You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘pandemic’ tag.

Economic Recovery: We All Should Prepare for a Long Convalescence

By Shlomo Maital

How quickly will economies in the US, Canada, Japan and Europe bounce back? Will it be fast, like China, or very slow, like the US?

   Bloomberg has been tracking this key issue, using a wide variety of indicators; the visual track for 10 countries is shown in the diagram.

   It has been 5 months since these economies bottomed out, with 60% – 80% decline in the economy, owing to lockdown, in a very short period of a month or six weeks.

   So far, no matter what the national strategy (or lack of one, as in the US) —   herd immunity (Sweden), local lockdown (Italy), school-opening and back-to-normal prematurely (US) —   economies are plateau-ing, at 60% to 80% of their previous pre-pandemic level. And in most of the 10, COVID-19 is making a comeback, in a second or third wave — with the age of those infected declining sharply, as young people emerge, head to bars, and parties, and colleges – and become ill.

   And, if that isn’t bad enough, a new forecast from the leading pandemic prediction institution, at Univ. of Washington, reports this: A new long-term forecast predicts a significant acceleration in Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. as colder weather takes hold. Under the latest projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, deaths could rise to 410,000 by the end of 2020. In a worst-case scenario, there could be 620,000 fatalities, more than three times the number of Americans who have died over the past eight months. The difference between the projected and worst-case scenarios comes down to how diligent authorities are in mandating masks and social distancing, according to the report.

   Readers, fasten your seat belts. Many of us yearn for the good old days, like, those we have 6 months ago. It does not seem likely any time soon. Prepare yourself and your family for a rocky road to recovery. It will be a marathon, not a sprint. Even optimistists believe an effective vaccine won’t be available for many months – and then, how many vaccine-deniers will turn it down, lacking trust in leaders who follow politics rather than science?


Mean Culture, Mean Politics: A New Pandemic

By Shlomo Maital

  A long time ago, I stopped watching Reality shows, because they were actually Unreality shows. To raise ratings and gain viewers, shows like Survival, and Trump’s The Apprentice purposely encouraged betrayal, lying, cheating, conflict and utter cruelty, believing this is what viewers wanted to watch. This is the culture of meanness. It is not what I practice in life, nor those around me. And at the place where I work, if you behaved like the Reality shows, you would be out on your ear in minutes.

   Trump built a career in media by shouting “you’re fired!” – in the cruelest possible manner, to humiliate the candidates, on The Apprentice. Then, as President of the United States, he did the same – to his endless parade of hapless cabinet ministers. And in his recent 70-minute speech to the Republican Convention, he honed the politics of meanness, spewing hatred to the Democrats and to protesters and anyone who in any way opposed him.

   The culture of meanness, born on TV, is now succeeded by the politics of meanness and hatred. Your politics is defined by whom you hate, not whom you support and love. You seek election and re-election by fanning the flames of hatred. The ‘law and order’ mantra is a thinly-disguised slogan for hating people of color, who dare to protest and demand their rights.

   In his recent Op-Ed, New York Times columnist David Brooks paints a terrifying picture of where the politics and culture of being mean will lead us. And I have a dire prediction. Dnald J. Trump’s son Donald Jr. excelled in his Convention speech, in applying the politics of hatred, outdoing even his father (and that is very very hard to do)…and he will be the Crown Prince and successor to his vitriolic dad. So we will have a Trump fanning the flames of hatred for many many years to come (Don Jr. will be 43 in December).

