Coronavirus: The California Herd

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

The bluest state’s public officials have been warning for weeks that California will be overwhelmed, given federal-government unpreparedness and the purported inefficacy of the local, state, and federal governments.

California governor Gavin Newsom has assured his state that over half of the population — or, in his words, 56 percent — will soon be infected. That is, more than 25 million coronavirus cases are on the horizon, which, at the virus’s current fatality rate of 1–2 percent (the ratio of deaths to known positive cases), would mean that the state should anticipate 250,000–500,000 dead Californians in the near future. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti predicted that this week Los Angeles would be short of all sorts of medical supplies as the epidemic killed many hundreds, as is the case in New York City.

It’s been well over two months since the first certified coronavirus case in the United States, so one might expect to see early symptoms of the apocalypse recently forecast by Governor Newsom. Yet a number of California’s top doctors, epidemiologists, statisticians, and biophysicists — including Stanford’s John Ioannides, Michael Levitt, Eran Bendavid, and Jay Bhattacharya — have expressed some skepticism about the bleak models predicting that we are on the verge of a statewide or even national lethal pandemic of biblical proportions.

The skeptics may be right. As of this moment, California’s cumulative fatalities attributed to coronavirus are somewhere over 140 deaths, in a state of 40 million. That toll is a relatively confirmable numerator (though coronavirus is not always the sole cause of death), as opposed to the widely unreliable denominator of caseloads (currently about 6,300 in the state) that are judged to be only a fraction of the population that has been tested. The Iceland study, for example, suggests that half of those who are infected show no symptoms. Currently, even with fluctuating statistics, California is suffering roughly about one death to the virus for every 250,000–300,000 of its residents.

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