Andrew Sullivan is depressed (and so am I)

It’s always worth reading Andrew Sullivan’s weekly column in New York Magazine, and I thank reader Simon for initially calling my attention to it as well as sending me a link every Friday. Today’s column, as usual, riffs on three topics, and this week’s three are the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, the new leader of the Labour Party (Keir Starmer, who promises to root the anti-Semitism out of Labour), and the similarities between the new pandemic and the AIDS epidemic of the Eighties through which Sullivan lived (he’s HIV positive but disease-free).

I’ll leave Starmer behind, as you can read that bit for yourselves. He was a mate of Sullivan in school, and Andrew likes him. I’ll give a few quotes (indented) from the other two pieces, concentrating on the first. Click on the screenshot for a free read:

Truly, the more I learn about the virus, and watch how people react to it, the more depressed I get.  If you think about it, only an effective vaccine will efface its dangers, and such a panacea is, they say, at least a year away. People are working furiously on palliative drugs, but it’s early days and there’s no nostrum yet. And yet everyone seems to think that by mid-summer we’ll have business as usual: the stores will be open and we’ll go about our lives as we did before.

I don’t buy that. The virus will be with us then, there will be no vaccine, and how will they decide to open up the economy? For one thing, the virus will be getting hold in east Asia and Africa, and thus we’ll have a route back from those places to places that have already “flattened the curve.”  If we open up business, will people still be afraid, going around in masks and avoiding other people? Will we have musical events, and sports? I doubt it.

Truth be told, I seriously doubt whether colleges will even open for the fall semester—at least with students in attendance. People seize onto any sign that the end is in sight: the news last night mentioned “the light at the end of the tunnel”. But I see not an iota of evidence for that, only a lot of wishful thinking. I hope I’m wrong, but what I see are futile attempts to restart the economy, more flareups of the virus, more subsequent lockdowns (perhaps local ones), and a recurring cycle that will sap the strength and will of not only business people, but of all of us.

Sullivan agrees, and I’ll give a few quotes:

All our carefully maintained, just-in-time supply lines have crashed in a matter of days. Our addictive elixir, economic growth, has evaporated. Global trade has been put on ice. We have no vaccine — and, barring a miracle, we won’t until next year. We have no effective treatments, although that may, with any luck, change. We have only very porous defenses — social distancing — which amount to a drastic, utterly unsustainable shift in how we live from day to day. And that’s it. We don’t know how contagious this virus is, how exactly it may mutate, how widespread it already is in the population at large, and even if it can reactivate in those who have recovered from infection.

We obsess about the responses of our governments, as is only proper, and we parse charts and debate tactics, to gain some sort of edge on tackling it. But when you look at the graphs of the viral curve in most of the major countries, most of them are unsettlingly similar. Yes, there are some more successful countries like Germany, and some outliers, like South Korea, but the rest seem to be following the same rough trajectory. And yes, we are flattening the curve … but it’s a temporary flattening due to unprecedented global shutdown of human activity. We may well be able, by suspending our entire way of life for a long while, to keep this virus from wreaking excessive and immediate damage, and overwhelming our hospitals. But we will not have beaten COVID-19. We will merely have stretched out the time it takes to spread.

The moment we relax, it will come back. Singapore, an early model for suppressing the virus, is now seeing a new wave after relaxing some controls. A leaked draft of a memo from the E.U. notes that “any level of [gradual] relaxation of the confinement will unavoidably lead to a corresponding increase in new cases.” The same risks of a rebound are being seen in China, in so far as we can believe a word that murderous dictatorship tells us. Meanwhile, I look around me and see a slow attenuation of social distancing — the park where I walk my dogs is increasingly crammed. Humans are social animals. There is a limit to our capacity to remain alone. In crises, in particular, our instinct is to seek one another, gather strength from our common experience. The virus exploits this mercilessly.

It’s a brutal reality check, this thing — relentlessly ripping the veil off our delusions of control. So much is being laid bare. The promise of a truly globalized world, where government is increasingly international, and trade free, and all would benefit, was already under acute strain. Now, it’s broken, perhaps irrevocably.

Sullivan goes on to blame China for lying and minimizing the threat, as well as Trump and the World Health Organization, who bought into China’s dissimulations.  He suggests that we should stop cozying up to China’s dictatorship. As he says, “And so the virus has forces us to accept another discomfiting reality: Integrating a communist dictatorship into a democratic world economy is a mug’s game. From now on, conscious decoupling [you’ll recognize Gwyneth Paltrow’s words there] is the order of the day.”

In the end, Sullivan adopts the attitude that Richard Feynman made famous when he was on the committee investigating the Challenger disaster, when he publicized the O-ring failure by saying, “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”  And so Sullivan (and I) are dubious of those who are optimistic about an early end to the lockdown and the disappearance of the virus, the new and deadly instantiation of Mother Nature (he also gets in a few licks about postmodernism):

. . . the cold triumph of reality represented by the virus has been salutary. It’s been remarkable to observe something Donald Trump cannot lie his way out of. He tried. And he’s still trying. He’s gaming out various ways to get himself reelected in a pandemic, but the pandemic keeps reminding us that this is in its control, not his. His daily performances are not informing anyone about anything — they are failing attempts to impose a narrative on an epidemic which has its own narrative, and doesn’t give two fucks about Trump.

And this is the truth about reality. It really does exist (whatever the postmodernists might argue). It’s complicated. And even if it can be ignored or forgotten in our very human discourses, it wins in the end. This virus is, in a way, a symbol of that reality. It can be stymied for a while; it can be suppressed and avoided. It can be controlled so it doesn’t overwhelm us in one fell swoop, metastasizing the damage. But it is unbeatable and is winning this war, as it was always going to, and only a vaccine can make a real difference. The coming months will be an unsatisfying series of starts and stops as we struggle to live with it. We are not, in other words, fighting and winning this war — we are merely negotiating the terms of our surrender to reality. And there is nothing more humbling for humans than that. And nothing more clarifying either.

