Due to the very limited testing across the country (entirely the fault of President Trump), official tallies of verified COVID-19 cases undoubtedly represent only a small fraction of the actual numbers. Arizona is dead last in per-capita testing in the nation, and has not even attempted contact tracing or active screening for infections or antibodies. For every verified case there could be dozens or hundreds of cases that are sub-clinical, sub-critical, incubating, and all the while spreading, at an exponential rate.
The actual extent of the epidemic is like a vast, and swiftly growing, invisible mass below the water line. In the official numbers of verified cases, we see only the very tip of the mass and assume that is the disease. Dead wrong. Those numbers in the media are merely the tip of an epidemic iceberg. And we’re steaming straight toward it, full speed ahead.
Arizona’s governor has thus far refused to take this pandemic seriously and has not ordered citizens to shelter in place, despite elected officials’ and health experts’ urgings. Such an order early in the outbreak is literally the difference between hundreds, or thousands of cases, and an infection rate of up to 70% of the population: That’s millions of infections. In Arizona alone. That’s 100,000 deaths, or more. In Arizona alone.
Ducey must act. Now.
This is not alarmism, nor a conspiracy to take down the economy, this is simply what epidemiological science projects. Failure to take this outbreak seriously will cost lives: a hell of a lot of them.
Dr. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has already gone on record that we are currently on track to have millions of infections and between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths in the United Sates due to COVID-19, as things now stand. Dr. Fauci and his team must be making some assumptions to project numbers that low. He is likely assuming that in short order all states will follow those states with the earliest outbreaks and institute “shelter at home” orders to their populations. If he weren’t making such an assumption, then the predictive models indicate that a novel virus like COVID-19 will infect a large percentage of the whole population, with between 1 and 2 million deaths expected.
Consider that up to 11 million Americans are at risk of serious adverse consequences, including hospitalization and death, if infected by COVID-19 because of underlying health conditions and age. We don’t have the hospital capacity to handle that many serious cases. The death rate of an unmitigated epidemic could thus easily be much higher than even the 1 or 2 million statistically indicated by death rates in populations thus far affected. People will be dying in their homes for lack of medical care, en masse.
Luckily, we have non-pharmaceutical interventions that can bring down the infection rate markedly, including social distancing measures, and “shelter in place” orders. Unfortunately, it requires political leadership to make those interventions work. Unfortunately, wise leadership is not an evenly allocated resource. We in Arizona (not to mention our execrable President) have been unlucky in this regard, thus far. Local leaders, like many of our mayors, have been far more pro-active than has statewide leadership. Doug Ducey could change that tomorrow and save thousands of lives by doing so.