposed to 1.3, 1.4, etc.) of the American founders’ vision, this time with even more safeguards against destruction by know-nothings and demagogues—if you’re in for that, I don’t think you’re crazy. I’m wondering where to sign up.

I am not fearful that Trump’s trying deliberately to destroy the Republic. He’s not that smart, nor is it in his interest. The Republic may be eroded by his actions, but that’s a side effect of his stupidity or narcissism.

Maybe I’m reading Scott the wrong way here, but though I’m scared of a long lockdown, I don’t think Trump’s actions are deliberately taken to engineer a “broader dissolution of the union.”

As the conservatives who man tables at universities say, “Change my mind.”



129 thoughts on “Pandemic gloom from Scott Aaronson

  1. I don’t think tRump is smart enough or cares enough but the religious people that support him are, and I don’t put it past them. My mother “found jesus” when I was about 8 years old and she listened to Pat Robertson relentlessly as I was growing up. Even then, I remember him talking about the only way to to take control was to get religious (meaning fundamentalist) judges into the court system. That was over 40 years ago and they are finally succeeding. They are going to hold on to this with everything they have.

  2. “I am not fearful that Trump’s trying deliberately to destroy the Republic.”

    I am sure he doesn’t think of what he’s doing as destroying the Republic. Like most (all?) dictators, he wants to stay in power and seeks to destroy anyone or any institution that might help take it from him.

      1. Is it any less likely that his model is that of the private corporate tyranny? (After all, many if not most of these types hold that government should “be run like a business.”)

  3. This seems to be a rational and realistic assessment of our predicament. We will be stuck in this nightmare for a long, long time.

    As for Trump (con-man-in-chief), his sole objectives are to remain Holy Emperor, maintain his reality TV show ratings, and milk every opportunity to make a buck for himself and his GOP traitor accomplices.

  4. Aaronson:

    If you wonder how the US will possibly hold an election in November that the world won’t rightly consider a sham

    Well the election is going to happen as scheduled – no way is congress going to change it. Red states will undoubtedly try to suppress voting, but they do that every election. In that sense, every election is a sham. This election might be more of a sham than is usual, but it will still be accepted.

    1. I hope you are right, of course, but don’t you think Trump will try to postpone the election by executive order? That has certainly been his pattern: don’t ask permission or forgiveness, just do it and fight it in court if you have to. Perhaps the recent SCOTUS decision to disallow the Wisconsin election to be postponed will work as a precedent against any attempt to postpone the federal election. However, Trump can get away with a lot based on “protecting citizen’s lives”.

        1. Why? One thing we know about Trump is that he will never shy away from an excuse to justify what he wants to do no matter how craven or obviously false it is. He has taught the GOP that all they have to do is maintain the false story without allowing even a scintilla of doubt to creep in and you can do almost anything.

          Even if the election is held in November, what’s to stop him from disputing it state by state, county by county, tying it up in courts for a long, long time. He’d certainly be willing to bet that his SCOTUS majority will protect him, though I doubt they would (with my fingers crossed).

          1. Trump can’t change the election schedule – that’s too clearly expressed in legislation.

            He can certainly challenge the results, but even this corrupt SCOTUS would need somewhat reasonable grounds. How far would this SCOTUS twist rationality in the context of the people just having chosen Biden?

            We shall see.

          2. Remember, John Roberts only goes so far in his bias towards conservatism. He won’t blow up the country just to save Trump.

        2. The dog in the lower left corner of the NYT photo doesn’t seem terribly optimistic about the situation.

          1. The dog’s looking at the woman on the right and thinking ‘I’m going to get rabies off her I just know it’

      1. Why would Trump want to postpone the election? I missed that argument. It seems to me that a November election, requiring predominantly in-person voting, ensures a low turnout. And low turnouts favor republicans.

        1. He might want to if the polls showed him clearly losing. On the other hand, it does seem more likely the election would be held and he would fight the result tooth and nail if he lost.

    2. Not only will red states try to suppress voting, but they will be much more successful at it. The difficulty of getting poll workers to risk their lives can be used as an excuse to shut down polling stations in urban areas. And I mean “urban” both literally and as a code word for “black neighborhood”. The usual long lines at these polling stations will not only be worse than usual in wasted time and frustration, but become hazards to life and lung. We’ve already seen this in Wisconsin.

