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SUMMARY: Three possible futures for the pandemic, none of which involve it just disappearing. A scary government projection calls for a skyrocketing of new cases by the end of the month. The coronavirus wallops some young people, too. Dictators should be tough on the pandemic, but they’re botching it. An overlooked detail in a Supreme Court ruling should worry Republicans. The “murder hornet”?! Biden shouldn’t release his Senate archives unless Trump releases his tax returns. Mr. Buffett waves the white flag on airlines. The Big 3…
Three possible futures for the pandemic
As the US starts to reopen, researchers have published estimates for the future shape of the pandemic. They forecast that the pandemic will last 18 to 24 months, and they describe three possible scenarios:
1. “Peaks and valleys.” In this scenario, the current wave — the second and highest wave on the chart below —will recede over the summer and then be followed by additional waves of similar magnitude for one to two years. The severity will vary by region and country. Different cities and countries may re-implement restrictions and mitigation measures.
2. “Fall peak.” The current wave would recede over the summer, as in the first scenario. But then we would be hit with a far more severe wave this fall. This is what happened in the 1918-1919 “Great Influenza” pandemic, as well as less-devastating flu pandemics in 1957-1958 and 2009-2010.
3. “Slow burn.” The most encouraging scenario. The current wave is by far the worst. And then the pandemic smolders for an additional few years while life goes on.
Note that none of these scenarios involve the coronavirus just disappearing after this first big wave recedes.
The researchers do not address the possibility that scientists will develop a powerful drug in the next few months that can “cure” the disease or a vaccine that will prevent it. They note that vaccines have not played a role in prior flu pandemics.
Sharon Begley of STAT News describes each of these scenarios in detail here. —HB
Meanwhile, a government document projects that the US “daily case” and “daily death” rates will skyrocket later this month.
The New York Times got its hands on a document described as a “situation update” from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The document appears to have been updated through May 1. It includes projections for a radical increase in expected “new cases per day” and “deaths per day” in the second half of this month.
To emphasize: The top chart calls for the skyrocketing of daily new cases to more than 200,000 a day by the end of May, up from around 30,000 a day now.
The presentation does not explain why the model predicts this acceleration.
An hour after the document was published, the White House disavowed it. A White House spokesperson told Insider’s Eliza Relman that it “is not a White House document nor has it been presented to the Coronavirus Task Force or gone through interagency vetting. This data is not reflective of any of the modeling done by the task force or data that the task force has analyzed.”
So now we need to understand where those projections came from and whether any government experts believe they are realistic.
Here are the historical numbers in the presentation, which have plateaued around 30,000 new cases and 2,000 deaths per day:
Yes, the coronavirus is roughest on old and sick people, but it’s awful for some younger people, too.
Insider’s Aria Bendix, a healthy reporter in her 20s, developed a nasty case of COVID-19 symptoms in late March, which she described here. Nearly 50 days later, she’s still not back to full strength.
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Aria’s not alone. Here, she interviews four other otherwise-healthy people in their 20s and 30s who have been sick for more than a month.
Meanwhile, Insider’s Lydia Ramsey describes how doctors in New York City continue to be surprised and alarmed by the number of younger people who are getting COVID-19, as well as how serious it is for some of them.
In New York, 18 to 44 year-olds make up about 10% of total cases. More than 4,300 of them have been hospitalized. Nearly 300 of them have died. —HB
Will summer help?
There is still hope that warmer temperatures will halt or at least slow the spread of the virus.
The researchers in the study and article referenced above conclude that summer will reduce the transmissibility of the virus by about 20%. Enough to slow it down, but not enough to eliminate it. —HB
Dictators should be great during a pandemic. Why are they botching it?
Russia’s COVID-19 outbreak is blazing, with record cases reported yesterday. Wouldn’t you think Vladimir Putin would be handling it better?
Authoritarians love nothing more than ordering the government to do whatever they want, imposing tight controls on the population, and wantonly enacting emergency restrictions, so you’d expect Putin and his fellow authoritarians to shine during the pandemic. But it’s not working out that way.
Across the world dictators, as well as democratically-elected leaders with authoritarian tendencies, are doing poorly. Putin seems bored by the crisis. Iran continues to be a wreck. The dictator of Belarus, denying that coronavirus is a threat, has ordered life as usual, leading to one of the world’s fastest-rising infection rates. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s he-man approach— combining skepticism of science with macho recklessness — has made a mess of Brazil’s response.
