Air Travel and Disease

UPDATE: April 1, 2020

WOULD YOU like to hear a rundown of all the different ways COVID-19 is turning the commercial aviation business into a hellscape? A list of the various airlines that have suspended operations, maybe, or a synopsis of expected losses and long-term industry repercussions?

Me either. Because it’s changing day to day, and because summarizing all of the awful news is too depressing for me to handle.

Call me prescient. Some morbid gloating, maybe is all I’ve got left. In a post on February 27th, over a month ago, I foresaw a scenario in which 80 percent or more of U.S. domestic flights would be grounded. This crisis would be significantly more disastrous than the events of 2001, I wrote, with one or more — or maybe all — of the major carriers staring at bankruptcy. At the time, the only canceled routes were to China. United Airlines hadn’t yet announced its ten percent reductions. Nobody took me seriously. My colleagues all laughed at me.

The reality is going to be worse. What I see now is every U.S. carrier effectively shut down by April 1, save for a small number of flights providing essential services, perhaps with government funding. How long this lasts, and what sort of airline industry eventually crawls from the ashes, is anyone’s guess right now.

Congress is busy putting a bailout package together. The prospect of a bailout has raised a lot of resentment among politicians and the public. This is expected, I guess. Nobody likes the airlines, and nobody wants their tax dollars plucked away to save them. It’s also true that over the past six years, the biggest carriers squandered more than $40 billion in company profits on stock buybacks for their executives, leaving their companies with only a few months of operating cash should a worst-case situation like this one unfold. (For those of you opposed to a bailout, please keep in mind that none of the workers or their unions were happy when the buybacks were happening. And we’re the ones left here to suffer. Many of those executives are in the Caribbean now on their boats, while the rest of us are here watching the airlines capsize.)

How any rescue money will be dispersed, and under what conditions, is being hashed out. Even best case, it won’t be enough to “save” the airlines outright. I see it more as way to buy time. Three months? Six months? Who knows. The smartest thing the airlines could do, maybe, is shutter their operations totally, lay off their workers, and use the money the cover aircraft leases and interest. But Congress is pretty insistent on tying any cash to provisions that will keep employees paid in full for the duration. I understand the sentiment, but it’s playing a dangerous game. That money will be burned through quickly. And then what? Millions of lost jobs and destroyed careers (mine among them), bankruptcies and liquidations. Bailout or no bailout, if the pandemic panic continues for any length past the summer, the U.S. commercial aviation industry as we know it is finished.

Last Monday night I flew a 767 into New York. Was that the last commercial flight I will ever pilot? It’s not inconceivable. Enough of me was convinced of it that I asked the captain if I could fly the leg and make the landing.

Does that sound absurd? Well, everything that’s happening right now seemed absurd just two weeks ago. It’s all absurd until it’s not. In under a month’s time, the airline industry went from historically high profits and unimagined stability to the verge of complete collapse. How is that even fucking possible?

The huge irony is the modern commercial airline sector had been enjoying its longest-ever stretch of profitability and, no less important, stability. I can’t overemphasize that second point. For decades this was a cyclical business of wild highs and crushing lows. The nadir of this pattern was the airline apocalypse that followed the attacks of 2001. But in the years that followed, the industry regrouped, rebuilt and re-strategized. Among many changes were the three mega-mergers (UA/CO, DL/NW, AA/US) that helped consolidate operations and reduce overcapacity. By the mid 2000s it seemed like they’d finally landed on a business model that would guarantee consistent, long-term success.

Until this.

But I suppose that’s the nature of the business. There will always be inherent, very unpredictable risks that can, on a moment’s notice, send the most profitable airline reeling. “Black swan events,” they call them. There’s no way around that. And those who’ve been in the airline industry for any length of time know it. We feel it, every time we go to work, even in the best of times. Nothing is ever certain.

In my career as a pilot I’ve worked for five airlines. I’ve been through three bankruptcies and a furlough that lasted almost six years. And for pilots, any threat is especially worrying because, should you find yourself laid off or your airline out of business, you cannot simply slide over to another one and take it from there. In the United States, the way airline seniority systems work, there is no sideways transfer of benefits or salary. If you move to a different company, you begin again at the bottom, at probationary pay and benefits, regardless of how much experience you have. This is how it’s always been, and there are no exceptions. You lose everything.


And here’s a question: At what point is the cure worse than the disease? What doesn’t make sense to me is the scale of our reaction — the unfathomable vastness of it. The hysteria, the nonstop media amplification, the willingness to bring society to a grinding halt. It feels like we’re half a step from the end of civilization.

I understand the benefits of “flattening the curve,” and the risks COVID-19 presents to certain people who are particularly susceptible. Millions of people being locked down should have the effect of slowing the disease’s spread and allowing the health system to accommodate those likely to seek treatment — i.e. people who are elderly or have underlying conditions. It’s not about stopping the disease, it’s about reducing how many people are catching it at once. All of that makes sense to me. But are there other, perhaps less ruinous ways of accomplishing this than laying waste to the entire global economy?

Instead of treating this as a public health emergency and freeing up however much money is needed for that, we have turned it into an EVERYTHING emergency. We will spend trillions in relief and bailout money, throw tens of millions of lives into chaos, and kill untold numbers of people indirectly through economic stress and unemployment.

I’m not advocating that we all simply continue on with our lives and leave people to die. However, I’m convinced there has to be, and needs to be, a strategy through which we can save the largest number of people without simultaneously obliterating the world economy. Clearly the trickle-down effects of an economic wipeout — depression, stress, loss of income and health insurance, increased poverty and homelessness, and on and on — will cause greater and longer-lasting suffering than coronavirus would in the first place. Already in some developing countries under lockdown —Philippines, India, Zimbabwe — people who were living on subsistence-level employment are literally starving to death. For many Americans means Netflix and teleconferencing. In other areas of the world it means destitution and starvation. Is an all-out binary approach truly the wise choice?

Which, for the moment, makes me sound distinctly, well, Trumpian. My predictions thus far have been accurate, but that’s one I never saw coming. I could well be wrong, and our shellshocked President could well be driving us straight into catastrophe. If not, well, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

It’s kind of amazing, meanwhile, and a little distressing, how quickly people have acclimated to a very different way of living. If I see the phrase “new normal” one more time I’ll scream. Because NOTHING is normal. I want no part of this to ever seem normal — except maybe for the decline in carbon emissions and less trafficking of pangolins. But the reality is, when people are afraid, they adjust very quickly, to almost anything. The specter of a pandemic can be like that of “terrorism,” where a populace begins to accept ways of life that are ultimately harmful to them. And already I’m seeing articles with headlines like, “We’re Never Going Back to Our Old Ways.”

Then again, most of the predictions people made after 9/11 about how we’d change as a society turned out wrong. They said we’d become a less violent, less superficial, more introspective nation. The exact opposite happened.

So much about this is so bottomlessly frustrating. And with all of the amazing technology we have, how is this happening? Here in the richest country on earth, people can’t even get tested. This is why I always laugh when people propose how, despite our self-destructive tendencies, “technology” will be there to save us from ourselves. How’s that working out? Look at coronavirus. Look at climate change. Look at the spread of false information. Technology is meaningless if the society that controls it has no idea what it’s doing. It barely needs saying: technology is much more likely to ruin us than to save us.


For years, as the population continues to grow and we continue to upset the natural order, experts have been warning of a coming pandemic. Ironically, this isn’t the one they’ve feared. A virus that kills up to two percent of its victims is frighteningly lethal, but nowhere close to the scenario that many predict is inevitable, with mortality rates of 20, 30, or 50 percent. I can only imagine our reaction to that one. Coronavirus is in many ways just a dress rehearsal.

And when these things happen, the airplane, bless it, is in many ways the focal point. If you’re an aerophile like me, you take a certain perverted pride in that. Such an important thing, this airplane. If you’re a normal person, you probably find it terrifying. As you should. Air travel is, if nothing else, an exquisitely efficient vector for the spread of pathogens. Not because planes themselves are incubators of disease, but because of how quickly they move vast numbers of people around the globe.

Once after arriving in the United States on a flight from Africa, I noticed a lone mosquito in the cockpit. How easy it would be, I thought, for that tiny stowaway to escape into the terminal and bite somebody. Imagine an unsuspecting airport worker or passenger who has never before left the country, and suddenly he’s in the throes of some exotic tropical sickness. Actually, it’s been happening for years. Cases of “airport malaria” have been documented in Europe, resulting in several deaths after faulty or delayed diagnosis. It’s just a matter of time before this happens in America, if it hasn’t already.

