Friends and Colleagues,
Apologies in advance for the length of this but there is a lot of noise out there regarding the COVID-19 outbreak so I felt it would be useful to share some sources of information I have found helpful, informative and low noise:
First, this site was passed to me from a DoD colleague, vetted by some virologist and epidemiology experts in the Department. Some very good analysis, frequently updated, with solid recommendations:
Second, this site aggregates raw data from the WHO and other official reporting. While the absolute numbers are likely wrong due to under testing/reporting, the velocity of infections (new cases) is a useful indicator of how fast the virus is spreading or slowing down in a given country or region:
Third, similar to the worldometers site above, this Google Data Studio site presents much the same data in a more visual format with much better interactivity (though the data updates seem to lag the worldometers site a bit):
Additionally, what follows are a few thoughts and potentially useful early warning indicators derived from a couple of discussions I was involved with last week and over the weekend with some DoD, IC, and informed private sector experts (Chatham House Rule, so no attribution). Nothing is intended to be alarmist, quite the contrary. The consensus is while this will get very bad before it gets better, in general, things will start to settle down in 8 weeks or so. The longest lasting damage will clearly be economic with less clarity of what final forms that may take. However, this group’s ‘job’ (in varying capacities, official and non) is to try and look ahead in an experience, evidence or data driven way and identify potential follow-on issues that could occur, how to see them coming, and what to do about them, if possible. An old friend said this crisis like a slow motion, global 9/11 (“Some of us saw it coming in some form, little was done to be ready here in the West and now we are reaping that harvest with who knows what long term consequences this may have for us and the world”).
1. The supply chain for food, pharmaceuticals, and many household goods are clearly under strain. We are all seeing the resultant bare shelves at stores due to the current wave of panic buying. Most retailers are able to replenish mostly non-perishables over night with some decreasing quantity from their storerooms and local distribution hubs and less when it comes to fresh products. Most retailers are reducing their operating hours to allow for more restock time and cleaning overnight. It is expected that things will settle down in the short term as the panic buying subsides and the supply chain catches up. However, there is concern that with growing infection and illness rates, a large absenteeism percentage (50-70% due to illness, quarantine, etc.) at various stages in the logistics system could cause significant supply chain disruptions. This could lead to intermittent or long-term shortages of various food items and goods. The key is how much resilience and ‘slack’ there are in the systems. The grocery industry measures the day before Thanksgiving and the day before the Super Bowl as their high-water mark from a business volume perspective and supply chain reps are saying their grocery store customers are reporting volumes of 3-30X those high-water mark days for the last 19 days. The logisticians on the calls indicated it varies by supply chain with some being highly ‘just in time’ and therefore brittle and sensitive to shock while others were much more resilient. The more local the beginning of the supply chain, the more reliable, in general. For example, areas with more farms locally and a simpler farm-to-store logistics system or local farmer’s market ecosystem will fare better than those areas highly dependent on large-scale and long-distance distribution systems. Typically, the country (or the world) when faced with a disaster is able to reroute goods, supplies, and services from one region to another (think regional electric companies sending linemen to Florida to help restore power after a hurricane). This is not the case with this crisis as everyone is being impacted and resources are being stretched thin everywhere. Italy and Europe may serve as a useful model and early warning indicator for the US in this regard. Italy has been in nearly full lockdown for a week with the other major European economies slowly grinding to a halt over the last 24-48 hours. While not a perfect replica of domestic US supply chains, how the Italian and Pan European supply chains hold up under the increasing spread of the virus will provide some useful insights into what can be expected here, disruption wise. This is an historical event with no precedent in nearly 100 years (or more than 100 years if you look back to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic) so we are certainly in uncharted territories.
2. There has been little public discussion by Federal, state and local leaders or the media yet about the impacts to first responders and what that means for community stability and the planning for those contingencies. One of the commissioners here on Miami Beach was roundly criticized for “ fear mongering” at a public hearing on Friday for simply asking the question “What happens if 50-70% of the first responder community is sick and unable to work, in quarantine or absent due to caring for loved ones? What is our plan for that?” It is a very valid question. While some departments and agencies are taking steps such as keeping teams always separated (And B squads), recalling retired responders back to service, and activating reserve elements, it is unclear what public services will need to be suspended, when, and at what level. Also, in the absence of a Federal mandate, it will likely be a patch work of various municipalities working it out for themselves as the pandemic unfolds. For example, the city of Denver and other cities in Colorado announced over the weekend that police would no longer be responding to non-emergency, priority calls in person. We expect to see a rise in petty, non-violent, and property crimes in those areas in the near term. Local and national media may serve as early warning indicators that the first responder system is under increasing strain. Also, while very dissimilar systematically to US public services infrastructure, the European situation dealing with COVID-19 and its impacts on first responders may also give us a few weeks warning as well as some lessons learned that may help.
3. Many of the concerns above also apply to Critical Infrastructure such as power and water. The distribution systems are heavily automated and do not require large staffs in most cases. However, field teams are required for maintenance and repair and large numbers of absenteeism could have service impacts. Again, media reports and local observers may provide indicators of growing outages as may reports of how Europe’s infrastructure fares in the coming weeks.
4. There are reports of significant increases of cyber-attacks on businesses, critical infrastructure providers and health services providers. While not unexpected, this will serve as an additional stressor on already stressed systems. There has been at least one publicly reported ransomware strike on a hospital in the Czech Republic that was acting as a COVID-19 response center and cyber-attack against a health service department in Illinois . I have also received reports of multiple medical service providers disrupted by the Mailto/NetWalker ransomware family in the last 48 hours in the Midwest. Increased user and security staff vigilance is needed. Also, as much of the developed Western world begins to work from home or is streaming entertainment while in isolation, collaboration platforms (Webex, Zoom, etc.) and the Internet’s capacity and resilience will be put to the test. It is likely Internet/platform outages and slowdowns will occur and businesses and users will need to be patient, work staggered hours, and have the ability to rotate between different platforms for collaboration based on availability.
It is my hope this summary is useful and, if so, I am happy to forward along updates and indicators during this evolving situation as well as discuss other’s observations.
Stay safe and healthy,