China reported its highest number of asymptomatic Covid-19 infections since it started recording these types of infections in April, after local health authorities found a cluster of 137 cases linked to a garment factory in the Xinjiang region, Reuters reported.
Discovery of the new asymptomatic cases came after China began mass testing 4.75 million people in the Kashgar area of Xinjiang.
Across the mainland, China reported 20 new “confirmed” and 161 new symptomatic cases in the previous 24 hours, the country’s National Health Commission said on Monday.
As of Sunday afternoon, more than 2.84 million people had been tested in the Kashgar region, while tests of the remaining population are expected to be completed by Tuesday.
The mass testing in Kashgar was triggered after a 17-year-old female factory worker in the region tested positive on Saturday, while displaying no symptoms. The teenager’s infection was discovered during a routine weekly test in Xinjiang. The source of the teenager’s infection remains unclear. The new cluster of asymptomatic cases has been linked to a separate garment factory where the girl’s parents work, however, they themselves have not tested positive.
85,810: That’s the total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases that have been found in mainland China, where the first case of Covid-19 emerged in December 2019.. The country has recorded a total of 4,634 deaths. As per the National Health Commission’s website, China records asymptomatic cases separately from what it calls “confirmed” cases.
I am a Breaking News Reporter at Forbes, with a focus on covering important tech policy and business news. Graduated from Columbia University with an MA in Business and Economics Journalism in 2019. Worked as a journalist in New Delhi, India from 2014 to 2018. Have a news tip? DMs are open on Twitter @SiladityaRay or drop me an email at email@example.com.
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its guidance to say that the Covid-19 virus can “linger in the air for minutes to hours” and occur between people spaced more than six feet apart.
A new simulation from the Fugaku supercomputer in Japan demonstrates how the seating arrangement can make a difference to how easily the coronavirus is transmitted to dining companions at the same table. Recommended For You
Japanese researchers from Kobe University and the research giant Riken tasked Fugaku, the world’s fastest supercomputer, to model how the coronavirus spreads in a typical dining situation. The simulation shows the emission and flow of aerosol particles when four people are sitting a table and speaking without masks on.
The first takeaway from the Fugaku simulation is that the seating arrangement matters. When an infected individual speaks to dining companions seated across the table, four times as many exhaled aerosol droplets reach the person seated directly across the table compared to the person seated diagonally from the speaker.
The person seated next to an infected person is the most at risk. When an infected person turns his head sideways to speak to the dining companion next to him, that individual is exposed to more than five times the amount of exhaled droplets than the individual directly across the table from the speaker.
This research also implies that diners can further reduce risk by keeping face masks on when conversing before food arrives and after they have finished eating.
“When people with Covid-19 cough, sneeze, sing, talk, or breathe they produce respiratory droplets,” explains the CDC guidance. “These droplets can range in size from larger droplets (some of which are visible) to smaller droplets. Small droplets can also form particles when they dry very quickly in the airstream.”
A second takeaway from the same Japanese research is that humidity levels can have a significant impact on how easily droplets are transmitted. The scientists found that fewer droplets are dispersed when humidity is higher, which suggests that the use of humidifiers in indoor settings may help limit infections if window ventilation is not possible.
Public health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, have expressed concern about dining in dry, heated indoor environments during the the winter months. “People will be spending more time indoors, and that’s not good for combating a respiratory-borne virus,” Fauci told MSNBC.
Toward that effort, the leaders of New York City and Chicago and other cities are creating initiatives to make outdoor dining a reality throughout the coming winter.
Fugaku is the product of a $1 billion, decade-long mission by several thousand developers from the government-run Riken Center for Computational Science and computer maker Fujitsu. Since the pandemic began, Fugaku has been creating simulations that demonstrate the ease with which the coronavirus spreads in various settings, including on trains, in work spaces and in classrooms.
I’m always looking for new ways to travel better, smarter, deeper and cheaper, and spend a lot of time watching trends at the intersection of travel and technology. As a longtime freelance travel writer, I’ve contributed hundreds of articles to Conde Nast Traveler, CNN Travel, Travel Leisure, Afar, Reader’s Digest, TripSavvy, Parade, NBCNews.com, Good Housekeeping, Parents, Parenting, Esquire, Newsweek, The Boston Globe and scores of other outlets. Over the years, I’ve run an authoritative family vacation-planning site; interviewed Michelin-starred chefs, ship captains, taxi drivers and dog mushers; reviewed hundreds of places to stay, from stately castles and windswept lighthouses to rustic cabins and kitschy motels; ridden the iconic Orient Express; basked in the glory of Machu Picchu; and much more. Follow me on Instagram (@suzannekelleher) and Flipboard (@SRKelleher).
