Also, what's up with those N95 masks? Frankly, we wonder as we wander. Today, we'll cite two questions we don't see being widely reported or discussed:
First, what explains the vastly different death rates from Covid-19 in different relevant countries? More specifically, what explains a range of cases like this?
Coronavirus deaths per million population, as of May 21:Let's ignore the United States this once (289). Let's ignore Boris Johnson's early Trump-like clowning in jolly old England, which has been hit so hard.
United Kingdom: 531
South Korea: 5
What explains the difference between France, at 431, and Germany, at 99? What explains South Korea and Australia? What explains Taiwan?
These seem like fairly obvious questions. We don't see them being discussed a whole lot, except in terms of cozy sweatshirts and prefab tribal tales.
Our second question involves personal protective equipment—PPE. Let's focus on N95 masks.
In this morning's Washington Post, we find a report of a major survey of front-line health care workers. The survey was taken from April 26 through May 4. At that time, 66 percent of respondents reported that N95 masks were "in short supply at [their] workplace."
As we noted a few weeks ago, this was a major hot topic back in March and early April, after which it basically disappeared. Although the reporting has disappeared, this survey makes it sound like the shortage of PPE quite possibly hasn't.
Does a problem still exist? Consider this slightly annoying, multi-media report from a reporter in the Washington Post's Graphics department.
The report appeared online on May 17. We don't know if it will ever appear in the Post's print editions.
Does a shortage still exist? The report began with a question, and with a statistic, we ourselves advanced many times way back when. We did so early and often:
BERKOWITZ (5/17/20): On April 2, the New England Patriots’ team plane left China with mundane but suddenly precious cargo: 1.2 million N95 respirators, a critical type of mask that protects health-care workers treating patients who have infectious diseases.According to Kadlec's testimony, we were going to need 3.5 billion N95 masks! On that basis, were the Patriots' measly 1.5 million N95s just a drop in the bucket?
Was that a big stash?
In normal, pre-covid-19 times, the answer would be yes. Most hospitals buy just a few thousand N95s per year, according to a company that negotiates purchasing contracts.
In the frenzied weeks of March and April, when the trickle of covid-19 patients suddenly grew into a deluge, the answer was a hard no. Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Robert Kadlec had testified in February that the United States would need 3.5 billion N95s in a serious pandemic.
When we were asking similar questions, we related them to "the gong-show of very large numbers." The problem arose like this:
Every evening, in prime time, at his televised non-briefing briefings, President Trump would rattle off the number of N95s some incredible company had incredibly pledged to provide.
As with the Patriots' stash, it always sounded like a very large number of masks. Unless you considered the enormous number Kadlec had said we would need, which Trump and the press never did.
Two months have passed, and the Post is now dealing with the same statistic and the same basic question. Here are some newer questions which came to mind when we read this Post report:
Did Kadlec know what he was talking about? Was his estimate sound? Also, over what period of time would we need 3.5 billion N95s? The Post report didn't try to answer these questions.
Another question went largely unanswered in the Post report. Does the shortage of N95s persist?
That survey suggests that the answer is yes. By now, though, nobody seems to care about that. Our major news orgs seem to have moved on.
Does a shortage of PPE persist? Like you, we have no idea, and we don't expect to find out.