     Here is an excerpt from David Brooks’ column. It is very disturbing… the way back to sanity from meanness is long, winding and difficult. Maybe even not feasible….:

“I’ve been thinking about the two families we’ve encountered over the past two weeks. The Biden family is emotionally open, rendered vulnerable by tragedy and driven by a powerful desire to connect. The Trump family is emotionally closed, isolated by enmity and driven by a powerful desire to dominate.   Occasionally this week one of the female members of the Trump family would struggle to stick her head above the muck of her family’s values and display some humanity. But Donald, Don Jr. and Eric showed no such impulse. Trump family values are mean world values. Mean world syndrome was a concept conceived in the 1970s by the communications professor George Gerbner. His idea was that people who see relentless violence on television begin to perceive the world as being more dangerous than it really is.   By the 1990s it was no longer violent programing that drove mean world culture, but reality television. That’s an entire industry designed to give the impression that human beings are inherently manipulative, selfish and petty. If you grow up watching those programs, or starring in them, naturally you believe that other people are fundamentally untrustworthy.  These days mean world culture is everywhere. It’s a siege mentality. Menace is everywhere. We’re on the brink of the cataclysm. This week’s Republican convention was a four-day cavalcade of the mean world alarmism.   Mean world thrives on fear and perpetuates itself by exaggerating fear. Its rhetorical ploy is catastrophizing and its tone is apocalyptic. The Democrats are not just wrong, many speakers asserted this week, they are “subverting our republic,” abolishing the suburbs, destroying Western civilization and establishing a Castro-style communist dictatorship. The Democrats, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida said, want to “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.” ”


The End of Everything – But…Not For Several Billion Years!

By Shlomo Maital

Katie Mack, North Carolina State U

    For many, the current pandemic does seem like the end of the world, at least as we know it. In both Israel and the US, a distressingly high proportion of people suffer from some form of post-trauma. 

     It is not the end of the world, of course — but it is still interesting to read what an expert, a cosmologist, thinks about the universe, of which our world is a tiny part, will end someday. Prof. Katie Mack has written a fine book about, The End of Everything (Scribner, 2020).  She was interviewed on Ira Flatow’s fine podcast Science Friday (NPR).

   So here are a few ways the universe will end.  In several billion years.

  • Expand into nothingness: We now know the universe is expanding outward, faster and faster, thanks to ‘dark energy’ (an energy source which we do not understand…yet). [“Wendy Freedman determined space to expand, so that for every 3.3 million light years further away from the earth you are, matter is moving away from earth 72 kilometers a second faster.] If it continues to expand forever…then in billions of years, the universe will expand into….nothingness.  
  • Implode into a new Big Bang.   Some 13.6 billion years ago, the universe imploded into a tiny space smaller than an atom, much smaller: and then exploded, becoming the Big Bang.   This could happen again. At some point, the universe may stop expanding, we’re not sure why or how – and then stop expanding, and start contracting, moving inward…and…. Wham, another Big Bang. Perhaps there has been an infinite number of such Big Bangs….explosion, implosion…. Etc.
  • A voracious bubble:     We do not understand why, in the Big Bang, there was not the creation of equal amounts of matter and anti-matter. (There is far far more matter than anti-matter – e.g. an electron is ‘matter’, a positron, with a plus charge, is anti-matter. And there are huge amounts of dark matter, matter we cannot see or explain, because otherwise the forces of gravity cannot be explained).   The laws of physics are thus violated. Somewhere there may be a ‘Hungry Bubble’ – a tiny place in the universe where the laws of physics are different… and this bubble may begin swallowing matter, sucking matter into the bubble and destroying it….      

       In this pandemic, humankind has learned a great deal of humility. We have been defeated so far by a few strands of RNA. Another dose of humility comes from cosmology. We humans on Planet Earth are just the tiniest of inconsequential specks, in this enormous universe, which grows larger and larger every second, as it expands. Life on Earth (if any remains) will end when our sun explodes in a few billion years. And long long after that, as Katie Mack shows, the entire universe will end…

     …but we don’t know how.

And: a small excerpt from one of the many sterling reviews:

     “ Astrophysicist Katie Mack provides insight into the myriad ways in which the world could end, extinguishing life in the process, and despite the topic being a morbid and sobering one I found it absolutely riveting, extensively researched and accessible throughout; it really is a rarity that a science book can have you so enthralled by what you are reading. It explores five different ways the universe could end and the wondrous physics, big questions, and mind-blowing lessons underlying them with each being discussed thoroughly and all being deeply interesting concepts to read about, if not a little scary.”


