Coronavirus Episode 10: How Long Will the Shutdown Last?
This week, more and more states shut down all non-essential businesses. Many small businesses are struggling and the ripple effect of shutting down a large stretch of the economy will last for quite some time. So how long will this lockdown last? Will it be 15 days? Longer? How much longer? We can use data from China and Italy to answer that question.
Our 15 Day Shutdown
Right now, we’ve been told that we need to shut down for 15 days. However, every state is issuing slightly different orders (1). Some closed their schools early, some later. Some of our states closed businesses before others.
Some states are hinting that the shut down may last longer. If you read between the lines, some orders or news stories say weeks, others months. However, to business owners and employees alike, that little detail of weeks or months is a very BIG deal.
The Italy Data
First, pray for those in Italy. However, Italy is probably a good model for looking at the short-term effects of a shutdown on new cases. Here is their data:
Italy closed it all down about 8 days ago. In fact, their country-wide order was more severe than ours is right now as a country. That’s because the US has states which are the ones with the powers to quarantine or give orders to close businesses. However, let’s say that our country gets to the same place in the next day or two.
Note that since country-wide shutdown measures have been in place, Italy has not yet reached its peak in cases in 8 days. So that doesn’t bode well for our 15-day shutdown.
The China Data
China is a tough one to use as a model. First, there’s still some distrust of whether the data they’re reporting is accurate. When the central propaganda department of the Chinese communist party puts out a book about China’s successes against the coronavirus, titled “A Battle Against Epidemic: China Combating COVID-19 in 2020″, it doesn’t inspire confidence (2). So let’s dig in to find out more.
The first cases in Wuhan of unknown viral pneumonia were on December 31st, 2019 and their first death was on Jan 11th (3). At that time there were “dozens of cases”. However, the graph below from Worldmeter doesn’t list cases that early, in fact it begins in late January. The Johns Hopkins resource center reports similar data (4). Wuhan, the source of the outbreak, was closed down on January, 23rd.
Note that China began shutdown measures in Wuhan when THEIR report of cases to the outside world was small, but we really don’t know that to be true. They certainly could have had hundreds of cases earlier. However, if we use the data we have, it took them 8 weeks to get to the point where their economy was partially back up and running. In addition, that’s the beginning of starting back up, as restaurants are still required to operate at 50% capacity.
Regrettably, other countries like Germany (which just shut down) or South Korea, which has a totally different and more aggressive model, don’t apply to the US. Hence all we really have are these two.
So What’s the Bottom Line?
Here’s what I can surmise:
- We were likely not as efficient as China in curbing the spread of the virus. That makes sense as China has a central state authority. In addition, China has dealt with multiple SARS outbreaks before.
- We imposed our shutdown at about the same time or less quickly than Italy. At the time of their shut down, Italy had about 2,500 cases. The US is about 5 and a half times the size of Italy. If you assume our shutdown date as today, we have about 20K cases. If you scale Italy to the US, they shut down at the US equivalent of about 14,ooo cases. However, comparing these two is tough, as parts of the US shut down earlier. In addition, the US has been poor so far at coronavirus testing.
So my best-educated guess is that we’re looking at about a 2-3 month shutdown period. We’ll also know more in the next few weeks. If Italy can plateau out in the next week, that may mean our shut down will be shorter.
What Could Shorten Our Shutdown?
There could be things that make our shutdown shorter. For example, we may benefit from some of the drugs that have been tried in China. Scientists are working hard to create and scale SARS-CoV-2 antibodies for healthcare workers to use. We’re also entering the months where respiratory virus are less efficient at spreading.
The upshot? On the short side, I would expect 2 months of shut down. On the longer side, 3 months or more. The idea that this is just going to be 15 days is NOT supported by the data we have right now.
(1) American Enterprise Institute. COVID-19 Action Tracker. https://www.aei.org/covid-2019-action-tracker/ Accessed 3/21/20.
(2) LosAngeles Times. As Beijing claims credit for beating coronavirus, many Chinese are outraged: ‘Fake! It’s all fake!’ https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-03-09/china-boasts-abroad-of-victory-over-coronavirus-as-quarantine-hotel-collapses-and-domestic-anger-simmers Accessed 3/21/20.
(3) New York Times. A Timeline of the Coronavirus. https://www.nytimes.com/article/coronavirus-timeline.html. Accessed 3/21/20.
(4) Johns Hopkins University. Coronavirus Resource Center. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html Access 3/21/20.