The COVID-19 pandemic has now spread across the world and we are experiencing its second phase of contagion. Phase 1 was the outbreak in Wuhan, China. China’s official numbers show the number of confirmed cases in Wuhan plateaued near the beginning of March. The number of confirmed cases in China have hovered around 80,000 since that time. During Phase 1, China was seen as the largest boom of the outbreak and most assumed the pandemic would not match the staggering numbers coming out of China anywhere else in the world.

For a while, we even tracked a global total of confirmed cases minus China’s cases in an effort to monitor the actual spread of the outbreak. The global total minus China surpassed China’s total of confirmed cases on March 15, the same date when Phase 1 of the COVID-19 pandemic effectively ended.

Phase Two – Europe

2020 COVID-19 Pandemic
NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 24: People line up to get a test at Elmhurst Hospital due to coronavirus outbreak on March 24, 2020 in Queens, New York, United States. There are now more than 35,000 cases of COVID-19 in the United States as governments scramble to contain the spread. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images/AFP

Less than two weeks ago the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Europe the new epicenter of the pandemic. The total population of the European Union is not even half the population of China. But the number of confirmed cases in only Italy, France, Spain and Germany are near twice the total confirmed cases in China during Phase 1. Phase 2 is still unfolding and we will witness that for the duration of this week. Italy already passed China in COVID-19 deaths and will pass China in confirmed cases in the coming days. Spain is not far behind. Among the 194 nations on the planet with confirmed cases of the COVID-19, Europe dominates the top 20 where eleven European nations sit with the daily number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and death counts swelling on a daily basis.

In a moment I want to examine what Phases 3 and 4 of the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic will look like but before doing so we should examine how each phase began.

Ignore and Deny

2020 COVID-19 Pandemic

As the virus spread in China, most of the world was unaware. China alerted the WHO to the virus on the last day of December 2019, but no one really paid attention. Some minor stories showed up in various western media outlets, but it was weeks before the world really started noticing what was unfolding in China. Even when alarms started to sound it was a “China” thing. It was something over there, not over here. Commentators noted the harsh and repressive tactics which the Chinese government was using to contain the spread of the virus. Many wondered if this might finally be the undoing of China’s communist leadership.

When supply chains started to be interrupted by China’s lockdown under the virus global leaders finally started to take the COVID-19 threat more seriously. Still, the average person still saw the virus as a “far off” thing and not their problem.

In an excellent overview of this ignore-and-deny mentality, Bruno Macaes recently described how Europe ignored the virus threat until it was too late. The issue was not a lack of knowledge or information coming out of China. The issue was arrogance.

In early March the people of Spain were encouraged by their own government to take to the streets and march for gender equality, even after the coronavirus already touched down in their country. Hundreds of thousands responded to these marches in Spain and facilitated the perfect environment for the virus to spread. Today, two weeks later, Spain has over 35,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,300 dead from the COVID-19 virus. Those numbers are going to get worse. The political parades and marches in Spain from earlier this month are now viewed as not only frivolous but shamefully arrogant in light of the COVID-19 threat that was already present in the country.

In France, even as the confirmed case count grew to 7,000, people dressed up as Smurfs (not joking) and set the world’s record for the largest Smurf convention in Landerneau. While the government warned people should stay indoors few bothered and the government signaled it was not a serious threat through their own lack of enforcement of the official recommendations. Many of the Smurf participants explained how the coronavirus was, “No big deal. It’s nothing.” Today in France there are more than 20,000 confirmed cases and almost 1,000 deaths.

This blatant disregard for danger and concern is not a European phenomenon. It is universal human nature. In the US as the pandemic was declared by the WHO and numbers surged across the globe, social media was full of scoffers across the political spectrum. Their retorts were familiar to us all.

  • The flu kills more people than this and I’m not worried about the flu. So why should I be worried about this.
  • This is all media hype. They couldn’t get Trump with impeachment so now they are going to get him with a fake pandemic.
  • The other side of the political spectrum avoided the pandemic reality by ridiculing and blaming it on Trump.

(A little word to the wise, if the people you listen to are still talking about politics they still have not been touched by and have not really considered the pandemic. This is not a political issue!)

The pattern of ignore-and-deny has persisted from China, to Europe, to the US in Phases 1 and 2 of the pandemic. It will continue into Phases 3 and 4. The way it is said varies but the meaning is the same. The virus is not a real threat. Ignore. Deny.

Phase 3 – USA the New Epicenter

Phase 3 is about to start. In phase 3, the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic will move from Europe to the US.

Total Confirmed Cases in the US
March 12 1,670
March 15 3,621
March 18 9,238
March 22 32,356


The pattern is clear. We are seeing an exponential rate of growth with doubling or tripling of confirmed case totals every three days. The death totals lag behind this simply because a period of time passes before those with confirmed diagnoses of COVID-19 either survive the virus or succumb to it. As the confirmed case counts skyrocket the death totals will lag 10-14 days behind those reports. That was the pattern demonstrated in Phases 1 and 2 of the pandemic. The pattern will continue into Phase 3.

New York is already the hotbed of the outbreak in the US and will likely maintain that leading position as the US experience of the COVID-19 pandemic becomes the epicenter of the global crisis.

Recent reports note that the virus is not only spreading among New York’s elderly and health-compromised populations as happened in China and Europe in Phases 1 and 2. It is also spreading among the homeless and has been found in prisons. That means the virus is present within a population that has likely already spread it undetected throughout the city and their role was barely recognized. The homeless are not checking in at medical offices for COVID-19 testing. They are hiding in plain sight, carrying and spreading the COVID-19 virus in the streets, subways, and parks of America’s largest city.

