SHI 5.6.20 – The Data Has Spoken

SHI 4.29.20 – What’s Wrong with This Picture?
April 29, 2020
SHI 5.13.2020 – Leaving California
May 13, 2020

” Governor Newsom:  Set California Free!

When our governor locked down California on March 19, asking millions of citizens to stay home, he did so out of an abundance of caution.  At that time, data was insufficient to draw any other conclusion expect shut down the state … let’s keep our population safe from this fast spreading, dangerous killing disease.  That’s the decision the Governor made, and I think it was the right decision, given what we knew. 

Now, about 6 weeks later, our data is far more accurate and complete.   It now speaks to us.  It remains clear that Covid-19 is a killer.  But what we have also learned is the disease is not an indiscriminate killer.  Without question, the data tells us the old and frail are at exceptionally high risk.  And the data also tells us that the young have very little risk of death.  Very little.   After tracking 56,210 confirmed California cases of Covid-19, we now know:

  • Kids between 0 to 17 have an exceptionally low risk of death from Covid-19.  In fact, there are no known Covid-19 deaths in this age group in California.  Zero.
  • 78% of all deaths to date have occurred in the 65+ age group. 

To repeat, we now have both accurate and complete data, and the data has spoken.   Let’s take a closer look at the data.

Welcome to this week’s Steak House Index update.

If you are new to my blog, or you need a refresher on the SHI10, or its objective and methodology, I suggest you open and read the original BLOG: https://www.steakhouseindex.com/move-over-big-mac-index-here-comes-the-steak-house-index/


Why You Should Care:   The US economy and US dollar are the bedrock of the world’s economy.  

But is the US economy expanding or contracting?

Before COVID-19, the world’s annual GDP was about $85 trillion today.  No longer.  It has shrunk sizable during ‘The Great Lockdown.’   I did not coin this phrase — the IMF did.  The same folks who track global GDP.   Until recently, annual US GDP exceeded $21.7 trillion.  Together, the U.S., the EU and China still generate about 70% of the global economic output.

The objective of this blog is singular.

It attempts to predict the direction of our GDP ahead of official economic releases. Historically, ‘personal consumption expenditures,’ or PCE, has been the largest component of US GDP growth — typically about 2/3 of all GDP growth.  In fact, the majority of all GDP increases (or declines) usually results from (increases or decreases in) consumer spending.  Consumer spending is clearly a critical financial metric.  In all likelihood, the most important financial metric. The Steak House Index focuses right here … on the “consumer spending” metric.  I intend the SHI10 is to be predictive, anticipating where the economy is going – not where it’s been.


Taking action:  Keep up with this weekly BLOG update.  Not only will we cover the SHI and SHI10, but we’ll explore related items of economic importance.

If the SHI10 index moves appreciably -– either showing massive improvement or significant declines –- indicating growing economic strength or a potential recession, we’ll discuss possible actions at that time.


The BLOG:

The New York ‘stay-at-home’ rule — unless extended — will expire mid-May.  In a NY Times article posted earlier today, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo was quoted as saying,

  • “There’s a cost of staying closed.”
  • “There’s also a cost of reopening quickly. That is the hard truth that we are all dealing with.”

and finally:

  • “A human life is priceless. Period.

I hear you, Andrew.   But I have a small problem with your statement:  If a human life is priceless, and should never be risked, they why do you allow New Yorkers to drive cars and fly in airplanes?   It’s a fact:  The traveler risks death in both activities. 

The simple fact is human lives are at risk every day.   Our Governors cannot protect us from all risk.  It’s an impossible task.   They can work to reduce or minimize known risks … like mandating we wear seat belts in those cars and on those airplanes, but they cannot mandate all drivers drive safely, or that all airplanes stay in the air until they land.  