The EU is back – the US is not

By Shlomo Maital

The Brexit fiasco generated enormous pessimism about the future of the European Union. There was talk about Italy leaving the EU, after extreme elements there broached the idea, or even Netherlands, which resents handouts to spendthrift EU nations.

   Well, the EU is back. Here is what the Financial Times reported on the bailout deal struck yesterday, after four long days of meetings, wrangling and compromise:

     “EU leaders have struck a deal on a landmark coronavirus recovery package that will involve the European Commission undertaking massive borrowing on the capital markets for the first time.   After days of sometimes bitter debate, the bloc’s heads of government agreed on a €750bn package aimed at funding post-pandemic relief efforts across the EU. The deal was announced in a tweet from Charles Michel, the European Council president at 05.31am (CET) on Tuesday and was hailed by Emmanuel Macron, the French president, as a “historic day for Europe”.   The recovery fund centers on a €390bn programme of grants to economically weakened member states — a significantly smaller sum than the €500bn package originally proposed by Berlin and Paris in May. Leaders also signed off on the EU’s next seven-year budget, which will be worth €1.074tn.   The deal, orchestrated by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Mr Michel, is the fruit of marathon negotiations under way in Brussels since Friday morning. The summit was the second longest in the bloc’s history, falling just shy of the record set at a meeting in Nice in 2000.”

  Once again, Angela Merkel, the lame-duck Chancellor of Germany, long after she announced her retirement, has returned to bring together disparate EU elements – from the autocratic Hungarian leader Viktor Orban, to the frugal four northern nations.

   Smaller frugal nations won an agreement to increase their rebates from the EU — Austria’s annual reduction will be doubled to €565m a year ($644 m.) compared with previous proposals, while the Netherlands’ rebate will jump to €1.92bn ($2.2 b.) from €1.57bn ($1.78 b.) .

   Contrast the ability of the fraught wrangling 27-nation European Union, moving to help the poor nations among it, with the hopeless helpless United States, where a) President Trump dumped responsibility for battling the pandemic on the 50 state governments and their governors, and saw as a result a horrendous second wave emerge, and b) led Republican opposition to provide financial help to state governments, while pressing them to re-open schools on Sept. 1, without the money it would take to do so safely.

  A New York Tmes Op-Ed asks, which major nation will emerge strongest from the pandemic? Not the US. And no, not China. Answer: Germany, the enlightened leader of sanity and compromise in the European Union.

A Little Bird that LOVES Summer – and flies 40,000 miles a year to enjoy it 

By Shlomo Maital

Arctic tern

   So – we humans love summer, right. In normal times: vacation, hiking, Nature, beaches, ocean, sunshine…   But there is a little bird, that weighs 100 grams, that REALLY loves summer. I mean, LOVES!   And it flies 40,000 miles round trip, or more,  just to enjoy permanent year-round summer.

   But how?

   So, Arctic terns breed during the summer, in the Arctic and northern temperate regions, in May-June. Then later in July they begin their migration south– far south, 12,000 miles to Antarctica. And they arrive in time for the Antarctic summer. Before winter again returns to the Antarctic, they fly back to the Arctic, another 12,000 miles.

   25,000 miles round trip – the distance around the Earth, at the equator. All this, for a little bird that weighs 100 grams.

     And if this is not amazing enough —   baby birds do it too. Fledglings are born, and within three months, they do the long migratory flight from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back.

     But wait. We do not do it justice. Arctic terns do not fly in a straight line, North Pole to South Pole and back. Tracking devices show this:

   Eleven birds that bred in Greenland or Iceland covered 70,900 km (44,100 mi) on average in a year, with a maximum of 81,600 km (50,700 mi). The difference from previous estimates is due to the birds’ taking meandering courses rather than following a straight route as was previously assumed. The birds follow a somewhat convoluted course in order to take advantage of prevailing winds.