The prison systems are isolated from the public but serve as an ideal basis for the virus to spread among an isolated population. For several weeks during Phase 1 of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Diamond Princess cruise liner demonstrated this. Isolated to the sea, the Diamond Princess had more than 700 confirmed cases and ten deaths to date. Those numbers will be higher in the prisons as healthcare priorities focus are diverted to the cities of the US while the outbreak grows and spreads.

A recent article in the New York Times attempted to capture the potential threat and spread of the virus in the US. A review of the article demonstrates the experts are afraid but really have little idea what is coming. According to the experts quoted in the New York Times article the US death count from COVID-19 could be as many as 200,000 to 1.7 million; infected totals from 160 million to 214 million and the outbreak could last months or over a year. There are not a lot of specifics and not a lot of clear expectations in such forecasts.

A better model and forecast was presented this past week in the Financial Times. The model presented by the Financial Times from data made available by Johns Hopkins University and the Centers for Systems Science and Engineering examined the growth of cases in countries since their 100th confirmed case. In other words, once a country realized they had a problem with growing COVID-19 cases and they took steps to contain the virus, what changed?

2020 COVID-19 Pandemic


For the US the answer to that question was very little. Most nations saw the direction of confirmed cases begin to shift by 10 days after their 100th case. For the US, even by the 15th day after its 100th confirmed case, the growth of confirmed cases continued to accelerate and climb upward. The US will eventually see the climb in confirmed COVID-19 cases begin to level off but at the current rate of growth, we will far outpace China and Europe (Phases 1 and 2) in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

No areas of the large and diverse geography of the United States will be exempt from this outbreak but we will see spots hit harder than others. We can forecast where these spots will be based upon their continued growth in confirmed case counts today, more than a week after unprecedented steps were taken across the country toward social distancing and containing the pandemic within America’s own borders.

New York was already mentioned as the leading hot spot in the US for impact from the COVID-19 pandemic. The top five additional locations that will be impacted by the spread of COVID-19 in the US are New Jersey, Florida, Chicago, New Orleans, and Michigan. The primary characteristics that will facilitate the surge of the pandemic within the US during Phase 3 are average age of the population, population density, access to and strength of the healthcare system, and stringency to which the instructions to refrain from large groups is followed.

It is reasonable to anticipate the locations noted above will reach confirmed cases in line with what whole nations of Europe (Phase 2) of the pandemic have experienced. The healthcare systems will be overwhelmed in some of these locations. The span of time it will take for those systems to be overwhelmed is likely the result of how strict the local jurisdictions are currently working to flatten the curve.

The next 2-3 weeks will be extremely dark days for the US as we enter Phase 3 of the pandemic. There is a strong possibility we could reach our peak in confirmed cases by the end of that time although the pandemic will be far from over in the US. The peak and plateau of new confirmed cases in the US, in at least hundreds of thousands, will make the end of Phase 3. Against the backdrop of our society’s rampant polarization and political divide, there is little doubt that the United States that exits the pandemic in a few months will be unlike the nation that is entering the pandemic today.

Phase 4 – The Next Epicenter

If you read the various histories of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic you will not find definitive totals for the number of people who died around the world in that pandemic. Conservative numbers place the figure at around 20 million people. Other historians place the number at 50 million and even as high as 70 million. Why the discrepancy? For the most part, the death totals are estimates. They occurred in a time and place when healthcare records were not what we are accustomed to today. People suffered and people died from the flu, but a system was not in place to accurately record it.

2020 COVID-19 Pandemic
FILE – In this March 6, 2020, file photo, Indian nursing students wearing masks walk in a group at government run Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad, India. As cases of the coronavirus surge in Italy, Iran, South Korea, the U.S. and elsewhere, many scientists say it’s plain that the world is in the grips of a pandemic — a serious global outbreak. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)

The place where Phase 4 of the pandemic will unfold – the developing world – will be much the same. As the developed world of the northern hemisphere continues to be battered over the next couple of months there will be little strength or resource or will left to aid what is about to unfold in many of the countries of the southern hemisphere. In the absence of outside help and in the midst of societies with the world’s weakest modern healthcare systems, this is where the death tolls of the current pandemic will climb the highest. This is where historians in future generations will calculate and estimate the totals deaths of the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic.

The spread to the developing world has already begun. India announced today that the country is in official lockdown status. More than 40 nations in Africa already have more than 1,000 confirmed cases. In Latin America, Mexico has taken hardly any precautions to defend against the pandemic. Ecuador and Chile each have approximately 1,000 confirmed cases at the time of this writing. Venezuela has 84 cases today but its healthcare system collapsed nearly a decade ago.

2020 COVID-19 Pandemic

The developing world is the setting for the perfect storm. The prosperous nations, institutions, and organizations of the north will be too distracted by their own crises within a month’s time and the nations of the south will be left to suffer.

Phase four is when the bottom falls out. The iconic photos of the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic will be from Europe and the US. These will capture the images for future history books but the numbers we will talk about in future generations will be from the global south.

Track the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic Growth and History


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JB Shreve is the author of "How the World Ends: Understanding the Growing Chaos." He has been the host of the End of History podcast since 2012. He has degrees in International Relations and Middle East Studies. His other books include the Intelligence Brief Series. Regular posts and updates from JB Shreve are available at