But I think we would both agree that unnecessary risks cannot, and should not, be taken.   And therein lies the challenge.   How can one decide which risk is reasonable … and which are unnecessary?  Sometimes it is difficult to tell, usually because we have insufficient data.   Without good data, we simply don’t know if a choice is good or bad.  On March 19, Governor Newsom decided the risk of keeping California ‘open’ was too great.   Left open, too many Californians might die.  Covid-19 was spreading at a rapid rate, doctors and best statistical models were forecasting a massive death toll from the disease.   On March 19, California closed.  Governor Newsom closed the state knowing millions would lose their jobs, be unable to pay their rent or mortgages, homeless populations would grow, and businesses would fail.   Yet he did it because, I have no doubt, given the massive unknowns about the danger from the pandemic, he felt it was the best choice. 

Today, however, we have more than just forecasts.  We possess significant and accurate data.   The data proves Covid-19 is extremely contagious.   The World Health Organization (WHO), on their ‘Q&A’ website (https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses) shares these helpful comments:

Can COVID-19 be caught from a person who has no symptoms?

COVID-19 is mainly spread through respiratory droplets expelled by someone who is coughing or has other symptoms such as fever or tiredness. Many people with COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms. This is particularly true in the early stages of the disease. It is possible to catch COVID-19 from someone who has just a mild cough and does not feel ill.  Some reports have indicated that people with no symptoms can transmit the virus. It is not yet known how often it happens.

How does COVID-19 spread?

People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. The disease spreads primarily from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, which are expelled when a person with COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, or speaks. These droplets are relatively heavy, do not travel far and quickly sink to the ground. People can catch COVID-19 if they breathe in these droplets from a person infected with the virus.  This is why it is important to stay at least 1 meter) away from others. These droplets can land on objects and surfaces around the person such as tables, doorknobs and handrails.  People can become infected by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.  This is why it is important to wash your hands regularly with soap and water or clean with alcohol-based hand rub.

While interesting and helpful, their data is not conclusive.  We don’t yet have confirmation on precisely how the disease transmits.  Clearly face coverings are a good idea — something that prevents a cough, sneeze or loud-talker from infecting someone close by.   So, the data suggests optimal behavior to avoid potential infection, but does not yet offer definitive conclusions. 

But the data we do have data from 56,210 confirmed California cases which permits definitive conclusions.   I believe they are so clear and obvious, we need to share them with Governor Newsom!   In fact, I’m hoping one of you — my faithful readers — will share it with him!   Here’s my proposed letter to the Governor…please share it with him:

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Governor Newsom:

Good morning.  I am a native Californian, 62 years old, a husband, a father, grandfather, a business owner, a property owner and a very concerned citizen.   I don’t know if this letter will actually reach you … but in the hope that it does, I wanted to share a few thoughts and opinions you may find helpful.  😊

I don’t envy the challenge you face.  Balancing our health concerns against 3.7 million unemployed Californians is daunting, to say the least.  But I do have a perspective you and your team may wish to consider as we move forward, intelligently reopening the state.    

I will use your data, Governor Newsom.  Here is a screen shot of the May 4th ‘COVID-19 Public Dashboard’ both “Positive Cases” and “Deaths.”  I’ve highlighted each below with a red arrow. 

 

 

First, let’s assume your California state data is accurate.   As of May the 4th, 56,210 Californians tested positive for CV-19 and we’ve experienced 2,317 deaths.   Because this is a very large sample size, we can assume the current data relationships will hold as the sample size grows.   I’m pleased to see an acceleration in lab testing, indicating almost 780,000 Californians have now been tested for the virus. 

But here is where I find the data to be precise and meaningful:

  • 0 – 17 Age Group, Positive Cases:  Of all cases, meaning 100% of all “Positive Cases,” only 3% have been found in this age group.   Said another way, of the 56,210 known positive cases, our children up to 17 years of age – basically up thru High School age – only 1,686 cases of Covid-19 have appeared in this age group.
  • 0 – 17 Age Group, Deaths:  There are no recorded cases of death from CV-19 in this age group.  None.  
  • I’m not certain of the number of Californians 17 and younger.  Per the ‘California Census Reporter,’ in 2019 about 25% of our population was younger than 19.  Thus, the under-17 group would be a bit smaller.  I’m sure you have more precise data than I can find. 

___________________

  • 18 – 49 Age Group, Positive Cases:  Most known cases of CV-19 show in this age group.  49% of all positive cases are found here.  Just about 1/2.    
  • 18 – 49 Age Group, Deaths:  The number of recorded deaths in this group are about 6% of the total.   Said another way, of the 2,317 known deaths, only about 140 have occurred in this age group.
  • I’m not certain of the number of Californians between 18 and 49.  Per the ‘California Census Reporter,’ in 2019 about 42% of our population was between 20 and 49.  I’m sure you have more precise data than I can find. 

____________________

  • 50 – 64 Age Group, Positive Cases:  26% of all CV-19 cases have appeared in this age group. 
  • 50 – 64 Age Group, Deaths:  The death rate for this age group is higher.  15% of all deaths have occurred in this age group.  
  • I’m not certain of the number of Californians aged between 50 and 64.   But the 2019 ‘California Census Reporter’ suggests about 24% of our population was between 50 and 69. 

____________________

  • 65+ Age Group, Positive Cases:  22% of all CV-19 cases. 
  • 65+ Age Group, Deaths:  The death rate is highest here.  78% of all deaths – math suggests that 1,807 of the 2,317 deaths — have occurred in this age group.  
  • I’m not certain of the number of Californians over 65.   But the 2019 ‘California Census Reporter’ suggests about 10% of our population was 70 or older.

Assuming (1) the data is accurate and (2) the sample size is sufficiently large, here is what the data says to me:

  1. Infection rates in children thru high-school age (at least thru 17) are statistically insignificant.    For the moment, let’s assume we have about 9 million Californians in this age group (again, your data is better), with only 1,468 known cases, the infection rate (to date) has been 0.01631%.   Very, very, very low.  Of course, this does not take into account unknown and untested asymptomatic cases.  Unfortunately, we don’t yet know this number.  But the known data does tell us this:  Kids 17 and younger are (1) unlikely to contract CV-19 … and (2) there are no known California deaths in this age group.
  2. Infection rates for the 18 – 49 age group are high.  Clearly, this age group is easily infected, and presumably often spreads this highly contagious disease.   Yet their death rate is very, very low.   They can get infected, perhaps even sick, but they rarely die.  This age group contracted about 23,970 of the known cases and experienced 139 deaths.  That translates to a known mortality rate of 0.58%.   Once again, this calculation ignores asymptomatic cases.
  3. Folks between 50 and 64 are higher risk.  For both infection and death.   They experience about ¼ of all infections and 15% of all deaths. 
  4. The 65+ age group is clearly at high risk.   Very, very high.   This group had 10,762 cases, and 1,545 deaths.  This suggests a known mortality rate of 14.356%.   

We have even more data from other US states.  In fact, here is a summary of the official data from the five (5) US states with the largest number of Covid-19 confirmed cases as of May 5th:

California and New Jersey us a Tableau data system with different age separations, as shown above.   But as almost 1/2 all US cases represented in these numbers, the conclusions are clear and obvious once again:  The young have are at minimal risk from Covid-19.  Not no risk, but minimal risk. 

Here are my conclusions:

The California economy, the 5th largest in the world, is at high risk of permanent damage.   Millions are unemployed and thousands of businesses are closed.  Many may never reopen.   Our citizens are hurting … many will be unable to pay their mortgage, their rent, or even put food on the table.   Time compounds these problems.  Every passing day, more Californians risk increasing financial ruin.   Our unemployed citizens are making a huge sacrifice … and bearing the brunt of the pain. 

The data we now possess tells us we can safely ‘reopen’ California.  But not completely or as it was before Covid-19.  No, we have to make adjustments.  Here are a few I suggest … but your experts will be able to craft a much more complete, comprehensive plan along these lines. 

As soon as possible, I suggest we fully open the California economy for everyone 50 and younger.   Let’s immediately allow every business can open their doors and begin re-hiring their hard working employees.   But we must carefully assess HOW every type of business opens thru two lenses:  First, by the potential of the business to maintain social distancing.   Second, from an age perspective.   Let me give a few examples:

  1. Make face coverings mandatory in public places, like grocery stores, shops, shopping centers, malls, theaters, etc. – wherever people congregate and social distancing might be challenging. 
  2. An ‘age check’ before entry must be mandatory where social distancing is inherently challenging.  Let’s call these businesses “high density.”  For example, to enter any restaurant or food/drink establishment without restriction, you must be 49 or younger.  The same for a movie theater, a sporting event, a Broadway play, etc., or wherever “social distancing” cannot be effective observed.  We already have “age-restricted” housing developments, why not “age restricted” venues?  To keep the attendees safe?  Makes perfect sense. 
  3. Require all restaurant patrons to hand-wash before sitting down for a restaurant meal.   Restaurant employees must wash their hands every ½ hour.
  4. Sports are critical.   Youth, school, collegiate and professional sports remain in high demand.  I believe we can open professional and collegiate sports venues with (1) consistent and thorough testing of every athlete, confirming they are disease free before every game, and (2) designing separations by age.  Let’s keep those under 50 separate from those 50-65 and those older than 65.  
  5. Folks from 50 to 65 years of age should have restricted entry and access to high density businesses.  Alternatively, certain business may choose to cater only to the 50+ crowd.  For example, movie theaters will be age-segregated.  Those over 50 years old will have a separate entrance to certain theaters within a multiplex, and only folks 50+ will be permitted in those particular theaters.  Sporting events can certainly do this:  Let’s keep those “older folks” in their own specific area within the stadium.  The same with restaurants.  We’ll have those catering to the 50+ crowd … and those catering to the 49 and below crowd.   Or, perhaps, large restaurants with multiple entrances can have a “designated” area — adequately distanced from those younger folks — where they can enjoy a fine meal. 
  6. Some business may choose to offer age restricted shopping hours for high-risk groups.  For example Costco offers an hour in the mornings of certain days for the 65+ age crowd.  I suggest we expand this practice and use it more extensively in high density shopping businesses.   Offered the choice between being open for 7 hours (vs. 8) for the “below 50 crowd” and, say, 2 hours (vs zero) for the “50 and older crowd” — as opposed to remaining closed — I think most high density businesses would jump at the opportunity. 
  7. All offices, stores, malls and businesses where face coverings can be effectively worn are ‘open game.’  All ages are welcome — with face coverings.  
  8. Open all the schools.  Kids 17 and under are perfectly safe.  Not only does this group rarely become ill … but they have minimal risk of death.  Colleges?  That’s worth a debate … but I say we open them too. 

Needless to say, there are many, many challenges and issues with this approach.  I will not minimize this fact.  But our precious California resources should be spent protecting the group that needs to be protected — folks over 65 — not the exceptionally large age group with minimal risk.  We now have data that proves restricting the movements of all Californians is unnecessary.  We now have data that is clear and incontrovertible:   Folks under 50 years old have little to fear from Covid-19.   The greater challenge is how we manage the movement of older groups.  This is the topic we should be discussing in depth and detail. 

But I’m sure we all want to get California working again … the challenge is how do we do that safely.  I believe this is a blueprint to achieve both adequate safety and help our citizens get back to work.

Thank you.   Best of luck to us all.

Terry Liebman

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As I said above, the greatest challenge we have is protecting the older and frail members of society.    For example, just days ago L.A. County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer disclosed that residents of “institutional settings” — predominantly nursing facilities — to date accounted for 47% of all deaths in L.A. County.   Almost 1/2.   I suspect, but do not know, that this problem is common across the US and the world at large.  This is a major problem that requires ideas and solutions.  

The US can follow the same blueprint as California.   You may have seen this report from ADP earlier today:

If a buddy at a 2019 New Year’s Eve party suggested that during 2020 we would see job losses exceeding 20 million in one month I would have demanded he lay off the booze.  No way, I would have said.  Well, the impossible has happened.   Here’s the link if you want to see all the details:  https://adpemploymentreport.com/

We now have the data to make new choices.   Of course, every choice we make has risks.  The challenge we face is finding the best choice given the known risks. 

I wish Governor Newsom, and Governor Cuomo, the best of luck.  But let’s get folks back to work and business open.  Let’s make informed, data-driven decisions. 

– Terry Liebman

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