The number of new Covid-19 infections around the world continues to grow, passing the grim milestone of 40 million on Monday morning as much of Europe and the U.S. struggle to contain a new surge in infections, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with over 8 million confirmed cases, with nearly 220,000 deaths.
India and Brazil have also been hit hard by the novel coronavirus, with 7.6 million and 5.2 million cases and around 150,000 and 115,000 deaths respectively.
It took just one month for cases around the world to swell from 30 million to 40 million.
This number is likely to be a gross underestimation of Covid-19 cases around the world, relying on official data of confirmed cases. Not all those who have caught Covid-19 will be tested, especially if symptoms are mild. Test availability is inconsistent around the world, further hindering accurate reporting of cases. Some countries have been accused of deliberately lying and deceiving about the number of cases they’ve had.
I am a London-based reporter for Forbes covering breaking news. Previously, I have worked as a reporter for a specialist legal publication covering big data and as a freelance journalist and policy analyst covering science, tech and health. I have a master’s degree in Biological Natural Sciences and a master’s degree in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge. Follow me on Twitter @theroberthart or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our top story this morning. Global COVID-19 infections have now surpassed 40 million,… after seeing an increase of one million over the last three days alone. Lee Seung-jae reports. COVID-19 has now infected over 40 million people worldwide,… since the first cases were identified in Wuhan, China last December. The death toll currently stands at over 1-point-1 million,… with a mortality rate of 2-point-8 percent. With an average of one million cases being reported every three days,…
The world is seeing some of the biggest single day jumps since the initial outbreak,… with numbers exceeding 400-thousand in a single day on Friday,… for the first time ever. Among the worst hit countries in the world,… the U.S. remains at the top with over 8-point-3 million cases and 224-thousand deaths. The worst may yet to come for the U.S.,… as the nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci warned last week,… that the country is “facing a whole lot of trouble” heading into the winter months. According to data by Johns Hopkins University,…
Average daily cases were already up by more than 5-percent in 36 states and the District of Columbia. Europe continues to see its infections reach all-time highs,… including Italy,…which registered 10-thousand-925 cases on Saturday,… surpassing its previous record posted the day before. France and Germany also reported record daily cases on Saturday,… as new restrictions went into effect. France reported over 32-thousand cases in a 24 hour span,… as the country deployed 12-thousand extra police officers to enforce their latest quarantine measures. The continent is seeing the fastest increase in COVID-19 cases,… and has so far seen over 6-point-7 million cases and more than 237-thousand deaths. Lee Seung-jae, Arirang News. 2020-10-19, 07:00 (KST) #COVID19#US#Europe 📣 Arirang News(Facebook) : https://www.facebook.com/arirangtvnews 📣 Arirang News(Twitter) : https://twitter.com/arirangtvnews 📣 News Center(YouTube) : https://www.youtube.com/c/NEWSCENTER_…
A long-awaited study of Gilead Sciences’ experimental antiviral remdesivir published Thursday in the New England Journal Of Medicine shows that patients with Covid-19 who took the drug recovered from the disease faster compared to patients who took a placebo.
The trial, which was led by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), was double-blinded and involved more than 1,000 Covid-19 patients from around the world.
The trial found that hospitalized patients who took remdesivir recovered from the disease in 10 days on average, five days faster than those taking a placebo.
The greatest benefit occurred when remdesivir was given to patients early in their illness who were hospitalized and receiving supplemental oxygen but not yet on a ventilator.
The researchers also say that the data suggests that remdesivir may prevent patients from getting more severely ill and needing more oxygen or ventilation.
While the study itself didn’t find a statistically significant reduction in death for patients taking remdesivir, a later analysis suggested a small benefit, finding that 11.4% of patients who took remdesivir died by day 29, compared to 15.2% of patients that took the placebo.
While there is no drug approved yet to treat Covid-19, remdesivir has been a frontrunner for months. In May, after preliminary study results showed that it helped patients recover from Covid-19 four days faster than a placebo, the FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization for remdesivir (brand name Veklury) to be used in hospitalized patients with severe Covid-19. In August the agency expanded the recommendation and said that remdesivir could be used for any patients hospitalized with Covid-19, no matter the severity of their symptoms. Last week, President Trump’s doctors announced that the president received infusions of remdesivir after his diagnosis of Covid-19. There is currently a global shortage of the drug, and Gilead has announced plans to manufacture 2 million treatment courses of the drug by December.
