Political Calculations
Unexpectedly Intriguing!
22 April 2021

For most Americans, the coronavirus pandemic has had two dimensions. The first dimension involves the excess deaths per capita recorded during the pandemic. The second dimension involves the direct economic impact from how people and governments responded to the pandemic, which for many, meant job losses.

The analysts of Hamilton Place Strategies came up with a way to visualize both dimensions for all 50 states in a single chart. Here it is!

Hamilton Place Strategies: State Outcomes from COVID-19

The chart indicates each state's COVID deaths per capita on the vertical scale, and each state's job loss per capita on the horizontal scale. By showing the national averages for both dimensions, it divides the 50 states into four quadrants.

The lower left hand quadrant is the best one in which to find your state. The states in this sector experienced both low rates of COVID deaths and low levels of job lossses during the pandemic. The best performing states are those that are furthest away from the intersection of the national averages for COVID deaths per capita and job loss per capita, where Idaho, Utah, and West Virginia having the best outcomes (Idaho and Utah with respect to job losses, West Virginia with respect to COVID deaths).

By contrast, the states in the upper right hand quadrant experienced the worst outcomes. Here, the combination of high COVID death tolls and high job losses indicates poor performance. Once again, the states furthest away from the intersection of the national average COVID death toll and job losses are the ones who ranked the worst.

Here, we find four states performing worst than almost all others. Louisiana, New Jersey, Nevada, and New York were the worst performing states in the U.S., with New York having by far the worst outcome of all states for both measures.

States falling in the other two quadrants had mixed outcomes, with high rates of COVID deaths per capita combined with lower than average job losses per capita, or vice versa.

With respect to COVID deaths per capita, Mississippi had the worst outcome in upper left quadrant. For the measure of job loss per capita, Hawaii had the worst performance in the lower right quadrant.

All in all, it's a neat bit of analysis. We wish we had thought to frame the data this way!

21 April 2021

Not much has changed over the last two weeks with respect to COVID trends in Arizona. Which is very good news.

That's because of what didn't happen after Arizona's economy fully reopened, which we mark from the lifting of capacity limits on businesses such as bars, restaurants, gyms, and others that would be considered prime territory for spreading coronavirus infections. What didn't happen is significant, because instead of developing a rising trend for COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, ICU bed usage, and deaths as it did after its first reopening attempt following its first wave of COVID-19, Arizona has instead experienced steady, relatively flat levels for all these measures. What had looked like the potential stalling of a previous trend of improvement is really demonstrating the benefits of the widespread deployment of Operation Warp Speed's vaccines in Arizona. The protections offered by the vaccines are enabling the gains of improvement to be sustained. Even as the kind of activities that would have previously resulted in the reversal of a positive trend for coronavirus infections have expanded.

That's evident in the latest updates to the four charts tracking the trends for each of these measures based on Arizona's high quality data for the numbers of new cases by test sample collection date, hospitalizations by date of admission, deaths by date as recorded on death certificates, and ICU bed usage.

Arizona Positive COVID-19 Test Results by Date of Sample Collection, 1 January 2020 - 19 April 2021
Arizona New COVID-19 Hospitalizations by Date of Admission, 1 January 2020 - 19 April 2021
Arizona New COVID-19 Deaths by Date of Death Certificate, 1 January 2020 - 19 April 2021
Arizona COVID-19 ICU Bed Usage, 10 April 2020 - 19 April 2021

Since our last update, the trend for cases has continued moving sideways, with the trends for both hospitalizations and ICU bed usage now following suit. It will take a little more time to see if the dataset for deaths attributed to COVID-19 will follow the same pattern, but the early indicators are that it will.

The next time we look at Arizona's high quality COVID-19 data, we'll be looking to confirm the answer to a very different question.

Previously on Political Calculations

Here is our previous coverage of Arizona's experience with the coronavirus pandemic, presented in reverse chronological order.