The third section of Sullivan’s column, “Echoes of HIV” is an instructive comparison between how people reacted to the AIDS epidemic and how they’re now reacting to coronavirus. A short excerpt:

The most resonant feeling for me is simply the tension of not knowing when or if this virus is going to get you. An invisible thing haunted us all those years ago — and it remained confoundingly elusive. There were rules for staying safe — always wear a condom — and they were largely effective in the way social distancing is now. But they weren’t foolproof, accidents happened, as I found out to my dismay, and so you lived in a constant uneasy tension with life.

. . .So now, as then, I feel a certain cold fear but also a calming fatalism. There’s only so much you can do. There’s no safe space in this universe. And so you learn to lean into the inevitability of risk, to live with a sense of impermanence, and, after a while, to find a place in your mind and soul where the plague can’t get you.

This remained essential even after I knew I was HIV-positive, and the fear of infection abated. Then the suspense existed about the day your symptoms would start, when the first opportunistic infection would send you to the hospital ward. The political authorities, then as now, seemed clueless or panicked or simply helpless. And yet we carried on, scanning the horizon for a pharmaceutical breakthrough, which kept disappearing from view. The wait for that moment, like the wait for a COVID-19 vaccine now, became more poignant the longer it lasted and the more deaths and losses hit home.

Maybe it’s lack of sleep and the loss of concentration that goes with anxiety (it’s pervasive now; see here), but I can’t gin up much optimism today. Every time I hear that something is going to reopen on April 30 or the end of May, I say to myself, “Yeah. . . . right.”  I’m about to bet a friend, influenced by Dawkins’s tweet shown below, $50 that there will be no general vaccine available by the fall. Again, I hope I lose.


  1. Posted April 11, 2020 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I want to “like” this, Jerry; but, now I’m depressed again too. “…thus we’ll have a route back from those places to places that have already ‘flattened the curve.’” This is obvious; but, I never considered it. Sigh. This may just be our new existence. Love from Les Girls…

    • Mark R.
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

      I had an empty juice bottle and felt like it would feel better to throw it at something. I threw it, pissed off at a wall, and it sort of helped. I’m depressed too. Throwing things helps just slightly in my minimal experimental environment. Make sure the bottle is empty, though clean-up is a distraction. Fuck’s sake. My dog loves following my plastic chucks. Will I improve or just get dumber.? “Time will tell” has never been more interesting. And “interesting times” has never been so pessimistic.

  2. ploubere
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Yes, he’s summed up the situation precisely. The current strategy of hoping people will be disciplined enough to obey the rules is unrealistic, plenty are already out in public, thinking, well, this isn’t New York, that’s their problem, I’ll be fine if I just wash my hands when I get home.

    It is sobering reality. How we face it is up to each of us, but only a Trump level of denial could allow for cheery optimism.

    What we can do however is steel ourselves to gain the resolve to get through this, to accept that it will be awful but most of us will survive this, and to mourn those that don’t.

  3. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Indeed, all those social distancing and lockdowns are meant to ‘flatten the curve’, meaning keeping it low enough as to not overwhelm the health services. Of course, a flattened curve will mean a longer curve in time.
    I think that with a clever ease of some restrictions, just for a week or two before getting back to the stricter regime, is inevitable if we want people to abide by it. And a clever use of restrictions would include mandatory masks in public.
    In the West the use of masks has generally been tut-tutted, but even simple masks work.
    They do not only reduce the droplet cloud when we are talking, let alone coughing or sneezing, reducing spraying the face of our con-citizens, but they reduce contamination of the surfaces we touch with our hands.
    Countries where everybody wears masks in public (without cutting on the other measures of course) do comparatively well.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      I mean, without a mask social distancing needs to be 3m if not more, with a mask 1 m would suffice.
      Sullivan mentioned HIV. South Africa is has one of the highest GIV prevalence in the world. Condoms are mandatory here if you are not in a longstanding and healthy relationship.
      And now it is condom and mask, and only doggy-style. People will adapt, I guess.

    • Posted April 11, 2020 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      Yes, in the short run, the key to opening up is to get good masks and gloves, and use them properly.

  4. Posted April 11, 2020 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I think the virus will be with us for a long time, however that does not mean that a lot of the restrictions won’t be lifted. It is possible that the governments are going to give up, being afraid that the full arsenal of uncompromising restrictions would lead to a wide-scale economic collapse. That could be worse than the virus itself even in plain dead count. (I am not saying that it would be an inevitable consequence of a prolonged restriction, but it can be a feared possibility if handled badly.)

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Depressed is exactly what we should all be as we look at the toddler in the white house. We are in this condition and will be for some time due to him and his republicans. If you all do not believe this, you have not been paying attention. Sitting around reading graphs and talking about flat curves is just an exercise. Where is the action? Where is the plan? This white house has none. It is all out there to see.

    We should be testing and testing and creating a system that would allow for partial back to work in some regions and in some specific jobs. Without the testing we are blind and cannot do it. We still have no process for testing as other countries have already been doing. Without that you are blind.

    Also, Trump has dismantled all the previous government agencies and people who would have been involved in this thing at the beginning. He also ignored all the intelligence as well. There was a group specifically working on pandemic possibilities and he threw that out in 2018. We are screwed but I do not understand why the democrats, specifically Biden have not started an alternative with an actual plan of action. He and the democrats must take this on and prove they are better than this.

  6. Posted April 11, 2020 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I must take issue with this:

    “It’s been remarkable to observe something Donald Trump cannot lie his way out of.”

    Hello????????? Half the population (aka 0% of his readers) has absolved Trump of any responsibility. He has already lied his way out of it for them.

    (Okay okay, not half, only 46%.)

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      What you are talking about is just meaningless. Who care who the con man cons. Most of his followers will soon be out of work if they are not already. So how do you con that? Where is the plan? He has none. He did not lock down the masses to stay home, the governors of the states did that. And it will be them who figures out how to start up again. The white house is useless.

      • Posted April 11, 2020 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        I’m not sure what you’re objecting to. Maybe I expressed myself unclearly. But if anything, it’s Sullivan’s statement that’s just meaningless. How has Trump “not been able to lie himself out of this”? Sullivan hasn’t registered that Trump is doing fine according to half the country.