“For patients who are hospitalized with Covid-19, the importance of speeding up recovery by five to seven days cannot be underestimated,” wrote Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day in an open letter published Thursday. “This represents a significant benefit in a disease where every day counts.”
Overall, the final report does not change the preliminary conclusions,” wrote Joshua Niforatos, an emergency room physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital. “Based on the research to-date, for critically ill covid-19 patients, remdesivir is unlikely to change survival or the need for mechanical ventilation. The only drug to-date that has shown to improve mortality remains dexamethasone, a generic and inexpensive drug.”
Gilead will likely use the results of this study to apply for official FDA approval of remdesivir, which has never been approved by the agency before. If the FDA accepts the company’s application, it would be the first approval of a drug specifically to treat Covid-19.
I am the assistant editor of healthcare and science at Forbes. I graduated from UC Berkeley with a Master’s of Journalism and a Master’s of Public Health, with a specialty in infectious disease. Before that, I was at Johns Hopkins University where I double-majored in writing and public health. I’ve written articles for STAT, Vice, Science News, HealthNewsReview and other publications. At Forbes, I cover all aspects of health, from disease outbreaks to biotech startups.
We regret that the WHO prematurely posted information regarding the study, which has since been removed. The investigators in this study did not provide permission for publication of results,” a Gilead spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC. “Furthermore, we believe the post included inappropriate characterizations of the study. Importantly, because this study was terminated early due to low enrollment, it was underpowered to enable statistically meaningful conclusions,” according to Gilead. “As such, the study results are inconclusive, though trends in the data suggest a potential benefit for remdesivir, particularly among patients treated early in disease.” For more coronavirus live updates: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/23/coron… For access to live and exclusive video from CNBC subscribe to CNBC PRO: https://cnb.cx/2JdMwO7 » Subscribe to CNBC TV: https://cnb.cx/SubscribeCNBCtelevision » Subscribe to CNBC: https://cnb.cx/SubscribeCNBC » Subscribe to CNBC Classic: https://cnb.cx/SubscribeCNBCclassic Turn to CNBC TV for the latest stock market news and analysis. From market futures to live price updates CNBC is the leader in business news worldwide. Connect with CNBC News Online Get the latest news: http://www.cnbc.com/ Follow CNBC on LinkedIn: https://cnb.cx/LinkedInCNBC Follow CNBC News on Facebook: https://cnb.cx/LikeCNBC Follow CNBC News on Twitter: https://cnb.cx/FollowCNBC Follow CNBC News on Instagram: https://cnb.cx/InstagramCNBC
Countries across Europe are imposing new restrictions as the second wave of coronavirus infections that’s swept across the region since summer-time has recently taken a turn for the worse—seeping into older, more vulnerable populations and driving a surge in hospitalizations.
All but three European countries—Cyprus, Finland and Norway—have reached the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s (ECDC) coronavirus alarm threshold, which designates countries reporting above 20 cases per 100,000 residents on a seven-day average at high risk.
The ECDC’s most recent report, published last Thursday, also noted the rising death rate in Europe and identified sustained case increases in 27 countries, many of which are reporting more new infections than in the spring (though better detection methods play a factor).
Among the countries faring the worst, the Czech Republic, reporting 22,179 cases and 158 deaths in the past week, enacted a second state of emergency Monday, while Madrid has entered a partial lockdown, barring non-essential travel to and from the city, as Spain reports nearly 10,000 new cases per day.
France’s capital, which moved into a state of “maximum alert” on Monday as 30% of emergency beds in hospitals filled, leading to the closure of Paris bars and cafés, may be on the verge of tougher restrictions as the number of Covid-19 patients in emergency beds jumped to 40% on Tuesday.
Brussels, which has overtaken Paris and trails only Madrid in terms of infections per capita among Europe’s major cities, also announced it is shutting down bars and cafés in the city for a month on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a slew of other countries, including Ireland and Scotland, are mulling tough new restrictions.
While France, Spain, the Czech Republic and the U.K. are reporting higher numbers of new cases on average than they were during the peak of their spring outbreaks, the crisis isn’t as severe as it was through March and April. However, European authorities are concerned that rising infections, which have begun to spill into older populations, could soon bring hospitals back to the brink.
“The enemy hasn’t been defeated yet,” said Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte last weekend, calling on Italians to be careful as to avoid a return to stricter pandemic measures. Italy, once the centre of the coronavirus pandemic, was the first country in the world to activate a nationwide lockdown in March.
