The latest COVID-19 news has wiped out the last vestiges of hope for a 2020 summer season. Reports of horrifying hospital conditions, sharp increases in infections, shocking death rates and dire forecasts have brought a stark new reality to the world of sports, including baseball. Even a reluctant President was forced to accept the reality of a protracted timeline for social distancing, which has virtually shut down the nation’s economy.
Simply put, there is no time left to save a 2020 summer season. There is no miracle drug that can be tested and deployed quickly enough to arrest the rapid growth of COVID-19 before June, the traditional start of summer ball.
Our worst fears have been realized.
Nation in Virtual Lock Down
With the advent of stay-at-home orders being issued by Florida, George and Missouri, all but a few states remain without statewide mitigation orders. At this writing, more than 90% of Americans, over 300 million people, are under some form of mitigation (lockdown) with more joining every day. Some Governors have issued extended orders covering weeks or months. Friday, Virginia’s Gov. Ralph Northam, a pediatric neurologist by occupation and former officer in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, issued a courageous stay-at-home order extending all the way to June 10th prompting the Venerable Valley Baseball League to formally cancel the 2020 season. We expect other Virginia based leagues to follow shortly as well as leagues across the country.
With families impacted by the loss of jobs and business closures, many families may not be able to afford the cost of summer ball. Just as important is the lingering fear that will affect the willingness of parents to send their sons to remote locations and into the care of host families.
Challenges & Chaos
Cancellation of the 2020 season will present significant financial challenges for most teams and chaos for weaker leagues. Recruiting for the summer season starts right after the current season ends and most rosters are largely filled by November. Since most teams collect deposits upon signing to hold roster spots and many require full payment by January, there will be large sums that will have to be returned. Team expenditures for league dues, baseballs, bats, helmets, new or replacement uniforms, caps and other items are made well in advance of the season to accommodate delivery by the end of May. In other words, much of the roster payments may have already been spent. Principals may have to dig deep to keep teams alive. Since entrepreneurs are particularly hard hit by the economic devastation caused by COVID-19, many may simply have to close up shop. We’ll cover the impact on summer ball in later articles.
The novel coronavirus continues to sweep across the globe with 1.1 million confirmed cases, hitting the United States the hardest with a quarter of all infections. Yesterday, Friday, April 4th, was the deadliest day in America’s battle with the pandemic as the US reported 1,400 new deaths bringing the national total to more than 7,000. More than 30,000 new confirmed cases of the virus have raised the total infections so far to 278,000. Since testing has been limited, some epidemiologists estimate the number of infections to be 10 times or more than the confirmed total.
Flattening the Curve
While the administration has not released its own modeling assumptions and statistics, Dr. Deborah Brix, coordinator of the coronavirus task force, publicly discussed findings of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which she said produced results similar to administrations findings. Chris Murray, the director of the IHME, says their modeling team is working on a projection for exactly “what sort of rebound we will see” if social distancing were to be eased after April 30 instead of June 1. However, he says there’s no question it would be significant.
While there is still much uncertainty about the virus, scientific modelers have nonetheless pieced together available data from around the world to make projections about the growth rate of infections and importantly, the peak of the cycle. Since model projections vary widely, we included links to some of the publicly available ones below.
The wide range of possible outcomes from credible modelers is certainly confusing. However, the thing to remember is that there are no right numbers, but right answers are not what epidemiologists are looking for in their models. Understanding their limitations, epidemiologists use their models, to predict the progression of an infectious disease. Is it growing exponentially, peaking or slowing down?
Modeling an exponential process will inevitably produce a wide range of possibilities, especially when the data available has a lot of unknowns. In the case of a highly infectious virus, the spread of the disease is also highly dependent on the implementation and effectiveness of mitigation measures.
