It Will Only Get Worse

There is a simple and inconvenient fact about locks: they more or less worked. This means that as they grow, the number of cases of COVID-19 will increase again. Reopening is not a time of relief and safety, but a moment of waiting. How much worse will it get?

To see how best to use face masks, watch this video:

A note about what I mean when I say that the locks “worked”: they reduced the spread of the virus, but did not make it disappear. Perhaps they could: New Zealand, a country with roughly the same population as Alabama, block early and then track existing infections and their contacts . (As an island nation, they were also able to restrict travel in a way that most of our states cannot.) Their lockdown was strict and their reopening was slow and gradual, but there are no cases in the country now, and almost all restrictions have been lifted.

But we are not New Zealand. In my state of Pennsylvania, the number of new cases per day has been steadily declining. But if you look at the number – 467 as I write this – that’s more than we had in mid-March. Remember March? On March 29, we already had 642 cases (though with fewer checks, so the true number was higher). The day after that, my children’s school district announced that the school’s closure, which had originally been scheduled for just two weeks, would be extended by at least another month.

The exact numbers vary from state to state, but some things are clear now. First, the measures we took worked, even if they didn’t work well enough. Two recent studies confirm that they have saved millions of lives; one has calculated that distancing, masks and everything else have prevented 60 million infections worldwide. Cities and states that have experienced major outbreaks such as New York have curved their curves downward.

Another lesson is that – as all public health experts predicted – reopening after a few weeks is often accompanied by an increase in the number of cases. Texas has the largest number of cases . The jump in Arizona has gotten so strong that today the governor has instructed hospitals to execute their contingency plans to increase capacity. Colorado’s cases are still declining, but the governor said he expects a spike due to protests and an increase in cases in neighboring states.

The spikes we’re seeing now could be related to the restrictions that were lifted in May, and likely some activity over the Memorial Day weekend. It is too early to know how the protests will affect the case count, and even when this data emerges, it will be difficult to separate the consequences of the protests and re-discoveries that happened around the same time.

The bottom line in all of this is that the chances are that wherever you are in the US, things are likely to get worse. Now is a great time to check your supply of essentials. Do you have enough food and toilet paper to survive the next surge, if any?

Governors face political pressure for their orders to stay at home. I suspect very few will want to reverse their opening phases and tell people that businesses will have to close again. If I’m right, this means that we are even more on our own than we were before. You may find it wiser to continue exercising at home, for example, even if your gym is open. Whatever happens, stay safe and expect the situation to actually get worse.


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