New York City has replaced northern Italy as the crucial crisis point of the international coronavirus pandemic, and that’s actually good news for America. What it means is that the crisis in Italy may have passed its worst point, and, because the U.S. outbreak has been trailing the situation in Italy by a week or two, our country can expect to turn the corner sometime in early April. That is, if Americans can maintain their current stay-at-home and “social distancing” routines for another week or two.
Italy took drastic action to limit spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, imposing a nationwide lockdown on March 9, and it took about two weeks after that before their pandemic crisis reached its apparent peak (see my Tuesday column, “Coronavirus: A Glimmer of Hope”). In the past two days, there has been more (relatively) good news from Italy. The number of daily deaths from the disease has remained below the level reported on Saturday, when the virus killed 793 Italians. And the number of new cases reported Thursday (6,153), while higher than the previous four daily reports, was still below the 6,557 reported Saturday. Conditions are still very bad in Italy, where more than 80,000 cases have been reported and 3,600 coronavirus patients are currently hospitalized in intensive care, but the country apparently has passed the peak of the pandemic.
“Apparently” is the crucial word there. We cannot predict the future, and there’s no guarantee that the viral pandemic in Italy won’t spike up again. But if the coronavirus numbers there continue trending downward, Italy will have passed the worst of the crisis, and might be ready in another week or two to begin easing its strict lockdown policy. If so — and that is a very big “if” — we have reason to hope that America’s coronavirus outbreak could follow the improving Italian trend.
Attempting to predict the course of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic is far beyond any statistical expertise I could claim, but about three weeks ago — when I still thought this virus was being over-hyped — a friend warned me, “No, it’s serious. Pay attention to Italy.” On March 4, Italy reported more than 500 new cases a day for the first time, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases to more than 3,000, and the numbers were escalating rapidly. Within a week, the numbers had skyrocketed: Italy had 12,462 total cases on March 11, having added more than 2,000 newly identified cases in a single day. Despite the nationwide lockdown, Italy’s daily numbers continued surging for another 10 days. If we can extrapolate from what happened in Italy to project what might happen here — again, we must emphasize the word “if” — what kind of numbers could we expect in the United States, and how soon would we expect to pass the peak of this pandemic?
Well, the U.S. first reported more than 500 new cases on March 9, nine days after Italy hit that benchmark, and it was March 18 that we first reported more than 2,000 new cases. Italy’s cumulative death toll from the Wuhan virus surpassed 1,000 on March 12, and the United States didn’t reach that fatal total until this Wednesday. In other words, the U.S. numbers from this pandemic are running about 10 days to two weeks behind Italy’s numbers. If Italy’s numbers on Saturday, March 21, represent the peak of the pandemic there, then America should pass that point on April 4. There is a lot of “if” involved in that calculation, however, and our country still hasn’t seen any measure as stringent as the Italian lockdown. On the other hand, the U.S. population density is far below Italy’s, and we’ve got other advantages in fighting this disease, including the warning of seeing how the coronavirus outbreak has devastated Italy. Any American who is not “social distancing” now is just a fool.
America’s COVID-19 pandemic will get worse — and possibly much worse — before it gets better, and nowhere is it likely to get worse than in New York City. Of the 81,836 U.S. coronavirus cases reported by Thursday evening, more than half (44,134, or 54 percent of the total) were in New York and New Jersey. New York reported more than 100 deaths from the disease in a single day. Some hospitals there are already overwhelmed by the skyrocketing caseload, with one hospital in Queens reporting 13 coronavirus-related deaths in a day. As bad as it is in New York now, it’s going to get much worse during the next week. But if the course of Italy’s outbreak is an indicator, the situation in New York (and in the rest of America) should begin to improve during the second week of April.
President Trump has suggested that America might be ready to get back to business by Easter Sunday, April 12. That suggestion seems a bit optimistic at this point, but we can hope, and we can pray, and we can keep an eye on Italy.