      So it won’t be business as usual. The motive of vote suppression will be as usual, but the result will be dramatic.

      1. Yes, this is why Republicans will do everything in their power to disallow vote-by-mail. They know that low turnout almost always works to their favor.

        Republicans do not care about democracy (such as an equal opportunity to vote), although they pretend to do so. They only care about retaining power to promote their agenda: tax breaks for the rich, de-regulation of corporations, and the hegemony of conservative religion. Religious and social conservates provide the votes; the legislators attempt to pass the economic agenda.

      2. The good news is that Democratic governors govern states with 302 electoral votes, I think (my map: Granted some will have to fight Republican legislators for fair elections and some of those states (e.g. Montana) will vote for Trump regardless, but the GOP is not in a strong position to steal this election.

        And Republicans have to be careful about their voter suppression in this contagion environment – it could end up suppressing old people more than minorities and backfire.

        It will be interesting.

      3. ‘And I mean “urban” both literally and as a code word for “black neighborhood”.’

        I don’t doubt that conservatives/Republicans try to maximally exploit this juxtaposition, but did they create it?

        1. In this case, I’m just trying to inject some humor (fail 🙁 ). Literally urban voters tend to lean Democratic, and code-word-urban voters even more so.

  5. No, you misread me. I’m actually willing to grant such a stratospheric degree of ignorance, incompetence, and indifference to suffering on the part of Trump and his enablers, that what *looks like* fighting for the best interests of the virus, what *looks like* deliberately trying to destroy the country and sentence its people to death (e.g., by first withholding tests and now confiscating medical equipment from hospitals), would have that more “innocent” explanation instead. I’d only add that for me, there’s a fuzzy boundary between idiocy at that level and actual malice anyway.

    1. It seems to me pretty obvious that Trump wants normal operations to resume as quickly as possible because he sees the interruption of business and the economy as hurting his reelection chances.

      I would also bet on him advertising the wonderfullness and competence of the federal government once those $1,000 checks start rolling out to the public.

      Third, no this isn’t going to destroy the federal government. Appointees come, appointees go, the civil service remains. Congress remains. The courts remain. And while I’ll absolutely agree that Trump will claim the election was rigged and make vocal trouble about it if he loses in November (heck, he already states it’s rigged against him, and we haven’t even held it yet), I think this is ultimately going to be bluster – “[A tale] Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Like every election, there will be challenges and recounts in local areas. But no overall challenge by him will ever see the inside of the courthouse, and if he does lose, then on 20 January, he’ll step down.

      1. The problem isn’t so much with Trump making trouble, it’s his supporters. I see no reason to believe he and the lunatic right wing propaganda machine won’t egg them on. Trump will egg them on if only to salve his bruised ego regardless of the cost or outcome.

        His supporters are not bound by rational arguments or reality and they have been primed and pumped since before Trump was elected that the left is crooked and is rigging the system. Just a few days ago they were saying the virus is a left wing hoax to hurt Trump. Some are still saying it.

        They are only getting worse.

      2. It seems to me pretty obvious that Trump wants normal operations to resume as quickly as possible because he sees the interruption of business and the economy as hurting his reelection chances.

        Also, Trump’s businesses are getting killed by this crisis. So much of it is travel/tourism based. Political career + family business = double whammy.

        1. Don’t forget the control he has over drugs and other pandemic paraphernalia. I’m guessing he’s also been passing out favors in exchange for financial rewards throughout his term. As Bill Maher says, I can’t prove it but I know it’s true.

          1. There’s something going on with Trump’s promotion hydroxychloroquine. I know journalists are digging into it right now, but no connection has been found yet.

          2. There might be a financial connection but it also has been explained via his interaction with people at Fox News and his general desire to look for magic bullets to make it all go away, stop hurting the economy and, therefore, his re-election prospects.

          3. I think a very minor investment connection has been discovered, but there’s got to be something else there. Investigative journalists are on the case!

          4. Has anyone actually READ one of those retirement plan investment reports? Who KNOWS what anyone is investing in.

            Of course, this means _I_ have read one but my eyes glazed over.

    2. Never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity.
      In Trumps case, stupidity, cupidity and malice.

      1. “Stupidity, Cupidity, and Malice” — good name for a law firm in a Dickens novel or, in this the Age of Trump, for three of the seven dwarfs.

