I’m feeling pulled in many different directions today. Always thoughtful, Brad Feld has a nice piece up –”The Disorientation of Exiting Phase 1” – about the transition to phased lifting of some social distancing restrictions. There were stories out of Wuhan that some people refused to come back out even once the city officially reopened, and I imagine we’ll all struggle with the step-by-step adjustments to come.
The New Yorker has a damning long article out about the failure of New York’s initial response to COVID-19 (spoiler: Mayor de Blasio comes out looking especially bad). On the flip side, ever schizoid in its programming, Radio Open Source joined the chorus of Cuomo hagiography this week.
Talking Points Memo predicts a “A ‘Tsunami’ Of Business Bankruptcies” (as I did more than a month ago and about the risk of which in a pandemic, Larry Brilliant warned more than a decade ago); true to form, David Wallace-Wells has a piece with a sensational title in New York Mag (“We Still Don’t Know How the Coronavirus Is Killing Us”); and over the weekend, a “Heat Wave [Drew a] ‘Summer Day Crowd’ to [a] Southern California Beach.”
As the FDA continues to warn against the use of anti-malarials to treat COVID-19, the Indian state of Telangana (where I have family ties) has expedited permitting for the “bulk-drug manufacturers involved in the manufacture of hydroxychloroquine,” while the Indian Government continues, implausibly, to deny the existence of community spread in the country even as the number of confirmed cases in India approaches 30,000 against a backdrop of extremely limited testing.
I took note of the appointment of Richard Ravitch “who helped steer the city through the financial crisis of the 70s” to the Fair Recovery Task Force that the Mayor announced over the weekend. I’ve been planning to do another historical post – this one looking back at the cuts to public services in NYC that followed from that same “financial crisis” (itself largely precipitated by racist Federal housing and transportation policies, and by deindustrialization spurred by capital’s war on labor / search for wider profit margins) through the lens of Kim Phillips-Fein’s excellent, Fear City, the subtitle of which should make us all shiver these days: “New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics.” I’m not encouraged to see no small business representation on the Task Force, and have reached out to the one member I know to express my concern.
In fact, sadly, it’s been a week for (further) loss of faith in our governments’ capacities to govern, with the idiotic circus and wholesale plunder continuing to churn in DC, and locally, my partner embroiled in largely time-wasting interactions with a Department of Small Business Services that is only too ready to partner with AmEx, and nothing but patience with the City’s ever-proliferating BIDs, but – when it comes to interfacing with actual small businesses – seems to regard them largely with contempt.
Anyway, enough of all that. I’d like to briefly revisit the numbers in view of some new developments. After an analysis of “deaths in excess of normal levels across 14 countries,” the Financial Times concluded that the “Global coronavirus death toll could be 60% higher than reported,” which reflects my own previous guess that the national and global death tolls are at least 50-100% higher than the official numbers currently reflect. That gap will likely only widen as the toll taken by the virus intensifies across the Global South. As it is, the estimate from the FT would put the current global death toll close to 350,000 and the US death toll close to the 100,000 I estimated yesterday.
Ironically, here in NYC, I think our death toll reflects a significantly lower undercount than do official death tolls in many other places; for a complex set of reasons including media concentration, our long history of public health excellence, and having been hit hardest first in the US (plus being the spiritual capital of the country), New York figures strike me as increasingly reliable. As we begin to have more provisional data on seroprevalence, we are then able to start to make some more reliable calculations.
This afternoon, the Governor announced results of an additional serology survey in New York State in which ~15% of people state-wide and nearly 25% of people in NYC tested positive for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19. (Unsurprisingly, only ~3% of people upstate tested positive.) I’m continuing to use 8 million as the current actual population of NYC at the moment, given how many New Yorkers of (some) means have fled the City, so that would suggest that approximately:
8 million * 1/4 = 2 million
people have already been infected, at some point, with SARS-CoV-2 in NYC.
According to the State’s data portal, there had been 12,287 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in NYC as of yesterday. According to the City’s data portal, there have been an additional 5,228 “Probable deaths.” According to my own basic math, and this helpful report from NYC Health, there have been ~3,500 additional “Still-ignored deaths” from COVID-19 (a figure at which I arrived by simply taking the number of “Deaths not known to be confirmed or probable COVID-19” from March 11th through April 26th – 11,138 – and then subtracting the estimated mortality for one and a half months – 7,500 – which latter figure itself likely reflects on overestimation; the method I’ve employed here, and previously, is basically the same approach the Financial Times used above).
Adding up, we get:
12,287 + 5,228 + 3,500 ~ 21,000
So to calculate a rough IFR, we now simply divide the number of estimated deaths by the number of estimated infections, which yields:
21,000 / 2,000,000 ~ 1%.
I would love for the world-class researchers who persist in insisting that the virus is far less deadly than it appears to be to make sense of this figure. Perhaps every New Yorker, more or less, has actually already been infected, and the serology tests miss those who were asymptomatic. (Even that scenario would put the IFR at ~0.25%.) Maybe New Yorkers are just so unhealthy that we’re dying in larger numbers. Or maybe those researchers should have been more circumspect before producing speculative work on a pandemic of a novel virus that was tailor-made to feed the engine of denialism. Only time will tell.