Complacency and Hubris are behind some of the biggest failures in Risk Management – and the US spike in COVID cases

  • Hubris: Excessive Pride or Self-Confidence
  • Complacency: A feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with onself or one’s achievements

We are in a very worrying phase of COVID in the US. It seems that the only states successfully controlling COVID cases are those that were in the first wave and suffered catastrophic losses. The graphic below shows the latest 7 day average for new cases per million of people.

That’s quite impressive isn’t it. Many of these ‘epicenter’ states experienced huge levels of fatalities. New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut all experienced over 1000 fatalities per million residents – in plain terms – collectively over 60,000 deaths so far. All of these states had peak deaths recorded in April.

Unfortunately the parts of the country not experiencing this first hand seemed to believe that this was under control, or defeated and collectively caused the number of new COVID cases to rise to record levels. Most states are far in excess of the level of cases needed to result in low levels of fatalities.

There are more people infected now with COVID than at any time in the US history of fighting the COVID battle. Over 819,000 people are contagious (defined as having been tested positive in the last 2 weeks), and over 1.4m people are ‘coping with covid’ defined as having been diagnosed positive in the last month. The US has NOT bent the curve. Average daily cases are now over 60,000 per day.

School Reopening

The potential for school reopening will be the latest defining moment in the history of dealing with COVID. Most states are not ready to handle this.

Starting in late August (for some states) the return to school will create new conditions for COVID to thrive. Recall that COVID is transmitted most effectively INDOORS and in close proximity. The home made face covering we wear are maybe only effective in preventing the wearer from passing the virus to others. The home made masks we wear are not effective in preventing the wearer from getting infected from others. Only N95 masks are effective in preventing the wearer from getting infected – and most of us don’t have those.

There is no successful precedent yet

This is where HUBRIS and complacency come in.

If I were in Italy, Spain, or perhaps even NY, CT etc – countries and states that had successfully brough their COVID pandemic under control – then I would believe we could get this done. (See NY curve of current cases below). NY population 19 million has 9,600 contagious people right now; Tennessee population 6.7m has 25,000; Arizona population 7m has 45,000

A negative precendent

A recent study from South Korea reported in the NY Times reported that children between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus as well as adults do. That was statistically significant including 65,000 people.

Complacency Kills

The response of some people to news like this is that most of the kids will be asymptomatic – or will suffer the sniffles for a couple of days and then nothing worse.

This is missing the point that a dramatic rise in cases, even those who have no symptoms, massively increases the viruses ability to reach the victims that it kills.

What’s the population of people at risk in the US? Hard to say – but lets simply look at the number of people over 65. In the US that’s 16% or about 52 million people (about the size of South Korea or South Africa).

It’s naive to think that an ineffected 10 – 19 year old – will not ultimately cause the virus to spread to a person who is more medically vulnerable. So far 140,000 people have died in the US – there’s plenty of opportunity for more if we remain complacent.

Herd Immunity – NOT EVEN CLOSE

Some people might think we’ve reached herd immunity. That’s the point at which so many people are now resistent to the virsus that it practically cannot get to the victims where it would thrive. We are not remotely close to that point. 3.4m American’s have tested positive. That’s about 1% of US population. I’ve heard that to reach herd immunity status 60% need to have the antibodies.

Well – lets just wing it an see shall we?

Well before we do that – lets check in on hospital capacity across the US. Even today – the following states have modelled COVID numbers that exceed 60% of hospital capacity.

Arizona, Florida, Idaho, South Carolina, Nevada, Texas

Are these states ready for a potential massive increase in cases? Definitively NOT.


At a ‘low’ of only 20,000 new cases per day, the US looked like it nearly had this under control at the end of May. Now the levels of COVID infection have never been higher. Fatality rates are most likely to increase as the recently infected battle the virsus.

The ability to handle the May reopening of the economy has completely failed. To believe that the return to school will not significantly propel these numbers higher would be either complacency or hubris.

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