  6. I was just wondering this afternoon whether anyone remembers 911 any more. It was an almost completely unexpected event (well, some federal agencies had been saying such a thing was possible), unimaginable even. Then it happened and the Bushies seized the occasion (once W got that silly grin of his face we all saw him with in a Florida school classroom). In spite of world-wide protests (My wife and I participated here in France.), W and his cohorts invaded Iraq and changed the Middle East into the mess it now is. (Sorry for the gross simplification…)

    Well, we are currently in the midst of such an unecpected, unimaginable event, only now it’s worldwide. Governments everywhere (except Sweden) are voting themselves special powers — or just taking them, like the monster Modi in India. In short, I share Scott’s fears entirely. And his ideas for what could be done (like a rewrite of the Constitution).

    1. ” . . . (once W got that silly grin of his face we all saw him with in a Florida school classroom) . . . .”

      Well, I don’t know who couldn’t stand some refresher training on how to be constantly vigilant so as to manage (bear up under others constant scrutiny of) ones facial expression upon hearing unexpected, shocking news.

  7. I’ll have to read his blog but based on the quoted bit, he’s missed an important and likely scenario; (4) as the pool of infected people grows, so does the population’s immunity to the virus. This will be the brake on the pandemic, just as it is with most epidemics.

    1. Wouldn’t a significant number of deaths be a prerequisite to increased population immunity?

      1. Well, the idea behind flattening the curve is to keep the spread of the infection from overwhelming medical resources which, in turn, means fewer deaths. All of our attempts – social distancing, etc, are for this purpose, but they won’t stop the disease from spreading. The epidemic will cease when the population achieves some level of herd immunity, which can be achieved naturally, by vaccination programs or by a combination of both.

        There is also the possibility of some currently unknown feature of the virus’s natural history which will attenuate the pandemic. This seems unlikely to me.

    2. Possibly true. We have no idea how many people have seroconverted at this point. Trials just started on this in California. So in a week we will have a decent idea about immunity in the population of Palo Alto and surrounding areas!

      Serologic testing should prove useful. However long term immunity to corona viruses is potentially problematic as we don’t see much (I’m told) to the common endemic ones. SO that’s an open question.

      FWIW this pdf is a good source for information on vaccine design and approaches for SARS-Cov2

    3. Possibly true. We have no idea how many people have seroconverted at this point. Trials just started on this in California. So in a week we will have a decent idea about immunity in the population of Palo Alto and surrounding areas!

      Serologic testing should prove useful. However long term immunity to corona viruses is potentially problematic as we don’t see much (I’m told) to the common endemic ones. SO that’s an open question.

      FWIW this pdf is a good source for information on vaccine design and approaches for SARS-Cov2

          1. When you copy the url and paste it in the comment window, just go back over it and delete the https:// part, before you submit your comment. WP will reinsert the http stuff for your link without the additional clutter.

          2. Thanks
            I tried to tiny url this one but it’s a pdf so that didn’t work.

    4. I’ve now read it. It’s quite a rant and I won’t argue his points. He is understandably upset but, at the risk of being called Polly Annish, it’s overblown.

  8. The people glomming onto pussy grabber are the ones who are using this power to undermine our government. His intentions are self-serving and may be limited to what he can get and how he can stay out of trouble; theirs are to fundamentally alter our balance of power, from Barr with his imperial presidency, to Miller with his white supremacy, to Bannon with his dissolution of the state, to Gorka with his fascism, to DeVos with her exclusive profiteering charter schools . . . Trump is simply their way in and they’ll do whatever they have to keep that power.

  9. Call me one of the optimistically deceived, I think social distancing and the closure of most businesses will end before July.
    The pandemic won’t be over; there will continue to be new cases, new deaths. The disease will continue to spread. But the number of new cases per day will be roughly constant and below the number our health care system can handle. And that’s really all that’s needed to resume normal functioning.

    To give a somewhat callous analysis: S. Korea is down to 8 deaths/day. But they’ve been back to business as usual for a while now. Why? Because their comprehensive testing gives them a rough handle on how many new cases and new deaths they can expect, where those cases will be, and who needs aggressive intervention (i.e. what people really need to self-isolate). Their system can handle the resulting load, and the rate of new serious cases per day is no longer growing exponentially.