In 2014, at the height of the Ebola crisis, I became ill on a plane returning from Ghana. It was mostly a gastric thing, but with a high fever as well. (To this day I’m unsure what the culprit was, but it’s not by accident that in all my trips to that country since, I’ve never gone back to Epo’s, a popular chicken and noodle place in the Osu neighborhood.) I wasn’t especially worried, and wanted nothing more than to grab my commuter flight home. But the Port Authority paramedics who met the plane had other ideas. Ghana was free of Ebola, but to them, “Ghana” sounded a lot like “Guinea,” where indeed the disease was raging. That’s literally all it took. Thus I found myself ordered into an ambulance and left alone for two hours in the parking garage at Jamaica Hospital, while the staff figured out what to do with me. Then another hour in a quarantine chamber while a nurse, costumed for Chernobyl or a voyage to Neptune, yelled at me from across the room.

“Look,” I said. “I don’t have Ebola. But whatever I do have, it’s getting worse the longer you leave me sitting here!”

Where I’m going with that I’m not sure. I suppose my point is twofold. First, to emphasize the dangers of hysteria. I was basically hospitalized against my will because the country I was coming from happened to begin with the letter “G.” But also, yes, to illustrate just how ruthlessly jetliners can, potentially, push contagions from one corner of the globe to the other.

To this point we’ve been lucky. Who knows what maladies the future holds, in a world moving full-speed toward environmental cataclysm. We will see this again, and next time it could be worse.

Author’s photo.

Related Stories:

THE TRUTH ABOUT CABIN AIR
IMAGES FROM LIBERIA
EBOLA AND AIR TRAVEL

 

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96 Responses to “Air Travel and Disease”
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  1. Mark R. says:

    Chandelle claims:

    ” One in 9,000 people on earth have thus far been infected and yet, more than a third of the populace are under some curfew or lockdown. I’m neither downplaying it nor being disrespectful to those who’ve died from it but the morbidity rate of 5% of C-19, affecting an identifiable, narrow section of society, is nowhere near commensurate with the noise being made about it. The economic fallout too is likely to kill as many as those killed by C-19.

    This too makes for interesting reading… https://bit.ly/2wMaAVR.”

    At the rate the spreading is happening it won’t be a tiny percentage of the total population that is infected. 5% or 1% or whatever percentage you like for billions of people would be an enormous number.

    The “bit.ly” link takes you to a denier article at Global Research.ca, a site that mixes real documentation of scandals with utter nonsense (such as the hoax that there were not plane crashes on 9/11). One of the experts quoted in that “article” actually has been warning that this is a very serious disease and I suspect he was not happy to be included as supposedly against taking this seriously.

    The US death toll is now greater from coronavirus than from 9/11, and the exponential growth is now getting underway.

  2. chandelle says:

    There’s a ludicrous amount of hype and hysteria over this COVID-19. One in 9,000 people on earth have thus far been infected and yet, more than a third of the populace are under some curfew or lockdown. I’m neither downplaying it nor being disrespectful to those who’ve died from it but the morbidity rate of 5% of C-19, affecting an identifiable, narrow section of society, is nowhere near commensurate with the noise being made about it. The economic fallout too is likely to kill as many as those killed by C-19.

    This too makes for interesting reading… https://bit.ly/2wMaAVR.

  3. Bruce says:

    Patrick:

    “At what point is the cure worse than the disease?”

    Here in Australia, where restrictions are more severe than in the US, I’ve been wondering the same thing. Reports say that on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday last week, somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people in Australia lost their jobs. IN THREE DAYS. Our population is only 23 million, so that’s equivalent to up to 15 million Americans losing their jobs in three days. Many will remain unemployed for a long time: the economy isn’t going to get back to normal the day after anti-pandemic measures end.

    I found an American study that suggests that there’s a 10-year difference in life expectancy between employed and unemployed people. And, to be harsh, the bulk of people who’ve dies so far from the pandemic had less than 10 years of life left. So by bringing in extreme measures, we are almost certainly losing more years of life for society as a whole than we’re gaining. You also need to consider the quality of those years: we’re condemning people to a lifetime of poverty, with the ill health, depression, and poor prospects for their offspring that all of that entails.

    The Australian approach is so far doing an OK job of “flattening the curve”: infection and death rates remain quite low. But by looking at that in isolation, we’re not working out the whole cost-benefit equation. I fear that we are causing more death and more suffering than we are preventing.

  4. Ben says:

    Patrick, these comments don’t allow for a long enough text to get through the whys and hows of why our reaction has not only not been extreme, but woefully insufficient. I’d highly suggest reading this piece from a few days ago. It covers a lot, though not all. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/03/how-will-coronavirus-end/608719/

    Note, in the 4 days since that piece was published, both USA and worldwide confirmed cases have essentially doubled. In 4 days.

    To put it succinctly, though, a) without the massive surveillance testing regime that was needed, there is no such thing as a low risk population. And if we let half the country go about business as usual, they are just going to get sick, spread the virus and make things much worse. b) the socioeconomic consequences will be far worse if we don’t take extreme measures and millions of people die. In that scenario, all those people die, and then we shut everything down anyway because…millions of people are dying. The economic crisis is caused directly by the public health crisis.

    My issue with what you wrote was not your intellectual stance exactly. Actual experts pretty much unanimously say you’re wrong, but that’s not the problem. The problem was the extremely callous way you wrote. “A virus that kills up to two percent of its victims is troubling.” Troubling? That’s between 3 and 6.5 million Americans, Patrick, depending on infection rates. Do you really not see how that comes off?

  5. Mark R. says:

    Thank you, Ben.

    Another thing to consider. US plans for pandemics have always included what CDC calls “non pharmaceutical intervention,” a fancy way to say when there are no treatments or vaccines, people have to stay home, not breathe on each other to slow the spread. This has been quiet US policy for several Presidential administrations, it has nothing to do with the current mis-administration.

    Yesterday’s episode of This Week In Virology (should be renamed This Day In Virology, they’re running more interviews than ever before) had a guest scientist who is a world expert in coronaviruses and ironically is now recovering from Sars-cov-2. He pointed out that if we follow Dr. Fauci’s advice in about 6 weeks the epidemic in the US would be mostly over. If we follow Dr. Trump’s advice, it will go on much longer and the body count will be much worse.

    The airplanes will still be there after this subsides, although travel demand has probably peaked, for good. Perhaps it is practice for the downslope of oil extraction and realizing what’s needed to keep a stable climate so agriculture can still function.

    http://www.microbe.tv/twiv/twiv-special-lipkin/

  6. Ben says:

    @MDT You have no idea what you’re talking about either. It is possible that a less strict approach could have been used had our government taken this pandemic seriously from the start, and used enormous amounts of surveillance testing to track and isolate sparks before they turned into full fledged outbreaks. That didn’t happen, and that’s why we are where we are. Europe didn’t learn the lessons from China, we didn’t learn lessons from China and Europe, and now people like you are sticking their heads in the sand and not learning lessons from New York. The midwest is seeing huge spikes in Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland, among others. New Orleans, in the south, is already a complete disaster. Miami and Atlanta are not far behind.

    I am not going to get into a political debate with a Trump cultist except to say that if what you propose is true: that this is a hoax cooked up by the media to sink your hero, what do you say to the rest of the world? They’re all in on it too? Italy has just decided to (so far) let 10,000+ of its citizens die? Nearly every country in the world (even your beloved Putin shut down Moscow last night) is on lockdown just to get Trump? Get real. You are completely deluded.

    And don’t you dare hide behind praise of medical personnel. It’ll be them taking care of you and your loved ones when they are sick because people like you didn’t listen to the health professionals who begged for tests, PPE and science-based public health policy.

  7. MDT says:

    I used to frequent and very much this blog from a pilot who also writes well. Probably satisfied my childhood dram of being one which never had a chance.
    I am really amazed and shocked at the negative reactions. I only read a few and could not go on. They seem to parrot the incessant media over-amplifying the situation. Obviously it is bad in NYC due to its density and the number of flights in Jan/Feb from China and rest of the world. But does NYC equate to any city in midwest, south or even DC, let alone the rural areas where there are no crowded places. Localized reactions as the federal admin has suggested would have worked. Flights in/out of the NY metro area could have been stopped. Checks could have been instituted at airports. If we use up our last few ‘bullets’ for this level of risk, what is left for even bigger ones sure to come.
    I really sympathize with Patrick’s loss of his beloved career and hope he gets it back soon along with all the 3M Americans who lost their jobs.
    My own analysis of what led to such complete shutdown rather than a measured healthcare reaction is the media and social media owned by few people worldwide are dialed into a state of extreme opposition to the current presidency as shown in the last 3 years of non-stop lies and hoaxes. So they collectively took this as a pretext to create chaos which can obviously be blamed on the president in an election year.
    I SALUTE the medical personnel risking their lives for this this serious disease.

