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Inaction that cost lives
By the final days of February, many public health experts were sounding the alarm about the coronavirus, and some people were listening.
In the San Francisco area, major employers began directing their employees to stay home. Washington State declared a state of emergency. South Korea, Vietnam and other countries ordered aggressive measures.
President Trump did not.
On Feb. 26, he said — incorrectly — that the number of cases was “going very substantially down, not up.” As late as March 10, he promised: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
Some local leaders also continued to urge business as usual. In early March, Mayor Bill de Blasio told New Yorkers to “get out on the town despite coronavirus.”
This kind of advice appears to have cost tens of thousands of American lives, according to a new analysis by researchers at Columbia University.
If the U.S. had enacted social-distancing measures a week earlier than it did — in early March rather than mid-March — about 36,000 fewer Americans would have died, the study found. That’s more than one third of the current death toll, which is about 100,000.
If the measures had been in place two weeks earlier, on March 1, the death toll would be 54,000 lower.
By The New York Times
These are hypothetical estimates, of course, and they’re unavoidably imprecise. But they are consistent with real-world evidence from places that responded to the virus more quickly, including San Francisco, Washington State, South Korea and Vietnam — where per capita deaths have been much lower than the U.S. average.
Jeffrey Shaman, the leader of the Columbia research team, told The Times: “It’s a big, big difference. That small moment in time, catching it in that growth phase, is incredibly critical in reducing the number of deaths.”
Related: Trump and some top White House officials are arguing that the reported virus death toll is overstated, The Times reports. Public health experts overwhelmingly reject this view.
A simple way to understand why experts believe the official count is actually understated: The number of Americans who have died in recent weeks is much higher than normal.
FOUR MORE BIG STORIES
1. Hope for a coronavirus vaccine
Developing a vaccine usually takes years, sometimes decades. Yet many scientists around the world are now cautiously optimistic that a coronavirus vaccine could be ready by next year. One sign of progress: Researchers published a report yesterday showing that a prototype vaccine protected monkeys from infection.
In other virus developments:
Nursing homes with more black and Latino residents have been twice as likely to have an outbreak as those with predominantly white residents, according to a new analysis.
Some Catholic and Lutheran churches in Minnesota plan to resume in-person services soon, defying the governor’s orders
The reality TV star Bethenny Frankel became an unlikely liaison for state governments seeking masks for medical workers, and she encountered a rogue’s gallery of scammers and con artists.