Those of us trying to predict what direction the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic will take in the United States have been paying close attention to reports from Italy. And until Sunday, the outlook there kept going from bad to worse.
For nearly two weeks after the Italian government imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 9, the daily number of coronavirus deaths mounted rapidly. On Friday, it was reported that 627 Italians died from the disease, as the country’s cumulative death toll passed 4,000. This was shocking, but then on Saturday, Italy reported that 793 more people had died from the virus.
If, like me, you have been laser-focused on this situation for the past week, you mentally braced yourself for Italy to report an even larger number on Sunday, but then breathed a sigh of relief when it was reported that only 651 Italians died of coronavirus. This was small consolation, as Italy — a nation with a population about 60 million — has already suffered more than 6,000 dead in this pandemic, with a total of more than 60,000 coronavirus cases and thousands of new infections still being reported every day. Yet Sunday’s numbers from Italy were a much-needed cause for hope, and this was followed by a further decrease in Monday’s reported deaths — down to 602, a 24-percent decline from Saturday’s peak. Likewise, the number of reported new coronavirus cases in Italy declined Monday.
We cannot yet be sure that this encouraging trend in Italy will continue, but if indeed that country’s crisis has passed its peak, it indicates that America may be less than two weeks away from a similar point in the course of this pandemic. U.S. states began implementing lockdown measures about a week later than Italy, which has become the worst-case scenario in this global health crisis. On Sunday, the United States had 117 reported deaths from coronavirus, our first day with more than 100 deaths from the disease, a point in the pandemic curve that Italy first reached on March 8. It is uncertain how directly data from the Italian outbreak can be extrapolated to the United States, where our population is more than five times larger, and where government-imposed measures are not yet as strict as those in Italy. But there are increasingly tight lockdowns in the hardest-hit U.S. states where the vast majority of infections have been identified.
Let’s be clear about this: More than two-thirds (69.8 percent) of our country’s reported cases of Wuhan coronavirus (41,259 as of Monday, according to CNN) are in five states: New York, New Jersey, Washington State, California, and Michigan. These states also account for 65 percent of U.S. deaths in this pandemic. So far, at least, the risk of contracting this virus is very unevenly distributed across the country. There are widespread concerns about the economic damage from government-mandated closure of so many businesses (see Monday’s American Spectator columns by Bob Luddy and Scott McKay), and we can expect increasing political pressure to get America back to work. The pressure to end the shutdowns will be greatest from those who are not in one of the coronavirus “red zones.” Leaders shall soon be forced to choose between what health officials recommend for disease containment — continued quarantine conditions — and the desire of most Americans for a return to normal conditions.
No doubt, President Trump’s populist instincts will lead him to favor a return to normal as soon as possible — it’s what most Americans want — and that’s why the glimmer of hope from Italy is so crucial. If two weeks of lockdown have been sufficient to get hard-hit Italy past the worst of this pandemic (and again, we’ll have to wait and see if that’s the case), then it is likely that America will pass the crisis point within 10 to 14 days. Whether we are optimistic or pessimistic about the progress in combating this disease, it’s important right now to pay attention to what our publisher, Melissa Mackenzie, advises: “Two Weeks Matter.” Given the known incubation period of this virus, if we can just hold on a few more days in our current locked-down condition, that might be enough to avert the kind of worst-case scenario that would overwhelm our health-care system.
Bob Luddy says America must get back to business by March 30. Would April 7 or April 13 be soon enough? Because if my extrapolation of the Italian numbers is correct, the U.S. should be past the crisis point by mid-April. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic — some officials predict this crisis will continue for six months or more — but when President Trump declared at his Monday press conference that our country would be back in business sooner than most people think, I was inclined to agree with him. Stay at home, wash your hands, and keep an eye on Italy. If their numbers of new cases keep trending downward over the next week, we can expect that our numbers will follow the same path a week or two later.
Let’s be clear, however, that our pandemic will get worse before it gets better. Within a week, the U.S. may be experiencing more than a thousand deaths a day from the contagion that Kurt Schlichter has called “Chinese Bat Soup Flu.” But whatever our death toll is on the worst day of this crisis, we should be past that point by the second week of April, and the daily numbers will then begin to decline. Or at least that’s what we can expect to see if this tiny glimmer of hope from Italy turns out to be a promise of better days to come. Let us pray it is so.