  8. Mark R. says:

    Patrick: you say we could buy hospital rooms for all for the cost of this. But virtual dollars cannot automatically create hospital beds, train doctors and nurses, build equipment. Ones and zeros in a financial database are merely symbolic.

    Meanwhile, our hospital systems are strained and cracked, and the full force of the exponential epidemic is still looming on the horizon. It’s going to be a difficult next few months, to be polite.

    Plus, as spectacular as it is to jump from continent to continent, we’ve all known this would be a temporary phenomenon in human history. Fossil fuels are finite and the alleged alternatives are much less energy dense. Look at the global shutdown as a pause. If we are wise, we might see this as an opportunity for a course correction while we still have concentrated resources to reallocate for civilization to move toward being resilient.

    Here is a short video about one of the hospitals in NYC that is falling apart under the influx:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bE68xVXf8Kw

    ‘People Are Dying’: Battling Coronavirus Inside a N.Y.C. Hospital | NYT News

    Elmhurst Queens hospital – got a large refrigerator truck to store corpses

    They’re out of ventilators, running out of protective equipment, their incoming patients are sicker and sicker. Younger people coming in too (30s – 50).

    Dr. says if this goes on for much longer they will be in collapse.

  9. Ben says:

    Hi Patrick. I have read, enjoyed and admired your writing for many years across multiple websites. To say I’m disappointed now is a massive understatement. I can only hope you are suffering from some sort of temporary insanity because otherwise you are literally a defective human being. I am a native New Yorker. I watched and smelled the bodies burning in Manhattan on 9/11. What is happening in NYC right now is far worse. And it is coming to the rest of the country because our federal leaders are still not, like you, taking this seriously. Thousands of Americans have already died, and many, many more are going to. You will probably know and care about someone who does. Our medical professionals (like my wife) are figuratively running into burning buildings every single day to try to save the lives of ungrateful people like you while they are putting their own lives on the line in a situation none of them ever signed up for. My sister-in-law is a doctor at an ER in the Bronx. She tested positive today after working the last two weeks straight without the protective equipment she needed. My wife had *one* n95 mask for the entire freaking week. They are supposed to be thrown out as biohazard after every patient in normal times.

    it is clear that when it comes to matters of public health and medicine, you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about and don’t care about the lives of your fellow Americans. You should be ashamed.

    • Patrick says:

      Ben, that response is little outsized. Go back and read what I said in my story. I don’t know what the right thing to do is. It just seems incredibly extreme, however, that there can’t SOME balance between saving people and not wiping out the world economy and wrecking MILLIONS of lives for years to come. Maybe I’m wrong and there isn’t a balance. But how many people will die indirectly if, for example, the world goes into a massive depression for several years? I DON’T KNOW what the right thing to do is. I’m just telling you that, right now, it all FEELS wrong to me.

  10. Jonathan says:

    You’ve lost me as a reader for both writing unintelligently outside your field of expertise in epidemiology and economics and also unqualified rant against millennials. Enough commenters have made note of the data especially coming out of Imperial College. You also forget millennials were those who came of age during the millennium, hence 9/11 WAS our moment. As a millennial that was directly the reason I was on the ground in Afghanistan leading fellow millennials in combat as a Marine officer while you were stateside in the comforts of your home. We were the first generation to fight a sustained war in an all-volunteer military. This is not the first crisis we’ve had to deal with; many of my peers entered the workforce during the Great Recession and are potentially facing another recession as many are starting families.
    I’m not sure what you did to rise up to the occasion during “your” so-called moment, but you’ve lost all credibility with a baseless rant.

    • Patrick says:

      Jonathan:

      Your comment is a powerful one and it gave me considerable pause. That millennials have made up such a considerable portion of the armed forces, and that so many — yourself among them — were sent into battle in the months and years after 9/11 is something that I hadn’t though about (obviously, I know). Thinking about it now, I feel ashamed and ignorant.

      I hope you understood that my gripe is by no means with a whole generation of people, but rather with an element of it. I assume you’d agree with that very generation has its share of negatives; I realize, however, that my timing was offensive and that I needn’t go scapegoating a generation based on some silly caricature. For what it’s worth at this point, I have removed that section about millennials, including the photograph of the dude with the coffee.

  11. Kate Jensen says:

    Sorry Patrick I usually agree with you, and I am truly sorry for how this is affecting you. But you lost me here. You are an expert on airlines and flying planes, not on epidemiology. Yes this will suck for the economy, but it only reflect that we had a fragile economy to begin with. Why don’t airlines have a 6 month emergency fund, like individuals and families are encouraged to have (and shamed for when they don’t)?

    Quarantine only those at high risk? My 91 year old dad is high risk, and requires a caregiver to come to his home 2 times per day to take care of him. This care requires very close bodily contact. Quarantine them too, and their subs if they need time off or get sick? Then who takes care of their families? What if my dad needs a doctor visit? Quarantine the doctor and his staff? You say you get the flatten the curve argument. If we all sacrifice and stay in as much as possible now, it will be over sooner and we can get back to re-building.

  12. Rod Turnham says:

    I sincerely hope it doesn’t get this bad, but …

    Patrick, if it really does get as bad as many fear, YOU could start your second career as a writer!

    No, I’m not kidding! I’ll bet not one pilot in ten thousand can WRITE as well as you do, and you’ve already got an audience here HUNGRY for anything you can find time to write.

    Very few pilots can say that.

    Sign me up now to be first in line to buy your next book!!!

  13. Rod Turnham says:

    Patrick, I LOVE reading your blog, and usually find myself in total agreement, or at least learning things I didn’t already know.

    But I’m not totally with you this time.

    I do very much feel for your plight as the most important element of the airline industry, and probably the most under-paid. The airlines are being hit especially hard, as are some other industries. It’s a bad time, for example, for waitresses and restaurant hostesses. Not so bad for the cooks and drive-thru servers.

    But I’m appalled at the sentiment that this is just an older-adults’ problem, and the rest of you should just get on with your lives. I’m even more appalled that so many seem to agree.

    To just quarantine the retirees and let everyone else go about business as usual is the BEST way to make this pandemic as bad as it can possibly get! We’ve all got to work together to beat this thing; it’s just going to kill more people if we adopt a “we vs. them” attitude.

    This isn’t political. The virus doesn’t discriminate between Republican and Democrats, nor between rich and poor, nor between liberal and conservative. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t discriminate between yound and old! It will hitch a ride with anybody. Yes, it makes the older ones sicker, but it will hitch a ride with a child just as quickly as with a retiree.

    What I’d like to see is all those airline executives who were getting rich buying back the stock to start donating their riches to the airlines, to keep on paying everyone.

  14. Wol 747 says:

    Patrick: the big difference – as I’m sure you know – between the flu (even the 1918 flu) and this is that no-one has any immunity.

    Flu has an impressive killing power when NO-ONE is immune, but even in 1918 there was general immunity to some extent. Let’s hope your all-knowing president is aware of what most medical experts are not.

  15. P Gladstone says:

    And here is another great online resource I found. These are 12 medical experts, reacting to the measures we are taking against the coronavirus. Some are saying it is very inadequate. Some are saying this is an over-reaction.

    Looks like I am on the second camp, and I think Patrick has a very good point here. That said: all I want is people to come out of this safe, and our economy to get back on track. Or else, the suicides alone from the following depression: will be a staggering number.

    At the end of the day; I am sure we all have the best outcome for our country and the world in mind.

    Please take a look if interested; you will see people from both sides of the spectrum- and their reasons for their positions. It also talks about what happened in Italy and Spain:

    https://www.globalresearch.ca/12-experts-questioning-coronavirus-panic/5707532

  16. P Gladstone says:

    And for the gentleman who accused me of a political agenda? Let me ask you? What political agenda am I pushing? Democrats? Republicans? Libertarian? Green Party? Enlighten me how any of this fits into any ‘political agenda’? I am looking at this from a scientific point of view. I don’t care what the Dems, Reps or the Green party thinks about it. Not my concern one bit.