        If Sullivan means his lies won’t stop the virus or the deaths or the ill effects, he should have written that.

        • Posted April 11, 2020 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

          The half the country you are talking about really hasn’t analyzed Trump’s pandemic response (or much else). The deaths that are still coming will change a lot. Many of the red states are only just now coming under lock down. Their hospitals aren’t yet at capacity. It takes time for this kind of thing to get through their Fox News brain filters but it will by November. Then we’ll see if Trump successfully lied his way out of it. It’ll happen even earlier if Trump “opens up the country” when he’d like to.

          • Posted April 11, 2020 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

            Your predictions might be right, but it still doesn’t justify Sullivan’s claim that Trump “can’t lie his way out of it”.

            I pick up on it because the liberal media commonly make this mistake — pronouncing Trump’s failure to convince *their* readers as somehow a general failure. This overestimation of their own powers and under-estimation of their enemies is what put Trump there in the first place.

            • Posted April 11, 2020 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

              You are probably right but the media has mostly written them off, just as many of us have. They are certainly not reachable by arguing directly with them. The best we can hope for is that the truth will gradually filter through to them, especially if it reaches them via routes other than the “lame stream media”. This is one bright side of the pandemic. They are shortly going to have Trump’s failings demonstrated by Mother Nature herself. It will be hard for them to confront sickness and death with chants of “fake news”.

              • Posted April 12, 2020 at 5:36 am | Permalink

                The media might have written them off, but they still get to vote.

              • Posted April 12, 2020 at 10:22 am | Permalink

                Sure. I’m certainly not saying they shouldn’t be able to vote. “Written off” means to stop worrying about strategies to reach them, such as “speaking their language”, “addressing their fears”, “seeing things from their point of view”, etc. The MSM should just tell the truth — don’t ignore the red states or rural America, just cover them as they cover the rest of the country.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted April 11, 2020 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

              I have to agree. Listening to American news I think many are convinced the whole world is experiencing the virus like they are. I predict that Americans, who don’t tend to consume their news outside of the US, will simply see this as something that happened to every country and that nothing else could be done. Oh sure, the educated among the will know differently but there will remain a large group who simply won’t believe anything else.

    • rickflick
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      I can’t help thinking of the tRump voter in 2016, looking interestedly at a reality TV host, and thinking, “Let’s give him a shot. What harm could it do?”

      • Posted April 11, 2020 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        …And sadly it takes more conscious effort than they have at their disposal to dig oneself out from an avalanche of lies.

  7. Historian
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    For the sake of discussion, let us assume the best that we can really expect actually takes place. Sometime in the middle of next year a safe and effective vaccine is developed. By the end of next year almost everyone is vaccinated so it would be safe for people to once again mingle. Does this mean that after a two year hiatus, everything would be restored to a pre-pandemic normal? The answer is a definite no, for at least many subsequent years. One reason is the psychological. People will have become so psychologically conditioned to socially distancing that they will shy away from mass gatherings such as sports and entertainment events. Millions will still wear masks even though they would no longer be necessary. The second reason is economic. The pandemic will have destroyed the retail market as has been known for more than a century; both large and small businesses, many of whom work on small margins, will have long been gone, never to return. Instead, on-line retailers such as Amazon will dominate the world. Their workers will earn minimum wage. Most pre-pandemic restaurants (except possibly for the chains) will be distant memories. How long, if ever, will it take for new ones to spring up? Automation will become an even greater factor in the business world. The pandemic will have accelerated what has been a looming threat in the job market: mass unemployment for the unskilled. Economic inequality will grow. Scapegoats for economic troubles will be sought out. Social and cultural tensions will be much worse than it was pre-pandemic. The masses will crave for an authoritarian to solve their problems. That person may not be Trump, but it will be somebody. This means that the United States and the world will be very different from a few years prior. We will no longer be debating whether the world is better than ever.

    • EdwardM
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      I agree that this pandemic will forever change us and our economy. In exactly what ways and to what extent, I haven’t any predictions, but we will not come through unscathed. I also agree that the rise of a tyrant is a real risk. It has happened before with great economic and social disruption.

      But to counter your understandably dismal outlook, I would point out that we did, once, go through a far worse pandemic and while we were at war. No tyrant rose from that, though they did elsewhere. Not even ten years later we, like the rest of the world, was plunged into a deep, multi year depression. Once again, though tyrants rose elsewhere, one did not here. In fact, one could say our democracy became stronger following those crisis.

      I mean to say there is much to hope for; we have strengths we don’t appreciate. Your warning are salient and terrifyingly possible; I think we can avoid the worst. But maybe I’m being naive.

      • Posted April 11, 2020 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

        This makes sense but it is worth pointing out that we have a tyrant who’s ready to go and a tyrant-friendly half of the country who has already embraced him. That’s the part that scares me.

    • Vaal
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      I understand the pessimism, Historian, but I don’t have as pessimistic an intuition.

      I doubt that people will be as hesitant to get back to pre-pandemic modes of social interaction. People are starving for it. It’s hard to get them to stop. Human nature, and it’s never gone away after all the other crises, pandemics included. Personally, I want to get back to being in a bustling bar or restaurant as soon as I can. By that I mean, of course, once the virus has been put at bay (e.g. if it finally becomes something like the seasonal flu we get shots for, but which still has some deadly toll each year, which is not something that has kept us from social gathering all these years).

      And though, as a foodie, I’m devastated by the impact on restaurants – many in my area seem to have closed for good – I can’t really imagine many won’t flood back to fill the need again once the virus no longer dominates our lives. Again, human nature, human needs aren’t going to change that much. “Life finds a way” and just as organisms are opportunistic and fill every possible niche, humans are the same and will spread back in to areas that fulfill needs, like socializing and going to restaurants.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 11, 2020 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        I want to go to a mall just to look at stuff.

    • Posted April 11, 2020 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      “The masses will crave for an authoritarian to solve their problems. That person may not be Trump, but it will be somebody.”

