The Imperial College of London recently published a very sobering paper modeling the progression of the coronavirus pandemic under varying degrees of social distancing. Bill Gates chimed in on his recent Reddit AMA to say that he thought the model’s underlying assumptions were too pessimistic based on more recent data from China; Gates’ own Institute for Disease Modeling is working on updated models based on the latest data, from which we will learn more soon. Trevor Bedford showed optimism in a different direction, suggesting that we should immediately launch the infectious disease equivalent of the Apollo Program. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation appears to be heavily investing in this direction.

Regardless of the specifics, the “good” outcomes from the best projections our science can give us today are still calamitous. And that’s if our federal government gets its act together. Our government should long ago have:

  • Used emergency powers to demand the production of PPE and lifesaving medical equipment like ventilators
  • Ramped up production of COVID-19 test kits to astronomical scale and clarified the decision-making for its distribution
  • Activated the National Guard and erected temporary triage and treatment centers in key geographies
  • Enacted many trillions of thoughtful economic stimulus
  • Clearly messaged the danger of the moment and the need for everyone to strongly distance themselves

That’s at the very least! The one ray of hope right now is the evidence that China and South Korea have substantially beaten back COVID-19 through aggressive testing and shoe leather contract tracing and quarantines. At the moment I see little reason to hope that, when we get past the next 8-12 weeks, we will be in a position to do anything like the same. And, because of that, more people will die.