    And you also accuse me of being numerically illiterate. I posted the numbers and even cited the sources. You just spouted of how you feel about it. If you have any contradicting numbers to post: I will be glad to take a look. As far as you stating the death rates will always appear low: during an ongoing epidemic- there are plenty of data on the countries which already went through this crisis. Take a look.

    Other than Italy or Spain: we are not seeing a staggering death rate- and there are lots of literature online on why the rate is high in Spain and Italy. Even there: the average age is death is around 80.

    I also understand there are two strains of this virus going around. The S and the L strain. I wonder if some Asian countries battled this easily, due to differences in strains, climate etc. We don’t have enough data on it. I am eagerly waiting for any such data, when it becomes available.

    I am with Patrick… the hype and fear here is way overblown. That said, we must protect the elderly and anyone with pre-existing conditions.

  17. P Gladstone says:

    Here are the sources for the 4 assertions I made.

    1. Death rate of the coronavirus:
    https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-death-rates-by-country-based-on-case-fatality-ratio-2020-3

    Published US death rates stand at 1.23% according to the article. But the US also turns down most people from getting a test. Unless you are high risk with symptoms (old age, existing conditions: youare not getting a test. Germany is testing anyone who is asking for it. Death rate: .42%

    2. Recovery of South Korea: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/south-korea/
    Japan is similar. You can find data on Japan on the same site

    3. Thailand statistics: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-thailand-toll/thailand-reports-106-new-coronavirus-cases-and-three-deaths-idUSKBN21B0DG

    I spend a lot of time in Thailand. Docs working at Bumrungrad hospital in BKK has been saying they have a lot of cases… even from the last 3 months. Due to close proximity to China and huge number of Chinese tourists. And finally- now they are tightening restrictions: due to international pressure. But official count: 827 confirmed cases with 2 dead.

    4. Singapore… you can find the numbers here: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
    631 cases, 2 deaths. Amazingly low death rate. (My sister works in Singapore as a Plastic Surgeon, and she volunteered to work the Coronavirus ward. Very manageable, according to her. The death rate statistic here, will proves it)

  18. Gimlet Winglet says:

    reply to pgladstone:

    You are either a numeric illiterate or blinded by a political agenda. On an epidemic exponential growth curve with an incubation time measured in days and a time to mortality measured in weeks, until the epidemic runs out of new bodies to infect the mortality “rate” will always appear low relative to infection. That’s not because the virus is weak or people have immunity, it’s that the infected pool grows faster than the death count.

  19. dbCooper says:

    @P Gladstone says:
    March 25, 2020 at 2:19 am

    Please site the sources for the 4 assertions you stated.

  20. Mitch says:

    p.s. concerning South Korea, here’s how they dealt with COVID-19.
    It was not easy:
    https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/coronavirus-cases-have-dropped-sharply-south-korea-whats-secret-its-success

  21. Mitch says:

    To those who doubt the serious dangers of this epidemic, and do not understand what could be required to stop it, start here:
    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/22/health/coronavirus-restrictions-us.html?searchResultPosition=1

    P Gladstone, note the descriptions of events in China and elsewhere in Asia. They got ahead of COVID-19 because they started early, had (or made) equipment and facilities, aggressively tested many thousands, and adopted quarantine and isolation practices too restrictive – and perhaps illegal – for the average American.

    The choice may become “live free AND die – while infecting others” or “restrict personal liberty – temporarily we hope”.

    Take your pick.

  22. P Gladstone says:

    I agree with Patrick. What we are doing now is equivalent to burning the house down to kill an ant. This is such an over-reaction. Here are some of the reasons why I think Patrick is spot on:

    1. Look at the statistics of this in the US. The current death rate is hovering at around 1.7. Average age of death: +80. And they are ONLY testing high risk cases. They are sending 80% of the people with a cold home- WITHOUT testing. So in reality, the death rate is a fraction of 1.7. Maybe well under .4. Sure… that is still higher than a regular cold: but nothing to justify all this freakout.

    2. Look at countries like S Korea and Japan: they came out of this without any big issues. They did not have quarantines lasting a month.

    3. Countries like Thailand did no lockdowns till much later. They have a massive amount of Chinese tourists. Doctors in Thailand are saying many have it: but they are treating it like a regular cold. Very low death rates

    4. My sister is a doctor in Singapore, and her hospital treated most of the COVID-19 patients in that country. They had a 2 deaths… out of 385 verified cases. Both older people with underlying conditions. According to her, the vast majority had mild/moderate cold like symptoms. Only very few patients (2) went onto having pneumonia.

    So I think Patrick definitely has a solid case. I think the resulting economic downturn will kill more people, than from this virus.

  23. Matt D says:

    Relax. Looks like Uncle Sugar is riding to the rescue.

  24. John Carter says:

    Like many who have replied to your March 23 update, I too am a loyal reader. And like many, I take great exception to your point of view. It comes across as self-absorbed and myopic. This is not the time to champion the glory of flight. No one is contesting that, especially those of us who follow you. But if we did as you suggest, in fairly short order the multiplier effect will do its job and we’ll have mass turmoil, an extremely overburdened health care system and an incredible number of deaths. Just so people like you can climb back into the cockpit. And, as others have pointed out, the profile of the “at risk” person has been misrepresented and is changing as the disease progresses. For example, men of all ages appear to be at significantly higher risk. And hospitals are seeing a much higher proportion of younger people, often with mortality rates similar to those of the commonly regarded high risk groups. Perhaps you should reread the overwhelmingly critical responses to your post and use your newfound time to re-think your position.

  25. Peter says:

    Patrick, I have to take you to task. I’ve always enjoyed your posts and have respect for your intellect. But no, no, no, on this you are very wrong. I’m not an epidemiologist but I read the international news, I see the graphs and listen to the experts. This is NOT the flu. I live in a city in a first world country under lock down and our death toll is rising too fast because our Government delayed too long. Just look at Iran and Italy and see their death rate. What’s not come out yet is India and Indonesia, when and if they ever get their acts together, hold on to your hat. I am so sorry for the loss of your career and I too am facing unemployment (permanently, I’m 62) but I am staying indoors, I am avoiding any other people and I am taking this very seriously. My apologies if this comes across as a lecture, I’ve not intended it to be, this is a terrible time for our world.

  26. Jennifer says:

    Dude, this is not a good look for you. I get the worry about your job. I’m worried too – most people are right now (unless you work for Zoom, in which case you’re probably working a lot of extra hours).

    But your suggestion that people who are sick or at higher risk just quarantine while the rest of us go about our business isn’t viable. You can quarantine people who are known to be sick, but that does nothing about the countless people who are asymptomatic carriers. And, I guess you can quarantine or isolate those who are at higher risk, but how do you do that? Who takes care of them? How do those people ensure that they’re not asymptomatic carriers? And that doesn’t even address the fact that in the US we’re starting to see deaths among people who don’t fall into the expected high risk categories.

    If we had better testing we could have gotten ahead of this, but we didn’t, so we didn’t, and here we are. If we had an actual leader in charge of the country, things might have gone better early on.

  27. Michael says:

    I’m afraid that you are totally wrong here. I write from the UK where the Government has just imposed a lockdown to try and prevent the health service from being overwhelmed and I totally agree with that, inconvenient as it will be. Read this BBC report (and the Imperial College study it links to):

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-51915302

    https://www.imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/medicine/sph/ide/gida-fellowships/Imperial-College-COVID19-NPI-modelling-16-03-2020.pdf

    “The modelling projected that if the UK did nothing, 81% of people would be infected and 510,000 would die from coronavirus by August.”

    And the airlines will be bailed out and will fly again.

  28. Senator-Elect says:

    Mr. Smith, you are normally spot on, but in this case you are very, very wrong. As a fan of your writing, I urge you to take down this post. You need to do more research on this issue. Have you seen the Imperial College projections? Do you understand that the federal gov’t can print as much money as necessary to keep the economy (businesses and individuals) afloat? Finally, do you realize you are now in agreement with Trump? If nothing else, that should give you pause.

  29. Eric in NH says:

    There are only two ways that have been shown to be effective at dealing with this virus:

    A. Widespread testing, and identifying contact chains of people who have tested positive so that they, and the people they have been in contact with, can be isolated.