This isn’t a hard and fast rule. Plenty of vibrant democracies — Spain, Italy — have struggled with outbreaks, and the Chinese dictatorship almost certainly extinguished its outbreak more rapidly thanks to its totalitarian tools. But in general, controlling the virus seems easier when there’s public trust in government, reliable and transparent data, and visible popular support for action — all of which are hard for authoritarians to muster. Also authoritarians tend to prefer problems they can solve quickly with force or rhetoric — neither of which works on coronavirus.
Oh, and it doesn’t help build trust in public health when any health professional who casts doubt government response falls out a window the next day, as seems to happen in Russia. —DP
Vote by mail data that could worry Republicans
The savage battle over vote-by-mail in the 2020 election could be shaped by some unexpected news out of Wisconsin. Last month, as Wisconsin held in-person voting during the pandemic, the US Supreme Court refused to extend the deadline for mail-in ballots. The ruling was seen as a big win for Republicans.
Less noticed was that the court did allow Wisconsin to accept ballots postmarked by election day. Under previous rules, Wisconsin only accepted ballots that arrived by election day. The Washington Post found that in Wisconsin’s two biggest cities, 10% of all ballots were postmarked before election day and arrived after election day. In other words, 10% of voters in those cities wouldn’t have even been counted in previous years.
The Wisconsin vote could be anomalous: Wisconsin officials and voters had only a few days to prepare and no precedent for pandemic voting. The rest of the country will have months to set rules for pandemic-afflicted balloting.
Still the Wisconsin mail-in data may alarm Republicans, who generally benefit from fewer people voting. Expect them to seek to limit the SCOTUS ruling, and to persuade state legislatures to find other ways to restrict vote-by-mail. Seven states, all Republican-controlled, have already limited balloting by mail to elderly voters. —DP
What will restaurants and offices look like, post-pandemic?
Check this Insider photo essay about restaurants in China post-COVID-19: Taped off seats, hand sanitizer on tap, temperature checks at the door. (Meanwhile — in a sign of how hard the virus is to control — the city of Harbin has just closed “dine-in” restaurants after an outbreak.)
And the New York Times speculates how the pandemic will transform open-plan offices into places with sneeze-guards, push-down air vents, and way more space between coworkers. It’s going to be a good time to be an interior designer. —DP
Just when you were starting to think: The worst is over
Can I introduce you to your new neighbor, the “Murder Hornet“? —DP
Biden should only release his Senate archives if Trump releases his tax returns
As Insider’s Nicole Einbinder reported last week, VP Biden has 1,875 boxes full of records at the University of Delaware from his time in the Senate that are currently unavailable to the public. One or two of these boxes, the theory goes, might contain references to Tara Reade, the former staffer who recently accused Biden of sexually assaulting her.
Biden denied the allegations in an interview on Friday and said that the Delaware boxes don’t contain any materials related to Reade.
Reade herself has said that the boxes won’t likely contain any references to a sexual assault, because she says she didn’t tell Biden’s team about it.
Naturally, people are still calling on Biden to unseal all those boxes. If he doesn’t, the existence of the boxes threatens to become the same sort of “what’s he hiding?” weapon that was used so effectively against Hillary Clinton in 2016. (“But her emails…”)
The desire to search all potential evidence to get to the bottom of the story is understandable. But the request that Biden unseal his boxes when President Trump still has yet to release his tax returns seems an absurd double-standard. —HB
Warren Buffett gives up on airlines
The Oracle of Omaha announced that he has dumped all of his airline holdings. He thinks it’s unlikely that as many people will fly in the next two to three years as they did last year. And he believes that even if capacity returns to 70% to 80% of what it once was, the airlines will still have too many planes.
History supports this view.
The last big gut punch to the industry came after 9/11. The fall out from that event was shorter and less devastating than the current one. But still… economist David Rosenberg of Rosenberg Research points that it took about seven years for travel spending on airlines to recover. —HB
The Big 3*!
YouTubers pretending to be Jimmy Fallon tricked “Tiger King” star Carole Baskin into doing an interview…
Insider’s Lindsay Dodgson has the inside story of who the tricksters are, how they did it, and what they learned about the famous reality-TV star who some think killed her husband and fed him to her big cats.
Former NBA star Charles Barkley has bad news for LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, and others who are occasionally thought to be the best of all time: Michael Jordan was better.
Few people who watched Jordan’s dominance in the 1990s would disagree.
Trump’s latest scapegoat for his bungled coronavirus response is Dr. Anthony Fauci
The President told Fox News that Dr. Fauci told him the virus was no big deal.
*The most popular stories on Insider this morning.