    So, IMO that’s the “finish line” for resuming normal operations. It’s not “no new serious cases.” It’s not “no more deaths”. It’s “we can figure out who’s got it and who’s likely to get it before they spread it to too many people, we can isolate them, and thus strongly curb (while not stopping) the spread of the disease.”

    The bad news about this is, if you’ve got a compromised immune system or are elderly, the nation resuming normal operations merely because the new serious cases/day is a manageable number might not be in your best interests, as you’re the most likely cohort to *be* one of those new serious cases.

    1. I hope you are right. Since getting back to work depends a lot on serological testing to make sure people are immune, it is surprising that Trump hasn’t made that a huge priority. Of course, it’s possible that, in his simplistic mind, he is against all testing because it only makes the numbers of infected higher which hurts his re-election chances.

      1. For me, I’ve just accepted the fact that Trump is useless and that we can’t count on him to do anything right. Basically, I’m pinning my hopes on the state governments and the private sector. Gavin Newsom, for one, has done a pretty good job of stepping up during the crisis.

    2. I am much with you here, although I have no prediction as to when the lockdown will end. Although as you suggest herd immunity and better tests are good indicators that society will start working again relatively soon.

      WHO estimate ANNUAL deaths worldwide from seasonal flu at 290,000-650,000. In the last two great pandemics (1957 & 1968) the figures are approx:

      W/W 1 million
      US 100,000

      Neither time did we self isolate at scale, and society didn’t even think about collapsing.

      I think reasonable estimates now (but what do I know) are W/W 2 Million, US 200,000. Horrible but not society-threatening.

      I think the cited blog is way over the top. “[F]ive Vichy justices” gives one clue. ‘Vichy’ is not even code for ‘Nazi’, they were ACTUAL Nazi collaborators. Yet three of the five were appointed by Bushes. Nazis?!

      I believe Trump is venal, ignorant, incompetent and self-interested. But a serious threat to the US or it’s constitution? This is woke talk and Titania (of sainted memory) would approve!

      In short, I think people’s great dislike of Trump (which I share) is leading to great exaggeration. The US, as a whole, is far more resilient, and inclined to ignore their Presidents’ idiocies, than some think.

      1. I’m sure Aaronson is not call the justices Nazis, just saying that maybe they are going to put allegiance to party over everything else. While I suspect none of the judges would think of their decisions this way, I still suspect they tend to see things Trump’s way. There are too many cases where the executive branch’s opinions and decisions are the default. They are deadly afraid of legislating or executing from the bench. I think being a bit over the top is all part of the radicalized rant format.

        1. Allow me to retreat (if I must) a tiny bit:

          “Vichy justices”
          (Vichy = Nazi collaborator)
          Thus: “Nazi collaborator justices”

          Doesn’t help much, does it? Anyway, it is ridiculous hyperbole, rant or not. And it is exactly the kind of name-calling that characterises the woke.

          1. You are really calling Aaronson woke? He’s just exaggerating. He even warned readers at the start of his rant that it was a purposefully radical rant. Come on, man!

      2. Italy is at about 283 deaths/million. The total is still growing, but it’s slowed and they’re on the “downslope” of their curve.

        I feel reasonably safe in saying our reaction and social distancing is better than theirs. But using their numbers as a conservative estimate, that would put us at around 90,000 deaths. Which bad bad bad…but nowhere near the worst case scenario estimates that get thrown around a lot.

  10. The problem is going to go on longer than most people think but I read an article (which of course I can’t find or attribute now) that explains one way countries can get back to ‘normal’.

    What they can do is return to normalcy in a stepped manner as the ability to rapidly test becomes more widespread and the nature of the disease becomes better understood. What this will mean is the country will need to get the number of infected very low, anyone who is infected (and those they had contact with) will be mandatory isolated with enforced isolation if they do not do so voluntarily.

    With massive rapid testing people can return to jobs that present fewer risks. When the virus flares up those areas can be locked down. Along with testing there needs to be a massive increase in production of person protective equipment, including masks for the general public. Making masks is going to be a huge industry. Most countries will look more like Japan where it is much more common to wear masks in public, at work. There needs to be hand washing stations everywhere and in every work place.