There are mounting concerns the pandemic will cause a global recession. It has been another torrid day on the markets. Stocks plunged around the world, despite a coordinated effort by central banks to protect growth and jobs. Al Jazeera’s Neave Barker begins our coverage with a look at the situation around Europe. –
Forty-five days before the announcement of the first suspected case of what would become known as COVID-19, the Global Health Security Index was published. The project—led by the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security—assessed 195 countries on their perceived ability to handle a major disease outbreak. The U.S. ranked first.
It’s clear the report was wildly overconfident in the U.S., failing to account for social ills that had accumulated in the country over the past few years, rendering it unprepared for what was about to hit. At some point in mid-September—perhaps by the time you are reading this—the number of confirmed coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. will have passed 200,000, more than in any other country by far.
If, early in the spring, the U.S. had mobilized its ample resources and expertise in a coherent national effort to prepare for the virus, things might have turned out differently. If, in midsummer, the country had doubled down on the measures (masks, social-distancing rules, restricted indoor activities and public gatherings) that seemed to be working, instead of prematurely declaring victory, things might have turned out differently. The tragedy is that if science and common sense solutions were united in a national, coordinated response, the U.S. could have avoided many thousands of more deaths this summer.
Indeed, many other countries in similar situations were able to face this challenge where the U.S. apparently could not. Italy, for example, had a similar per capita case rate as the U.S. in April. By emerging slowly from lockdowns, limiting domestic and foreign travel, and allowing its government response to be largely guided by scientists, Italy has kept COVID-19 almost entirely at bay. In that same time period, U.S. daily cases doubled, before they started to fall in late summer.
Among the world’s wealthy nations, only the U.S. has an outbreak that continues to spin out of control. Of the 10 worst-hit countries, the U.S. has the seventh-highest number of deaths per 100,000 population; the other nine countries in the top 10 have an average per capita GDP of $10,195, compared to $65,281 for the U.S. Some countries, like New Zealand, have even come close to eradicating COVID-19 entirely. Vietnam, where officials implemented particularly intense lockdown measures, didn’t record a single virus-related death until July 31.
There is nothing auspicious about watching the summer turn to autumn; all the new season brings are more hard choices. At every level—from elected officials responsible for the lives of millions to parents responsible for the lives of one or two children—Americans will continue to have to make nearly impossible decisions, despite the fact that after months of watching their country fail, many are now profoundly distrustful, uneasy and confused.
At this point, we can start to see why the U.S. foundered: a failure of leadership at many levels and across parties; a distrust of scientists, the media and expertise in general; and deeply ingrained cultural attitudes about individuality and how we value human lives have all combined to result in a horrifically inadequate pandemic response. COVID-19 has weakened the U.S. and exposed the systemic fractures in the country, and the gulf between what this nation promises its citizens and what it actually delivers.
Although America’s problems were widespread, they start at the top. A complete catalog of President Donald Trump’s failures to address the pandemic will be fodder for history books. There were weeks wasted early on stubbornly clinging to a fantastical belief that the virus would simply “disappear”; testing and contact tracing programs were inadequate; states were encouraged to reopen ahead of his own Administration’s guidelines; and statistics were repeatedly cherry-picked to make the U.S. situation look far better than it was, while undermining scientists who said otherwise. “I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told the journalist Bob Woodward on March 19 in a newly revealed conversation. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Common-sense solutions like face masks were undercut or ignored. Research shows that wearing a facial covering significantly reduces the spread of COVID-19, and a pre-existing culture of mask wearing in East Asia is often cited as one reason countries in that region were able to control their outbreaks. In the U.S., Trump did not wear a mask in public until July 11, more than three months after the CDC recommended facial coverings, transforming what ought to have been a scientific issue into a partisan one. A Pew Research Center survey published on June 25 found that 63% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said masks should always be worn in public, compared with 29% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.
By far the government’s most glaring failure was a lack of adequate testing infrastructure from the beginning. Testing is key to a pandemic response—the more data officials have about an outbreak, the better equipped they are to respond. Rather than call for more testing, Trump has instead suggested that maybe the U.S. should be testing less. He has repeatedly, and incorrectly, blamed increases in new cases on more testing. “If we didn’t do testing, we’d have no cases,” the President said in June, later suggesting he was being sarcastic. But less testing only means fewer cases are detected, not that they don’t exist. In the U.S. the percentage of tests coming back positive increased from about 4.5% in mid-June to about 5.7% as of early September, evidence the virus was spreading regardless of whether we tested for it. (By comparison, Germany’s overall daily positivity rate is under 3% and in Italy it’s about 2%.)