      Yep. With everyone focussed on Trump, it’s easy to miss who’s waiting around to inherit the dismantled, distorted apparatus of state that he will leave when he dies or quits. Trump is far stupid and lazy to set up a dictatorship, but… I dunno, imagine Pompeo for example, taking over after a few more years of dismantling and polarising. How would such a person deal with the temptations of quasi-absolute power?

      I fear that many in the US underestimate the danger their country is currently in.

      • Posted April 11, 2020 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        I disagree. I think Trump is a once-in-a-lifetime event that won’t soon be reproduced. If he is unable to become dictator, he won’t be replaced by another any time soon. Unless the dictator comes from Trump’s own family, Trump would be one of the first to denounce the new king to his followers. And none of his family or his followers shows the capability of following in his footsteps. He would have purged anyone with his level of megalomania and attention-seeking. Finally, the public has gotten their fill of Trump. I suspect even many of his followers are only following him now because they signed up to do so. Once he’s gone, the taste for a guy like Trump will not come back for decades.

        • Posted April 11, 2020 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

          I hope you’re right.

          But it doesn’t look to me like the people are sick of him. Not by a long shot.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 11, 2020 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

            A smarter, more charming, good looking Trump. Can you imagine? He’d be unstoppable.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      And people will be traumatized. All those data points are people. Many loved ones lost. Many funerals not having taken place. The psychological toll will be great.

    • Roo
      Posted April 12, 2020 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      On a more positive note, it could also be that something like universal basic income goes from a far flung idea to a reality (or at least something within the Overton Window during debates) faster than previously thought. The economics of such things is far beyond me, but combining the facts that:

      – Big companies like Amazon don’t hold ‘inherently’ valuable resources the way that kings did back in the day. Their status depends on consumers with money who buy things from them. And it’s in everyone’s best interest to minimize civil unrest.

      – We have the means to produce necessities like food for people, we only have to quibble about the abstraction that is money when figuring out who can buy how much. Again, I think this is a novel situation. Even a century ago, the issue would have been that food itself was a very finite resource that couldn’t be divvied up in a way that left enough for everyone.

      …it seems to me that it may well be possible to have something like UBI, even if it doesn’t take that exact form (maybe universal food vouchers, for example).

  8. mfdempsey1946
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    “The light at the end of the tunnel…” is the headlight of an oncoming train. Murphy’s Law, alas.

  9. Hal SCHER
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 11:55 am | Permalink


  10. dd
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    So much about the social reaction to corona reminds me of how the gay community initially reacted to AIDS.

    I am gay and lived through the AIDS epidemic from the start in the late 70s/very early 80s. Then, AIDS was not even called “AIDS”, but “GRID”…gay related immuno-deficiency”.

    Yet, I clearly remember that a huge portion of the gay leadership was fixated on what we would now call “political correctness”.

    Because the having of sex was THE central fact of gay identity within the movement, there we huge fights between those who wanted to see bathhouses closed (this is how many gay men would end up having hundreds of sexual partners by age 30), and those who insisted on keeping them open.

    So, the maintaining of that “identity” likely led to far greater spread of the HIV than otherwise, far greater. But as you may know, the official line is that HIV spread widely because Reagan didn’t talk about AIDS. As if that would have made a difference.

    What I am pointing to are the parallels of the reaction then and now. The initial denial, followed by an angry acceptance combined with absolute horror. And of course,useless arguments and bickering which treated the virus, and its spread, especially at the start, not as a biological fact, but something that was in huge part as what today we would call a kind of “social construction.” Otherwise, as something to deny.

    But corona is much worse because the world is having to shut down. With AIDS, tens of thousands were affected. But the world kept going.

  11. Jon Gallant
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    With everyone praying for a blessed vaccine, I wonder how Zoomed courses in post-modernism are handling the patriarchal history of vaccination (Jenner, Pasteur, Hilleman, Salk, Sabin) and its neo-colonial application in Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc.. As Sullivan hints, the current bite of reality may somewhat lessen enthusiasm for post-modern bs in the formerly entitled West.

    The present situation also reminds me of one moment in literature: the very end of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”, in which the author reveals how the seemingly invincible aliens from Mars are finally brought down.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      I always loved that about War of the Worlds & I really really liked it.

      • Martin Levin
        Posted April 13, 2020 at 3:24 am | Permalink

        I guess it’s too much to hope for that playing Slim Whitman songs will defeat this invader, as it did the invaders in “Mars Attacks.”

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 13, 2020 at 9:44 am | Permalink

          Ha ha. I don’t think you should take too much life advice from Mars Attacks in general, except maybe how to walk like a lady.

        • Posted April 13, 2020 at 10:06 am | Permalink

          I loved “Mars Attacks”. That is a great movie. Ack ack!

  12. Posted April 11, 2020 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I have been trying to get some perspective on this. In 1958 there was a worldwide H2N2 pandemic. It killed 116 thousand Americans and 1.1 million worldwide. By comparison, Covid has killed about 20 thousand Americans and 107 thousand worldwide *so far*. So the 1958 pandemic was 6 to 10 times worse than Covid so far. Of course there are more Covid deaths to come, but does anyone remember the 1958 pandemic? I was pretty young, but I don’t remember being out of school, my dad working at home, being quarantined at home, or being scared to go to the grocery store.

    I do think it is worthwhile considering the hypothesis that possibly we are in the grip of hysteria right now.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      First of all, 1958 is not 2020. Information was primitive compared to today and traveled much slower. I understand that a vaccine was put out quickly in this one and antibiotics also helped. I do not think the infection rate was so great either.

      • Jon Gallant
        Posted April 11, 2020 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        Interesting and revealing to remind us of the H2N2 avian flu pandemic of 1957-58. It was influenza, so antibiotics are irrelevant, and it must have been very contagious. I was a young adult at the time, and there was so little fuss about it that now I don’t remember its occurrence at all.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted April 11, 2020 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

          “ It was influenza, so antibiotics are irrelevant,”

          If influenza was the only thing that needed treatment.

          However, diseases don’t care if a host has already caught something, or when.

          Never underestimate how serious bacterial pneumonia is.