References

We've continued following Arizona's experience during the coronavirus pandemic because the state's Department of Health Services makes detailed, high quality time series data available, which makes it easy to apply the back calculation method to identify the timing and events that caused changes in the state's COVID-19 trends. This section links that that resource and many of the others we've found useful throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Arizona Department of Health Services. COVID-19 Data Dashboard: Vaccine Administration. [Online Database]. Accessed 20 April 2021.

Stephen A. Lauer, Kyra H. Grantz, Qifang Bi, Forrest K. Jones, Qulu Zheng, Hannah R. Meredith, Andrew S. Azman, Nicholas G. Reich, Justin Lessler. The Incubation Period of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) From Publicly Reported Confirmed Cases: Estimation and Application. Annals of Internal Medicine, 5 May 2020. https://doi.org/10.7326/M20-0504.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios. [PDF Document]. Updated 10 September 2020.

More or Less: Behind the Stats. Ethnic minority deaths, climate change and lockdown. Interview with Kit Yates discussing back calculation. BBC Radio 4. [Podcast: 8:18 to 14:07]. 29 April 2020.

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20 April 2021

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the apparent effectiveness of the Operation Warp Speed COVID-19 vaccines:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified a small cohort of approximately 5,800 cases of Covid-19 infection among more than 66 million Americans who have completed a full course of vaccination.

These so-called breakthrough cases, which are defined as positive Covid-19 test results received at least two weeks after patients receive their final vaccine dose, represent 0.008% of the fully vaccinated population.

Officials said such cases are in line with expectations because the approved vaccines in the U.S. are highly effective but not 100% foolproof.

For judging the effectiveness of a vaccine, that's the wrong measure. What we really want to do is compare how well the vaccines protect the portion of the public who have been fully vaccinated with the portion of the population that has either not been vaccinated or has only been partially vaccinated against COVID-19.

So we ran some rough numbers to find out. The following chart reveals a back-of-the-envelope estimate of how well the COVID-19 vaccines are so far working in the U.S.

How Well Do the COVID-19 Vaccines Work? Percentage Share of New Cases in U.S. Population, 15 December 2020 - 8 April 2021

At first glance, the Operation Warp Speed vaccines would appear highly effective.

Running Through the Rough Numbers

The first COVID-19 vaccincations of the U.S. public began on 14 December 2020.

On 15 December 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the size of the U.S. population on 1 April 2020 to be 332,601,000. The Census Bureau based this estimate on demographic analysis, independently of the actual 2020 U.S. Census results, where they estimated the actual population of the U.S. would fall in between a low estimate of 330,730,000 and a high estimate of 335,514,000.

As of 8 April 2021, 66,203,123 Americans (about 19.9% of the population) had been fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Using these figures, that would mean roughly 266,398,000 Americans would be considered either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated on that date [1].

From 15 December 2020 through 8 April 2020, the CDC reported a total of 14,232,649 new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. [2]. If 5,800 is the number of "breakthrough" cases among the 66,203,123 fully vaccinated Americans, subtracting 5,800 from 14,238,649 let's us arrive at the estimated number of cases among the "less-than-fully-vaccinated" population of 14,232,849.

That's how you get the numbers we used to calculate the percentages in the chart. 5,800 breakthrough cases among 66,203,000 fully vaccinated Americans works out to be a percentage of 0.0088%.

Meanwhile, the 14,232,849 newly reported cases among the 266,398,000 unvaccinated or less-than-fully vaccinated portion of the U.S. population during the period of time vaccinations have been available for the U.S. public represents 5.3% of that portion of the population.

Based on this rough reckoning, it would appear the vaccines are working very well in limiting the spread of new infections from the strains of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus active within the United States [3].

