Common Sense and Coronavirus in Virginia

by DJ Rippert

Stepping back. Over the past five months there has been an unending flood of information, guesses, misinformation and politicized ramblings about COVID-19.  Various factions put forth their experts and cherry picked data to support their agendas. It’s time to step back and synthesize all that has been written into a set of common sense observations and preliminary conclusions about COVID-19.

The virus isn’t going anywhere. Even the most aggressive attempts to contain the Coronavirus will not eradicate the virus. The spread can be slowed and the curve can be flattened but the infections continue and the outbreaks resurge. After a catastrophic bout with Coronavirus in the spring Spain thought it had the contagion under control. The country reopened in what the Spanish thought was a sober and controlled way. Today, cases are spiking – particularly in the Catalan region. In the San Francisco Bay area of California strict lockdown protocols were implemented. The tide seemed to have turned. Reopening commenced.  Now, many bay area counties are seeing a spike in Coronavirus.

Virginia is no different. Yesterday, around midnight, statistics in Virginia show the Old Dominion as having the seventh highest percentage of increased cases vs two weeks prior among the 50 states.

Re-openings create a rise in cases. The resurgence in cases in the U.S. and across the world are the predictable result of reopening the economy. As people venture out to parks, restaurants, bars and other social venues, they spread the disease. Whether the benefits of reopening are worth the cost of resurgent infections is a good question. However, there should be no question that reopening has consequences.

Increasing cases will lead to increasing hospitalizations, ICU stays, ventilator use and deaths. Highly vulnerable populations, such as those living in nursing homes, are much better protected now than they were in March or April. Treatments for COVID-19 have improved. But a sharp rise in infections will lead to a rise in serious health risks from the Coronavirus. On June 4 the daily death count in the US went under 1,000. It remained under 1,000 until July 21. Yesterday, the death count reached 1,103, the highest number since May 23. The rise in COVID-19 deaths was the predictable result of the rise of COVID-19 cases starting a few weeks earlier.

The virus migrates and will eventually go everywhere. Different parts of the United States have gone through the peak COVID-19 rates at different times. Yet the virus eventually hits all states. Different areas within states peak at different times. Yet the virus eventually gets to all areas.  North Dakota seemed to have dodged the worst of the pandemic until recently. Now it has America’s highest rise in cases over the past two weeks. Hampton Roads seemed to be in much better shape (from a per-capita basis) than NoVa until recently. Now, cases surge in Hampton Roads even as they fall in NoVa. Nobody and nowhere is safe.

The tests are inaccurate. Coronavirus testing is more often right than wrong but there is a substantial gap in test accuracy. Both false positives and false negatives are common. Moreover, even an infected person needs a sufficient amount of time to build up enough viral material to show up as positive on the test. Contact tracing must take that into account. The question of whether recovered patients have contracted COVID-19 again needs to be considered in light of the accuracy of testing.

Vaccines are probably a long way away. Bill Gates is a rich man who made his fortune in software. Since retiring from Microsoft he has held himself out as something of an expert on … well … pretty much everything. Today, Mr Gates is in the news claiming that a Coronavirus vaccine might require multiple doses to work. Given the amount of money Gates and his wife have contributed to infectious disease research, it stands to reason that some pretty smart scientists are giving Gates updates on Coronavirus vaccines. Given that, and the general debate on vaccines, it’s a pretty good bet that widespread use of a Coronavirus vaccine is probably a long way off.  Waiting for a near-term medical miracle is folly.

The economy is living on borrowed time. Trillion-dollar stimuli and jaw-dropping deficits have blunted the economic trauma of the government mandated shutdowns to date. One particularly bizarre side effect of this spending fueled euphoria has been a bubble in the stock markets. All of this will end, probably in dramatic fashion. Unemployment remains at staggering levels, $600 per week unemployment benefits can’t last forever, and many of the businesses which shut down will never reopen. Moratoria against evictions are a band aid that must be removed lest the landlords simply go bankrupt. While the long-term changes from COVID-19 are a matter for a later column, the short-term economic impact is about to be felt. By the end of 2021 the economic implications of the shutdown will be eye-popping. The willingness of Virginia’s government to stick its head in the sand on this matter is negligent.

We need to live with it. The sum total of a common sense review of the Coronavirus facts and opinions must leave one with the clear understanding that the U.S. and Virginia will be dealing with COVID-19 for some time to come. Extreme answers like reopening everything or closing everything won’t work. Society will have to react to facts as they emerge and a series of re-openings and re-locks will be a fact of life for some time to come.