        • rickflick
          Posted April 11, 2020 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

          Antibiotics are used against opportunistic infection, and many have anti-inflammatory properties. The viral infection causes death often by causing the immune system to over react causing high blood pressure and organ failure. Some antibiotics suppress the immune response, potentially saving the patient.

    • Posted April 11, 2020 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Without disagreeing, necessarily, I would note a tendency to extrapolate from actual deaths during a lockdown rather than reckon with the exponential deaths and horrors that would have resulted if we’d just kept going as normal.

      • Posted April 11, 2020 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

        The closest thing we have to an experiment is Norway, which has tight lockdown measures versus Sweden which is quite relaxed. As it happens, Norway has more total cases per million population than Sweden. 1182 per mil versus 1005 per mil. However, Sweden has more deaths per mil, 88 versus 22. But Sweden has an older population.

        • GBJames
          Posted April 11, 2020 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

          ”But Sweden has an older population.”

          Not for long.

        • ratabago
          Posted April 13, 2020 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

          Norway has more positive tested cases than Sweden. But they have been testing far more aggressively than Sweden. The reason that Sweden has a higher covid death rate relative to known cases is almost certainly because they have a much higher rate of infection in their population, but more of it is hidden. Comparing tests can be a total pain, as different nations report differently, or completely fail to define what they are reporting. But Sweden and Norway both report the number of people tested, and so can be directly compared. Latest figures I can find for Sweden was for April the 5th. At that point Sweden had tested 5.4 people per 1000, Norway 19.4 per 1000. Sweden has also reportedly done a poor job of contact tracing.

          Things that do work in Sweden’s favour are that they have a very high number of single person households (around 40% of people live alone), and a culture that demands personal space, with little social touching. This mightslow the spread a little. But some models suggest social distancing starts to fail a little below 80% compliance. Against them is the small proportion of critical care beds in their health care system.

          I doubt that the difference in age (16.7% over 65 for Norway vs 20% for Sweden) can come close to explaining a 4 fold difference in CFR.

          • Posted April 14, 2020 at 8:56 am | Permalink

            Yes, you are right about that. Norway has much higher testing per mil.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 1:52 pm | Permalink


      I’d point out :

      1. Vaccine for flu – what role did that play?

      2. Air travel – how did this play a role?

      Was there some particular reason that flu was so bad? Perhaps a large section of the population was vulnerable in a particular way? A specific pathway of being spread?

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      Also I think it is a sign of learning from history – we are doing things differently now because of that flu and others.

    • Posted April 11, 2020 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      It is worth mentioning that population is nearly double now over 1958, so as a percent of population the 1958 incidence is even worse. Funny it was not memorable.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted April 11, 2020 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

        Yes but then we’d need to know the distribution of ages. Not that it’d explain, as I surmise, that despite a smaller number of older people, it was more lethal so far than covid-19.

        So was this an anomalous flu? That is, among flus, this was particularly bad?

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      I was 8 then, and I think I remember that: we called it ‘Asian flu’. Nine million Brits got it, and there were maybe 14,000 deaths. Like you, I don’t recall any specific societal impacts.

      But then, that was the year I caught rubella. I was flat on my back for a week or so, and I still remember some of the weird dreams I had. The year before it was measles. Two years after, mumps. Three in a row!

      Most kids these days, apart from those of anti-vax wingnuts, will miss out on the potential damage caused by such illnesses. And most kids in the future will miss out on Covid-19, thanks to the vaccine which is being worked on in a worldwide effort that would look like magic to even the best researchers of 1958.

      So I think we need to cheer up a bit!

      • Posted April 12, 2020 at 12:17 am | Permalink

        In re measles and other childhood diseases that have become less frightening now: my mother’s sister died of measles in about 1925 and her brother had such a high fever with measles that he suffered brain damage. Thank goodness inoculations for the various “childhood” diseases have curtailed those deaths and impairments.

        Even now, when we look on flu as relatively benign, if we didn’t have vaccinations for it, the death toll could be worse than it is. And, I read that the U.S. had a low of 12,000 deaths in 2011-2012 and a high of 80,000 in 2017-2018. As we know, the flu strains incorporated into vaccines are not always the ones that are needed to combat the strains that show up.

    • max blancke
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      I have been asking some of the elderly folks what, if anything, they remember about the 1958 epidemic.
      What I got was that people in the medical field have strong memories of it, but most others do not.
      I think a big part of it is that people at that time lived in a world where epidemics and fatal diseases were things that people accepted as part of life.

      • GBJames
        Posted April 11, 2020 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

        I was eight. I remember nothing about it.

      • Rita Prangle
        Posted April 11, 2020 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

        I don’t remember much about it, though I would have been 13. But I do know there were some schools closed. But fewer women worked outside the home then, so the school closures wouldn’t have had the effect they do now. Also, we were far less dependent on China for medical equipment, and we didn’t have just-in-time inventories that we’ve embraced now.

  13. FB
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Given that God is letting Mother Nature kill by asphyxiation the people He loves the most ——the poor, and the sick——, should a believer in Jesus be depressed in these circumstances?

    • Posted April 11, 2020 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      On Amanpour & Co., a clip was shown of one of the zealous church-goers who crammed in at service. She claimed that she wasn’t afraid of catching COVID-19 or passing it on, because she has *his* blood in her. She’s been blithely going around to the grocery stores and Walmart.

  14. Posted April 11, 2020 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Although I agree that we’re not opening up as soon as we’d like, I suspect that we won’t have to wait a year and a half. As soon as some treatment or vaccine is shown to have real promise to drastically reduce the death rate, there will be enormous clamor to deploy it without waiting for all the trials to be complete. No one with a reputation to protect is saying that now, of course, as it would be “irresponsible”. As with hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), people are not going to stick with the normal, conservative, safety-first procedures for validating new treatments. We aren’t hearing many calls now to skip trials as nothing yet has really convincingly been shown to help. HCQ is still just completely unproven though probably a lot of people are getting it.

  15. GBJames
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 12:27 pm | Permalink


  16. EdwardM
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    The hard truth is that we will have to open the economy soon or some of the worst fears, as noted by Historian above, grow more likely. We will have to make that decision at some point.

