Where does the USA stand as of today?
Yesterday, March 26, 2020 was not a good day for us. Yesterday, the USA passed up both China and Italy to become the country with the highest number of COVID-19 infections in the whole world. (About 85,000 as of the time of my writing). The other thing that is very bad is that, as of today, the number of cases in the US is still growing exponentially. It has been about two weeks since we closed schools and started "social distancing," so hopefully that will bend the curve down soon. As of today, Utah has around 400 known cases (which is how many New York had 2 weeks ago.)
Here are two graphs, showing the daily number of total infections in the United States and the number of deaths. (These graphs and the other graphs below are from a site that is tracking numbers every day around the globe called
The worst thing about both of these graphs is that so far they are showing exponential growth, increasing by a factor of 10 about every 8 days. This means that unless our social distancing is successful in slowing down the growth, in 8 days we will have 10 times as many infections, and in 16 days we will have 100 times as many infections.
Many other countries in the world are suffering from exponential growth of new cases and deaths similar to these graphs.
But not all countries in the world are still experiencing exponential growth.
China was experiencing exponential growth in cases in late January, but they imposed a harsh quarantine on hundreds of millions of people for 4 weeks. This brought their economy almost completely to a halt temporarily, but it worked. They have almost completely eliminated new cases of the disease (for now) from their country, and they are back to work. Here is the graph of new cases in China:
Note how in February, their graph was also going up exponentially, but turned more and more flat after the quarantine. You could say the the Chinese government is likely to lie about their numbers (which is probably true), but if the cases were going up exponentially, there would be hundreds of millions of people sick and they wouldn't be able to conceal it, so the numbers are largely correct.
China is an authoritarian country that can (and did) lock people up in their own apartments against their will for those 4 weeks, but they are not the only country to have success. South Korea (a free country with a democratically-elected government) has also managed to block exponential growth. Here is their curve:
In the United States, we have been very slow to produce enough test kits. Last week we were testing very few people. This week we are testing a lot more. And hopefully by next week, we will be testing as many as we need to be.
I am hoping, also, that by next week, we are better organized to trace every single sick person and their contacts and help them get the care they need while making sure they have a place to quarantine where they won't have to worry about infecting their family and friends. Helping people quarantine so they don't get the next 10 people sick is much better than trying to quickly buy more hospital ventilators.
There is currently still a debate raging in the United States about whether the quarantine and social isolation will hurt the economy more than the disease itself. Clearly it is true that shutting down large parts of the economy is very damaging to all of us, but it is my belief that blocking the spread of infection before it gets 100 or 1000 times as many more people sick is the fastest way to get through this difficult period. The day will come when we will be able to open the economy and all of our social interactions back up -- and I believe that the sooner we block the spread of the disease, the sooner that day will come.