Testing in the U.S. peaked in July, at about 820,000 new tests administered per day, according to the COVID Tracking Project, but as of this writing has fallen under 700,000. Some Americans now say they are waiting more than two weeks for their test results, a delay that makes the outcome all but worthless, as people can be infected in the window between when they get tested and when they receive their results.
Most experts believe that early on, we did not understand the full scale of the spread of the virus because we were testing only those who got sick. But now we know 30% to 45% of infected people who contract the virus show no symptoms whatsoever and can pass it on. When there’s a robust and accessible testing system, even asymptomatic cases can be discovered and isolated. But as soon as testing becomes inaccessible again, we’re back to where we were before: probably missing many cases.
Seven months after the coronavirus was found on American soil, we’re still suffering hundreds, sometimes more than a thousand, deaths every day. An American Nurses Association survey from late July and early August found that of 21,000 U.S. nurses polled, 42% reported either widespread or intermittent shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, gloves and medical gowns. Schools and colleges are attempting to open for in-person learning only to suffer major outbreaks and send students home; some of them will likely spread the virus in their communities. More than 13 million Americans remain unemployed as of August, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data published Sept. 4.
U.S. leaders have largely eschewed short- and medium-term unflashy solutions in favor of perceived silver bullets, like a vaccine—hence the Administration’s “Operation Warp Speed,” an effort to accelerate vaccine development. The logic of focusing so heavily on magic-wand solutions fails to account for the many people who will suffer and die in the meantime even while effective strategies to fight COVID-19 already exist.
We’re also struggling because of the U.S. health care system. The country spends nearly 17% of annual GDP on health care—far more than any other nation in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Yet it has one of the lowest life expectancies, at 78.6 years, comparable to those in countries like Estonia and Turkey, which spend only 6.4% and 4.2% of their GDP on health care, respectively. Even the government’s decision to cover coronavirus-related treatment costs has ended up in confusion and fear among lower income patients thanks to our dysfunctional medical billing system.
The coronavirus has laid bare the inequalities of American public health. Black Americans are nearly three times as likely as white Americans to get COVID-19, nearly five times as likely to be hospitalized and twice as likely to die. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, being Black in the U.S. is a marker of risk for underlying conditions that make COVID-19 more dangerous, “including socioeconomic status, access to health care and increased exposure to the virus due to occupation (e.g., frontline, essential and critical infrastructure workers).” In other words, COVID-19 is more dangerous for Black Americans because of generations of systemic racism and discrimination. The same is true to a lesser extent for Native American and Latino communities, according to CDC data.
COVID-19, like any virus, is mindless; it doesn’t discriminate based on the color of a person’s skin or the figure in their checking account. But precisely because it attacks blindly, the virus has given further evidence for the truth that was made clear this summer in response to another of the country’s epidemics, racially motivated police violence: the U.S. has not adequately addressed its legacy of racism. The line for a drive-through food pantry in Grand Rapids, Mich. Neil Blake—The Grand Rapids Press/AP
Americans today tend to value the individual over the collective. A 2011 Pew survey found that 58% of Americans said “freedom to pursue life’s goals without interference from the state” is more important than the state guaranteeing “nobody is in need.” It’s easy to view that trait as a root cause of the country’s struggles with COVID-19; a pandemic requires people to make temporary sacrifices for the benefit of the group, whether it’s wearing a mask or skipping a visit to their local bar.
Americans have banded together in times of crisis before, but we need to be led there. “We take our cues from leaders,” says Dr. David Rosner, a professor at Columbia University. Trump and other leaders on the right, including Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi, respectively, have disparaged public-health officials, criticizing their calls for shutting down businesses and other drastic but necessary measures. Many public-health experts, meanwhile, are concerned that the White House is pressuring agencies like the Food and Drug Administration to approve treatments such as convalescent plasma despite a lack of supportive data. Governors, left largely on their own, have been a mixed bag, and even those who’ve been praised, like New York’s Andrew Cuomo, could likely have taken more aggressive action to protect public health.
Absent adequate leadership, it’s been up to everyday Americans to band together in the fight against COVID-19. To some extent, that’s been happening—doctors, nurses, bus drivers and other essential workers have been rightfully celebrated as heroes, and many have paid a price for their bravery. But at least some Americans still refuse to take such a simple step as wearing a mask.