    I am one of those who Dr PCC(e) thinks is being naive. My professional background leaves me to believe there are several factors which will help attenuate the spread of the disease. We are not powerless though we have some hard decisions ahead. We all know what is at stake; we’ve all heard everyone’s arguments, from Chicken Little to Polly Ann and everything in between. Reality, as Sullivan points out, will win out in the end.

    On such a somber day, I just wanted to say on my bike ride this morning (I’m being good isolator, but I need to move my muscles), I helped another be-masked rider stop what little traffic there was so a momma duck and her little quacklings could cross a road. It was a glorious sunny day with almost no traffic and few humans around. The ducks seemed quite tame, showing no fear of me and my bicycle. A couple of the little quackers even diverted their path behind momma so as to get a closer look at me. Anyway. It cheered me.

  17. Posted April 11, 2020 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Where is this virus? The only way to find out is to test. Keep testing so we can find out what we are dealing with. Yes, a vaccine is needed, but that will take time.
    It would be of immense help if we had a responsive administration. GROG

    • Mark R.
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. I have a friend who contracted it (he said it was 1,000x worse than the flu…yes, an exaggeration, but you get the gist) and he has two kids in high school who are now stuck at home with him. He asked if they could get tested and the hospital said there weren’t enough tests and they’re only testing people showing symptoms (this is in Reno, Nevada). That’s utterly futile if we want to get a handle on this. EVERYONE who has any contact with a sick person needs to be tested; it’s the only way. And it’s important to note this all happened in the last two weeks.

      Trump has his daily love fest with himself, yet offers no real advice or knowledge and continues to lie about the millions of tests- where the hell are they? When asked today what kind of metric he’s using when he says “we gotta raise restrictions and let people go back to work” he pointed to his head and said “this is my metric”. We have the worst “president” in history at one of the most consequential times in history. What a fucking mess.

      • Posted April 11, 2020 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        Local to me in Westminster, CA we have a private company that is doing drive-through testing, both a blood test for COVID-19 antibodies ($75) and nasal swab testing for the actual virus ($125). It takes place in the Westminster Mall parking lot just outside Penney’s. As far as I know, they aren’t any prerequisites such as symptoms or doctor’s permission. I haven’t tried it. I wonder if something like that is available in Reno.

        • Steve Pollard
          Posted April 11, 2020 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

          As far as I am aware, there is no verified, accurate test for the antibodies alone. So that one must be a scam. I would be delighted to be proved wrong.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 11, 2020 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

            From what I understand there is a DNA test that determines if you’ve had it (by swabbing and looking for viral DNA) and have immunity and a blood test which looks for antibodies that determines if you currently have it.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 11, 2020 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

            And I think I have that reversed – DNA for if you currently have it, antibodies in blood to show you already had it.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 11, 2020 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

            And I think I have that reversed – DNA for if you currently have it, antibodies in blood to show you already had it.

          • Posted April 11, 2020 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

            They describe it as:

            The test measures IgM and IgG “immunoglobulin” or “antibody” for COVID.

            Is the test accurate?

            We are confident in the test after we used it on a few people that we were sure were COVID negative and we also tested on some of our COVID positive patients. While we don’t know the exact accuracy of the test (sensitivity/specificity), it is likely going to be similar to other POC/cassette (85-95%). The results of ANY medical diagnostic test are NEVER 100%. Tests like this have been used in China since January. Our supplier has informed us that they have preliminary FDA approval.


        • Mark R.
          Posted April 11, 2020 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

          Interesting. Since Reno isn’t a hot spot (yet?) I doubt they have a testing outfit like you describe. Glad to hear these are a reality though.

  18. Posted April 11, 2020 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    With all the talk about finding ways to open white color jobs and open up wallstreet.. I had a dark humor thought about how that was a surprising way to address the disparity of infection between rich and poor. Trump has no idea how Woke he sounds when he pushed for that.

  19. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    As the article shows, there is a plan out there but not from the federal govt.

  20. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    There is no shortage of modern medicines that make use of modern insights. I think the problem in academics/ industry is that this virus wasn’t high on the list.

    That means it’s better to start late if they have to, but I’m confident that with modern science and a special status as a true emergency, clever problem solving will deliver good outcomes. Perhaps it won’t be a vaccine, a vaccine as we know them, or some other thing entirely, and not overnight. But solving one problem at a time with just what they have to work with is all anyone can really do. Anyone would want it over right away – it’s understandable. We just need something to get to the next stage.

  21. Charles A Sawicki
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    On the positive side, if this is similar to 4 other coronaviruses studied in an April article in The Journal of Infections Diseases, infections will decline precipitously in June and July before coming back in winter.
    Another positive is that this awful pandemic provides an opportunity to make significant societal changes which would otherwise be impossible.

  22. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know who is saying we are going to be back to normal by May – is it just the US that is saying this? Because I don’t think anyone else is. The Canadian government told us all last week in no uncertain terms that we will peak here in Spring & this will be with us through the summer most likely with a second wave hitting in December/January if not the fall. The only answer is a vaccine. They have released no plans for releasing people back into the work force and I think that’s because they are waiting to see what other countries are doing that are ahead of this & how well that goes.

    • Posted April 11, 2020 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      T-Rumpasaurus might be the only one. As we all must have heard, Singapore is seeing another wave starting up, after loosening controls. I’m not confident that good masks and gloves will negate the need for physical distancing. We’re just not disciplined enough to keep ‘sanitary’ for a long, long stretch.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 11, 2020 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

        There needs to be quick result testing. So, if I go to the dentist I know he and the staff tested negative that day and he can test me and know I’m negative that day too.

        • Posted April 11, 2020 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

          I agree. Also the testing criteria has been too narrow in Ontario, communication and change in directives too slow to reach assessment centres, and valuable time was lost in testing a whole mass of people to better treat the sick and understanding the trends of this virus.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 11, 2020 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

            Yeah I think they are lacking in tests so the criteria was stupid – basically you only got tested if you showed symptoms. I know Ontario recently changed the criteria & opened testing to more people. I suspect as tests become more available, testing will increase. Once a quick test is available widely, this will make a big difference in determining who can roam around, who can interact with whom etc. It will make things easier to partake in services and to isolate people who test positive – of course the government will need to ensure people who need to isolate are compensated or there will be shenanigans.

