COVID-19: an update, and planning considerations

Last week I wrote about preparing for the economic impact of China’s coronavirus epidemic.  It now looks certain that it’s going to cause major disruptions to world trade, and probably to the social fabric of many (perhaps most) countries – including the United States.  COVID-19 is showing a very rapid infection rate, far faster than might be expected.  South Korea went from zero reported cases to (at the time of writing) 1,146 infected and 11 dead in less than a week.  Italy has gone from zero to 229 infected and 7 dead in a similar period.  The USA now has 53 confirmed cases, including a number who were evacuated from a cruise ship in Japan already infected with the disease.

Fortunately, the coronavirus doesn’t appear to be a highly lethal strain – at least in its present form.  (Viruses mutate.  It’s what they do.  Tomorrow’s coronavirus may not be as mild as the current epidemic.)  The death rate seems to vary according to age, sex and pre-existing conditions.  As of February 23rd, Worldometer lists the fatality rates as follows:

Brian Wang points out:  “The rates are mainly for hospitalized cases in China. There is likely 5-10 times as many people who caught the virus but had no symptoms or did not need to be hospitalized or were not diagnosed … Coronavirus (COVID-19) is most problematic if you are over 70, a smoker and already had heart and lung problems of some kind.”  That’s cold comfort for me.  I’m a former smoker, and a cardiac survivor, so I fit two out of three of those conditions – ample justification for me to be as careful as possible!

I don’t expect the coronavirus epidemic to disrupt the availability of all consumer products.  Many are made in the USA, and will continue to be.  (For example, I don’t see the panic buying of toilet paper in Hong Kong occurring here, because we make our own, whereas they have to import all of theirs.). However, so many consumer items come from China that it’ll be a good idea to put some away in reserve.  Here are a virologist’s suggestions about what to buy, and I mentioned a number of useful products last week.  Since then, I’ve found others.  For example, almost all batteries – from the biggest to the smallest, from industrial-grade to consumer AA, AAA, C and D cells – come from China.  The factories making them are closed down at present, and/or can’t get their staff to come to work thanks to quarantine regulations.  The only stocks available are what’s in this country already;  so, if you use a lot and/or need regular supplies of specialized cells, you might want to stock up quickly.

Given the possibility of quarantines in urban areas, I do think it’s more advisable than ever to stock up on essential foodstuffs and prepare to survive for at least 3-4 weeks without having to go shopping.  It’ll be almost impossible for the authorities to distribute enough food and other supplies to everyone who’ll need them if they can’t go out to buy them.  (For example, think of families with small children – the demand for diapers alone will be daunting, let alone laundry facilities if they can’t take their kids’ clothes to a laundromat.)  Fortunately, Miss D. and I are already equipped to do that, which is a blessing.  We’ve stocked up on filters for our HEPA air filtration units and our house A/C system, because many of them come from China.  I already have enough surgical/isolation masks, a few disposable N-95 dust-mask-type respirators, and filters for “real deal” respirators (all discussed in another blog post some days ago) to last a couple of months at least.  I’m glad I’m not scrambling to buy them now!  The same applies to domestic hygiene and cleaning solutions, also discussed recently.  We’ve bought enough to cope with the expected demand, as well as hand sanitizer to carry around with us.  I daresay both will be needed.

I suggest you should be careful who you tell about your preparations.  Given the shortages that are already happening, and more that are likely, you may find “borrowing neighbors” demanding that you share what you’ve got.  If you only have enough for your own household, that’s a non-starter.  This disease is too dangerous for you to take chances.  Discretion is the better part of safety!

Something both Miss D. and I have noticed is the change in rail and road traffic over the past couple of weeks.  We live not far from a major east-west railway route and a couple of major Interstate and regional highways.  Several heavily laden container and consumer-product trains pass through our area every day.  We’ve been watching their composition change.  There are a lot more empty double-stack container cars being repositioned – we’ve seen several mile-long trains of them.  There have also been fewer autorack trains and cars, presumably because vehicle imports from the Far East have slowed.  What’s more, there appear to be fewer eighteen-wheeler trucks on nearby highways and Interstates.  All this is an early indicator that there simply isn’t the same volume of goods coming into this country as there was previously.  We expect to see it get worse as China’s economic shutdown continues to disrupt world trade.

This poses serious questions for workers in transport and related industries, and in major transport hubs.  What are the big West Coast ports going to do when their container traffic is drastically reduced?  As GCaptain reports:

Cargo traffic through the Port of Los Angeles is down about 25% in February amid a rash of canceled ship sailings, Executive Director Gene Seroka said Monday. That could drag the total container volume in the first quarter down 15% from a year ago, he said.

. . .

Even if the virus can be contained in the near term, the effects may linger in the shipping industry. There is a glut of containers in the U.S., both full and empty ones waiting to return to Asia, Seroka said. Those will need to be moved rapidly once the supply chain starts to return to normal, potentially creating bottlenecks and other problems.

