On Thursday March 19th, California governor Gavin Newsom issued a statewide order for all residents to “stay at home” because of the coronavirus outbreak. An article on CNBC written by Weizhen Tan and Riya Bhattacharjee summarize Newson’s reasoning as follows:
California estimates that more than half of the state — 25.5 million people — will get the new coronavirus over the next eight weeks, according to a letter sent by Gov. Gavin Newsom to U.S. President Donald Trump.
“In the last 24 hours, we had 126 new COVID-19 cases, a 21 percent increase. In some parts of our state, our case rate is doubling every four days,” Newsom wrote in a letter dated Wednesday. Newsom asked Trump to dispatch the USNS Mercy Hospital Ship to the Port of Los Angeles through Sept. 1 to help with the influx of expected cases.
At Thursday’s press conference, Newsom said, “We believe the virus will impact about 56% of California’s population … You do the math, that’s a particularly large number … We believe with a 20% hospitalization rate, that’s about 19,543 people that would need to be hospitalized – above the existing capacity of our system.” (My italics)
“We have 416 hospitals in CA, but within the hospital system we have a capacity to surge beyond the 78,000 currently staffed beds by an additional 10,000.”
I certainly approve of “social distancing” as a means to curtail the spread of contagion. In fact, the last time I went to the gym was on March 9th and I haven’t gone anywhere other than to buy groceries (and toilet paper) in the past two weeks.
I believe that a healthy dose of fear is not a bad thing, but I draw the line at anything that is designed to produce rampant panic.
I have been a CPA for almost 53 years, and I am cynical enough to know that numbers can be manipulated to say almost anything. As an aside here’s a useful tip. If you are ever looking to hire an accountant, ask each applicant “How much is 1+1?”. If they answer”2”, send them packing. The person you want will respond “How much do you want it to be?”
I also learned at an early age to have a great respect for decimal points. A misplaced decimal point can literally kill you. Imagine if your doctor prescribes a medication dosage of 3.6mg. pills and the pharmacist gives you 36mg. pills by mistake.
Around 1968, as a newly minted professional accountant, I was at a client‘s office where the controller had just taken delivery of a Wang 320 LED desktop calculator that cost several thousand dollars. He offered to demonstrate it to me. While I stood in awe in front of his desk, he phoned his bank in order to buy $1,000 in pesos to cover the cost of an upcoming vacation. He asked the manager for the exchange rate, punched a few numbers into the new machine, and placed his order. A few minutes later, the manager called to confirm whether the controller really wanted to purchase $100,000 in pesos!
I have read of cases where the published results of scientific experiments were proven to be erroneous because of a misplaced decimal point.
So, let’s look at Newsom’s numbers.
I have been following the progression of the coronavirus internationally on a website called Worldometers.info. (Now that the NBA season has been postponed and I can no longer follow team standings, I need another focus.)
Below are the statistics for the 10 countries with the most cases as of Saturday morning, March 21st. Please pay special attention to the last column that shows the number of cases per million inhabitants. Of all these 10 countries, the worst is Italy with 778 cases per million. The total number of cases worldwide is currently estimated by Worldometers at about 287,000.
Let’s assume that California eventually incurs 1,000 cases per million. Based on an estimated population of 40 Million, this produces 40 x 1,000 = 40,000 cases. This would be about half the number of cases currently in China (population 1.4 BILLION) where the number of new cases is dropping quickly.
Newsom estimates that about 56% of California’s inhabitants will be affected. 56% of 40 million equals 22.4 million – not far off from his calculation of 25.5 million cases. (Please see the second paragraph of this article)- but this number is nowhere close to 40,000!
In asking for help from President Trump (who dearly loves the State of California-not), Newsom estimates that 20% of cases will require hospitalization and that there are presently only 78,000 beds available, although another 10,000 could be added. Based on a potential capacity of 88,000 beds, Newsom estimates a shortage of 19,543. In other words, the total number of beds required is 88,000 + 19,543, or 107,543.
Now, we can calculate the total number of TOTAL potential cases using middle school algebra:
Let “X’”= the total number of potential cases of coronavirus in California
20% of “X” (the number requiring hospitalization) = 107,543
Therefore “X” = 107,543 divided by .20 = 537,515.
So, whether we are potentially dealing with 40,000 cases or 537,000 cases, it sure ain’t 25.5 million.
Based on the numbers recorded in China and the steps now being taken to reduce the spread of contagion, it seems to me that 40,000 (1,000 cases per million people) is the more likely ceiling. The table above shows the current level in the U.S. (population 330 million) at “only” 67 cases per million (330 x 67 =22,110). California’s total is currently 1,273 (less than 32 cases per million people) while New York has 10,356. The majority of cases are located in densely populated areas and healthcare professionals, as a group, face the greatest risk of infection.
In conclusion, I must tell you that, having lived most of my life in Canada ,(I am a dual citizen) I have no contacts to speak of in the U.S. As such, I cannot independently verify my conclusions. I am counting on you, the reader, to provide feedback.
If you concur with my analysis and have access to the mainstream media (CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg, Washington Post, NY Times, LA Times etc.) please forward this article. It would certainly help if you can reach politicians at the Federal and state levels.
First, there was Trump who really did us all a great disservice by sweeping the coronavirus problem under the Oval Office carpet. Now, while the mitigating steps being taken by many states, including California, are really warranted — as painful as they may be – we should not be exposed to outright fear mongering.