    B. A full lockdown for six to eight weeks.

    Option A is what South Korea and Singapore did. But in order for it to work, the affected region or country has to act as soon as a problem becomes apparent.

    Option B is what China did. They waited too long for option A to work, and also, as the first country to be hit, they did not have tests available soon enough.

    The hope is to “flatten the curve” enough to avoid overwhelming the health care system. Countries that have done this (South Korea, Singapore, China ex-Hubei) have managed to keep case fatality rates below 1%, which is still several times worse than ordinary flu but not a worst-case scenario. Countries that did not (Hubei, Iran, Italy) have seen case fatality rates of several percent. This is where the US is going if nothing is done, and it may be too late for the US to stop it, as it takes about three weeks for the effects of any restrictions to show up. Remember also that infected people can spread the virus even before the onset of symptoms (which in a substantial fraction of cases is never).

    Like it or not, the era of easy intercontinental travel is over.

  30. Wolfgang says:

    Why listen to experts like Tony Fauci? Why look at the data from China and Europe? Why listen to those test pilots who said two years ago that MCAS was a problem? To foresee a problem and counteract seems like a very rare ability, people prefer to wait until catastrophe strikes.

  31. Tom says:

    I have never disagreed with you before.
    You say we should quarantine those at risk so the rest of us can get on with our lives.

    Who will take care of the 10 to 50 million at risk?
    Where will they be quarantined?
    Who decides who is at risk?
    Who enforces this.

  32. Pepijn van Unen says:

    Patrick,

    Your writing is normally analytical and level headed, this time it is not.
    I understand that you foresee the huge impact on your livelihood. It is something that does not only affect aviation. However no intervention now will only make it worse.

    Trying to compare this to a flu is a flawed argument. It is much worse than that. There is no hype. Italy’s heath system has collapsed. Spain’s is under threat of doing the same (I live outside Barcelona and have been in full lock-down for 10 days now). I honestly don’t know how the US will cope having seen the initial response there. Only South Korea seemed slightly prepared and had a clear plan from the start.

    This is the best analysis I have read:

    https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-the-hammer-and-the-dance-be9337092b56

    Vaccination, or natural attenuation of the strains, are the only long term solution but in the mean time it gas to be stopped asap.

  33. dbCooper says:

    “And here’s a question: does any of this need to be happening?”

    One can make a good case to answer “of course not”. It is indisputable that President Trump knew what was coming back in January, as did the Senate Intelligence Committee, among other congressional members. Yet they did, and said, nothing. Nothing! President Trump, until recently, repeatedly called it a democratic hoax. And he knew the coming pandemic was real!

    Back to your question, this article may shed light on why it is happening…..
    https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/the-coronavirus-and-the-kursk-submarine-disaster

  34. Gene says:

    Unfortunately, we may be Underreacting. Take a look at this explanation of a report from the Imperial College London and read the linked report. https://www.truthorfiction.com/imperial-college-londons-covid-19-report-explained/

    TLDR: We’re fucked.

  35. Steve says:

    Your line:
    Would it not be far less expensive and disruptive, for example, to quarantine those who are highest risk,

    Is problematic, because they’re seeing that the definition of at risk, is changing. You’re seeing perfectly healthy younger folk dying. Covid-19 is much more contagious than the flu and more deadly. I’m sorry about your industry, there could have been better planning on the part of ownership (e.g. stock buy backs). If there were more money left in reserve, like households are recommended to do if possible, then perhaps the airlines could rough it out for longer. Yes, we’ll need airlines, but no sympathy from me as a small business owner that will be deeply effected.

    • Patrick says:

      More contagious, more deadly… None of that justifies the scale of this. You could build a hospital room for every person in America for the money this is going to cost.

      As to the airlines, yeah, I get it that CEOs squandered billions worth of profits in stock buybacks. None of us at the airlines were happy when that was happening. The unions and everyone else were vehemently opposed. But why do the workers have to pay the price for THEIR greed? They’re in the Caribbean on their boats now, while the rest of us are here losing our jobs and watching the industry go bankrupt.

  36. Beau-Rivage says:

    Emirates has since reversed its decision to shut down completely. Instead, it will maintain a small number of services: https://www.routesonline.com/news/38/airlineroute/290441/emirates-25mar20-31mar20-operations-as-of-0240gmt-23mar20/

  37. Mitch says:

    Emirates had no choice but to shut down.

    The flight crews wanted to work from home.

  38. laffo says:

    Glad I’m not a politician. How do you make these decisions. The flying community certainly knows the phrase “tombstone regulatiohttps://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tombstone_mentality

  39. Carol says:

    Adding to my comment this video by an Italian. Go to the very end if you have no time: https://vimeo.com/398651424?

  40. Carol says:

    It is reportedly way, way more contagious than flu. And mortality is faster.
    Look at the Seattle nursing home. Does influenza wipe out so many so quickly?
    I thought the response was excessive, but I’ve been convinced.
    At the same time…. I probably would risk a domestic flight.

  41. Michael Kennedy says:

    People are stupid.

  42. laffo says:

    Sorry..ran out of letters..last line should read:
    “You can’t get on public transport or in an office building without showing your status to a guard or cop. Many buildings also take your temperature walking in or out. “

  43. laffo says:

    I’m not qualified to comment on epidemiology, but blaming millennials seems a bit rich. I received this in email from a colleague in China last night;
    I came home to LA on January 12th, ostensibly for 3 weeks, for the Chinese New Year holiday which is ubiquitous across the nation. Over a billion people make a mass pilgrimage home for family gatherings. Everything stops, so [my coworkers] and I went to our respective homes (they are from Canada and England.) Then the shit went down and you know the rest. I returned to China on March 8th with assurances from my [boss] in China that there was no chance I would be detained or quarantined, and I have been quarantined in my hotel suite for the last 14 days. Twice daily two police officers come to my door and I am photographed while they point a digital thermometer at me and take my temperature. Tomorrow I am finally allowed to go to the office here in Yiwu albeit with a mask on at all times except when eating. The good news is that things are coming back to life here. The gigantic Small Commodities Market of China* which is across the street from our hotel is back open for business and bustling every day again. The government has implemented a system that uses the phone app everyone uses here to pay for everything to track movements and proximity to exposed or infected people and situations and shows a Green, Yellow or Red status. You can’t get on public transport or in an office building without showing your status to a guard or c

  44. Lurk says:

    Seems to me that governments have only two choices.

    A. Kick the economy in the fork now by implementing mass quarantine to reduce the load on health services and minimise the number of people dying or…

    B. Let lots of people die of Cv19 with the unwanted synergetic effect of lots of other people dying of other illnesses because the hospitals are choked with Cv19 patients and _still_ seeing the economy kicked in the fork because of so many deaths and the resulting disruption.

    Neither choice is good, in fact they’re both _awful_, but at least with choice (A) people are still alive and can be helped financially and economies can be rebuilt, albeit slowly. There’s nothing you can do for the dead except give them a decent send-off and if things get _very_ bad then even that won’t happen and we’ll be back to plague pits. Think I’m exaggerating? We already have reports that crematoria in Italy are overloaded.

    This isn’t academic to me. Members of my family have already been hit by choice (A). My sister works, or did until last week, in airline recruitment ,flight deck and cabin, a cousin is a contract caterer, guess how that’s going with no public entertainment or mass gatherings?, and her husband fixes jet engines for heavies. Another of my cousins works in France on tourist camp-sites so he and his wife are kicking their heels in “lockdown”, not getting paid. Another works in northern China teaching English again not getting paid and others, well you’ve got the picture.

  45. jeff baldwin says:

    note – i have a bad injury to a finger, so there will be no caps.
    i keep thinking that when all is said and done we may look back at how our reaction to a virus caused more suffering than the virus itself. i never thought about this concept at any time in the past when contemplating pandemic scenarios….which were always with a very high death rate, lightning fast transmitting virus/bug. I mean sure i imagined stores running out of things, but due to workers in supply/manufacturing/transport being dead or too sick to work, not because of effing panic buying. of course nobody really knows exactly what the future will be, so perhaps in a month those empty shelves stay that way due to disease..or maybe we just go back to normal with a collective, “whoa, we all went a little crazy there for a couple months….glad that’s over.” oh, and americans start buying and using bidets/washlets instead of gobs and gobs of toilet paper. : )

  46. Mark R. says:

    You wrote:

    What doesn’t make sense to me, however, is the scale of our reaction. The hysteria, the media amplification, the quarantines, the “shelter in place” orders. And those useless, already iconic masks that everyone is wearing.

