Last week: Covid-19 6/11: Bracing For a Second Wave

The verdicts are in. It is not an unexpected one. Unless conditions change, the path now seems set.

The Northeast is winning its battle. Unless something unexpected happens, they will get things mostly under control, at least for the remainder of the summer.

The South is losing, along with Arizona. They are likely going to get worse until herd immunity saves them. Note that the bulk of the West’s surge in cases is now Arizona.

The state capacity to do otherwise seems to be gone.

The rest of the West, and the Midwest, could go either way.

Let’s run the numbers.

Positive Tests by Region

Mar 19-Mar 25 5744 6293 7933 8354 28429
Mar 26-Apr 1 15684 20337 24224 34391 52901
Apr 2-8 19455 31148 39618 56772 65604
Apr 9-15 16291 29267 35570 61921 64463
Apr 16-22 20065 34130 33932 64669 43437
Apr 23-29 20263 42343 33773 62189 42475
Apr 30-May 6 23216 49205 37880 51693 24287
May 7-May 13 22419 43256 37591 40209 16683
May 14-May 20 22725 42762 40343 39273 13709
May 21-May 27 23979 39418 42977 26434 10595
May 28-June 3 32200 31504 50039 24250 9120
June 4-June 10 35487 24674 55731 16622 6071
June 4-June 10 41976 22510 75787 12905 4986

Deaths by Region, which are lagged by several weeks:

Mar 19-Mar 25 138 104 144 116 278
Mar 26-Apr 1 380 615 572 606 1656
Apr 2-8 707 1454 1309 2115 4327
Apr 9-15 890 2195 1596 3577 5318
Apr 16-22 1033 2343 1727 5147 3716
Apr 23-29 1128 2588 1685 4722 2713
Apr 30-May 6 1012 2413 1747 4908 2582
May 7-May 13 1082 2288 1597 3911 1416
Apr 23-29 1090 2060 1442 3578 963
Apr 30-May 6 775 1723 1290 2341 667
May 28-June 3 875 1666 1387 2121 436
June 4-June 10 743 1297 1230 1611 325
June 11-June 17 778 1040 1207 1270 225

Positive Test Percentages:

Date USA tests Positive % NY tests Positive %
Mar 19-Mar 25 347577 16.2% 88,882 32.0%
Mar 26-Apr 1 728474 20.2% 117,401 45.1%
Apr 2-8 1,064,225 19.8% 144,273 45.5%
Apr 9-15 1,026,741 20.4% 160,859 40.1%
Apr 16-22 1,235,393 16.1% 143,970 30.2%
Apr 23-29 1,552,560 13.0% 202,499 21.0%
Apr 30-May 6 1,759,548 10.6% 183,446 13.2%
May 7-May 13 2,153,748 7.5% 202,980 8.2%
May 14-May 20 2,643,333 6.0% 246,929 5.6%
May 21-May 27 2,584,265 5.7% 305,708 3.5%
May 28-June 3 3,022,469 5.1% 417,929 2.2%
June 4-June 10 3,252,870 4.6% 438,695 1.4%
June 11-June 17 3,470,057 4.6% 442,951 1.1%

For the first time since mid-April, the overall numbers are no longer clearly better than the week before. I expect next week’s to be worse, with the positive test rate going higher again. The death rate likely starts moving higher again several weeks after that, unless this new wave is sufficiently younger or better cared for to compensate. Which is possible, but doubtful that will hold up.

Houston, and Phoenix and Miami, We Have a Problem

The surge in cases is concentrated in the South plus a few Western states. There are some other Western states surging as well, but from very low base rates. Arizona had a much higher base rate than the other surging Western states combined. Here are the states that have +40% or bigger percentage increases this past week, all of which set new highs this week except for Louisiana:

Oklahoma +111%

Montana +92%

Hawaii +84%

Florida +78%

Wyoming +78%

Oregon +75%

Alabama +72%

Louisiana +59%

South Carolina +54%

West Virginia +45%

Arizona +45%

Texas +44%

Tennessee +40%

A large part of the United States has a very large, very rapidly growing problem. There seems to be no will to do anything about it.

If you live in any Southern state, or any of the Western states on this list, and you are not currently locked down of your own initiative, I would prepare to lock yourself down or take an extended vacation.

California is of particular interest to many of my readers. It was up 13% and hit a new high, but California is a gigantic state. Check your particular area to see how worried you should be. Don’t rely on state data. My most popular local area is presumably Alameda County, where things do seem to be gradually getting worse rather than better.

This graph also seems worth including…

And Also There’s That Little Event In Tulsa, Oklahoma

I try very, very hard to keep away from politics of all kinds on this blog. This should be a place to get away from politics.

And I hope this statement is not necessary for anyone reading this.

