Nobody Has ‘Prevailed’ Over Coronavirus. This Is Now A War Of Attrition

The virus has other ideas. 

Donald Trump this week declared that the US has “prevailed” in the fight against COVID-19.

The virus itself has other ideas.

On Monday evening, just before the president convened a press conference that ultimately went awry, a White House memo mandated most officials wear masks while in the West Wing. The move underscores concerns in the wake of a scare that forced the nation’s top health officials, as well as the vice president, into various states of self-isolation.

Global confirmed cases are now nearly 4.2 million. The death toll is approaching 290,000. 80,684 of those fatalities are in the US. Russia, after surpassing Italy on Monday, now has more confirmed cases than Spain, and the second most globally.

Worryingly, there are new cases in Wuhan, where all ~11 million residents will now be tested. The new infections are the first since the city’s lockdown was lifted.

The number of cases linked to an outbreak in Seoul nightclubs now exceeds 100.

Those latter two developments (new infections in Wuhan and a potential second wave in South Korea) make clear the perils of “normalizing” economic and leisure activity. Almost all experts expect the US to see at least an uptick in infection rates as states reopen.

Signs of life are showing up in Europe, with electricity demand rising to the highest in more than a month in France. Only the UK is still seeing falling consumption on a weekly basis.

While there may, in fact, be a figurative and literal light at the end of this tunnel, it is far too early for anyone (including and especially Donald Trump) to declare that humanity has “prevailed” over COVID-19.

Cases in the US are approaching 1.4 million. Do not let it be lost on you that it wasn’t all that long ago when the White House was hewing to a set of talking points that tacitly suggested US cases could top out below 20 – that’s twenty.

The death toll stateside clearly suggests models which tipped between 100,000 and 200,000 fatalities in the first wave will prove correct, albeit with the low-end looking far more likely than the high-end.

The notion that this is anything other than a tragedy is misguided at best, and cruel at worst. It’s not clear that anything has been “won” or, really, that anything has even been learned, other than that the world is woefully unprepared for pandemics, something scientists have long fretted over.

This is now a war of attrition with an invisible foe, which makes it not that much different from Vietnam and post-Saddam Iraq.

And speaking of that, below is an updated visual which gives you some context for the scope of this national tragedy.

There’s quite a ways to go before we catch the Spanish Flu, but the Civil War is well within the realm of possibilities assuming a second wave.

Again: Nothing about this shouts “we have prevailed”, and you can be sure that comparisons to George W. Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech will be enshrined in thousands of macabre memes in the event things take another turn for the worse.


16 comments on “Nobody Has ‘Prevailed’ Over Coronavirus. This Is Now A War Of Attrition

  1. mfn says:

    FWIW, the “fatalities-only” number for the Civil War is misleading. If we’re going to count deaths caused by a biological agent (Sars-CoV-2), then, in the case of the Civil War, we should count deaths — another 500,000 or so — caused by battlefield- and conflict-related disease.


  2. calh0025 says:

    If the total death toll from Covid 19/20/21 is under 1 million I will be surprised. I suspect we will not be out of the woods at the end of 21 but there is a good chance some sort of herd immunity arises or those least susceptible begin to make up most of the active population.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Vietnam: an effective posture

  4. If you are locked in a fantasy of your own infallibility then it is easy to ‘prevail’ over any calamity without learning a thing including bankruptcy. I think we should look to how he handled bankruptcy preparations when faced so many times with calamity. No on is coming to bail him out this time. Other times he rode it into the ground. Today we are his roller coaster we are being rode into the ground.

  5. jyl says:

    2000 deaths/day, if sustained for the rest of the year, implies about 550,000 deaths in 2020 – that’s for the US. I suspect likely is in the 750K-1MM range.

  6. V. M. Smith says:

    I see these ridiculous arguments like…we have 140,000 deaths every year from medical errors, and we don’t shut the economy over that.

    No knucklehead, because deaths from medical errors are neither contagious nor multiplicative. But imagine if one of your office mates died on the operating table from a medical error, and just by dint of that you — along with two or three other people in the office — now had a non-trivial probability of being hospitalized or dying from something completely random within the next several weeks.

    I swear, this virus is exposing some real fault lines in society related to information literacy and critical thinking.

  7. Mr. Lucky says:

    The more I see the daily news and its growing obsession with COVID “body counts,” the more it takes me back to the nightly news during the Viet Nam era when we would get these gory details of the death and destruction we were supposedly heaping on the Vietnamese people (aka “gooks”), film at 11. We didn’t really know the truth about the numbers then, any more than we do about the numbers now. We need to get on with managing a sensible, balanced, response to the problem, one which doesn’t threaten the lives of a list of GOP/Trump “enemies.”