    Reply:

    It’s been understood in public health circles for decades that dangerous pandemics at this stage of spread can only be slowed or stopped with quarantines.

    As for masks, if they were useless, the States would not be demanding that the Feds supply them, by the millions, to front line medical workers and other critical people. I with “that everyone is wearing” them, but it’s rare to see anyone wearing them in my town (mostly Asian students at the local college). Masks are not a panacea but they do slow transmission, whether surgical masks (to keep people from passing on their infection) or respirators (to protect people from becoming infected).

    As for the economics of aviation, globalization, relocalization, keeping agriculture functioning this year, how to reboot the economy afterwards … we are in uncharted waters.

  47. Peter L Creary says:

    Your update of March 19 2020 is absolutely spot on. I’ve basically turned the news off. The virus is bad but the world’s reaction to it is insane.

  48. Jeff says:

    I hope you are wrong, and I also wish you good luck in getting through this with a life and career intact.

  49. Mark says:

    Come on down to Florida!

    We’re closing the beaches this weekend. Theme parks closed. Hotels are closed, restaurants and coffee shops are takeout only. And the best news: guns and ammunition are selling in record numbers.

  50. Jim says:

    Thanks for the column(s), Mr. Patrick. You almost always get right to the heart of whatever matter is current.

    There exists the normal reaction to normal news . . . and then there are the “side” issues that induce furor among us little people.

    Senator Richard Burr, R=NC, unloaded something between $581K and $1.6Mm worth of stock in the you-know-what fields while publicly downplaying the enormous risk of the virus.

    Burr is the chair of the Senate Intel Committee, which has access to the federal government’s most recent, classified, and sensitive info not routinely available to the general public, e.g. us little people. Burr’s committee got daily briefings on the threats represented by the virus, right about when he dumped the stock in a series of smaller transactions.

    Filth. Rotten, putrid, stinking, fetid, evil, pus-dripping filth, when an elected official says something at the very moment something is happening.

  51. Bruce says:

    Hi Patrick,

    I agree: it’s all terribly frustrating.

    Am I right in thinking that your job is still as a cargo pilot? If so, does that make you safer? Or does it mean that thousands of unemployed passenger pilots will be after your job, and prepared to undercut your wages?

    Watching planes flying into Sydney over my house, almost the only foreign planes I’m seeing now are cargo ones.

    I hope it all works out OK for you.

  52. CarlosSi says:

    Easy with the stereotypes.

    But yes that’s stupid.

  53. Alex Pun says:

    “Virtually every health professional in the world has advised against wearing surgical masks. They do little or nothing to prevent you from catching the virus.”

    Perhaps for the professionals in the West. When worn by everybody, masks can possibly be useful as a common shield to protect everybody from everybody else. We can’t wait for symptoms to appear before using masks, because we already know COVID 19 has a long dormant period.

    According to Dr. Ho Pak Leung of the University of Hong Kong, we actually cannot rule out the effectiveness of masks, because there is simply no humane way to conduct a controlled experiment. In Asia we have been wearing masks for weeks now, and looking at the latest rate of infection, perhaps it may be working.

    https://www.thestandard.com.hk/breaking-news/section/4/143091/Ho-Pak-leung-says-up-to-5pc-Wuhan-evacuees-may-be-infected

  54. Mark R. says:

    I hope you and your colleagues get the honor to fly planes all over the world to deliver anti-viral treatments, especially to countries that lack the ability to develop them.

    Cancel everything. Slow the spread. Flatten the curve. Protect nurses and doctors.

  55. Carlos says:

    The US currently has two major worries: coronavirus and moronavirus while Trump et al stay in office. A few minutes ago he said he took ‘no responsibility at all’ -a perfect definition of the guy and what he’s done all his life.

  56. Average Citizen says:

    Patrick-

    Thanks for your brave frankness and unique perspective. I traveled to Asia during the SARS crisis after weighing the risks and am still around. COVID-19 sounds more contagious, but no reason to stop the world and create a global recession. Hysteria and nano-second reaction to questionable news seems to be the reaction de jure these days.

    -Scott

  57. dbCooper says:

    As regards skirting the travel ban via a third country: Say I’m Italian and traveling Italy to Canada to USA. Would not Immigration or Customs view my Italian passport and deny entry? I’m missing something.

  58. Tod says:

    I’m booked for a holiday in Fiji in May. The only real concern I have is my parents driving me to the airport at 4am

  59. Steve Jones says:

    ‪I’ll listen to your thoughts on the airline industry all day, and appreciate that the current situation is dire (as it is for many others).‬

    However, blaming the situation on millennials is just picking on the trendy punching bag. It’s not them who have decided to advise restricting travel in Italy and Scandinavia. Hong Kong and Singapore have had great success in restricting the infection rate by imposing strict travel restrictions. The US and the UK may not be basing their decisions on any kind of logic, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a major problem here that seems to need major action in response.

    You wonder if there isn’t a better way than taking these drastic steps. Have you got any suggestions? Do you think the the Italian government isn’t acutely aware of the damage its economy will suffer? Norway has just closed its schools and universities with similar knock-on effects. These decisions aren’t made lightly.

    I appreciate your concern for your own job and industry, but to minimise the seriousness of the situation in contradiction of countless health experts is just irresponsible.

  60. Colorado says:

    I posted here 7 days ago saying this was overblown and quoted stats from South Korea to back me up. Patrick sent me an email of thanks.

    In the past 3 days I’ve studied this extensively after one child’s college went to all on-line learning.

    I was wrong. Patrick is wrong. Most of the poster’s here are wrong. I’m not trying to be a troll, or be nasty, or start a fight. Instead I’m asking you to research this in depth. Google “Covid flattening the curve” for starters. Then Google “Covid Italy” to get the stories coming out from the health care workers there.

    The reason South Korea has such good statistics is that they contained the spread very very early in the process through quarantine and travel restrictions. The number of cases they had never overwhelmed their medical system.

    Italy, by contrast, did not. Two weeks ago their numbers looked like the ones in the US. Now the death rate is skyrocketing and doctors are having to choose who gets necessary care and who dies. Their systems are overwhelmed.

    You see too much focus on the fatality rate ignores just how severe this illness is for those who survive. many require ICU stays. Pneumonia and double pneumonia are common. There are only so many beds, so many ICU slots. The system will quickly become overwhelmed. Pandemic experts have studied this for decades and isolation to flatten the curve is the only solution.

    Trump’s plan is stupid, but containment in general is not.

  61. Lisa Sloan says:

    So grateful for your skilled writing, keen insights, humor, outrage, intelligence and willingness to share – always, but especially now. Thank you!

  62. Don Beyer says:

    Good thing the airlines bought back way over 10 BILLION in stock. Kept the price from tanking 80% to 78%. Solves the MAX fiasco too. Climate fanatics are happy.

  63. Adam says:

    I agree on all points…except the one about millenials. Us “older” millenials constantly get grouped with people born 15 years (or more) later than us. The news media, as you have said, has done a great job of creating this mass hysteria. But who is steering the ship at these outlets? The baby boomer generation.

    But yes, this is hysteria on a whole other level. It surrounds and will likely tank multiple industries, including commercial aviation.

  64. Richard says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Here in Michigan, colleges and universities are converting all in-person courses to online for the rest of the semester. Needless to say, not all professors are proficient, or even competent, with online instruction. Not to mention all the coursework that has to be adapted to the medium.

    “It’s millennials, perhaps more than anyone, who are driving this reaction, mainly through social media.” Perhaps, although I’m thinking it’s attorneys, aka “an abundance of caution,” who play a big part as well.

  65. Kathie Ward says:

    Patrick, you are the voice of reason, as always. Quick question: How is that “dude” gonna drink his overpriced latte with that mask on? Oh the irony…

  66. Simon says:

    Nice update, Patrick. It sounds like all this hysteria and overreaction is starting to piss you off about as much as it does me. I offer my sympathy to you. I realize that as a pilot you are likely to really suffer from all this BS soon. People obviously don’t have enough excitement in their lives so now they hype the heck out of this thing. Few realize that they’re pushing us into a full blown global recession. Trillions of $ lost, millions will lose their jobs. That will be real and lasting suffering, long after this virus has blown over.