Why? Because we’re also in the midst of an epistemic crisis. Republicans and Democrats today don’t just disagree on issues; they disagree on the basic truths that structure their respective realities. Half the country gets its news from places that parrot whatever the Administration says, true or not; half does not. This politicization manifests in myriad ways, but the most vital is this: in early June (at which point more than 100,000 Americans had already died of COVID-19), fewer than half of Republican voters polled said the outbreak was a major threat to the health of the U.S. population as a whole. Throughout July and August, the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force was sending private messages to states about the severity of the outbreak, while President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence publicly stated that everything was under control.
Truly worrying are the numbers of Americans who already say they are hesitant to receive an eventual COVID-19 vaccination. Mass vaccination will work only with enough buy-in from the public; the damage the President and others are doing to Americans’ trust in science could have significant consequences for the country’s ability to get past this pandemic. Cardboard cutout “fans” at an L.A. Angels baseball game Jae C. Hong—AP
There’s another disturbing undercurrent to Americans’ attitude toward the pandemic thus far: a seeming willingness to accept mass death. As a nation we may have become dull to horrors that come our way as news, from gun violence to the seemingly never-ending incidents of police brutality to the water crises in Flint, Mich., and elsewhere. Americans seem to have already been inured to the idea that other Americans will die regularly, when they do not need to.
It is difficult to quantify apathy. But what else could explain that nearly half a year in, we still haven’t figured out how to equip the frontline workers who, in trying to save the lives of others, are putting their own lives at risk? What else could explain why 66% of Americans—roughly 217.5 million people—still aren’t always wearing masks in public?
Despite all that, it seems the U.S. is finally beginning to make some progress again: daily cases have fallen from a high of 20.5 per capita in July to around 12 in early September. But we’re still well above the springtime numbers—the curve may be flattening, but it’s leveling out at a point that’s pretty frightening. Furthermore, experts worry that yet another wave could come this winter, exacerbated by the annual flu season.
There are reasons for optimism. Efforts to create a vaccine continue at breakneck speed; it’s possible at least one will be available by the end of the year. Doctors are getting better at treating severe cases, in part because of new research on treatments like steroids (although some patients are suffering far longer than expected, a phenomenon known as “long-haul COVID”). As the virus rages, perhaps more Americans will follow public-health measures.
But there is plenty of room for improvement. At the very least, every American should have access to adequate PPE—especially those in health care, education, food service and other high-risk fields. We need a major investment in testing and tracing, as other countries have done. Our leaders need to listen to experts and let policy be driven by science. And for the time being, all of us need to accept that there are certain things we cannot, or should not, do, like go to the movies or host an indoor wedding.
“Americans [may] start to say, ‘If everyone’s not wearing masks, if everyone’s not social distancing, if people are having family parties inside with lots of people together, if we’re flouting the public-health recommendations, we’re going to keep seeing transmission,’” says Ann Keller, an associate professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.
The U.S. is no longer the epicenter of the global pandemic; that unfortunate torch has been passed to countries like India, Argentina and Brazil. And in the coming months there might yet be a vaccine, or more likely a cadre of vaccines, that finally halts the march of COVID-19 through the country. But even so, some 200,000 Americans have already died, and many more may do so before a vaccine emerges unless America starts to implement and invest in the science-based solutions already available to us. Each one of those lives lost represents an entire world, not only of those individuals but also of their family, friends, colleagues and loved ones. This is humbling—and it should be. The only path forward is one of humility, of recognition that if America is exceptional with regard to COVID-19, it’s in a way most people would not celebrate.
The number the media, and apparently much of the population, fixates on daily is the new virus case count in the U.S. While cases have clearly skyrocketed, deaths from the virus continue to fall. Perhaps the case counts are a function of the level of testing. First Trust’s economists recently published some interesting statistics:
on Monday, July 6th, deaths were -86% below the Monday, April 20th peak.;
hospital capacity, nationwide, still appears manageable – albeit some specific locations may have hospital capacity issues;
The skew of deaths toward the elderly is also significant. The total percentage of deaths/confirmed cases (138,782/3,630,587 as of July 18) is 3.8%. Of those that have died, 33.2% were 85 years old or older, and 92.5% of deaths are in people over 55 years old.
Consider that confirmed cases represent just over 1.1% of the total U.S. population, but field tests are now showing that up to 20% of those tested are positive for the virus. While there are issues in assuming that 20% of the population have already had the virus (some think that there are a huge number of asymptomatic carriers), if that is anywhere close to reality, then the overall probability of dying from the virus is 0.04% (.0004), and if one is under 55 years old (most of the working aged population), then that probability falls to .003% (.00003, i.e. 3 per 100,000 who contract it). Even within this younger demographic, only those with compromised immune systems have any real risk. The 20% assumption may be high (there are reasons people get tested), but even at 10%, the younger demographic has little death risk.