    On the vaccine front, Bill Gates is building seven factories to produce vaccines. All the vaccines (or the best of all) will be produced in mass ASAP while testing is going on so the best vaccine can be distributed in mass as soon as testing is completed or a go ahead is given. That said, this still leaves it in the 18 month time frame.

    I think the USA is going to have very large problems implementing these, one, because of Trump and Republicans, two, because of religious nuts, conspiracy theorists who are still saying it’s a hoax and ‘freedom’ extremists. It will only be a matter of time when more people openly rebel against strict measures.

    1. I think you mean this opinion article in the NYT yesterday ( The authors propose “smart quarantine”, including enforced isolation and family separation. For many reasons it’s impossible to implement, starting with the need for tens of millions of test kits for virus infection that don’t exist. Their proposal also depends on Americans’ willingness to give up civil liberties. I’m not American so I don’t really have an opinion about this, but it would be surprising if Americans would tolerate the virus police entering homes, forcing the sick household members into hospital quarantine, and forcing the others who have been exposed into isolation camps. That’s the proposal in the NYT piece, and the comments from Times readers are scathing.

      1. No, it wasn’t that article, I read it about a week ago.

        “For many reasons it’s impossible to implement, starting with the need for tens of millions of test kits…”

        Rapid test kits which are being developed now and in many countries will be put into high production, because they have actual functioning governments. The USA, well, that remains to be seen.

        The US already has regulations allowing people with communicable disease to be quarantined against their will if they won’t self isolate. It usually isn’t a big problem because it happens rarely and most do self isolate. The President only needs to issue an executive order to include emerging diseases. Not that I expect he will.

        Yes, I agree this will be a problem for many as I already indicated. We will see how high the death toll gets, social pressure and fear can change many a mind. It can also flip as economic pressures increase and they will most certainly increase.

        Florida was/is blocking some traffic from entering (I don’t know under what legal basis) while at the same time allowing religious groups to assemble.

        Lawsuits are beginning to fly all over the country challenging various aspects of local orders.

        Various states are preventing travel, some within the state, some between states, some are ordering self quarantine for travelers both within and between states. It seems liberty or freedom is a rather elastic notion, especially when some think they are at risk from infected people from other tribes.

    2. The time frame for scaling up and sending out a rapid test is maybe better than the time frame for proving and then scaling up a vaccine, but its still a hell of a long time. And that only keeps it down to a slow burn at best. A vaccine is the only way to really get a handle on it. The problem with either method is that this thing has gotten way ahead of us and so either approach is really really difficult. .

      1. There are many rapid tests developed or being developed, some awaiting approval, some are approved with production being ramped up.

        An antibody test called COVID-Rapid has just been announced by a Florida company, they expect to have capacity to make 20 million tests a month, but the article did not give a timeline of how long it will take to ramp up to 20 million a month. The article states it’s quick, but didn’t give an actual time.

        I’m often leery of new announcements of tech, they often promise more than they deliver, sometimes they are just pump and dump stock scams.

        I do agree the problem has gotten ahead of us, we need to learn a great deal from our mistakes, but I’m looking for good news where I can find it, even if I am a pessimist at heart. If there is a bright side it is our ability to quickly research these viruses and quickly develop tests.

  11. I totally agree w.r.t. accelerated vaccine testing schedules. I would volunteer for a test of a vaccine that was reasonably promising and had gone through the quick easy animal and tissue tests, even if the odds of making me more vulnerable to the virus were somewhat greater than those of making me less vulnerable. And so would plenty of others. This virus is clearly on a par with USA-in-WW2 mass slaughter potential, and it’s not unreasonable to ask for volunteers to take some risks.

      1. So, phase one trials have begun:

        “The study is evaluating different doses of the experimental vaccine for safety and its ability to induce an immune response in participants. This is the first of multiple steps in the clinical trial process”.

  12. I would say stop looking at Trump and the corrupt government created by him for the fixing of anything. The individual states are leading on this pandemic and will continue to lead. If you somehow think Trump will win the next election, that is your problem. If you think we will stay in lock down for the next year or two, that is also your problem. Your imagination is not really controlling this reality.

    Even in backward republican Kansas we have full mail in voting for the primary coming up in May. Stop just making up shit.

  13. One thing that doesn’t get mentioned enough, IMHO, is the possibility that known drugs or mitigation therapies might make COVID-19 much less deadly. Since their side-effects are known, they would be available much quicker. If COVID-19 was made only as deadly as seasonal flu, it would be reasonable for people to go back to work. There might even be something we could take that would reduce the chances of catching it.