I need to make this statement anyway.

Unless you want to get Covid-19, please please do not attend Trump’s rally in Tulsa.

This has nothing to do with politics. Viruses don’t care about politics. Unless you have antibodies to this virus, or are fine being infected and can self-quarantine afterwards so you infect no one else, it is beyond irresponsible to attend this or any other similar event. 

This is not like the protests. The protests are outdoor events where you can plausibly distance and wear a mask.

This is going to be a super spreader event. It is indoors. It is probably going to be packed. Even if it’s half empty, that’s still packed enough. Wearing a mask will likely get you scorn or worse. It will last more than an hour. It will be another doubling in actual infections after the test results we are seeing here.

If you attend Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, there is a very high probability you will become infected with Covid-19. At least double digits. Depending on conditions, a 50%+ infection rate would not be that surprising.

Go if and only if you have want to be one of Robin Hanson’s heroes and variolate, with a plan to fully self-quarantine for several weeks afterwards.

That is all the way too nice way of putting it. Should the worst happen, it is not obvious to me that associated life insurance policies should pay out.

The governor of Nebraska is actively retaliating against localities that require masks.

It would be stunning that this is happening, except of course that it isn’t.

Dost Thou Protest Too Much?

I have seen at least one academic claim that the primary effects of the protests, in terms of protesters being infected at protests, were more than offset by people not in the protests choosing to stay home to avoid the protests and any potentially dangerous resulting situations.

I am not sure I buy that exactly. But I do buy that the direct effects were small, and that there was a short run effect the other way that could have cancelled them out for a week or maybe two.

In the end, even the largest protests ever seen are not all that many people protesting all that often. When we look at places things are getting worse versus better, and compare that to where the protests are, we don’t see anything. With the huge divergences by region that this does not explain, the primary effects can’t be that important. Score yet another one for the great outdoors.

That does not mean going to a protest, even a quiet and peaceful one, is safe. It isn’t. As I said last time, no matter what else I believe in, I believe in physics. The key is that it isn’t that unsafe. This isn’t skydiving or Russian roulette. It’s more like driving was fifty years ago, a thing one could reasonably consider necessary and well worth it, but that’s actually crazy dangerous compared to the other things one does when you run the numbers.

Then there are the secondary effects. How much of this surge is due to people reacting to the protests? How much is relaxed official rules? How much is people being stir crazy and having waited as long as they could? It’s impossible to know for sure. To me, the timing here seems very consistent with the protests causing a widespread loss of credibility in public health and a loss of a sense of joint sacrifice and fairness. With the effect especially concentrated where both were already fraying. This then leads to more activity when combined with the other factors, and we are now seeing the first results of that. Nothing I’m seeing written or expressed seems to provide evidence against this being a big factor.

Pay No Attention to the Mysterious Deaths Behind the Curtain

I don’t have the link I was given, which I didn’t have verification on in any case, but this seems important enough and plausible enough to share anyway.

There is something in the United States called a ‘mysterious death.’ This is an official classification, where they conclude that they do not know cause of death. Normally, I was informed, there are about 2000 of these each week. That number has been, I was told, creeping upward, and is now 4000, concentrated in places that have political motivations to put out lower death numbers in order to reopen.

This would be in line with the multiple reports by epidemiologists of being fired for refusing to cook the books, again so that reopening criteria could be met.

It is all too on the nose by half, but this is 2020, so that only makes it more plausible.

As they say, huge if true. If anyone can confirm or discredit this, please do so in the comments.

If it’s true, and American numbers in many areas are becoming increasingly fraudulent, that is important to know on many levels.

The Green Zone

Here in New York, we’re going to be all right. It’s time to make our way back into the world.

On Tuesday, I visited several towns in Westchester, to scout places I might want to move if we decide not to return to New York City but want fast access to the best place on Earth. We saw Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, Tarrytown, Bronxville and Scarsdale.

I don’t think we saw a single adult not wearing a mask.

Every store, without exception, was very clear it required a mask for entry.

We did not see a single adult not observing reasonable social distancing.

Some children were playing ball in the parks. That was it.

And life was good. Not as good as before. But good.

Exactly like here in Warwick.

Our first romantic dinner out in months is planned for next week.

The rest of you might be in trouble.

Around here, we’re going to be all right. We won. We’ve beaten this thing.

If you’re not doing as well wherever you are, perhaps you’d like to join us?

Dreams of a Community

Friends are one of the best things in life. I am blessed with many across the land. It is not the same as having them next door and over for lunch.

The kids need friends too.

If we know each other and get along, chances are I’d love to have you as a neighbor. If possible, a very close one. Exact location matters. Potentially, I’d even want to consider getting a giant house with enough room for everyone.

