Editors’ Blog

The Outbreak in New York and the Thunder Under the Waves

It now seems very clear that New York state has the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the country and it’s epicenter is in New York City. Out of self-interest I had hoped this was an artifact of aggressive testing. It is now clear that is not the case. The United States now has 11,723 confirmed COVID-19 cases. More than a third of those — 4,152 — are in New York State. Sixty percent of those cases — 2,469 — are in New York City. If you include cases that are in the city’s suburbs the number pushes up toward 4,000.

Let’s dig into these numbers to get a sense of how this relates to the rest of the country, how much these big numbers are driven by aggressive testing and how much lower tallies in other parts of the United States are driven by the absence of testing.

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Italy Now Ahead of China

It is a brutal, merciless race. But Italy has now surpassed China in its death toll from COVID-19. To date, Italy is now over 3,400 fatalities. China’s current number is 3,245. China still has double the number of confirmed cases. But the growth in China is minimal while it rushes ahead in Italy.

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A Lot Of False Hope

A TPM reader who is a physician and on a medical school faculty is watching the Trump’s ongoing press conference at the White House:

Today’s presser is unbelievable.  I am an MD and member of our hospital executive administration in the thick of Covid preparation.

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Timelines and Your Emails

As I mentioned on Tuesday, many of us are struggling with time dilation, difficulty remembering what happened when, feeling like four days ago was a month ago. This has made me eager to start building timelines of recent events both to place ourselves in time and keep a clear sense of the progression of events that got us here. On this front, I’m particularly interested in locking down when public officials said what, when claims were made, promises were made, decisions were made. This will be a work over time. But I am going to be asking for your help pulling this information together.

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Where Things Stand: GOP Sits Somewhere Between ‘Beer Virus’ And Open Beaches
This is your TPM mid-morning briefing.
MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 29: Governor Ron DeSantis gives a briefing regarding Hurricane Dorian to the media at National Hurricane Center on August 29, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images)

Even as President Trump and his White House task force have shifted their tone to a more grave note in recent days, some Republicans continue to downplay the spread of the virus.

The stances vacillate somewhere between an adherence to harmful conspiracies about COVID-19 and a refusal to put outbreak preventions ahead of the economy.

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The View from Portugal

From TPM Reader ZH

I’m an American living in Portugal for the last 3 years. We just entered a state of emergency at midnight suspending many civil rights (eg strike, demonstration), enforcing restrictions on movement that are slightly escalated versions of what we did voluntarily for a few days, compelling essential businesses and workers to continue operating, allowing military deployment to assist, and vesting more power in the Prime Minister. This will last 15 days and is renewable.

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No Paywall on Epidemic Coverage

A brief reminder that we have placed all our coverage of the COVID-19 Crisis outside the Prime paywall.

Two Members of Congress Diagnosed

Two members of Congress have now been diagnosed with COVID-19: Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Rep. Ben McAdams (D-UT). Both got sick soon after attending a vote on Saturday in which hundreds of members of the House mingled on the House floor.

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Many Insights Here

Give a read to TPM Reader EM’s report from South Korea …

I write this partly in response to CJ’s letter, but more to express what has been concerning me for the past few days.

I’ve been living in South Korea for over a decade where the response to the virus has been rightly praised, having brought daily infections back into the double digits, at least for now. As I see it, there are broadly three possibilities. The worst case is that we have uncontrolled spread of the virus to much of the population within a short time, greatly exceeding health system capacity and resulting in over a million deaths in the US alone. The best case is something along the lines of what has happened in South Korea or China, which both brought substantial outbreaks more or less under control by using various measures. The middle case, which I’m starting to see as most probable, is where we have radical social distancing and a shutdown of a large part of the economy for four months or more, with localized periodic major outbreaks along the lines Italy is experiencing.

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Flying Blind and the Known Unknowns

Today I’ve frequently found myself overrun by the flow of new information, new data on the unfolding pandemic. It’s not clear to me whether that is more a reaction to an accelerating of new information or some cognitive fatigue or degeneration due to everything that has happened over the last three weeks. But my reading today drives home for me just how much we and really the whole world are still flying largely blind as we navigate one of if not the greatest global crisis of our lifetimes.