R Naught R0[i]
In epidemiology, R naught is the basic reproduction number. It’s a mathematical term that indicates how contagious an infectious disease is. As the infection spreads to new people, it reproduces itself. R0 is the expected number of cases directly generated by one case in a population where all individuals are susceptible to infection. When R0 is greater than 1 the infection will be able to start spreading in a population, but if R0 is less than 1 the disease will decline and eventually die out. If R0 is equal to 1, the disease is stable and will not break out into an epidemic. Generally, the larger the value of R0, the harder it is to control the epidemic.
Research is still in its early stages and lack of sufficient testing makes it difficult to calculate R0, but some estimates suggest that new COVID-19 cases infect between two and four people.
Maciej Boni, Ph.D., of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Pennsylvania State University, said the Imperial College model is the most likely scenario produced on the current pandemic. The model has three scenarios ranging from 500,000 to 2 million deaths depending on mitigation measures.
Perhaps the best-case projection is the coronavirus task force estimate of between 100,000 to 240,000 deaths.
Vaccines and Therapeutics
While things are moving a breakneck speed to develop vaccines and therapeutic treatments, none will be in widespread availability to save the 2020 season.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there are literally dozens of potential vaccines in various stages of development.
- 2 candidate vaccines in Phase 1 Trials
- 42 candidate vaccines in Pre-clinical Evaluation
Several of these drugs have been developed with unprecedented speed, thanks in large part to early Chinese efforts to sequence the genetic material of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. China shared that sequence in early January, allowing research groups around the world to grow the live virus and study how it invades human cells and makes people sick.
Vaccines require rigorous testing, which takes months if not years. Some vaccines have taken 5-25 years to develop safely. In addition, there is the added timeline for manufacture, distribution and consumption.
It is safe to say that no vaccine with be available to save the summer season.
From Science Magazine – “The World Health Organization (WHO) last week announced a major study to compare treatment strategies in a streamlined clinical trial design that doctors around the world can join. Other trials are also underway; all told, at least 12 potential COVID-19 treatments are being tested, including drugs already in use for HIV and malaria, experimental compounds that work against an array of viruses in animal experiments, and antibody-rich plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19. More than one strategy may prove its worth, and effective treatments may work at different stages of infection, says Thomas Gallagher, a coronavirus researcher at Loyola University Chicago’s Health Sciences Campus. “The big challenge may be at the clinical end determining when to use the drugs.”
Remdesivir is the farthest along in the development process of any candidate for the treatment of COVID-19. The ancestor of the drug has been around for a decade and in lab experiments,was effective against a number of different viruses, one of which was a type of coronavirus. Now its descendant is being rushed into trials.
“We urgently need a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19. Although remdesivir has been administered to some patients with COVID-19, we do not have solid data to indicate it can improve clinical outcomes,” said NIAID Director and U.S. Coronavirus Task Force member Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “A randomized, placebo-controlled trial is the gold standard for determining if an experimental treatment can benefit patients.”
The most widely touted candidate for the treatment of COVID-19 is the antimalarial drug chloroquine and its safer derivative hydroxychloroquine, which have been used since the 1940s to treat autoimmune disorders. Several in vitro (laboratory tests) have had promising results leading to great public speculation that it represents an effective treatment for COVID-19. However, according to Douglas Richman, a virologist and infectious disease physician at the University of California, San Diego, “Whether hydroxychloroquine works in vivo [in humans] is not proven for any virus, and in fact in randomized controlled trials against a number of viruses, including influenza, it doesn’t work at all,” says. “It’s my personal prejudice that this is also going to be the case with coronavirus.”
In addition to the health aspects of the pandemic, the economic impacts are just as devastating – perhaps more so because everyone is affected and will be felt long after the pandemic passes. Economic disasters are not resolved in a matter of months.
A significant percentage of small businesses will not last until a vaccine or treatment is available. According to a National Federation of Independent Business survey, about 29% of small employers have talked with someone at their bank or with the Small Business Administration about finance options, and 23% are planning to do so soon.
Heroic Healthcare Workers
We would be remiss to close this article without thanking the nation’s heroic healthcare workers who literally are risking their lives to save others. When the NYFD, the bravest of the brave, salute you as heroes, you know you are. We couldn’t agree more.