Coronavirus cases reach 45,000. But it did not come from a weapons lab, and yes, we know that

BEIJING, CHINA - FEBRUARY 11: A Chinese couple wear plastic coats and protective masks as they shop for groceries at a supermarket on February 11, 2020 in Beijing, China. The number of cases of a deadly new coronavirus rose to more than 42000 in mainland China Tuesday, days after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a global public health emergency. China continued to lock down the city of Wuhan in an effort to contain the spread of the pneumonia-like disease which medicals experts have confirmed can be passed from human to human. In an unprecedented move, Chinese authorities have put travel restrictions on the city which is the epicentre of the virus and municipalities in other parts of the country affecting tens of millions of people. The number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to over 1000 on Tuesday, mostly in Hubei province, and cases have been reported in other countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, India, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and several others. The World Health Organization has warned all governments to be on alert and screening has been stepped up at airports around the world. Some countries, including the United States, have put restrictions on Chinese travellers entering and advised their citizens against travel to China. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Grocery shopping in Beijing on Feb. 11.  GettyImages

The biggest news this morning might be that 2019 novel coronavirus at last has an official name. But we’ll get to that. First, some official nonsense: On Tuesday night, national security adviser Robert O’Brien appeared at an event held by the Atlantic Council think tank, at which he was asked about a conspiracy theory that’s been spread by, among others, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton. That theory, to use the term very loosely, is that the 2019 novel coronavirus had its origin in a Chinese bioweapons lab. There are two important points to bear in mind here: One, Cotton is an idiot who is passing along not just a baseless conspiracy theory, but one that breeds needless fear and xenophobia. Two, the full genome of 2019-nCoV was sequenced weeks ago; its similarities to other beta coronaviruses have been studied; and scientists are confident that it came from a wild host—likely a bat (sorry, bats, I love you, but you are the source of the two most closely related beta coronaviruses).

So, of course, O’Brien should have made it clear that Cotton’s “Chinese laboratory” story was ridiculous, insulting, and openly dangerous. He did not. Instead, O’Brien called Cotton “a very smart, handsome, intelligent senator,” and said of the bioweapons claim, “I’ve seen those reports, and Twitter and the Internet are alive with them. I don’t have any information on that one way or the other, so we just don’t know.”

Except he should have that information. This is what happens when the National Security Council is reduced to a group of toadies without the expertise to do the job the nation requires.

Are you ready? The official name of the 2019 novel coronavirus is … COVID-19. Which stands for “coronavirus disease 19.” This is marginally better that the clumsy 2019-nCoV, but it’s a long way from SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) or MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). MERS in particular encodes both where the disease first emerged and its principle line of attack. That COVID-19 is not CHERS or WERS or something similar is somewhat frustrating, as it absolutely is a beta coronavirus that emerged in central China and affects the respiratory system. A name more like MERS would help signal the close relationship of this virus to others.

But in assigning this name, the World Health Organization mentioned concerns that a name that incorporated the virus’ initial location might be “stigmatizing,” which seems to suggest that concerns about crackpot theories and xenophobic nonsense like that spread by Cotton and O’Brien were causing the use of a less descriptive name. So you can also thank them for that. In any case, I’ll start using COVID-19 tomorrow, when I haven’t already forgotten to change all the charts. What’s in a name? Absolutely minimal information, because our White House is full of scientifically ignorant racists, that’s what.

As you’re sitting down to your morning toast and coffee (like any civilized human—don’t get me started on tea), you may have noticed that all the AM shows this week seem to have discovered that there’s a virus and it’s horrible. But please try to ignore the latest panicky misinformation delivered by a meteorologist. Get your epidemiology where you should … from an aging geologist.

In any case, this is another day when it seems we might be able to let our collective breath out … just … a … bit:

2019 nCoV: Total cases

And to make that even more obvious:

2019 nCoV: Cases by day

The incidence of new cases is now at its lowest value in a week. If the numbers coming out of Hubei province are accurate—and I personally have no way of knowing—then the actions that have been taken to isolate confirmed cases seem to have been effective in slowing the growth of the disease. With so many active cases still on hand, and better than 8,000 cases listed as severe or critical, it’s highly doubtful that all patients are getting the level of care that’s necessary. But if the incidence could drop at this rate for just another day or two, we might actually reach the point where more people are recovering than are getting newly sick, and the number of active cases would actually start to shrink. At the moment, it’s important to remember that, even if the number of confirmed cases per day is dropping, the pressure on healthcare workers in the epicenter is still growing. Those healthcare workers who are not themselves infected still have to be exhausted.

Novel Coronavirus Outcomes
Recovered Died
China 4,740 (+691) 1,115 (+106)
Outside 54 (+6) 1(-)

Within China, 8,230 cases are currently listed as serious or critical. Outside China, 12 are listed as serious.

For the third day running, practically every new case outside China can be found on the decks of the seriously un-fun cruise ship, the Diamond Princess. The Diamond Princess may have value as a floating lab, but I feel terrible for everyone trapped aboard—including 24 American tourists who have been confirmed to be infected.

Since I went through the trouble of creating all those mortality charts on Tuesday, let’s see how those look in an update.

2019-nCoV: Deaths vs. recoveries

I realized last night as I was starting to put together this update that the time when some recovery data appears lags the initial reports of new confirmed cases and deaths. So the values on this chart have changed. Like all the numbers now, they’re essentially the best I had when I put the post together, and I will adjust them in the future. But for that reason, it’s best to be a bit suspicious of the recovered values for the last day. For example, on Tuesday another 300 reports of recoveries came in after the numbers were posted, making that day seem a bit less discouraging.

2019-nCoV: deaths/deaths + recoveries

As on past days, this outcome mortality value continues to trend lower. When all the cases are resolved, it should be quite a bit lower than the value reflected at the moment. Hopefully we’ll start to see some steep increases in recoveries in the next few days, mirroring the rise in new cases that started around the end of January. The recovery period seems to be averaging between 10 and 14 days.

2019-nCoV: Case Fatality Rate

As before, this is the more official value. This number is continuing to trend slightly upward, based almost entirely on deaths within Hubei province. Again, that likely reflects just how much the system in that area is stressed at handling 40,000 patients that need to be kept in isolation, with over 8,000 of them in critical condition. On Tuesday evening, doctors in Hubei province were making a desperate call for additional oxygen cylinders, noting that—as predicted —many patients need respiratory assistance. Outside of that core region, outcomes continue to be an order of magnitude more favorable.


World Health Organization Situation Reports

World Health Organization Coronavirus Dashboard

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Dashboard

Worldometer Coronavirus site

BNO News Coronavirus update site

South China Morning Post


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