Tuesday, March 31, 2020

In 2020 A March Of Madness

Just before the end of February, President Trump declared that there were only 15 Covid-19 cases in the US, and that "they will soon go to zero."  Deaths have now passed 3,000 and yesterday Trump declared that because we might have had over 2 million dead if nothing had been done, it would show "we did a good job" if deaths kept to "only" 100,000 to 200,000.  To do this "good job" he has extended his "social distancing" policy to the end of April rather than Easter, April 12 (my birthday). Also yesterday Virginia Governor Ralph Northam intensified a stay-at-home policy and extended it to June 10, the longest such period of any state.  All this on the next-to-last day of a month with more dramatic changees for the world than any in a long time, certainly more than any that I can remember in my nearly 72 years.

Probably the closest rival I can remember is September, 2011, which also changed the world, although that all happened on one day.  This has been day after day, with the US death toll now surpassing that of 9/11.  I think to match this month one has to go back to September 1939 or maybe August 1914, or maybe October 1918 when the Spanish flu epidemic reached its maximum death rate in the US just before WW I ended.  In any case, when I think of the beginning of this month it seems like another era, way more than a year ago.

On March 1 Marina and I were in Boston attending the Eastern Economic Association meetings.  The day before, Leap Day, Bernie Sanders had a 15,000 person rally on the Boston Common, with local media accurately forecasting he would defeat local Senator Elizabeth Warren, and although he had been surging since South Carolina they did not see that Biden would beat Bernie there, along with a lot of other states on Super Tuesday, March 3, so long ago, after which Bernie fell.  There were no limits on the voting on Super Tuesday, but there was no audience for the two-man debate the following Monday, and the Ohio primary got postponed on March 10, as Biden sealed his new lead, how long ago it seems and how little we care about that then-so-important Dem candidate race.

At the meetings there were signs of the pandemic, but they were from abroad.  Participants from China and Italy were absent, including the discussant for my paper from Taiwan, which has had one of the most effective efforts to resist the virus in the world.  But for most of us it was far away, and there was no sign at all of the deep recession that has now enveloped not just the US but most of the world.. As it was, on March 1 we went to Chinatown partly out of sympathy due to anti-Asian American prejudice (not many people there) and ate well.  We then saw a concert of Bloch sacred music in Old South Church, which was packed.  None of that now.

Although I saw that things were going to get worse, things were still mostly nirmal that next week, aside from the excitement over Super Tuesday, still so important. We had classes at James Madison University (JMU).  On Thursday, March 5 I even had an outside speaker in, Barry Ickes of Penn State speaking on ""25 Years of Transition in Russia." We shook hands, sort ot looking at each other a bit ironically. That was the last time I have shaken anybody's hand, and I have no idea when will be the next time.  Both of us were looking at spring break the next week, and neither of us was expecting that our schools would not open the following week, but of course that was the end of both of our schools being open for live classes, although in the case of JMU initially during the following week the word was that we would take only a two week break and students would be back on campus as of this week. But, of course, that was not to be. We are online for the rest of the semester.

Now Marina and I had seen far enough ahead to cancel our original spring break plans.  She has never been on the African continent and long been curious about Egypt (I was there in 1982 once). So we were planning to go to Cairo, but canceled.  This was before learning of the outbreak of cases on Nile cruisers (which we were not planning to do), but instead pulled out because of fear of not being able to fly back to the US.  We were to fly Turkish Airlines through Istanbul, and feared that the US might block return flights because of Iranians going through the Istanbul Airport, with Iran already suffering from an outbreak of the virus.  Marina was also planning to fly to Moscow to visit her mother, March 18-30, but of course that would not remotely happen with no planes going at all then.

So instead we drove to Ocean City, MD for a low key off-season visit, not having been there before. Not many people around but some places open..  I did foresee that barbers and massage people would probably be shutting down.  So I got a haircut and we both got massages.  We did not raise the issue of pandemic, but it was clear these people were unaware of what was coming.  They weere looking forward to the front of the season starting with St. Patrick's Day coming.  There was to be a parade on Saturday, the 14th, which did not happen.  We had a good time and drove home acrross the Chesapeake bridge-tunnel on Thursday, March 12, stopping in Charlottesville to eat at Light Alley, a restaurant we had long wanted to eat at, and bought a bunch of stuff at the Wegmann's there, observing panic buying of toilet paper, which we mostly laughed about.