Alas, coordination is hard. People talk the talk but rarely walk the walk. Everyone has particular needs and timing and ties. And the one time coordination did end up taking place was, in my opinion, a mistake. It is certainly not a place I could live.

For at least the next few months, we’re in Warwick, New York. It’s more isolated from the city than I’d like, but it seems to be what one calls Best of Breed for a cheap, walkable small town in the greater New York area, if you don’t mind the lack of a train stop. We might stay, especially if others would join us.

Right now we’re also considering Manhattan, either Upper West Side, Chelsea or Stuyvesant Town, or Westchester, where we’d likely either choose a river town (probably Irvington, Tarrytown or Dobbs Ferry) or join one of our friends in Bronxville or Scarsdale.

In theory we’d be open to other areas with good access to New York City.

Coordination is always a long shot. It’s still a long shot worth checking. If you would plausibly join me in one or more of these locations, please let me know. We’ll do what’s best for us, and hope others follow. But willingness to follow is definitely a factor in that decision.

Until next week. Stay safe, everyone.

New Comment
5 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

Air conditioning! As near as I can tell, "indoor air conditioning" is the key mechanistic story for "covid in June".

You can skip the rest if you like, but for details and speculation... This result is actually kind of happy/surprising to me!

When the right was protesting against the covid shutdown I saw a lot of morbid covid speculation about how bad it would be on the left. Then the left was protesting against the police, and some on the right were complaining about how bad it could make covid... But I haven't been able to find any big structural/demographic signals related to any of these protests. We seem to have gotten lucky with the protesting: it didn't increase the plague much! I was worried about it, and so this feels like a relief to me.

More happy news in the structural department is a salon in Missouri that functioned as a natural experiment. Two hairdressers test positive. One was cutting while symptomatic and may have given it to the other somehow during a work week in the same room. Both wore masks. All customers wore masks. 140 customers tracked by computer. 46 of them consented to testing. All came back negative! Maybe there's structural censorship of key data (lying officials, or broken medical test) but if not then ZERO positive customers is a non-trivial signal about mask efficacy! :-)

The one person who seems to have gotten infected by the hairdresser was maybe the other hairdresser in the shop. This loops back around, in my mind, to "sharing a building" and and also calls attention to "air conditioning" as a key mechanistic driver...

As in the OP "Houston and Phoenix and Miami" are hotspots now and I think the common denominator is that in June those are all pretty hot places where the heat drives people indoors to get some AC (which tends to be recirculated air).

Spending a lot of time breathing recirculated indoor air looks like the boogey man to me at this point.

I wonder how things would be different if people used air filters on the recirculating air.


I can report that at a major southern university we are starting to get plans sent out by administration for a return to in person instruction (!) in mid August (!). They are refusing to mandate masks for students and are planning for way too many in person classes. Another nearby university is forcing faculty to get medical justification for not participating in classrooms.

They've picked their priorities, they'll chew us up and spit us out.

It might seem the MNM hypothesis doesn't fit terribly well with people voluntarily choosing to go to that rally in Oklahoma (or, to take an example from the other aisle, the uncritical support certain other outdoor gatherings received from many people who ought to know better), but I actually did say something at the end of my post that seems to explain both:

On the other hand, the MNM effect requires leaders and individuals to have access to information about the state of the world right now (i.e. how dangerous are things at the moment). Even in countries with reasonably free flow of information this is not a given. If you accept Eliezer Yudkowksy’s thesis that clickbait has impaired our ability to understand a persistent, objective external world then you might be more pessimistic about the MNM effect going forward. Perhaps for this reason, we should expect countries with higher social trust, and therefore more ability for individuals to agree on a consensus reality and understand the level of danger posed, to perform better. Japan and the countries in Northern Europe like Denmark and Sweden come to mind, and all of them have performed better than the mitigation measures employed by their governments would suggest.

Here's what I wrote about coordinated moving when Raymond was talking about leaving the Bay for a while:

"Coordinated moving seems hard. It seems unlikely to happen. But, I think that uncoordinated moving can end up quite coordinated.

If I'm thinking of leaving Brooklyn, I have 10,000 small towns to choose from. If [Zvi, or Ray, or anyone like that] publicizes which one he goes to after doing research, that town is immediately in my top 10 options I'll actually consider. Not just because I'd want to live near [Zvi/Ray] and I trust his research, but also because I know that hundreds of other people I like would know about that town and consider moving there. So if people just move out without coordinating but tell all their friends about it, I think we'll end up with decent enough agglomerations of friends wherever the pioneers end up going."

On a related note, I'm planning to go on a small road trip around the northeast in July and would love to visit you in Warwick if you're accepting visitors (got tested this week, alas no antibodies, still distancing at home).