    A few years ago I spent three weeks in the hospital after having my innards trimmed and detailed. During the time I was there I was subjected to one serious medical mistake every day. Drug overdoses, being given the wrong drug, given dangerously bad wound care, etc. Had I not been awake and alert enough to keep an eye on my keepers I could easily have died on any one of several days. If you can, stay the hell out of the “system” folks. It’s not safe enough to trust.

  8. Emptynester says:

    Even if a substantial portion of the population returns/wants to return to pre-virus social interaction and economic behavior (both supply and demand side), there are enough people who fear or are at risk of death or permanent lung damage to themselves, to friends and family or to mankind to derail the current “pipe dream” of a recovered economy in the short time period being discussed.

    For a significant enough portion of the US population, uncertainty over additional future viral waves and lack of an effective vaccine will result in cash conservation/higher savings, lower level of household formations, and higher unemployment, among other deflationary behavior. Spending will not return to pre-virus levels for this group for a longer time than people think (IMHO).

    Meanwhile, public and private companies taking on even more debt will reduce cash flow, profits and distributions. Also, commercial office real estate is in trouble because office based workers prefer working, at least part of the time, from home. Space wise, it is more efficient and cheaper for office workers use their home space to work, so companies are and will continue to renegotiate lease amendments and renewals for less space. The extent of these 2 problems has not yet surfaced.

    For “old school” investors such as myself, earnings matter and so I am waiting to see how this shakes out. I do not mind investing with a significant tail wind of “Don’t fight the Fed”, but I require more clarity on earnings before I jump back in.

    • V. M. Smith says:

      For “old school” investors such as myself, earnings matter and so I am waiting to see how this shakes out. I do not mind investing with a significant tail wind of “Don’t fight the Fed”, but I require more clarity on earnings before I jump back in.

      Warren Buffett is famous for saying that you should know your circle of competence and stay inside it.

      For years I viewed that as understanding companies or sectors or whatever. But I have come to realize that it also includes market conditions, and my circle of competence does not include a stock market that is so incredibly out of sync with the underlying economy and so totally driven by central bank actions.

      • Emptynester says:

        V.M. I do not consider myself competent in macro economic issues, but I am working on it because investing without that knowledge in today’s equity markets would be irresponsible.
        I must say again how appreciative I am of Prof. H. – I have and continue to learn so much!

    • Bill W. says:

      Well said. I know this 70 year old is not having a lot of fun these days, but is not willing to take on a lot of personal risk beyond having the local grocery worker load my on line order into the trunk of my car when I pop it for him. I can only extrapolate that out to the broad population and adjust for the fools demonstrating for their freedom to get infected. When this is over, we have to re-introduce a course called “Civics” into the high school curriculum.

      H – your work is an island of clarity and sanity in the world we live in.

  9. If there’s a second wave in the fall I assume the idiot won’t get re-elected. (Every day Trump digs his hole a little deeper. I’m constantly amazed at this. And every day Biden’s lead increases with almost no effort.) Assuming Biden gets in and the Democrats retake the Senate, the new leaders hopefully will take whatever steps are required to end this madness and needless death among Americans. Including re-establishing an office for future pandemic planning and readiness.

    I too applaud H and dearly hope you remain well.

  10. Will Smith says:

    The joke will really be on trump if the unknown respiratory deaths in Virginia back in June 2019 turnout to be caused by a corona mutation

  11. joesailboat says:

    Lance Roberts at Seeking Alpha makes a simple case about S&P valuations today. A rosey view being 2510. My question; has the FED added 15% of value.
    On the political front coming from this NYstreet kid view….. Biden is hiding and will come out when Everyman comes out. Empathy. Thats when Rudy shows up. Rudy and Trump both know that Gotti went down after the firework show got shut down. Stock market are Trumps fireworks. It is the only thing slowing down the attack on China.
    The Guiliani/Dinkins race had the corrupt son AND riots and a law and order angle. Thats Mitches job to set up.
    I have run this by the old farts at the cigar store both D and R. They giggle and say probably.
    Not much in the way of conspiracy theory, just looking at what some old dogs are up to.

    Suffolk County,NY has consistently been 5 in deaths, Los Angeles took the 5 spot for a couple of days. 2 hospitals in the county are dedicated to Covid. Good Samaritan, my local, being one. Poor people, mostly Hispanic, a generation of hard working men and woman who have spent their entire adult life working and contributing to the U.S. economy but always living in cramped dwellings. Poor. Hard working,law abiding poor. Politics matter right now.

    Mr. Roberts also compared past recessions to valuation as such. ~2001 .com (pyramid scheme in the emperor’s new clothes) S&P 1980. 08/09 S&P 1926.
    Like Mr. H asks, Is the world really ending? The answer is always the same. Not yet. Do I buy? sell? or go sailing.

    Viruses are amazing. Some postulate that we are only a part of their genetic journey. Not attacking our young is so very clever. Obviously going sailing.

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