Oxygen is a hell of a drug

World War II style mobilization? Not so far. Plus a colleague on life support and the reason why we don't have enough ventilators. And, 7 other things worth your time.

Imagine standing in front of a fire hose, sticking your chin out, and opening the thing on full blast.

(Only do it at 6 feet away from everyone else.)

That’s what the flow of news seems like these days.


In New Jersey, where my family and I currently live (I don’t think my wife likes it when I put it that way, so don’t tell her), we are under a “stay at home order” as of Saturday.

Since I was so confined, I dug deep into a comparative analysis of how the U.S. mobilized during World War II, versus how we’re mobilizing now in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Back then: 419,400 Americans were killed, and full mobilization.

  • How we reacted: Full military draft, and we didn’t build a single new car in the United States for more than three years, since we were building tanks and airplanes and trucks and artillery pieces.

Now, things are different. I walk a line here trying not to be too alarmist during what seems to be the most alarming thing that’s happened in my lifetime.

But, if you imagine a 50 percent infection rate (lower than many projections), with most people recovering easily but 0.5 percent fatalities (vs. about 1.4 percent in Wuhan), that works out to about 825,000 Americans dead.

How mobilized are we against that?


There’s a guy I know a bit named David Lat. He founded the legal blog “Above the Law” many years ago, and I’ve followed his work for nearly two decades.

We have a lot in common:

  • guys in our 40s,

  • dads to young children,

  • lawyers-turned-media guys,

  • ex-marathoners who still talk about it like it was yesterday, and

  • people who have been battling asthma our whole lives.

He’s been battling COVID-19 for more than two weeks, and hospitalized. On March 17 he tweeted an account of what it had been like so far. It was rough. (“Oxygen is a hell of a drug,” he wrote from his hospital bed.)

Thank God he’s okay people said—but then, he disappeared for several days after his posts.

It turned out he hadn’t written again because he’s taken a turn for the worse, and he’s now in critical condition on a ventilator at a hospital in Manhattan, fighting for his life.


Yeah, about the ventilators. This seems to be the one thing that reduces the death rate among people who are infected and have serious symptoms. There’s no vaccine or cure, so the machine breathes for you while your body recovers.

But, everything suggests we are going to run out of ventilators quickly—to say nothing of hospital beds, masks and gloves, and other personal protective equipment. It’s part of the whole flattening the curve concept.

Europe seems a bit ahead of us in this nightmare, and they’re woefully undersupplied.

The president made a lot of announcements in his press conference yesterday, and I walked away not at all sure whether we’re bridging the gap on this kind of equipment or not.

We know that he’s authorized the National Defense Production Act to let loose some of that World War II-style mobilization on things like building ventilators—but his administration hasn’t actually used it.

Our economy is going to take a massive hit no matter what.

So, I am having a very hard time imagining why we wouldn’t use the act, recruit companies, and churn out a hundred thousand new machines in the next few weeks to make up the shortfall and potentially save hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Call them Victory Ventilators, even—a throwback to World War II.

A basic ventilator retails for about $25,000, but hospitals can’t afford to buy them on their own, especially knowing that eventually the coronavirus will be contained, and they could wind up with machinery they’re not using.

So, manufacturing 100,000 of these quickly should cost less than $2.5 billion—a lot of money, but about 5 percent of what the airlines want as a bailout. If we don’t wind up needing them, other countries around the world can sure use them.

Maybe we’ll get the cost back. Or maybe we’ll just do something good and engender good feelings around the globe. Like I say, things are moving fast—and there’s not a lot of time left to act if we’re going to.

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7 other things worth your time

  • Update, Las Vegas: “I know we, and they, cannot survive any total shutdown of the economy for any length of time beyond the immediate week or two.” — Mayor Carolyn Goodman, talking about many Las Vegas businesses, at the outset of a 30-day minimum shutdown. (Commercial Observer)

  • Update, Edmonton, Alberta: “We must begin to prepare ourselves for a time of adversity unlike any we have seen since the 1930s in this province.” — Provincial premier Jason Kenney, on the confluence of both the coronavirus and the drop in the price of crude oil. (Globe & Mail)

  • Update, New York City: “The hard data has become alarming. I wish I could use a more comforting word.” — Dr. Craig Smith, chief of surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, talking about his projection that the hospital could be overcapacity in 22 to 32 days. (NY Post)

  • Canada and Australia won’t send athletes to the Summer Olympics if they’re held this year. (Axios)

  • I broke down Jeff Bezos’s open letter to Amazon employees about the coronavirus over the weekend. (Me, on Inc.)

  • Also: Bill Gates’s Reddit AMA on basically the same subject. (Me again, on Inc.)

  • Sen. Rand Paul tested positive for the coronavirus and four other Republican senators are also in quarantine. Besides the health concerns, their absence means they cannot vote on a controversial stimulus bill. (Associated Press)

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