Notes

[1] None of this back-of-the-envelope analysis considers the number of Americans who already had and recovered from COVID-19, who have gained at least partial if not full immunity to the infection for at least some period of time as a result. As of 8 April 2021, that potential additional total is 30,181,371 (30,737,477 cases minus 556,106 deaths). We're also not considering the 46,843,488 Americans the CDC reports have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccines as of 8 April 2021 either, who it would consider partially vaccinated.

We opted to not consider these additional categories because the CDC has not indicated how many of the fully or partially vaccinated portions of the population in the U.S. has previously tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infections. By grouping them in the unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated category however, our rough estimates understate the relative benefits of vaccination. Even so, the apparent relative benefit is massive.

[2] This figure almost certainly includes the results of positive COVID-19 test results whose samples were collected days and weeks before the Operation Warp Speed vaccines began to be introduced to the U.S. public. The CDC does not report test results by sample collection date, which would provide higher quality information.

[3] We're also not considering political factors that have affected how the U.S. vaccination program has been rolled out by various state governments.

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19 April 2021

There's not much new in the S&P 500 (Index: SPX) this week, so it looks like the index kept drifting upward to new highs on its momentum.

Here's how that looks on the latest update to the alternative futures chart:

Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2021Q1 - Standard Model (m=+1.5 from 22 September 2020) - Snapshot on 16 Apr 2021

We're also reaching the point where we can test one of the assumptions behind the redzone forecast shown on the chart. When we first sketched it in several weeks ago, we assumed investors would begin shifting their forward-looking focus from 2021-Q2 out to the more distant future of 2021-Q4 during April 2021.

That assumption is looking really iffy right now. Instead of starting to shift their forward time horizon to the more distant future as we has assumed would happen this month, investors would appear to have strongly locked into their focus on 2021-Q2.

Given the small differences in the expectations for the growth rate of dividends in 2021-Q2 and 2020-Q4, we see that the redzone forecast range has so far captured most of the trajectory for the S&P 500. But that trajectory has also progressively run to the low side of the projected range. The actual trajectory is much more consistent with what would be expected if investors were maintaining a strong focus on 2021-Q2, so the question becomes why?

We think the ongoing strong focus on 2021-Q2 may be related to the surge of inflation now hitting the U.S. economy, which is raising questions of how long it will be before the Fed has to react to it. That concern is pulling investors forward-looking attention in toward the near term.

The growing concern of rising inflation and the Fed's likely response to it is reflected in the week's market-moving news headlines, where the first step in that response looks like it will involve tapering the Fed's purchases of U.S. government-issued bonds.

Monday, 12 April 2021
Tuesday, 13 April 2021
Wednesday, 14 April 2021
Thursday, 15 April 2021
Friday, 16 April 2021

Meanwhile, the debonair Barry Ritholtz listed seven positives and five negatives he found in the past week's markets and economics news.

On a final note, while investors may now be focusing on 2021-Q2, they can only do so until the quarter runs out. No matter what, investors will have to shift their forward-looking focus to some other point of time in the future and that will have to happen sometime before the third Friday of June 2021 when the dividend futures contracts for 2021-Q2 expire. Since the differences in the changes expected for the year over year growth rate of the index' dividends per share are relatively small, it's unlikely we'll see a large scale Lévy flight event when that happens.

Unless, of course, something else changes to affect the expectations for the future or the Fed's willingness to stay on its current policy path.

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16 April 2021

How much data flows through the series of tubes that make up the Internet?

Bernard Marr gives an answer that applied for 2019 in the following under two minute video:

Now, bonus question! How much does all the data that can flow through the Internet's tubes weigh?

That's a harder question to answer, but it didn't stop TopTrending from running the numbers in the following six and half minute video:

The thing to keep in mind in these numbers is that the Internet is about moving information, not storing it. 6.75 ounces is the physical weight of all the electrons that represent the estimated physical capacity of the amount of data that can flow through the internet as we know it today in a year. It also doesn't consider how that data might be moved in the future to get around those physical constraints.

But for now, that figure is also a little over one dry ounce more than the estimated weight of all the particles of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in the world.

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