      1. Yes, those trials are the kind of thing that have some chance of working and could be deployed quickly.

        There’s also genetic testing. There’s anecdotal evidence that there’s a strong genetic component that determines who will get hit hard by the virus and/or who doesn’t need to worry about it. I’ve been in 23andme’s system for quite a while. They’ve just started asking members whether they’ve had COVID-19 and, if so, how hard it hit them. They might be able to find a useful correlation.

  14. I have seen so many “flattening the curve” vs no flattening graphics my eyesight is sore. What I haven’t seen is a calculated AUC for each of these. In some it seems to me that the AUC is the same? Then all flattening the curve does is reduce the #’s per day so that the hospitals are not overwhelmed. Flattening the curve also spreads it far to the right in time. Yes I too think we are in this for the long haul. November/December/January rolls around and we start all over again.
    In regards to trump not being smart. Agree. But the man is evil IMO. And that is terrifying.

  15. It is very ironic that the entire world, who’s cumulative wealth is 360,603 billion dollars, cannot buy a vaccine to save us. That makes “failure to plan ahead” sound like more than a character weakness.

    1. How is this a matter of irony? You can’t buy vaccines unless they exist. To make a vaccine exist you have to take time to develop it. There’s no magical supply mechanism that converts money into vaccines overnight.

    2. Nonsense. We can afford a vaccine if one is possible (it is not guaranteed). Mr Aaronson is correct that it will take time (though not as long as he suggests) to develop one and that’s the problem, as Dr PCCe says. Also, how does one plan ahead with a vaccine to a virus that doesn’t yet exist?

      I disagree with the magnitude of their gloom as I believe other factors will attenuate the pandemic and thus make this less of a pressing concern. For sure we will need a vaccine as this virus is not going away and is likely to come back. In all likelihood we will in future be getting yearly flu and corona vaccines.

      1. My comment may have been too brief to be clear. I was lamenting that all the money in the world can’t speed up the process. I’m sure we’ll get a vaccine eventually. 14 months? 18 months?

        There are in fact dozens of labs working on a vaccine and many more working on drugs and techniques to dampen effects. But, it still takes time. If we had planned ahead more effectively, we would have had tests available sooner which might, I believe, cut the spread short. We would have had bigger stockpiles of PPE and retained manufacturing capacity. We might have instituted tighter controls before it went wild among our towns and cities. With hindsight, I think the next Big One will be dealt with more cunningly.

    3. On the topic of vaccines, I am wondering about governments’ plans to ‘kidnap’ children and forcibly vaccinate them in cases where parents are anti-vaxxers, for whatever reason. They need to prepare, because it is going to be necessary.

  16. There’s bombast in Aaronson’s piece, but I take the bombast as the sting of a needed slap upside the head. I don’t agree with everything Aaronson says (and I’m not convinced Aaronson does either), but I share his sense of growing radicalization.

  17. I cannot imagine the home lockdown will go on all year. Incomes will be down 30% if that happens. People will have to start wearing good masks outside the home, and businesses and institutions will have to find ways of distancing employees, customers and students so that things can restart. The vulnerable may remain isolated but others will have to accept the risk inherent in normalizing social and commercial interactions. The current situation is not sustainable.

    1. I agree. If the lockdown goes on too long, people will start rebelling. Looting and protests have already broken out in Southern Italy.

    2. As the weeks roll by I suspect people will adapt. Stores, work environments, dentists, hair dressers – all will adapt gradually and perhaps come to accept the situation. I see changes in stores already. Plexiglass, spacing marks, pickup lines. The everyone will have to be fed, so I think either a government dole or sum kind of free food system. A WPA maybe. As we dealt with deprivation during the great wars.

      1. We need a rationing system for sanitary supplies like toilet paper, rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, and paper towels. I still can’t find these things at local grocery stores.

      2. Actually as the weeks roll by and people cannot pay their rent or mortgage, pay their bills, go to work, enjoy a restaurant meal or a bar, get their haircut, go to the parks, meet with friends and all of the other things that make living worthwhile, they will begin to question the whole strategy. For example, here in Washington state we have about 350 new cases a day. There are 7 million people in Washington State, so on average there is a 1 in 20,000 chance of contracting the disease if I leave home. With careful behavior I can reduce that much more. People are going to question the whole thing. You might be okay, Rick, retired and isolated on your farm, but working city folk are not like you.

