200,000 coronavirus deaths is an undercount

Bloomberg Opinion Today

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Today's Agenda

The Covid Count

About seven months ago, the U.S. suffered its first known coronavirus death. Three months later, the official toll had risen to 100,000. Now that number has doubled — and it's probably an undercount.

The trouble is that counting deaths from Covid-19 is far more difficult than it may seem, Faye Flam reminds us. There's no one national standard for deciding what counts as a coronavirus death. Many pandemic victims have died without ever testing positive for the disease. And should we count the people who died from illnesses that went untreated because the ICU was filled with coronavirus patients? No matter how you make the official tally, though, it is probably already much higher than 200,000.

For various reasons — including the heroic efforts of caregivers and medical researchers — the disease has at least gotten a little less deadly lately. But knock furiously on wood when you read that. The U.S. keeps tempting fate by taking unnecessary chances. For example, did we really need a Nascar race with 30,000 fans? And sending students back to college has been a nationwide superspreading event, Bloomberg's editorial board writes. With no real guidance from health officials, strapped colleges have rushed back to normalcy too quickly, relying on kids to do the right thing and avoid keg stands and body shots for once. That has gone as well as you'd expect.

Further Pandemic Reading: The choices facing Boris Johnson are far more difficult in the U.K.'s second virus wave. — Therese Raphael

Remembering RBG

It wasn't long after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday that the discussion about her Supreme Court seat devolved into a political food fight. To some extent, this was as she might have wanted it: Her last request involved the process of picking her successor. But Ginsburg became a giant of American public life through intelligent, reasonable persuasion, writes Bloomberg's editorial board. She showed this approach can change a nation's minds and direction more than virulent disagreement. It's a lesson we might struggle to remember in the weeks to come.

Because the politics of the high court have gotten truly ugly, writes Stephen Carter. Maybe it's time to rethink basing our judicial system, and maybe our very democracy, on the health of individual justices.

Further RBG Reading:

Climate Apocalypse Now

Once upon a time, many of us assumed the perils of climate change would appear in an orderly, manageable fashion. It would get hotter and the seas would rise, sure, but we would have time to cope with such predictable nuisances. The wildfires engulfing the West Coast on basically an annual basis already are grim evidence we got global warming all wrong, writes Noah Smith. This should be a wake-up call that we need aggressive action on climate change, and yesterday.

Unfortunately, the evidence of catastrophe all around us isn't exactly galvanizing people into action, writes Clara Ferreira Marques. As always, human psychology is an impediment. People can get used to basically anything, apparently, including Armageddon. We'll need new approaches to change minds, or prepare for things to get far worse in a hurry.

As the TikTok Turns

Because it is a day that ends in "y," we've had yet another twist in the Trump-TikTok saga. Over the weekend it seemed almost a done deal that Oracle would "partner" with the video-sharing app in the U.S., making sure its Chinese owners didn't do anything nefarious with its user data. Tae Kim wrote this was a far cry from the sort of deal President Donald Trump had wanted, with China still holding a very big stake. Who knows, maybe Trump read Tae's piece; for whatever reason the president today said he didn't like the deal after all. So once again it's possible the world's hottest social-media app will be banned in the U.S., although that may not survive court challenges.

Anyway, banning TikTok and WeChat as Trump wants to do will only force people to find alternative, possibly shadier, ways to access those apps, warns Elaine Ou. This could be far worse for user and national security than the status quo.

Further TikTok Reading:

Telltale Charts

The K-shaped pandemic recession applies to geography too, Conor Sen writes, helping explain why New York City is in a depression and Arizona is merely in a recession.

Stock ownership is getting younger and more diverse, which has big policy implications, writes Aaron Brown.

Further Reading

It's not easy to calculate reparations, but an accounting of one massacre 100 years ago offers a hint of the scope of racism's financial effects. — Trevon Logan and William Darity Jr.

This election isn't to prevent authoritarian rule in the U.S., because it's already here. — Francis Wilkinson

A new report shows banks are losing the fight against money laundering. — Elisa Martinuzzi

Don't worry, plastic recycling is still worthwhile, and governments and companies are researching how to make it better. — Adam Minter

The Nikola mess is a reminder SPACs bring companies to the public without the full vetting of usual IPOs. — Chris Bryant

Boomers shouldn't be afraid to pass on some of their wealth long before they die. — Erin Lowry


Bill Barr called New York, Seattle and Portland anarchies.

The CDC keeps changing its tune on coronavirus.

Airbus has ideas for zero-emission flying.


Milk products can now be 3D-printed. (h/t Mike Smedley)

People are booking flights to nowhere. (h/t Ellen Kominers)

Archaeologists unearth 2,500-year-old sarcophagi. (h/t Scott Kominers)

Swimming with a hammer for a head is no day at the beach. (h/t Alistair Lowe)

Note: Please send 3D cheese and complaints to Mark Gongloff at mgongloff1@bloomberg.net.

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