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It Was So Good to See You!

A few times over recent days I have encouraged people to reach out to elderly relatives or just friends or older people you don’t even know. FaceTime, Zoom, any of the other ubiquitous applications all work just fine. Loneliness and isolation are intrinsic risks of old age under the best of circumstances. Here we have an urgent clinical need for people over 65 or 70 to isolate themselves to a stringent degree. Stay in the house. Don’t have any visitors. Maybe even have the delivery people leave things at the door and come out later to bring it in.

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A Youth Backlash?

I wrestled with whether or not to publish this note from TPM Reader CJ for reasons that will likely be obvious. I decided to because I think the note shows beliefs, feelings, lived experiences rumbling under the surface of our society. They are good to hear even if we disagree with them or are offended or even angered by them.

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The View From Italy
TPM Reader LT sends in this dispatch:
I live in Sicily where we’ve watched this become a pandemic. It’s been  more than one week now that we’ve been asked to stay at home, going outside only for groceries or medicine. Pretty much everything else is closed up and very few people are on the streets now.

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Some Progress?

I want to be clear and tentative here. In a situation of mass outbreak and spotty testing capacity you have to be very cautious interpreting numbers. But there seem to be some possible signs that the outbreak in Italy is beginning to crest. And to be clear, by ‘crest’ here I mean a possible stabilization of the number of new cases reported each day. More than 3,200 new infections in the country have been reported every day for the last four days. So each day the situation is getting much worse. It is simply that the acceleration may be slowing down.

Here’s the trend chart.

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Where Things Stand: The Daily Briefings Continue
This is your TPM mid-morning briefing.

This is the most action the White House press briefing room has seen in at least a year, if not longer.

President Trump and his coronavirus task force are holding another press briefing this morning; a near-daily event this week that may soon become standard as the U.S. continues to ward off COVID-19 spread.

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The View from Kuwait …

From a TPM Reader in Kuwait …

As an American living in Kuwait, I’ve been impressed since the beginning of this crisis by how Kuwait is handling it – and they started taking measures weeks ago – but the contrast with the US (and UK) is stark. (I have two sons in the UK, and I wish they could get back here because they’d be much safer. Every British person I know here has stories of friends and relatives who have symptoms, and in some cases know they’ve been exposed, but can’t get treated or tested. And they’re being contacted by the schools threatening punishment if they don’t send their children to school.)

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A Reminder

A Reminder: As long as the country remains on a COVID-19 crisis footing everything we publish tied to the epidemic will be outside the Prime paywall.

Final Thoughts on the Democratic Primaries

Barring a personal tragedy, Joe Biden will be the nominee. My preference, given the difficulty of holding primaries during the pandemic and the need to focus on defeating Donald Trump in November, is for Sanders to concede – and I voted for him in 2016 and would have done so again. If Sanders continues to campaign, it should only be around his issues. No attacks on Biden for stands he took 10, 20, or even 30 years ago. I can think of no worse (possible) fate for the country than Trump’s re-election. Here are some final thoughts about the primaries and what comes next:

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Knock-On Effects Times Infinity

As we begin to grapple with the economic fallout from COVID-19, don’t forget the severe strain this could place on state and local governments, in ways both direct and indirect. Another TPM reader report:

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The Enormity Of The Challenge
TPM Reader EO is coming to grips with the challenges ahead for government at all levels:

Long-time reader/subscriber, first time writing in. I work in the leadership of a local government unit that has a pretty significant number of COVID-19 cases, but isn’t one of the biggest national hotspots. We have been progressively locking the area down since last week, with changes the last few days that basically shut the doors on all public life.

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Where Things Stand: When A Pandemic And A Primary Collide
This is your TPM mid-morning briefing.

The show will go on for least three of the four states originally scheduled to hold primary elections tonight, with the Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday morning ruling in favor of closing polls amid the coronavirus outbreak.