Market observers are now using high frequency data markers to gauge the state of the economy. Sometimes, even small deviations from expectations in the economic data results in outsized financial market reaction.
Retail Sales: While falling -5.5% from the week ending July 4th (holiday week) to the week ending July 11th, retail sales were still +4.7% higher than the same 2019 week, and up +7.5% M/M in June (May was still in the depths of business closures). On the surface, this looks promising. But, let’s not forget that consumer income has not yet been impacted because of government money drops. As discussed below, there are still 32 million people unemployed, and there will likely be a large negative impact when government largesse returns to “normal” (perhaps after the elections);
Hotel Occupancy (week ended June 27th): While up from the April lows, there is only 46.2% occupancy vs. 84.9% a year earlier;
Open Table (July 13): this indicator shows a -66.2% Y/Y change. The M/M change was -1.2%; looks like the daily media drumbeat on new cases has had an impact;
TSA checkpoint data (July 13): This shows the number of air travelers, and it was up 5.2% W/W and 61.7% M/M. But, because the denominator is so small, the percentage changes become almost meaningless. Y/Y traffic is still off -73.2%. No wonder United and American Airlines AAL are throwing in the towel and have pre-announced significant layoffs.
The conclusion here is that, after an initial pop, and especially with renewed business restrictions, the Recovery, at best, has flattened.
As I have maintained in this blog, employment is the most important gauge of the health of the economy. The more reliable state data from the traditional unemployment insurance programs is still showing significant Initial Claims each week (1.300 million the week of July 11th). There now is almost no downward slope, as the prior two weeks were 1.310 and 1.413 million. And, while Total Claims, as shown in the table and chart (sum of Initial Claims and Continuing Claims) have declined eight weeks in a row and in nine of the last ten, the chart shows the deceleration in the rate of decline in unemployment.
When the less reliable data on the temporary PUA program (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance – via the CARES Act) (less reliable because not all states are reporting and some states report more detail than others) is added to the state data, as shown in the next table and chart, one gets a flavor of just how deep the unemployment hole has become. Worse, beginning in June, total unemployment (or at least the claims) began to rise again. One of the emerging trends is that large companies, which had been hoping for the promised “V”-shaped recovery, have now given up and will start laying off. United and American Airlines are good examples. In addition, the approaching end of PPP may have a similar effect for mid-size and small businesses that are still alive.
Debt – The Fed Continues to be Nervous
For the banks, defaults haven’t yet become a huge issue due to forbearance. That will soon be ending. In the past week, the major banks reported Q2 results, and all significantly bolstered their loan loss reserves. In May, more than 100 million debt payments were missed. The consumer loan industry says it takes 180 days to deal with and resolve delinquent accounts, so we really won’t know the extent of consumer issues until Q4/Q1. I suspect the same is true of commercial loans.
Meanwhile, the Fed continues to worry. In recent Congressional testimony, former Fed Chairs Bernanke and Yellen warned that “the U.S. economy is facing deep and permanent economic damage” (i.e., certainly no “V,” and perhaps no “W”) without further significant fiscal and monetary stimulus including the expanded unemployment benefit program and providing aid to state and local governments. In fact, Yellen worried out loud about probable large layoffs at the state and local levels without such aid. Bernanke, echoing those famous words of former ECB President Mario Draghi, said Congress and the Fed should do “whatever it takes.”
The Fed’s Beige Book, a report on local conditions by the 12 Regional Federal Reserve Banks (published eight times per year) emphasized “uncertainty” emanating from businesses in their purview. Here are some excerpts:
“Most Districts reported that manufacturing activity moved up, but from a very low level;”
“Outlooks remained highly uncertain…;”
“Employment increased on net in almost all Districts…However, payrolls in all Districts were well below pre-pandemic levels. Job turnover rates remained high with contacts across Districts reporting new layoffs;”
“Contacts in nearly every District noted difficulty in bringing back workers because of health and safety concerns, childcare needs, and generous unemployment insurance benefits.”
Bankruptcies and Debt Concerns
As I’ve shown over the past few blogs, bankruptcies continue to trend up. It will take years for the damage done to the economy by the lockdowns to be recouped. The lives and livelihoods of millions of citizens have been transformed (many ruined) overnight.
We are just beginning to see the early symptoms of debt destruction, and we are going to see the impacts of such debt destruction on many of the traditional sectors, including the financial ones. These impacts will have long lasting effects. Meanwhile, the Fed has convinced market participants that there is no risk, and that the Fed has their backs. The result is that yield differentials between safe and highly risky assets have all but disappeared – at least their spreads have come way in. In the table and chart below, bankruptcies (from the Bloomberg database) are trending up.