I think it was the next day, Friday the 13th, that things crucially shifted, particularly because this was when finally Trump began to change his tune from "this is a Dem hoax" to "this is a real problem," although he continued to throw out inaccurate and confusing lines.  This was also when the events came down that I think really made most American people suddenly start to take it seriously.  The NBA shut down, and after a few days, March Madness was called off.  This really hit home, sports, especially March Madness. And then it came out that Tom Hanks was infected, America's Everyman.

Even so it seemed that the tightening of social distancing and shutdowns was a gradual and rolling process.  So near us ia farmer's market on Saturdays.  On Saturday March 14 it was fully operational, although there was a lot of worrying among customers about what was coming.  The following Saturday it was on, but many vendors were absent, and it was surrounded by a tape, with someone at the only entrance making sure no more than 10 people were inside.  This past Saturday, March 28, it was totally closed and will be for some time.  Also, on Sat. March 21 after going to the market we went to a place for gelato and could go in and sit down, although most such places were not so open.  By March 28, it was only open for curbside pickups after calling in.

Despite Northam's announcement yesterday, there are still more places at least somewhat open here in Harrisonburg. But more and more places are just totally closed and fewer and fewer people are out and about .  We are steadily moving deeper and deeper into much more serious shutdowns.  And a next door neighbor informed us that a member of their walking club is infected.  It is here, and it is close.

So, indeed, it has been quite a month of madness, a steadily increasing shutdown and isolation going far beyond what I at least could foresee at the beginning of the month, and I think we were more up on this than lots of people.  The world has changed, and it will probably not go back again fully to what it was before this hit.

And to all of you, on the even of April Fool's Day, take care and keep washing those hands.

Barkley Rosser


Anonymous said...

Barkley, there is nearly 190,000 cases of Coronavirus in the US now (10pm 1st April 2020 AEST). The latest official figures can be found here:

The US has a very low per capita rate of testing - something like 0.2%. I expect this situation is changing very quickly.
Brenda Rosser (Australia)

Anonymous said...

I flew from Kalgoorlie to Melbourne, and then onto Launceston on 31st January. Melbourne airport was full of people wearing masks and I felt quite anxious about the fact that I wasn't wearing one. At the time an extraordinary heat wave was occurring across south east Australia and the building was uncomfortably hot. On that day only two cases of the virus were reported in Victoria.

By the 10th February Australia was one of 72 other countries that had imposed coronavirus travel restrictions. At that time only 360 people outside of China had the virus. All returning citizens from China had to self-quarantine for 14 days.

A month later (28th February 2020) the Australian Federal Health Minister advised Australians to "Go down to the Chinese restaurant, go out to the football or the Grand Prix or the netball..."

On 13th March a National Cabinet (akin to a war cabinet) was created. This is the first time such a cabinet has been proclaimed since World War 11. It announced that gatherings of more than 500 people were to be cancelled from 15th March and that ALL overseas travellers returning to Australia had to self isolate for 14 days.

The measures continued to step up. Now all Australians are limited to gatherings of no more than two people in public and private with some (little) flexibility for weddings, funerals. There are now only 4 reasons for Australians to leave their houses: Shopping for essentials, medical or compassionate needs, exercise and work or education.

This experience is unprecedented in my lifetime (65 years). I'm worried. Predictions are that the remarkable changes will only afford more time and that about 60% of the population could acquire this virus. Many of my siblings are struggling already with health issues. May we all be blessed with serenity, courage and wisdom at this time.
Brenda R

Anonymous said...

Really nice accounts from Barkley and Brenda Rosser.

run75441 said...


3000 cases is meant to be 3000 deaths, yes?


rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Bill H,

Correct. Will fix it and some other bloopers. Thanks for catching that.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...


My nephew Ales's wife Karen, whom I am pretty sure you met, and who is Australian, had to go home to Darwin because her mother died (not of the virus). She left Alex behind with their new baby, Rose, in Santa Clara, CA. Karen only got back fairly recently, and I and others were worried about her being able to, but glad she made it.

Anonymous said...

Brenda Rosser, do go on describing life about you in Australia at this time when possible. I would so like to learn more.

Anonymous said...

Barkley Rosser worte an indictment of Secretary Pompeo, with which I agree. A comment followed pointing out that Pompeo was a reflection of President Trump and I wanted to agree with that comment as well. We have a terribly dangerous president and secretary of state, looking to international affairs.

run75441 said...