“That will create an artificial spike in the traditional calendar year of the shipping industry, and it’s going to keep swaying, this imbalance, back and forth until we can find a way to level set it,” he said. The repercussions could extend into the fourth quarter.

There’s more at the link.

Longshoremen in those ports have “made hay while the sun shone” for years, demanding – and getting – feather-bedded contracts, making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year while forcing the ports to meet their terms.  What are they going to do when the lower volume of traffic halves their working hours, and hence their income?  Expect industrial disputes.  The ports themselves are also going to be in a tight spot, as are major cargo airports, trucking and railroad companies, and those who work for them all.  Lower traffic means lower income for all concerned, companies and people.  I expect furloughs, layoffs and shorter working hours.  If you may be affected, have you made plans to cope with a lower income for a while?  I suspect you may not have much choice in the matter.

Those working in health care should also carefully consider their position.  If you have a family (particularly younger children), you’re going to have to take particular precautions not to bring the virus home with you.  Hygiene and isolation procedures at hospitals, doctors’ surgeries and other typical health care locations are going to become vitally important.  That’s definitely something to think about, and plan for.  If your facility doesn’t have, or may run out of, enough precautionary supplies for everyone (isolation masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, etc.), would it perhaps be useful to buy some of your own and keep them handy, just in case?  If I were in that situation, I certainly would.

I don’t think this disease can be contained any longer.  It’s spread too far, too fast, for that.  Its further spread is now inevitable.  I think we can cope with its impact in its present form, although that depends on it not mutating too fast;  if it emerges in a more lethal strain, all bets are off.  Nevertheless, I don’t think there’s any need to panic based on what we’re facing right now.  There will be economic repercussions, and some of us will be at higher risk than others due to health or age factors, so we’ll need to be more careful.  Nevertheless, with care and planning, we’ll get through this, please God.



  1. Peter,

    Thanks for the good information, and the tip on batteries. I am pushing to buy anything we need for our business made in China, we would usually buy in the next 9 months now to avoid headaches.

    The problem with the statistics on CoronaVirus, is they rely on information out of China, and China has been lying.

    It seems the spread is in colder climates, South Korea, Northern Italy, Qoms, and Wuhan at this time of year are pretty cold. I am not seeing much of a spread in hotter areas, but that could be because they are not testing.

  2. What I've been seeing makes me think this coronavirus will have a similar impact to a bad (but not extraordinary) flu season. We are fortunate in the timing of this – respiratory viruses in general don't spread anywhere near as well during the warmer months, and we are nearing the end of flu season. The southern hemisphere may have a rougher time of things than those of us in the north.

    That said, a bad flu season can kill tens of thousands of people in the USA alone, so preparation makes sense – but I suspect panic over this coronavirus will kill more people than the virus itself.

    My hospital has said they have a shortage of masks, so they've pulled them out of our supply rooms. But a call to Distribution has a box of N95 masks show up right away, and all our actual patient care areas are stocked.

    They're expecting an improvement in supply in a couple weeks.

  3. I was just talking with someone today about viral mutations,and if it goes up by – Hashem forbid – an order of magnitude then THE STAND, while pessimistic with "Captain Trips" would look like prophecy.

    And if dreams start about cornfields…

  4. Thanks for posting. I have to say I'm surprised at how they calculate the death rate at ~2%. They're essentially taking the total number of infected and deaths to come up with a number. I think that's crappy math. Seems to me that the most accurate way to represent the death rate is to compare the number of recovered to the number of dead, which is currently about 8%. Of course, the vast majority of cases are still in China, and their numbers should be taken with a large boulder of salt. They've lied about SARS numbers in the past, and aren't above doing it again. The real question you have to ask yourself is: Do you think that China would be quarantining half their population, locking people in their homes, tanking their economy, and cutting off much of the communications from the quarantine zones over a couple thousand deaths? Seems like an Ebola-type (~60-80% death rate) reaction to me. Our own government is likely not telling us the truth about what is going on, for various reasons. If you aren't prepared to quarantine yourself, you better get there real quick.

  5. Worldometer's "stats" are horse-puckey. They're based on nonsense from the ChiCom CCDC.

    In order for them to be true, the population of China would have to be an average age of 127.

    Problem is, 75% of China's population is under age 54, well into the generally "safe" rates.

    They couldn't get such a skewed age/rate death distribution chart with their alleged casualty numbers unless they were handing out WuFlu vapes to all 90 year olds, and killing them off like a Zyklon B shower at Auschwitz.

    There's simply no way to get to their death numbers with those rates, short of them gassing convalescent homes with Kung Flu, and then holding pillows over people's faces until they quit kicking once they're too weak to fight. (Not that ChiComia wouldn't do exactly that; after 80M dead last century, another Great Leap Forward is "just business".)

    Throwing yuuuuuge b.s. flag on anything related to that
    "data", because of Rule One: All "stats" from ChiComia are nothing but mounded pony droppings and rose fertilizer. Period.

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