            • Posted April 11, 2020 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

              The travel criteria was stupid too, since early on there were indications that transmission in the community was possible. A lot of sick people were turned away from the assessment centres because they had not travelled or they might not have had a fever, etc. I kinda wonder about the methodology of swabbing the samples too. There was TV footage that made me wonder, since the healthcare person seemed to be swabbing just around the openings of the nostrils, instead of sticking the swab way back to nasopharynx, like so:

              Click to access COVID-19-Specimen-Collection-Kit.pdf

            • Martin Levin
              Posted April 13, 2020 at 3:32 am | Permalink

              A lab in Ottawa seems to have come up with a reliable test that yields results in under an hour.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 13, 2020 at 9:45 am | Permalink

                Yes. They sold that kit to UK and US but Canada won’t use it here. They say they are following the CDC advice not to rely on blood serum tests. Stupid. They are being too conservative and it’s all kinds of ironic.

              • Posted April 14, 2020 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

                If you’re referring to Spartan Biomedical, you might have heard today that it’s been approved by the Canadian health head honchos.
                Excellent news.

      • Steven Hill
        Posted April 11, 2020 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

        It’s unclear to me where this information is coming from that Singapore loosened controls. The opposite is true. As the situation developed here more restrictions were put into place – mandatory quarantine for all returning travelers, for example. And since 7th April all non-essential workplaces are closed for 30 days and we are advised to remain at home and mix only with members of our immediate households. This because the rate of local transmission as opposed to imported cases was not falling as had been hoped so the government introduced a “circuit-breaker” to try to reduce local transmission.

  23. RRR
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    This isn’t hard… Welcome to Earth. The whole thing is daily risk management exercise.

    Want to live in fear and stay home? Go for it.

    Want to open your business and make a living? Go for it.

    This whole every life must be saved is destroying the world. What point is saving the world if there is no world to come back to.

    The people who scoff at such suggestions are likely the ones who still have jobs and working from home.

    Dont think the destroyed economy is coming for you? Wrong. It’s coming for all of us.

    The economy must restart no matter what…

    • another fred
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      “The economy must restart no matter what…”

      And that’s the bottom line. Not because of bankers and finance, but because that’s how people sustain themselves. If we have to go on with the susceptible having to be more careful or be winnowed, we will go on. I say that fully aware that I, or someone I love, may be among the winnowed.

      It is one thing to try to flatten the curve to buy time so that treatments and vaccines to be found, but we are not able to go on this way indefinitely.

      Diseases have been winnowing human populations for as long as there have been humans on earth, most dramatically since the dawn of civilization. We dream of stopping that, and have made great progress, but regardless, we will go on.

    • GBJames
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      I think it is a mistake to think of the economy being “open” or “closed”. It is partially open even now. And it will remain partially closed after restrictions begin to be lifted. Some currently-closed business will reopen with changed protocols.

      Eventually, of course, enough time will pass and this pandemic will be remembered as well as the 1918 one. Which is to say, not well remembered by most people.

    • Matthew
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      I wonder how the economy would fair with a massive explosion of cases and deaths. If every city in American started looking like New York, I somehow doubt the economy would be roaring along.

    • Randy Bessinger
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

      Who will show up for work when one or more of their coworkers dies. It is already affecting healthcare workers and they signed up for treating the sick. As Bill Gates said, you can’t expect normalcy if a bunch of dead bodies are in the corner. Listen to health experts and scientists.

    • Posted April 12, 2020 at 12:28 am | Permalink

      What point is there in restarting the economy if too many people have died of Covid-19? Whatever transpires, the reopened economy will not return to what it was before the pandemic.

  24. Posted April 11, 2020 at 3:37 pm | Permalink


  25. Deodand
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Apparently Nature ran an article covering the role that the Chinese Government may have had in this (e.g. Minimizing the severity to save ‘face’.) and then had to pull the article because the Chinese Government complained.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted April 12, 2020 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Yes, as would any nation. Nature messed up in how to name the virus.

  26. Posted April 11, 2020 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    Just to focus on the China aspect of Sullivan’s post, I think it’s worth stressing the perhaps obvious point that China’s reckless bad behavior in setting off this pandemic is not the result of any national characteristics, but of political system. There are good analytical reasons why communist political systems like Xi Jinping’s “Party-State” are always more likely to cover-up pandemic threats and gamble with the health of the world than liberal democracies. For a pertinent example that democracies do better, even within the Greater Chinese world, see plucky little Taiwan. Within the limitations of their times, heck, even the old Chinese Emperors probably did better. At least so I argue, here:

  27. Filippo
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    “Sullivan goes on to blame China for lying and minimizing the threat . . . suggests that we should stop cozying up to China’s dictatorship . . . ‘Integrating a communist dictatorship into a democratic world economy is a mug’s game. From now on, conscious decoupling . . . .’”

    I wonder if by decoupling Sullivan specifically means U.S. businesses should move their manufacturing out of China – to where – countries with fascist dictators? (Re: the U.S. track record with those sorts. Would the U.S. be OK with Maduro were he fascist instead of socialist?) U.S. corporate tyrannies (and U.S. consumers, I gather) don’t want to move mfr. back to the U.S., though currently U.S. citizens surely wish we had (already had) a large and sufficient medical protective gear production capacity.

    • Mark R.
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

      It’s not that Americans don’t want to move mfr back to the U.S., it’s that Americans aren’t paid enough to afford it if mfr did come back. “Made in America” is a slogan that is rare and getting rarer. Such is the problem with decades of money and resources continually climbing to the highest echelons of society and at the same time searching for cheaper and cheaper labor. It is more destructive when the higher echelons are actual family units that have little to do with the population. Stratification…will this virus help or hinder it? I guess we’ll see.