The implications for interest rates are clear. More and more debt (corporate America including the zombies and the federal government) means that future interest rates can’t rise lest interest payment burdens become unmanageable and turn the economy south.
With hindsight, the probability of death from the virus for most of the working aged population appears remote (minuscule);
The economy hit zero in April, and the May/June re-openings led to the early up-leg of a “v,” but this nascent recovery now appears to be stalling as governors decide to re-restrict businesses;
Employment numbers, too, are stalling. Companies are beginning to give up hope for a rapid recovery and are setting up for a long period of economic softness (i.e., they are starting to think about major layoffs);
Debt issues are just beginning to emerge and will come front and center in Q4/Q1. The Fed sees this as do former Chairs Bernanke and Yellen.
The world set a single-day record for new cases of the coronavirus, the World Health Organization said Sunday—more than six months into a pandemic the top official there warns is “accelerating”—reporting over 183,000 cases in a 24-hour period, and more than 4,700 deaths.
Nearly half of the cases came from either the U.S. or Brazil, as cases are spiking in both countries, with Brazil recently surpassing 1 million cases.
There were 54,771 new cases reported in Brazil, according to the WHO, followed by the U.S. with 36,617 and then India with 15,400.
The WHO warned last week that the world was entering “a new and dangerous phase” as stay-at-home orders are being lifted, and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned that the pandemic is “accelerating.”
This is the 153rd consecutive day the WHO released its “Situation Report” on the status of the pandemic.
Over two-thirds of the new deaths were reported in the Americas Sunday, as the U.S. and Brazil—the third and sixth-largest nations by population, are recording a spike in cases. Cases are also on the rise in Southern Asia and the Middle East, according to the WHO.
“Many people are understandably fed up with being at home. Countries are understandably eager to open up their societies and economies. But the virus is still spreading fast. It is still deadly and most people are still susceptible,” Ghebreyesus said Friday.
8,708,008 — That’s how many people worldwide are confirmed to have had coronavirus, according to the WHO, and 461,715 of them have died.
Donald Trump recently announced the U.S. would be ending its relationship with the WHO, which on several occasions failed to challenge information coming from the Chinese government that claimed the virus was contained. The U.S. had been the single largest funder of the WHO.
JUDGED BY death tolls alone, neither America nor Britain has managed the coronavirus pandemic particularly well. In Britain public-health authorities have recorded more than 42,000 covid-19 deaths. The excess death rate—the number of deaths above the historical average adjusted for population—is the world’s highest (though not all countries report the required data).
In America the death toll has climbed to more than 116,000. Yet these grim tallies have not stopped either country’s leader from boasting about their virus-fighting achievements. Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, has promised a “world-beating” test-and-trace system, though the current system may miss three-quarters of new cases. Donald Trump has described America as “the world leader” in tackling the virus.
Citizens seem to hold a much dimmer view. According to a survey released this week by Dalia Research and the Alliance of Democracies Foundation, just 58% of Britons are satisfied with their government’s handling of the pandemic. In America the figure is even lower, at 53%. The survey, which asked 124,000 people in 53 countries about their government’s response to the crisis, found that 70% of respondents gave their leaders a good rating.
Asian governments tended to receive higher marks; Latin American countries lower ones. Unsurprisingly, opinions tend to be inversely related to death tolls. In Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro dismisses the danger of the disease, a mere 34% approve of the official response. In France and Spain, where fatalities number in the tens of thousands, most people are also disappointed. In Greece, Taiwan and Ireland, which suffered relatively low rates of infection, almost nine in ten respondents are happy with their leaders’ efforts.
Ratings of foreign governments were even less favourable. When survey respondents around the world were asked about China’s response to the pandemic, just 62% rated it as good. Asked about America’s response, only 34% rated it positively. This view is widely shared: of the 53 countries surveyed, only respondents in Japan (which has its own quarrelsome relationship with China) and America itself say Mr Trump has dealt with the pandemic better than his counterparts in Beijing.
The pandemic is far from over, of course, and these opinions may change in the coming months. Though Mr Xi received near-universal support from his subjects (95% rated the Chinese response as good), a recent outbreak in Beijing, where more than 130 new cases have been reported in recent days, has sparked fears of a second wave in the Chinese capital. Parts of the city are already back in lockdown and transport links have been cut off. This crisis could last years. Even governments deemed by their people to have done a good job so far know that it is still far too early to evaluate their response.