I made the mistake of saying something non-snarky about COVID-19 on Twitter this morning:
Collective action is hard. It’s Seattle’s moment to decide the path ahead.
This seems straightforward: our behavior, right now, can meaningfully alter outcomes in the Seattle metropolitan region. I’m impressed with the measures King County public health has taken so far, including yesterday’s request that all employees who can work from home should work from home. I was happy to see Microsoft and others in the tech community quickly follow suit.
My statement also came with a retweet of Scott Gottlieb arguing that we need to go further. This led to a tart reaction from a fellow traveller in the local tech community:
People need to stop confusing “first US outbreak” with “only fucking place we are testing because we said fuck waiting for those test kits”
There are several things to tease apart here.
First: yes, Seattle has a better grasp on its situation than probably any other region in the US because smart researchers in our area effectively worked around the CDC. We’re apparently both lucky and good.
Second: as of relatively recently, we are not the only region in the US to test for the new coronavirus. Community spread has been detected in CA, OR, NY, NJ, RI, and NC. I don’t know the status of testing across the US. Based on news reports, it sounds like it’s vastly too little. But it’s also not zero.
Third: we have more confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Washington State than anywhere else. Even given lack of testing, it seems unlikely that 10 deaths have been missed in some other region. As a result, I think it’s fair to assume that while there are plenty of undetected infections across the states, Seattle (and perhaps the Bay Area) are further along than most. (It also won’t be surprising if a major metro, like New York or Houston, spikes beyond us sooner rather than later.)
Finally: at least one Twitter reply described Gottlieb’s thread as “extremely dangerous”. I suspect we read it quite differently. I read it as an argument that Seattle should seek assistance from the federal government, and that the federal government should tie such assistance to the enactment of even sharper measures to curtail the spread of the disease. Gottlieb appears to argue that Seattle should go first because, by luck of the draw, all eyes are on us. This all seems sensible to me and I generally agree with it. On the other hand, if Gottlieb intended to suggest that the federal government should seize control of public health response in the Seattle region, or that Seattle is the only region for which measures must be taken… well, no, I wouldn’t agree with that at all.