   And consider this:

     The average Arctic tern lives about thirty years, and will, based on …. research, travel some 2.4 million km (1.5 million mi) during its lifetime, the equivalent of a roundtrip from Earth to the Moon over 3 times.

There are so many wonders on our beautiful planet — I wish more people would support Green Planet programs — and respect the Arctic tern and other miraculous creatures that share the Earth with us.

It is not fanatical to claim that indirectly, this awful pandemic reflects our deep lack of respect for Nature, in all its facets, and our arrogant underestimation of Nature’s value and power. If a little bird that weighs one-fifth of a pound can travel a distance equal to the Moon and back over three times in its lifetime —   maybe we humans should be a tad more humble.

   By the way – we know all this, partly because experts place high-tech tags on the Arctic terns’ legs – the tag weighs only 1 gram, has a GPS chip on it, does not burden the bird and helps us understand its habits. Few people see the bird, because it always flies over water.

Learning from Angela Merkel

By Shlomo Maital

It was all over for Angela Merkel. She announced her retirement as head of the Christian Democrats, in Germany, and more or less disappeared as Chancellor.

   And then – came the pandemic.   Writing in the New York Times, Anna Sauerbrey * explains how Merkel is hugely popular, her party leads by far in the polls – and Germany has weathered the pandemic far better than the US, for instance, where President Trump, a born misogynist, persistently mocks “Angela”. [The New Yorker reported: The first Trump-Merkel encounter in the Oval Office began with almost comically awful optics: Merkel offered a ceremonial handshake for the cameras, which Trump seemed to rebuff. After the photographers left the room, Trump reportedly announced, “Angela, you owe me one trillion dollars.”].”.

Here is a selection from Sauerbrey’s piece: “Now, in early July 2020, Ms. Merkel is riding high. The country, with a notably low fatality rate and a high-functioning test and trace system, has contained the pandemic — a success many attribute to the chancellor. In a recent poll, 82 percent of Germans said that Ms. Merkel was doing her job “rather well.” And the Christian Democratic Union is once again far ahead of its challengers.”

   Please recall that Merkel is a highly trained scientist – a quantum chemist, someone who understands deeply both physics and chemistry. A perfect person to lead a nation through a crisis that demands deep scientific understanding.  

       Now, let’s assume that the United States has a President who is wise, open-minded, modest, humble, intelligent, and desperate to lead his country through the crisis in an admirable fashion.   The US and Germany have much in common. Both have a federal structure – the 50 states in the US, and the German federal states.   Both in Germany and the US, the state governments have major powers. The wise US President says, let’s find out why and how Germany is doing so well, and adapt its policies.

     Here, the similarity ends. In the US, Republican ‘red’ states [Florida, Arizona, Alabama, etc.] have opened prematurely, triggering a disastrous wave of new infections.  In Germany, Merkel’s knowledge and background gave her credibility, and she deftly coordinated policy, so that the German states followed her guidance carefully. No “Florida’s” or “Arizona’s” in Germany.

     The federal government in Germany manages and directs the test and trace system, with massive resources and trained personnel. A model of excellence.

     Not so in the US. And the US President? His shocking, racist speech at Mt. Rushmore barely mentioned the pandemic. Maybe, he thinks, if I ignore it – it will just go away.

     The people of Germany are fortunate to have Merkel in a strong leadership position during the pandemic.

     The hapless people of the United States are desperately unlucky to have Trump leading them, even though three million more people voted for his rival.  

* How Germany Fell Back in Love With Angela Merkel. New York Times, July 8, 2020.