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Canary In Coal Mine?

From the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

Phoebe Putney Health System’s flagship hospital in Albany, a city anchoring southwest Georgia, has exploded with possible COVID-19 patients in the last five days. The hospital now houses 65 patients who’ve either been diagnosed with the disease or are waiting for tests to confirm the diagnosis. That’s just the inpatients; 115 more with less severe symptoms are at home, waiting for test results. The hospital released the numbers along with a plea to speed up testing.
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Placing Ourselves in Time in A World We Never Imagined

As we’ve moved into the shocking events of March one of my central experiences has been what I would call time dilation. My experience of the passage of time has changed radically. Some of this is the mundane fact that many of the markers of my daily life are falling away or shifting — getting the kids out the door in the morning, getting up and going to work, hitting the gym in the afternoon, various small trips around my neighborhood. Far more though it is what I suspect many of you have experienced: an escalating series of events none of us have any lived experience with and which most of us, I think, could scarcely imagine would ever happen. What’s unthinkable Thursday is quaint by Sunday. Such rapid shifts in our perceptions of the world and reality we’re living in are profoundly disorienting. I suspect more disorienting than many of us yet understand simply because there’s no respite from the rush of events.

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In It For The Long Haul

As folks struggle to get their heads around how long the fight to “flatten the curve” might have to last to be truly effective, Josh Kovensky has a new story out framing up how to think about an essential paradox of the fight against COVID-19.

All else being equal, a successful mitigation strategy will tend to require sustaining extreme measures for longer than if we simply endure a short, fast, and brutal blitz of cases that overwhelm the health care system. As Josh puts it, it’s the difference between a tsunami and an extended high tide. Understanding that dynamic helps to begin to come to grips with how long the current disruptions may have to last.

That said, some expert readers responded to the story noting some other advantages to slowing COVID-19 down. They make some good points.

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A Note on Data Sources

This is a brief note about adding a new data source to the COVID-19 Crisis links you now find below every Editors’ Blog post. It’s more for the record and to refer back to. No big need to read unless you’re interested in evaluating data sources in general.

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Something Shifted, At Least This Once

Today’s White House press conference with the President and other members of the COVID-19 team just concluded. It seems like someone had a serious talk with the President or perhaps he had a serious talk with himself. Because his affect seemed significantly different from what we’ve seen in other appearances. More orderly, less stupid, more candid. For the first time he shifted to the message that we’re not focused right now on the stock market – which lost 12% of its market today on the S&P. Once we’re through the health crisis the market will rebound, he said. Whether that’s true or not, it’s at least the right message.

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Tracking the Testing

We’ve all learned the critical role of testing capacity for the current national crisis and how far behind we are. There is some tentative good news on this front. The number of tests being conducted is rising rapidly. They are moving into the ballpark of daily testing numbers in South Korea, though of course the US has a population roughly six times greater than South Korea. Here are the very latest numbers compiled by the COVID-19 Tracking Project.

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Where Things Stand: The ‘Southern White House’ Ablution
This is your TPM early-afternoon briefing.

While it’s not quite 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, this is still a big deal.

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Protect the November Election
on October 22, 2018 in Tampa, Florida.

A few states in the West already have mail in voting that appears perfectly suited to a possible pandemic era election. States around the country, while managing the crisis response to the outbreak itself need to be into discussing, planning and implementing new plans for the November elections. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t be nearly enough time. Obviously these are far from normal circumstances. And seven-plus months is just enough time to make major changes. The country is already in the midst of a profound public health crisis and heading into a deep and likely protracted economic crisis. We must now guard against a crisis of political legitimacy which would not only be a disaster in itself but dramatically compound the difficulty of dealing with the public health and economic crises.

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NYC Closing Restaurants, Bars

The largest city in the U.S. is closing up restaurants and bars, restricting them to serving take-out only.

We’ve seen similar moves this weekend by the governors of Washington, Massachusetts, California, Illinois and Ohio.

Matt Shuham has more.

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