As well known by RealityChek regulars, I’m a strong believer in looking at the most detailed data possible in order to understand a development or situation best. (Just yesterday, they got a great example, in this post on the latest official figures on America’s manufacturing production.)
Sometimes, though, it’s helpful to get out of the weeds. And a loftier perspective seems necessary on the coronavirus crisis and the heated debate over how fast to open the U.S. economy. Of course, because the reopening is taking place on a state-by-state basis, and because even the earliest opening states have by no means restarted their economies all the way right away, the national picture, paradoxically, isn’t the whole picture.
All the same, because the main debate is clearly between those who would go slow (at best) on the one hand, and those who would go relatively quickly on the other, it’s unmistakably useful to review the progress (or lack of progress) made by the United States as a whole. And according to the figures below, it’s been impressive, however sluggishly it began.
Let’s start with the virus death count – of most urgent concern to everyone especially if a loved one has fallen sick. I couldn’t find a chart that could be cut and pasted here, but if you look at The New York Times tracker here, you’ll see that the seven-day average of new daily deaths (the best way to monitor trends over time) peaked on April 17 at 2,362. As of this past Friday, it stook at 1,563. That’s a reduction of more than a third – not at all bupkis.
Now let’s look at the daily change in the numbers of reported U.S. cases. This chart comes from the Vox.com news site, and also makes clear a steady dropoff: today:
Now let’s look at the testing figures, which also come from Vox. Keep in mind that the number of confirmed cases will logically rise as testing increases:
The clear message here is that the numbers of reported cases keep falling even as testing keeps rising. That’s hard to beat for (realistic) good news in this virus era.
Finally, here’s data straight from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing the CCP Virus burden on the American healthcare system. It presents the weekly change in the share of national emergency room visits accounted for by patients with flu-like illnesses (the blue line) and by patients with specific CCP Virus-like illnesses (the orange-y line).
This statistic is especially important because a major original rationale for the shutdowns was to prevent virus cases from mushrooming so that the nation’s hospitals would be overwhelmed. This chart only goes up to May 2, but those are major decreases over the preceding six weeks (which brings us back to mid-March.)
I’m sure as heck not going to shout “Mission accomplished” when it comes to the CCP Virus crisis. And no one can forget the major uncertainties still surrounding the cases and fatalities numbers – according to various critics, on the overcount and the undercount sides.
But given the progress made so far, given the lack of evidence of any worsening of the situation in states that have reopened on the aggressive side (see, e.g., this post), and given the fearsome public health toll sure to result from prolonged national economic paralysis, it seems fair to say that at least some of the burden of proof in the shutdown-versus-restart arguments has shifted to the former.