How Israel Screwed Up: Anatomy of Catastrophe

By Shlomo Maital

This is the story of how Israel, and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, totally screwed up how it handled the pandemic. This, after congratulating itself for being a “model for all nations”. It is based on an article in today’s daily Haaretz by Ido Efrati. It will take me only 695 words. And they are almost too painful to write. Because it is my country, and it is unbearable to see what our leaders have done to it.

   According to the Israeli government press office: as late as on May 7, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, today, participated in a conference of the leaders of the countries at the forefront of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, [whose leaders] sought to learn from the Israeli model for dealing with outbreak zones.”   Really??

   Ten costly mistakes that cost lives:

  1. Very few nurses have been assigned to do contact tracing. And they are not well coordinated. A new contact tracing center does not yet operate – it hasn’t yet received the necessary authority. It now takes 6 days or more to trace a patient’s contacts – it has to be 24-48 hours to stop an outbreak.
  2. PM Netanyahu decided to open all schools fully for all grades in mid-May. He scrapped the previous system of ‘capsules’, and small groups.   And days later, the new Health Minister Y. Edelstein scrapped the requirement that kids wear masks. Too hot, he said. So much for getting adults to wear masks. Schools spread the virus and soon hundreds had to close and quarantine teachers and kids.
  3. It has taken many months for the Health Ministry to increase daily tests to 25,000. Only on May 31 did the Health Minister say that asymptomatic people should be tested, too, if they came in contact with someone infected. Only on June 22 did Dr. Sadetzki (Health Ministry official) order officials to test those quarantined within 48 hours. Result: Many carriers spread the virus widely before they were identified.
  4. Until a week ago, the Health Ministry used a strategy of declaring ‘red zones’ (local hotspots). But because the virus is now so widespread, this failed utterly. And under pressure, the Ministry backed down.
  5. Israelis are exhausted, hungry and jobless. After the PM and other leaders made empty promises and false claims, they no longer believe what they are told. Police are trying to enforce mask-wearing, with little success. Moreover, both the President of Israel and the Prime Minister of Israel broke quarantine laws during Jewish religious holydays, inviting relatives against then-strict lockdown rules – and the Press reported it. This infuriated many Israelis and led to widespread defiance. Now, only about a quarter of those who should be in quarantine actually do so, according to the Health Ministry.
  6. Five months after the pandemic broke out in Israel, critical information is missing. What proportion of Israelis are asymptomatic, with virus? We don’t know. How long does it take to trace patients’ contacts? We don’t know.
  7. Israel has a well-staffed professional experience organization that can best deal with the pandemic. It is the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front command. It has almost infinite manpower, able to call up trained soldiers for reserve duty. Yet the Prime Minister stubbornly refuses to mobilize the Home Front Command. The reason is transparent. Home Front is under the Defense Ministry, and Netanyahu’s rival Benny Gantz is Defense Minister. What if, heaven forbid, the Home Front succeeded? Gantz would get the credit. No way. It will not happen. As with Trump, Bibi is only, and totally, about Bibi, and not Israel or its wellbeing.
  8. “Israel’s decision making, from the earliest stages of the crisis, has been influenced by only a handful of professionals. …Many professional associations are furious that they can’t even get a foot in the door to influence decision-making.”
  9. “The coronavirus crisis has laid bare years of neglect in the public health system, including its diagnostic laboratories.” The country’s 37 diagnostic labs have for months relied on student volunteers to help. There are too few doctors and too few hospital beds.
  10. And the previous Health Minister, appointed in July 2015, allowed the healthcare infrastructure to degrade – believe it or not, while most civilized nations appoint doctors or veteran healthcare managers to head the Health Ministry, Israel appointed an ultra-Orthodox Hassid who once came to a key pandemic press conference wearing his bear-fur hat in celebration of the Jewish festival Purim. During the pandemic, while in office, he persistently fought against lockdown restrictions on the ultra-Orthodox – and partly as a result, they have suffered disproportionately many cases and deaths.  