    I’m not so sure I’d place the blame on millennials as I believe I sense you do (not that the guy in the pic isn’t a douche). I’m pretty sure this is to large extent social media. I live and work in a college town with lots of older folks with too much money and even more time on their hands. Those people kill it on social media and in that department they’ll give millennials a run for their money any day.

    I squarely blame social media for all this hysteria and overreaction. Social media got us Trump and now social media is giving us this. Yet we stubbornly refuse to ever consider we are under no obligation to use, let alone tolerate all that obnoxious and entirely superfluous nonsense.

  67. Mark R. says:

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the world’s leading medical experts, warned on Sunday that people over 60 should avoid long flights and cruise ships, and public gatherings in general. He is one of the most distinguished public health professionals on the planet.

  68. Lisa Gerr says:

    Hello Patrick,

    I am the administrator of a senior care home (14-bed) in Santa Barbara. Due to that responsibility, I am at the forefront of information dissemination.

    I started with your blog piece about the cleanliness of cabin air where you described the filtering system. Here’s a nerdy question. Most HEPA filtering systems have an MPPS of 0.3 microns. If my research is correct, the COVID-19 (and likely other viruses) is a particle size of 0.1. In my charge to create immediate policy and procedure, I am trying to verify the MPPS of a commercial airline HEPA systems.

    After reading your entry on clean cabin air, I searched your site for “COVID-19” and came across your March 5, 2020 entry. I am heartened by your evaluation of the global response as “hysteria”, as I have found my stomach in a knot here and there over the last couple weeks, sorting through the newsfeed to try and get a relevant perspective on the situation. I am on most agencies’ alert systems and am taking a 20-hour course provided by the CDC, “Strategies to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 in Long-Term Care Facilities”, prompted by the COVID-19.

    Help me balance news bytes about the rampant isolation and quarantining; Italy, Iran and China, and the claim that we are buying into hysteria, because, I admit, I am emotionally confused.

    Thanks for your work!

    Lisa

  69. Mark R. says:

    By the way, the Governor of my little state just made an emergency request for 400,000 N95 masks, 100 ventilators (for giving oxygen to ICU patients), ambulance liners and all sorts of other stuff. Oregon has 4 million people, just over 1% of the country. Extrapolate.

  70. Mark R. says:

    Italian hospitals in the hot zone are getting overwhelmed.

    Seattle’s number of tested cases this morning are roughly where Italy was on Feb. 22.

    Coronavirus has a long incubation and people can spread it asymptomatically.

    Yes, most people will have a mild or moderate case (although long term impacts may be more than thought, the evidence is more mixed there). But the percentage who do need medical care suggests our hospitals could be overwhelmed this spring.

    City of Seattle is urging people to work from home today.

    It’s far to late to contain the spread. Behavioral changes are the approach now. Yes, wash and wash and wash. Don’t touch your face. Drink lots of tea to flush the virus into your stomach instead of your lungs, should you accidentally get some in your throat. But social distance is the other half which the media doesn’t stress, because people don’t want to do that (for obvious reasons) and the economic shocks will be severe.

  71. Kelly R says:

    Thank you for once again being the voice of reason

  72. Wolfgang says:

    I love your blog about flying, and I understand your fear of job losses in your industry. But unfortunately, you are as ill equipped to speak about epidemiology as I were to land a 747. The fact that seemingly few cases are still reported in the US is for lack of testing. Also, this is not about Case Fatality Rate, but about the huge number of people who will need to be hospitalized or who will need ICU treatment, for weeks at a time and the impact this will have on health systems and public life. If you look at current case numbers, please remember this is an exponential curve. As the Head of WHO said today: „This is not a drill.“ So, bad as it might be for many industries, please get informed from good sources like WHO or CDC, and accept that this is the big one.

  73. Colorado says:

    The oft-quoted WHO stat of 3.4% is extremely misleading. It says 3.4% “of reported Covid-19 cases”. We know that the number of reported cases is far fewer than the actual number of cases for many reasons. Only the most severe cases make it into the stats at all.

    The big problem is getting accurate statistical data. One country that is doing very well to collect and report data from *all* cases is South Korea. They have reported over 5300 cases. No fatalities under 30. Very few under 50. Overall death rate among **confirmed** cases .6%. Heavy concentration of mortality over age 70. Actually very similar to ordinary flu.

    One of the worst countries in terms of stats is the US, very likely because of the intentional government clampdown on information. (What the hell?) As of this morning the US had 128 reported cases and 8 deaths. That’s a very high percentage, but NO ONE who studies this thinks that the 128 reported cases is not wildly under reported.

    It’s definitely an over-reaction. It reminds me of Y2K. A few years before Y2K there were very significant risks because the problem, while known about for a quarter century in advance, had been largely unaddressed. Then a huge investment was made across the board in Y2K testing and fixing. By Dec 1999 there was no threat – any minor problem not already found would easily be fixed by the on-call staffs. But the public panicked anyway and emptied stores and bank accounts.

  74. MarkS says:

    The 1989 World Series was interrupted by earthquake, but I don’t know how the airlines fared during that natural disaster.

  75. James David Walley says:

    0.7% mortality rate? The W.H.O. just raised it, based on current statistics, to 3.4%. But what’s a nearly fivefold increase among friends?

  76. Peter F. says:

    Just saw on TV news that United will reduce USA and Canada service by 10%, international service by 20%, and will offer employees voluntary unpaid leave. This, and the Lufthansa grounding, as Patrick points out, are because of unnecessary panic. More airlines could follow suit: yikes!

    Couple of observations….

    As far as I know there’s nothing in place now like the Air Transportation Stabilization Board, which provided federal loan guarantees to stressed airlines in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. This aid arguably saved America West and USAirways from bankruptcy back then; some similar program could be a needed lifeline now.

    In an environment of coronavirus-panic capacity reductions and aircraft groundings, operators won’t be in any hurry to get their grounded 737 MAX airplanes recertified and back in service, nor take delivery of new orders: “Dear Boeing and FAA, Take all the time you need, no hurry, no pressure, we’re happy to wait!”

  77. Mark R. says:

    Seattle is the most infectious hot spot in the country, partly from people coming from China in January and partly because they’ve finally done a lot of tests to see what is happening. Washington State’s virologist estimated a few days ago maybe 600 cases, today, maybe low thousands. Since it has a long incubation and most healthy people get a mild or moderate case it’s impossible to quantify precisely.

    VP Pence is going to Washington State to meet with the Gov.

    https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/health/coronavirus-daily-update-march-4-what-we-know-so-far-about-covid-19-in-the-seattle-area-washington-state-and-the-nation/

    I expect flights at SEA TAC to drop even further, quickly.

  78. mark r. says:

    India just stopped export of a bunch of antibiotics.

    And another hospital got contaminated today, the ICU needs deep cleaning before it can be used again.

    Looks like early predictions by epidemiologists this would go all over the world were correct. 1% of 7.8 billion people would be 78 million dead, much more than so-called Spanish Flu, SARS, MERS or regular flu. Even more than World War II in total number, although not in percentage.

    Also looks like Iran may need a new government shortly due to sickness (and now death) in their top leadership.

  79. Eric in NH says:

    Take a deep breath and step away from the TV news. I’m sure some people are panicking and hoarding supplies, but remember that news channels tend to run with news that draws eyeballs and (in the internet era) clicks, and news stories about people panicking are in that category. Most of the people I know are checking the adequacy of their supply of canned goods, and buying some if necessary (as I have been doing), but are not panicking. That includes my mother, who being over 80 is in one of the most at-risk demographic groups.

    That said, there is little doubt that this will cause a severe economic hit. The travel and leisure industry, which includes passenger airlines, is going to take it on the chin. So will any business that relies on supply chains that involve, at minimum, China or South Korea. The stock market selloffs you have been hearing about are a rational response to the likely economic impact of the virus.

    It also doesn’t help that so far, the US government has bungled the response. Or that Mike Pence, who as governor of Indiana botched the response to an HIV outbreak there, has been put in charge of the US response.

  80. Simon says:

    Thanks, Patrick, for being the voice of reason. The panic is absolutely unwarranted. It’s almost as if people were looking for something to get all worked up about. As if there were no real problems.

    In wealthy countries with good health systems most people will be fine and those who aren’t, belong to a group for which the seasonal flu is already a serious issue. The economic damage we cause by our knee jerk overreaction, however, is very real and will likely be far more damaging to most of us.