      • rickflick
        Posted April 11, 2020 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

        I think the biggest change that came about from globalizing is the 3rd world is rising rapidly. This is a welcome equalizer, but of course it happens at the temporary expense of certain other segments of the world economy. Over the long term, good.

  28. Randy Bessinger
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    I certainly don’t excuse the Chinese Communist govt from covering up or dismissing the outbreak of the virus. However, the head of our democracy seems to have done the same thing when the outbreak started to spread here, no?

  29. Posted April 12, 2020 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    I think both you and Andrew Sullivan are incorrect about how soon we will get back to some semblance of normality.

    There will come a point where the destruction wrought by the economic disaster is considered bad enough to outweigh the extra deaths restarting the economy will cause. People say “how can you put the economy ahead of the lives of our loved ones?” But this is something we have always done. Anybody who gets in a car to drive to the shops is putting their own advantage ahead of the person they have a small but non zero chance of killing on the way.

    Furthermore, humanity has always lived with the possibility of being struck down by some disease. There have been several serious epidemics in the course of human history, some of which have led to social change (the Black death) but none of which have stopped humans socialising with each other.

    Excepting the pandemics, humans have always coexisted with a number of killer diseases: smallpox, polio, tuberculosis, measles. We in affluent Western countries have more or less stopped worrying about dying from infectious diseases but our ancestors and our poorer fellow humans will probably tell us “welcome to our world”.

    • Posted April 12, 2020 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      Just watched Fareed Zakaria’s GPS show. He interviewed an economist and a couple of healthcare leaders on the subject of how the country gets back to work. They seemed to agree that, based on limited data, that COVID-19’s death rate was now estimated to be pretty close to that of seasonal flu, though perhaps flu without the remedies we have for it. More significantly, they all agreed that massive testing was the way back. It is mind-boggling that the Trump admin is not making testing a high priority considering that their priority seems to be getting the economy back to normal over practically everything else.

      • Posted April 12, 2020 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        I agree on the mass testing point. But the USA is not the only country failing in that regard: my country – the UK – is too.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 12, 2020 at 10:55 am | Permalink

          Canada developed a bunch of fast tests for COVID then sold millions to the UK and US and yet refuse to use them in Canada. That’s pretty stupid too.

          • Posted April 12, 2020 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

            I saw that on the news and wondered why! Seems the health ministry is afraid of misleading results, like false positives and false negatives. I don’t see why they can’t test the thing out in the field (like with bad cases of COVID and with frontline workers) and doublecheck, for starters, with the existing test kits. It’s not like we have all the time in the world to do everything perfectly.

      • rickflick
        Posted April 12, 2020 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        “death rate was now estimated to be pretty close to that of seasonal flu”, unless you’re over 60.

        • Posted April 12, 2020 at 11:23 am | Permalink

          They didn’t make that caveat. COVID-19 and flu are obviously different diseases so any claim that it is no more deadly than the flu is bound to be very rough. Still, isn’t it possible that the death rate among the over-60 crowd for COVID-19 is what we would see with flu if we eliminated all the advantages of it being a well-known disease (diagnostics, treatments, immunization, etc.)? I think their point was that we need to do a huge amount of testing so we know these things and make smart decisions.

          Because the models initially overestimated (perhaps) the death rate, we’re now going to see the Trump administration and all its sycophants cast more doubt on science and healthcare leaders. They are already hinting that the reason the economy has tanked is because we’ve overreacted by believing the scientists. As we might imagine, Trump is completely shameless when it comes to shifting blame.

          • rickflick
            Posted April 12, 2020 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

            Then why has NYC run out of morgue space. That doesn’t happen every year due to the ordinary flu. If COVID-19 is slightly milder than once thought, that’s good, but it probably shouldn’t change policy significantly.

            • Posted April 12, 2020 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

              “Then why has NYC run out of morgue space?”

              Because we don’t have well-developed defenses against COVID-19 like we do the seasonal flu. I’m not sure I believe that.

              The bottom line is that we need more testing. In particular, it needs to be sampled from the entire population, not just people who think they are sick or for which a doctor gives permission.

  30. Roo
    Posted April 12, 2020 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I don’t agree with Sullivan about China (Yes, they made serious missteps, but the US has also made serious missteps at times – the entire world didn’t break up with us. Sam Harris has spoken at length about how he thinks a more fundamental factor is whether or not a country is more or less just a bad actor. In this case, I agree with that sentiment. I do not think China’s animating force is that of a bad actor, I think they strive to be a rational and self-interested one and also have some cultural baggage like a ‘shame culture’.)

    I enjoyed reading his insights into human psychology. I think it’s kind of fascinating that as humans we live in a world that is almost entirely artificially constructed just for us, that we have managed to remove ourselves from nature and create a human-centric world to that degree. And then every once in awhile we get a reminder that nature is not human-centric in the least, and that while we’ve created a world that generally responds to our will (electronics and appliances have buttons designed to do what we want, cars are steered by our command, even something as simple as a door is designed to open and close the way we want it to,) occasionally we get a stark reminder of how this is really just an island of human order we’ve created in a much larger, wilder universe. (And hopefully this reminds us how precious it is, and how careful we need to be with it.)

    • Roo
      Posted April 12, 2020 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      An aside for clarity – when I said China is not a bad actor, I meant I don’t think they in any way shape or form wanted this virus to get out, and that it was completely accidental. So this was a case of mismanagement and bungling, which to my mind is very different than dealing with active hostility. This was not implicit approval for various other actions on their part, such as the way they’ve treated Tibetans or Muslims. Their ‘actor’ status there is very different. Hopefully that was clear, but adding this just in case.

  31. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted April 12, 2020 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Social distancing is part of pushing down the spread rate, but it is also part of eventual herd immunity which such an infectious disease will cause. A vaccine can also be part of that.

    I don’t think we can compare nations as much as Sullivan thinks, or blame densely and hugely populated China to be a recurrent epidemic source.

    Mostly, the political insecurity he discuss seems to be projection of his own. The hard problem will be how to throttle back from various restrictions nations have practiced, and there is where you can see current political insecurity.

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