(Un)Happy Birthday, America – There’s a Hole in your Bucket

By Shlomo Maital

   Happy birthday, America; you are 244 years old today. But it’s an unhappy birthday.   Here is why.

    “New America” is falling behind “Old Europe”. The term Old Europe was used by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in January 2003. It was used in scorn. President Trump continues to mock Europe, and even mock even its brilliant German leader Angela Merkel.

     But guess what? Experts believe, as in this New York Times article, that “Europe may bounce back first” (July 3) – long before the US.   But why? America spent relatively far more on relief measures – a staggering $2.7 trillion, or 13% of its GDP!, on economic relief to individuals, firms and states. And more will come soon.

   What went wrong?

   The US spent vast sums on those who did not need it – like big corporations. (Sound Republican to you? Remember the Trump tax cut?). Much money was thrown away through incompetence – thousands of dead people got checks in the mail.   A lot of money went toward unemployment payments – companies laid off people so the government could save them money. So expanding unemployment caused layoffs, rather than prevent them.  America has a terrible leaky bucket – a near-non-existent social safety net. Just when the pandemic really really needed one with no holes in it.

   Europe? Unemployment rose relatively little. The German government reintroduced kurzarbeit– used after the 2008 crisis, in which work hours are shortened and spread around over workers rather than fire or lay off people. Most of Europe simply used its existing safety nets to help those in need, and the safety net expanded nearly automatically. Most people kept their jobs — which means you don’t have to rehire them, something US firms will be hesitant to do.

   In the US, with Trump boasting about 11% unemployment (yes, it’s down from 14%), consumers are highly uncertain about their future. And they are just not spending. With consumption at 70% of GDP, no US recovery is possible without consumer confidence. And it is lacking, especially with an election looming on Nov. 3.  

   America’s bucket is leaky. Somehow it has not managed to create a waterproof bucket for its poor, its ill, its uneducated, its immigrants, etc., in 244 years. So it IS an unhappy birthday.  And the specter of that terrible day in 1619, when the first African slaves landed in America, continues to haunt this troubled nation.

   Now, a strong US leader could look across the ocean and figure out why Europe, old Europe, crusty old Europe, has done so well, and try to copy its social safety net.

   But that would take vision and humility. Those qualities, too, seem to have leaked out of the bucket.

Build Back Better – Toward an Emergence Vision

By Shlomo Maital

   In the US, Israel and other nations, we are seeing a disastrous collapse of leadership. There is no vision regarding the future, and how we are to emerge from the pandemic. Churchill once said, if you’re going through hell – keep going. But where? How? Our leaders shrink into the shadows and fall silent. Let someone else take the blame.

   Here is a blueprint for emergence. Start with a mantra – three words. Build back better. No, we will not go back to the ‘good old days’, they actually weren’t that good, as the virus proved. We will build back – but better.

   How?   We start with a careful audit, by experts. What were the range of social, political, educational and economic failings before the pandemic? Inequality, apathy, ill health, poor schools…   write the entire list.

   Second, strategic plan. How can each of these ills be repaired? And most important, how can we use creativity, with minimal resources, to tackle the problem? Schools can shift to project-based learning – that won’t require huge new resources, kids will thrive.

   The Bible says (Psalms) in Hebrew, without vision, a nation literally falls to pieces:

      . אין חזון יפרע עם    

So  Give us a vision. Build a strategic plan. Tell every part of society where they fit into it and what they must do. Do it bottom up – canvas all of society for ideas. Get people to pull together. Today, in Israel, each interest group – small business, artists, performers – demonstrates on their own, with the guiding principle: the squeakiest wheel gets the most grease. A bad system.

   Crises produce new leaders. I eagerly await the new leaders who will step and bring us their vision – and help us implement it.

How Trump and America Screwed Up and Killed Thousands:

The Blow by Blow Account of Criminal Folly

By Shlomo Maital

This is the shocking story of how President Trump and America screwed up in confronting the pandemic. The result: Thousands and thousands of needless deaths. And today – a new record number of newly infected persons in the US. The account below is by the New York Times’ brilliant team of reporters.

