Just how has the U.S. performed in its response to Covid-19 – the sometimes deadly disease caused by the newly found coronavirus? And will spring offer any relief? TheStreet asked Dr. David N. Fisman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto, in an exchange by email over the weekend. Dr. Fisman's university is currently working on a model for Covid-19 for Canadian populations and is now sharing the code with other nations such as Ireland. The project's aim is to help people make "good choices" about how to slow the epidemic that has now caused nearly 3,300 known infections in the U.S. -- with nearly 730 in New York alone -- and more than 60 deaths across the county.
TheStreet: In the U.S. over the past few days we keep hearing town officials, businesses and other leaders of organizations say, "this is a rapidly changing situation." But it really seems like this was forecast now for a while -- Wuhan, Iran, South Korea, Italy. Do you think this was more a lack of planning and leadership?
Dr. Fisman: Yeah. People have had two months to pay attention and learn from places that shut this down -- Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore -- and places that have been tragic -- Italy, Iran, likely Spain and France to follow. Failure of leadership, failure of imagination, lack of understanding, denial? All of the above? I don't know.
TheStreet: Many are warning that what's happening in Italy -- with the hospitals becoming overwhelmed -- could happen elsewhere, such as in the U.S. if dramatic action is not taken. Do you agree?
Dr. Fisman: Yes.
TheStreet: In the United States, the cancellation of schools and events – sporting events and concerts – came first from local governments, businesses and nonprofits. Do you think this is a positive response that will help slow the spread of Covid-19? Do you think it's positive that it happened at the local level first, instead of top down?
Dr. Fisman: I think with the dysfunctional federal leadership on Covid-19, states and localities are leading by default. The business community gets this…. In our models, social … distancing is extremely potent as a means to prevent deaths and keep hospitals from collapsing. The private sector, states, and cities really are starting to understand this. But yes, I think in the U.S. there's been a degree of "decapitation" of the public health response, because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seems to be hamstrung by the Trump administration. As I said to a friend today: The lack of testing could be either intentional incompetence, or the old fashioned regular kind of incompetence. But it's incompetence, and it's going to kill a lot of people.
TheStreet: Do you feel there's any reason to believe the spread will slow as the weather warms into spring and summer?
Dr. Fisman: I hope so. The lack of epidemics taking off in the southern hemisphere (Australia and Argentina are the two places that come to mind) may suggest that there will be a seasonal component to this, likely driven by drying and UVB radiation. But if it slows over the summer it will be back in the fall...I don't think this is going away.