  18. Humans are obviously a compulsively social species. This is particularly evident in the behaviour of children and young adults, the latter who are also driven to rebel against the status quo.

    My thought is that after a few months of social distancing the youth in various regions will begin to associate as normal, regardless of the affects of COV-19 on the older generations. There’s probably no way to prevent this behaviour from occurring.

    Remote communication technology can only go so far in delaying this. But the need for humans to experience the touch of another is an unstoppable force.


    1. … after a few months of social distancing the youth in various regions will begin to associate as normal, regardless of the affects of COV-19 on the older generations. There’s probably no way to prevent this behaviour from occurring.

      When the sap rises, it comes time to make syrup, as they say in maple-tree country. 🙂

  19. I am betting that the tight lockdown will end over the summer and schools will start mostly normal. At some point, the quarantine will become worse than the disease. My wife’s coworker died over the weekend and the speculation is that it was suicide. We all need human contact, fresh air and exercise to make life worth living.

    Testing, testing and more testing is needed. It would be costly to have everyone be tested weekly but that is better financially and healthwise than the alternative.

    I am going on illegal hikes to get my exercise allowing small, but probably illegal, gatherings of teenagers.

  20. Until we are able to test for antibodies on a large scale, I will hold on to the glimmer of hope that this is much more widespread than estimated once asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic cases are factored in.

    It’s also possible that innovation in the realm of protective gear will ramp up quickly, and that people will resume normal life but get used to wearing it most of the time. It would be bizarre to see everyone in some sort of face shield, but if you can 100% protect the face I think you’ve eliminated the vast majority of the modes of transmission.

  21. I’m hopeful that Biden will prevail but I don’t know if deposed Trump will be able to shut his Twitter yapper. I imagine Biden and allies will have to muzzle the Cheeto for the good of the country.

    I hope Bernie’s early exit from the primary now allows better integration of the progressive Democrats into the mainstream party and they work together to mobilize the vote. I fo think a number of moderate Republicans will turn on Trump.

    And the pessimistic case above for our future is the realistic one.

    1. I’m pretty sure Individual 1 is going to be in legal jeopardy once he loses the shield of the presidency. And he’ll plead his case on twitter and the judge will issue gag orders (similar to the Roger Stone trial), and it will drive Trump up the wall.

  22. Buying time is not a desperate gambit, it’s a reasoned strategy. With a bit of time we can build up stocks of PPE and test kits, and organize teams to trace cases. Then we have the tools in place to identify outbreaks and suppress them by isolating those who are infected instead of isolating everyone.

  23. BTW, I have noted the readership here includes many retirees. I did my taxes today and learned that in 2020 we do not have to take the required minimum distribution, thanks to the CARES act. This will reduce your 2020 taxes if you don’t need the cash.

  24. (3) the virus spreads to the point where it definitely kills some people you know

    I already know one person who has died…a work associate of my wife’s; a very nice man I’d like to add who left a wife and a couple kids; his wife also got the virus, but only had the sniffles. Apparently it might affect males worse??? Anecdotal at this point. And I have a very good friend (one I’ve known since 2nd grade) come out alive. He said it was by far the worst sickness he’s ever had. He was hospitalized twice, but luckily, his lungs stayed relatively clear. He said during the two weeks of hell the only time he felt ok was at the hospital on a delodid IV. The testing was a fiasco; it took him way too long to get diagnosed and he couldn’t get his kids tested w/o them having symptoms because of test scarcity. No testing is what is really at the center of Trump’s failure and hand-tying our efforts to get on top of this thing- we’re flying blind. Many thousands have and will die because we’re not aggressively testing every single person who has symptoms or has come in contact with sick people. We also need to find out who has been infected and recovered and is now immune or “immune”.
    We are woefully behind the eight ball here in the exceptional US of A. And now we have a newfangled cult to worry about as well.

  25. New possibly hopeful research: Only 2.5% of the cases occurred between June and September and peaked in January/February
    Coronaviruses are sharply seasonal. They appear, based on serial interval and secondary infection risk, to have similar transmission potential to influenza A(H3N2) in the same population.