Here is the awful story, blow by blow, almost too painful to put into words. If you can, read these 806 words about criminal folly and blind incompetence by political leaders.

 ¨ It started small. A man near Seattle had a persistent cough. A woman in Chicago had a fever and shortness of breath. By mid-February, there were only 15 known coronavirus cases in the United States, all with direct links to China. “The 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero,” President Trump said. The patients were isolated. Their contacts were monitored. Travel from China was restricted.

¨ None of that worked. Only a small part of the picture was visible. Some 2,000 hidden infections were already spreading through major cities. We traced the hidden spread of the epidemic to explain why the United States failed to stop it.At every crucial moment, American officials were weeks or months behind the reality of the outbreak. Those delays likely cost tens of thousands of lives.

 ¨   HOW THE VIRUS GOT IN: The China travel ban was a partial success: Only a handful of infected travelers from China are estimated to have made it into the country undetected before restrictions were imposed on Feb. 2.But it wasn’t enough. A vast wave of infected travelers — roughly 1,000, one model suggests — came from other countries in Asia, Europe and the rest of the world in February, each a dangerous spark that could set off a wider outbreak. Many of those infections died out. But by mid-February, a few caught fire and became outbreaks, spreading invisibly.  

¨ The country was unaware of its own epidemic. Many tests released by the C.D.C. didn’t work, leaving only enough to test people who had visited China or had contact with a handful of known cases.Over the next two weeks, the invisible outbreaks doubled in size, then doubled three more times.

 ¨   Top federal health experts concluded by late February that the virus was likely to spread widely within the United States and that government officials would soon need to urge the public to embrace social distancing measures, such as avoiding crowds and staying home.   But Mr. Trump wanted to avoid disrupting the economy. So some of his health advisers, at Mr. Trump’s urging, told Americans at the end of February to continue to travel domestically and go on with their normal lives. And they did. Millions moved across the country, cellphone data shows. Some unknowingly carried the virus with them.

¨ Researchers with the Seattle Flu Study ignored C.D.C. testing restrictions and uncovered a single case with no travel history in late February. This was the first sign that the outbreak had spun badly out of control.

¨ Over the two weeks that followed, people made about 4.3 million trips from the Seattle area. Thousands were contagious. Genetic samples linked to the Seattle outbreak appeared in at least 14 states, said Trevor Bedford, a professor at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and a leader of the flu study.

¨ Seattle was just the beginning. In New York City, where officials had found only a single case by March 1, roughly 10,000 infections had spread undetected. New Yorkers and visitors continued to travel out of the city. More than 5,000 contagious travelers left in the first two weeks of March, estimates suggest.

¨ “I’m encouraging New Yorkers to go on with your lives and get out on the town,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on March 2. People leaving New York City made about 2.8 million trips to the Hudson Valley. Some carried the virus with them, and outbreaks there accelerated in mid-March, the likely result of travel from New York, a Times analysis found.

¨ People also made more than 25,000 trips to New Orleans, where genetic data suggests that a large early outbreak stemmed from infections from New York, according to Karthik Gangavarapu, a computational scientist at Scripps Research, and Dr. Bedford.

¨ Tracking signature genetic mutations of the virus allows researchers to estimate the influence of early outbreaks. Early on, variants prominent in Seattle’s outbreak were found more frequently. But later samples showed that a variant found often in New York City’s outbreak had become much more widespread. A new analysis of thousands of mutations also points directly back to New York, Dr. Bedford said. Travel from the city helped to spread that variant across the country.

¨  “New York has acted as a Grand Central Station for this virus,” said David Engelthaler of the Translational Genomics Research Institute. By the time President Trump blocked travel from Europe on March 13, the restrictions were essentially pointless. The outbreak had already been spreading widely in most states for weeks.


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital