It’s important to note that during a crisis, it’s not all bad news. Even during an unprecedented crisis like this one.
For instance, while California’s number of cases is still very large according to the LA Times’ coronavirus tracker, the number of COVID-19 cases has only grown by a multiplier of 5 times the number of cases each week. This is important because it means that the virus has not grown at the multiplier of 7 to 10 every week that some of us had initially feared, as rates in countries with the worst outbreaks were growing at that weekly rate for some time.
How does that “multiplier of 5” math work?
- There were 470 cases on March 17, according to the LA Times. Multiply 470 times 5 and you get 2,350 cases by March 24. Multiple 2,300 times 5 and you get 11,750 cases by March 31.
- As I write this on April 3, there are 11,207 cases in California according to the coronavirus tracker. In other words, the number of cases is growing less than a multiplier of 5.
In recent weeks, I’ve seen some experts point to this trend in California as an example that social distancing measures are working.
Despite this positive spin on things, even the biggest optimist must admit that by the end of summer, the number will still be too high. Some of this is due to the virus’ unavoidable contagious nature, while some of it is due to the grocery store shoppers who walk within 1-foot of other shoppers to get that perfect slice of cheese.
As workers’ compensation practitioners, we pride ourselves in specializing in evidence-based medicine. It’s important to take the same analytical approach to this crisis the same way you would any workers’ compensation case. Therefore, let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly:
- Antibodies: the aptly-named Dr. Larry Brilliant, the epidemiologist who gave a TED talk back in 2006 entitled “Help Me Stop Pandemics,” told Ars Technica that people who survive the virus will likely build up immunity against it. Since Dr. Brilliant’s interview which was published on March 23, the identification of antibodies is key to identifying who has already had the virus, which is tricky because some people don’t show any symptoms at all. That’s why the FDA recently approved a new antibody test.
- Vaccine: Dr. Brilliant also believes that a vaccine will be developed in the next 12-18 months. To be specific, he said, “. . . there’s nothing in the virology that makes me frightened that we won’t get a vaccine in 12 to 18 months.” Going back to our old friends, the antibodies, early vaccine tests have showed that it creates antibodies in initial testing on mice. When one combines the immunity of people who’ve already had the virus with the number of people who get the vaccine, Dr. Brilliant thinks it’s possible for 80% of society to be immune to the virus in about one year.
- Masks: During the last month, we’ve come around on wearing masks in public, as California’s public officials recently recommended wearing them on April 2. Apparently this is one of the key reasons that South Korea was able to slow the spread of this horrible virus.
- Plumbers, electricians, and other essentials: I recently watched the CEO of a credit card payment system company on Bloomberg News explain which New York businesses were still reporting business, and which businesses were seeing a total slowdown in sales. The good news is that the specialized trades including plumbers, electricians, and others are still reporting good business. As he put it, “People are still paying $500 for the emergency plumbing job. What they aren’t doing much of anymore is paying $14 for a glass of wine.” In other words, not all sectors of the economy have come to a grinding halt.
- Droplets: One of the reasons why the masks are important is that the virus is spread by airborne droplets that can stay airborne for up to three hours. To be fair, there is still a bunch of debate in the scientific community about how long they stay airborne. This is quite frightening because you can literally do everything correctly, not touch anyone, and still have airborne infectious droplets touch your eyes, mouth, or nose. So, wear your mask and take the stairs instead of using the elevator.
- Waves: A second and third wave of the virus is possible. Government experts warned about this in late March. The Spanish Flu had three waves and was the most severe pandemic in history, with the first wave occurring in March, the second wave occurring during Fall, and the third wave occurring during Winter. The deadliest wave was the second wave, according to the CDC. So just because the virus may take a summer vacation to the tropics, you may want to hold off on taking a victory lap in September when things cool off again.
- The numbers are wrong: Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, I’ll stop with the bad news soon. Unfortunately, due to lack of testing and failures in government reporting, there is reason to believe that the number of reported cases and deaths is artificially low. There is not much we can do about that here, other than to remain skeptical.
- Record number of unemployment claims: Unemployment figures are unprecedented: On April 2, it was reported that 10 million people filed for unemployment nationwide. A recent guest on Bloomberg News explained that at the height of the last recession in September 2008, that it took 19 weeks to hit the 10 million in unemployment number. This time around, it took only two weeks. What does that mean for us in the California workers’ compensation system? Most likely, this will result in a large uptick in post-termination cumulative trauma (CT) claims solely due to layoffs, regardless of how many work-related virus infections there are. Generally speaking, the National Council on Compensation Insurance economists have previously stated that claims frequency tends to decline during tough economic times as employers value their experienced workers more and employees tend to value their employment more. However, when I began practicing in California, I noticed the exact opposite in our state. I’ve examined this and asked others over the years why that is. The short answer is: California is the only state in the country with a cumulative trauma doctrine, and that allows for post-termination claims. Expect an uptick in post-term CT claims frequency in the Golden State during the next two years.
Got a question about workers’ compensation defense issues involving the coronavirus? Feel free to contact John P. Kamin. Mr. Kamin is a workers’ compensation defense attorney and partner at Bradford & Barthel’s Tarzana location, where he heads the firm’s Sports Law Division and watches the recent legislative affairs as the firm’s Director of the Editorial Board. Mr. Kamin previously worked as a journalist, where he reported on work-related injuries in all 50 states. Please feel free to contact John at email@example.com or at (818) 654-0411.
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