  26. I’m always astonished when people describe Trump as stupid as though it’s integral to their argument. For one thing, it’s possible to criticize him on all sorts of grounds without that ad hominem. More to the point, though, it’s simply false. Because if anybody really thinks Trump doesn’t have an IQ above 100, they are the ones being stupid.

    1. And you know his IQ is above average how, exactly? We know it isn’t based on his extensive vocabulary.

        1. You really think Trump can’t read and understand a financial statement?

          I don’t know. He’s bankrupted several businesses. Evidently, he’s not good at finance.

          1. If you keep chucking the ball at the hoop, it will go in eventually, even if your shooting percentage is low. Plus, it helps to have a wealthy father who gives you big startup capital.

          2. How many billionaires have you heard of that can’t get a loan from an American bank?

            Donald inherited $400 million and blew it on failed business ventures, trashed his credit rating, and now has to get money from Russian oligarchs to stay afloat.

        2. Does it take above average intelligence for that? I doubt it. Nor do I know of any evidence that he’s ever read or comprehended one, either. At least not if it includes keeping a business afloat without the input of Russian mob money laundering.

    2. I think “stupid” means more than low IQ in general parlance. That said, I suspect that Trump would do poorly on an IQ test. It has long been pointed out that there’s more to intelligence than what gets tested by IQ tests, unless they’ve invented some better ones that I haven’t heard about. Trump clearly has skills. Our biggest problem is that his goals are not aligned with ours as citizens of this great country.

    3. He might not be stupid, but his poor speaking skills lead people to believe that he is. Every speech of his that I’ve heard is illogical, disjointed, repetitive, and full of factual errors. A high-school rhetoric teacher would give him a D-. But, he has money, so people take him seriously.

      1. My point is, in a market economy like America’s, it’s pretty safe to assume that anyone who becomes a billionaire is high IQ. Now you can argue that Trump is ignorant, but that’s different from being stupid. Which is why I hold that it’s stupid to say he’s stupid.

        1. If you made such an assumption, you would be… let’s just say credulous.

          In the case of tRump, he inherited wealth, he didn’t earn it. And he managed to lose most of it with is very stable genius. Trump University. Trump Stakes. His “business success” is laundering Russian mob money.

        2. You thinking that Trump is a billionaire is why your argument sinks like a lead balloon…or a gold balloon, choose one.

    4. Trump’s stupidity is quite apparent. He struggles with reading, struggles with basic grammar, has subpar learning capacity, says nonsensical things, says self-contradictory things, etc.

      You can argue Trump isn’t stupid, but you’d be arguing against a mountain of evidence.

    5. I am quite sure Trump is not stupid. I would guess he has an IQ around 120. iQ is not his problem.

      Hitler had an eidetic memory and some historians guess he had an IQ of more than 120. I imagine Stalin and Mao were no dummies either. The problem with these sorts of people is not IQ. It is that they are sociopaths. Many sociopaths have high IQ. Ted Bundy was tested at 136.

      1. Maybe he’s not stupid so much, since he evidently has a talent for manipulating people. I’d call his intellect mediocre. He’s never said anything insightful, witty, or original. Definitely not a deep thinker.

          1. That might be why the guy has so much money. His shallowness is an asset, because his mind isn’t troubled with any thoughts about aesthetics, morality, love, or the meaning of life. He doesn’t seem to have any hobbies other than playing golf. His main thought seems to be, “how can I get money?” When he sees something novel or interesting, he thinks “will this bring money?” He’s like a heat-seeking missile, or a computer program designed to do one thing only. He’s gotten where he is by purging his mind of all unnecessary ideas.

        1. How can a person who calls himself a “very stable genius” not be sub-par on the intellect scale? That, alone, suggests fewer operating neurons than your average naked ape.

          1. I don’t know. He spews out a lot of nonsense, but he has a weird knack for telling his supporters what they want to hear. I sense some small glimmer of intelligence there.

          2. I don’t think it necessarily takes intelligence in abundance to be followed by cultists.

      2. Putting this in an evolutionary perspective, is that why sociopathy persists in the species? Not only are they intelligent, they are charismatic. Ted Bundy was supposedly quite the chick magnet. Of course, this might be a sampling bias. Perhaps all the uncharismatic, unintelligent sociopaths are in prison, mental hospital, or met an early demise.

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