Much worse than Italy: In the US, an absolute disaster is brewing

There is no denying it: Italy is not an unfortunate exception. Soon enough, most countries will face a similar struggle.

**The chart below has been updated on 24 March 2020. The accelerating trend of US infections compared to Italy continues.

Experts have long warned that the US health system, notably the only developed economy without universal health care, is in worse shape than Italy. Data via Johns Hopkins.

The US now has the largest growth rate of COVID-19 cases in the world, doubling approximately every 2 days. What initially seemed to be a relatively slow growth rate was, apparently, directed only by a lack of tests — as soon as people were getting tested, the number of cases surged.

It is becoming clear that sooner rather than later, the US will face a similar strain to Italy’s — and even Italy has not seen the peak of the outbreak.

The simple chart above shows that the rate of infection in the US is accelerating much faster than the one in Italy.

Of course, there is an argument to be made — first, about the number of asymptomatic cases. We know that a number of cases are asymptomatic and people might not even know they have the disease at all. We don’t know how many there are, but this is an important uncertainty. Then, there’s a discussion about the number of tests — most countries are only testing people who are already sick, but outside of Asia, mass testing has not really been deployed.

These are both serious sources of uncertainty, and there are others as well. But even so, there is nothing to suggest that Italy is the worst-case scenario. Recent statements by the US surgeon general seem to echo these concerns: “This week, it’s gonna get bad,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams said. Considering that obesity and diabetes also appear to be risk factors for COVID-19, this would put much of the US population under even more pressure.

The US is not alone in this accelerated surge of infected cases.

Other countries looking at Italy from a distance would also be wise to understand that Italy is not the exception. Most have a similar infection rate, or even slightly accelerated.

The noted difference are some Asian countries — Japan and South Korea, to name just two. These countries managed to stabilize the situation and flatline the number of cases. Although there are concerns that the outbreak might re-emerge, they have both bought valuable time.

Suppression is valuable not just to contain the spread of the virus, but also to ensure that the medical system is not overwhelmed. Around 14% of all cases require hospitalization, and most of these people can be saved with proper care. But if the number gets too high and the medical system is overrun, the survival rate can decrease drastically. This is why it is important to take severe suppression measures as quickly as possible.

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*This article is not regularly updated.

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