    I do take solace in the fact that if we now maneuver ourselves into a recession, at least that should cost Trump his re-election and that would indeed be a worthy cause. Talk about silver lining to an orange nightmare. 😉

  81. Gimlet Winglet says:

    The big thing that is different this time from relatively recent past pandemics (and the 1918 flu) is the quantity of communication about its incremental progress, and the greater understanding of how pandemics function and what the likely vectors of spread are. I can’t ever recall having a publicly available resource that tracks infections and deaths on a daily basis, broken out by country. This is both good and bad, raising awareness of the problem and encouraging people to take voluntary steps to reduce exposure and spread, but also contributing to a panic. But remember, covad has a long way to go before it gets up to the death level of even a routine winter flu.

    If the covad virus is still an issue in the fall I think this time we will cancel the world series and other MLB playoffs–after all, if we can cancel the world series over a stupid management-caused labor standoff (1994, sorry Montreal), we certainly can do so in the interest of public health. A more current bellwether will be canceling NBA games (and their teams’ travel).

  82. Mark R. says:

    The mortality rate may vary according to location.

    If you are in a wealthy country and are first in line to the hospital, your chances may be good.

    If the experimental drugs (Remdesivir, etc) turn out to work as well as hoped, then the pandemic may be slowed or stopped.

    However, there are lots of places in the world that lack quality health care.

    Now that Iran has it, it seems to be spreading to their neighbors, including countries that have had devastating wars that included war crimes like bombing hospitals. While I have concerns for family, friends, community, elderly, the greatest threat seems to be for societies that lack basic health care and don’t have any response capacity. In those places, the odds that complications and death will be a small percentage is probably small.

    It has been known for a long time that aviation had the potential to fan the flames of a pandemic wildfire.

    My sympathies to everyone in the travel industries, tourism, shipping, etc.

    It is a test of civilization and our cooperative abilities. Sharing medical expertise. Health care not warfare.

  83. Daniel Gless says:

    SPOT ON!

  84. Sarah McGuire says:

    Hi Patrick, I really appreciate your blog and it has helped me to (partly) get over my fear of flying, at least enough to resume flying.

    So I’m all about a rational response to threats and I appreciate a logical approach.

    No, COVID-19 isn’t the zombie flu or anything. But it is a new illness that overwhelms medical systems by using up available resources (beds, equipment, people) and by infecting medical workers. Moreover, there is an unknown but apparently high rate of “severe” illness with COVID-19. I’m talking about people needing ventilators and other intensive care, not someone feeling lousy at home for a week. Without advanced care, most of those people would die. And any possible long-term effects are a complete unknown.

    This has some predictable effects. Break your arm? have chest pain? need chemo? good luck and get in line, and also you are at high risk of getting infected in a hospital. Does your country not have enough ventilators/beds/doctors? that is very bad, because now there are none for you.

    So no, we shouldn’t panic or freak out. And heavens no, we should not engage in conspiracy theorizing or racial profiling or any other stupidity. But it is actually a serious threat to world health, and we should all be preparing at every level, just the way we should all pay attention to preparing for other realistic potential threats like earthquake, hurricane, or tornado.

  85. Andy says:

    Another physician endorsement here. We’re obviously seeing a lot of people freak out about this but I then I see a good percentage of them refuse to get a flu shot. I’m also an FAA AME and one of the things that I learned when I do my aerospace CME is actually how little viruses spread within an airplane. I had some ill conceived notion that someone in the front of the plane could spread the virus to someone in the back row as the circulation went from front to back (it does). This is a resource I share with some of my patients who travel…https://www.who.int/ith/mode_of_travel/tcd_aircraft/en/

  86. Ted says:

    Great read as usual. One nitpick on your flu stats: “Globally, between three and five million people are expected to contract the flu, killing up to 650,000 of them.” I think these number come from the WHO, if so the 3-5 million are cases of “severe illness”. Presumably the total number of people who _contract_ seasonal flu is much higher going by the < 1% mortality rate that I've seen cited.

  87. Noor says:

    Excellent read ! I’m a physician and I endorse your well reasoned argument about the mass hysteria about pandemics which in my view is actually augmented by the information asymmetry between what experts know about this epidemic and the knowledge that trickles down to public coupled with the unregulated social media. I do , however, wonder if airlines can take some extra precautionary measure to prevent its spread in the planes like using disposable trays, disinfecting sprays on lavatory door knobs and providing hand sanitizers to the travellers? As novel Corona Virus has a long incubation period of 14 days and a person remains contagious during this period, airlines collectively need to come up with unique, innovative but less intrusive prevention measures.

  88. Lily Wong says:

    As of now >20,600 have been infected and >400 have died—that is, if the figures from China are real. Considering how China arrested the 8 doctors who first exposed the virus, China has been covering this up for a long time. Videos leaked from Wuhan show that a lot of people have died and they were not included in the statistics. Yes panic is no use. But one should be well aware of other political factors in play. And WHO is no longer a reliable source of information as it is corrupted by China—look at all those African airlines that have suspended flights to China. No one is flying except Ethiopia, where the WHO comes from. The virus is deadly, highly contagious, and since Jan 16, the number of infected has gone up by 500 times. It is not fair to say people panic—panic is the first line of defence, so that people can take precautions. And as of now, Hong Kong’s border is still open to China. Everyday 15,000 people are still arriving from mainland China, and many of them are transiting all over the world via Hong Kong. And do not expect them to be honest about their travel history. In this way the virus is spreading around the world via Hong Kong. The world should be on high alert.

  89. Bob Palmer says:

    My back of the envelope calculation says the current corona virus has a kill rate of about 2%. And maybe much lower because infected individuals are probably undercounted while deaths are probably not. So, what’s 2%? No big deal?

    Then I thought about it this way: I live on the edge of a small city of 4,000 out here on the prairie. If we lost 2% of our citizens that would be eighty people. And I would probably know many of them. And yeah that is a big deal. I pray for all those who are affected by this disease.

  90. Bruce says:

    CONTINUED FROM ABOVE / BELOW….

    The reason Australian evacuees were treated like this was, of course, that they were almost all ethnically Chinese.

    If an outbreak like the coronavirus had happened somewhere that loads of white Australian twentysomethings hang out, like LA or New York or London or Berlin, none of this would have happened. For one thing, I’m not even sure that there would be an evacuation, as our media wouldn’t be calling it “The Chinese Disease”. For another, if there were an evacuation, the government would be promising to Bring Our Aussie Kids Home, and would do it immediately.

    Almost every aspect of international media and government response to the coronavirus has smacked of racism. Quite apart from the morality, I don’t think this approach is helping to save lives.

  91. Bruce says:

    ***”Ghana was free of Ebola, but to them, “Ghana” sounded a lot like “Guinea,””***

    I think there’s an elephant in the room that we’re missing here, both with ebola and the coronavirus.

    Ghana doesn’t just sound like Guinea. Ghana, like Guinea (and indeed the DRC, where Ebola was at its worst) is full of African people.

    The coronavirus might not be as dangerous as flu, but it comes from Hubei, which is a place full of Chinese people. And SARS, another coronavirus, also came from China, which is full of Chinese people.

    I don’t know whether you’ve followed Australian reactions to the coronavirus – why would you? – but it’s been an absolute car crash, while also being quite symbolic of global reactions. Australians in Wuhan were told they’d be evacuated. But the Australian government forgot to negotiate with the Chinese government to arrange this. The evacuation was not back to a quarantine centre in their home country proper (as it was for British and Japanese evacuees, for example), but to a former immigration detention camp on Christmas Island, 2000km from the Australian coast and 2,600km from the nearest decent hospital. They were told they’d be charged A$1000 for the flight to Christmas Island (this was rescinded after an outcry), and there was no indication as to how they would leave the island after their quarantine.

    MORE TO COME….

  92. Eric says:

    Part of me wishes that China would come out of the 15th century with respect to the “exotic” items they carry in their markets. As long as their culture finds it acceptable to eat dogs and other animals that are the source of these outbreaks, they should be prepared to be shunned and isolated on the global stage as a result.

    Perhaps part of their culture needs a reformation towards basic standards of hygiene with respect to what items are acceptable to have in a food market, and how they are prepared…essentially, they need to join civilized international society on some levels.

    It’s one thing to cling to cultural touchstones, but not at the expense of incubating and spreading disease to the rest of the world.

  93. Dror Maor says:

    I’m asking seriously.
    If the entire city of Wuhan (home to 11 million people) is quarantined, doesn’t that indicate that we’re NOT taking this too far?
    Great article as always, thanks.