A Report from the Epicenter (Or One Epicenter)

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March 10, 2020 5:07 p.m.
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From TPM Reader AO

Long-time reader in Seattle (via Boston). I think our local & state officials are doing a good job here. King County public health clearly has good people and the communication has been clear and on-point. I actually feel in good hands given the government, scientific & medical community’s expertise here. The Gates foundation’s home testing program should start next week & that will be a major step forward, but we are already so far behind, and we had such clear advanced warning & did nothing.


I have a 5th grader in Seattle public schools, and they are getting a lot of pressure to close, but don’t want to due to equity issues. It’s a district of 53,000 kids with 30% on free/reduced lunch, and those are parents who cannot “work from home” as I am right now, so the equity issues are real. I am a director at a large human service agency & we closed our doors last week, and we serve vulnerable immigrant & refugee clients, so that was a hard call.

I was on-board with SPS not closing, but I think the pressure will get too intense by the end of the week & they will close. I am also thinking that it’s now time to close the schools and get serious about this social distancing.

I am closely watching what is happening in Italy with a deep sense of dread. American exceptionalism is one heck of a drug. We really don’t believe that terrible things can’t happen here. I am almost 50, so we’re close to the same age, and that has been true for most of our lifetimes. I heard a woman on NPR in NYC this am say she wasn’t too worried because we have much better heath care than China, so we’ll be fine. Um…they have very good health care in Northern Italy & the mortality rate there is now over 6%. And health care in Wuhan is pretty darned advanced. Like I said, American exceptionalism…

The other thing that is strange is why is there so much spread between Italy & South Korea. The difference is immense. And where are we going to end up on the spectrum–closer to Italy or South Korea? If Obama were still president, I’d feel a lot more confident that it would be South Korea. Trump “managing” this is a perfect fucking storm if there ever has been one.

Thanks for all of your reporting on this. It’s gonna get a lot worse before it gets better.

Let me chime in on AO’s point about schools. We have a similar situation in New York City, and I suspect many big cities around the country. The schools are being kept open for three big and very good reasons. A significant percentage of the student population is dependent on the schools for meals and social services; many students lack computers or connectivity to do any sort of remote schooling; and, closing the schools would be big shock to the city economy — because of the knock on effects of parents who couldn’t go to work. All of these burdens fall disproportionately on the poorest and most marginalized kids and families in the city. It’s a big, big problem.

That said, listening to the city’s reasoning, I do worry they’re missing the forest for the trees. To be clear, I’m not very worried about the children, the vast majority of whom are healthy and will combat the disease with little difficulty. I am worried about the schools as vectors of contagion in the larger community and thus to those who face a real threat from it.

I’m out of my element here. I’m awash in public health information. I’m obviously no expert. I do not know if it makes sense to do this now, even solely on public health grounds. But it seems like we’re getting wrenched by underlying equity and economic issues in our society. We’re just not in a position to shut the schools for all these reasons. And yet we’re getting close to a point where shutting them down might be a public health necessity.

The public health community seems to be speaking clearly: start shutting things down in outbreak areas. Call off big events. Do as much telecommuting as possible. Whether they’re also saying shut down schools I’m not clear on. I don’t know. But we are going to face these decisions.

Key Coronavirus Crisis Links

Josh Marshall’s Twitter List of Trusted Experts (Epidemiologists, Researchers, Clinicians, Journalists, Government Agencies) providing reliable real-time information on the COVID-19 Crisis.

COVID-19 Tracking Project (updated data on testing and infections in the U.S.).

IHME Projections Site (COVID-19 epidemic model which has become the canonical model for many states and hospitals.)

Johns Hopkins Global COVID-19 Survey (most up to date numbers globally and for countries around the world).

Worldometers.info (extensive source of information and data visualizations on COVID-19 Crisis — discussion of data here).

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