We have hit >5,000 deaths (~27% increase) as of yesterday evening Friday. This will probably come in waves as states which have shut down earlier will slow and those such as Florida which has shut down only as of yesterday (Wednesday) will experience higher increase velocity. What a way to condemn your constituency by touting individuality over community. There are still 16 states which remain open to some degree (business, etc.) and Nebraska 100%.

As NDd points out, the way to get ahead of the curve is to test more and then follow through with isolation, tracing contacts, and shut downs. The US is sadly behind on testing and our numbers accounted for are more than likely too low. NDd suggested ~ 1 million dead by month end April. It could be possible as some states have not reached the top of their curve and other states such as Florida just shut down. Some states are partially open. Nebraska is still mostly open. This epidemic will come in waves.

R naught is believed to be 2.3 and CFR has yet to be determined due to timing and inaccuracy. In comparison, Measles has an R naught of ~15 but the CFR (Case Fatality Rate) is low.

There are two strains of this virus, one weaker than the other. There is no reason it could not mutate again. This is going to be more like a flu bug and you could contract it again and perhaps yearly. I keep hoping Joel will comment on this as he is the microbiologist amongst us who teaches at a medical research institute.

Be safe.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

I'm sorry to hear of Karen's loss and relieved to know that she made it back to California safely.

Western Australia will be closing off its border on Sunday except for vital service employees, and compassionate grounds. I'm worried about my son's health and fear that if I need to return to Kalgoorlie (and obtain an exemption to do so) the airfares now could be very costly. Reports tonight mentioned the plight of international backpackers still stranded in Australia who face flight costs of approximately $24,000 to return to Europe.

The Western Australian Chief Health Officer warned yesterday that If WA maintained just nine new cases each day, in the long term, "the curve" would likely become too flat and the length of time the state would need to spend under tough restrictions would be untenable. Dr Robertson did not rule out the possibility some of those restrictions would need to be relaxed in coming months if WA maintained very low rates of new cases.

Utltimately most (if not all) of us are expected to come down with the virus eventually. We're all just prepping for the battle ahead.

It's is interesting that most of the early cases in Australia have derived from America (not China, not Europe) and the cruise ships.

The Tasmanian economy has become very dependent upon visiting cruise ships visting the ports of Devonport, Burnie and Hobart. A friend of mine volunteers to greet and advise the overseas tourists. She frequently comes down with one bug or another. I was urging her to stop but she takes a fatalistic view on things, and I could not persuade her. Fortunately the State Premier banned the ships the following day.
Brenda Rosser

Anonymous said...

Went to the Family drive in Stephen City on 3/13 (figured being in the car was safe) - it was closed the following week. Did not get a haircut, but should have!

Anonymous said...

Brenda Rosser:

Ultimately most (if not all) of us are expected to come down with the virus eventually....

[ Please explain when possible why this expectation should be so. I do not understand the expectation, and hope this will not be so. Would this expectation hold for Korea or Japan as well? ]

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...


Stephen City, Virginia? If so, you are neaarby me, less than an hour drive.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

Anonymous, well it is interesting that the Western Australian Government and many other entities believe that the Covid19 virus will spread to about 60% of the global population.

Perhaps the only thing that could stop this is an effective vaccine. Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch believes that 40 to 70% of people around the world will be infected within the coming year. From all reports this is not enough time to develop an effective vaccine.

Dr Harvey Fineberg (chairman of a committee with the National Academy of Sciences in the US) warned the White House that the virus is spread from normal breathing and talking. It spreads when people simply move about in a room and gets suspended in the air hen doctors and nurses remove protective gear. Even when floors are cleaned.

In addition to this, the virus already has several global mutations and I don't know exactly how a vaccine will deal with these viral changes.

ilsm said...

My SW engineer son (advanced degree in Organic Chem; pay better in SW!!), reports there are at least three strains, roughly regional: North America, Europe and Asia. He lives outside NYC and has seen early 'reports' of some effectiveness with chloroquine and its cousin malaria drug.

There is suggestion that chloroquine and remdesivir (Gilead, trails commencing is US, China 'trials' early report soon) be used by healthy medics to prevent or weaken infection.

WHO is sponsoring trials on chloroquine, remdesivir and two other promising treatments.

The US' Moderna developed vaccine, hopefully, would cover the North America strain.

There are a number of techniques being pursued to prevent and or treat the virus in expectation of a vaccine.

Practice social distancing and stay home.