While many are still sounding the alarm or reluctantly and cautiously pulling back on restrictions, let’s look at what the numbers tell us and what we should expect for the near future.
We could not accurately measure COVID cases for the first wave of the epidemic, but with the second wave last July the U.S. peaked at 70,782 case per day. Cases fell by half the rest of the summer and then dramatically rose through January, peaking at 256,210 per day (third wave). This was the absolute peak to which we will never return. Cases fell for nine straight weeks this winter; the last two weeks the case curve has flattened and moved back up slightly. As of March 26, cases are currently around 60,000 cases per day, a 77% drop from the peak but up 7% in the last week.
Deaths peaked at 2256 per day last April (first wave), then fell to a low of 520 and then went back up to 1090 over the summer (second wave) and then dropped a little and then up a lot, spiking to 3473 in late January (third wave). As of March 26, deaths are at 985 per day, down about 10% in the last week and down 70% from its peak January 26.
So, what can this brief COVID history tell us about what to expect next? Over the last year, there was usually a three week or so delay between the rise or fall of cases and the subsequent rise or fall in deaths. Because cases flattened out two weeks ago, we should soon see deaths stop their decline very soon. But our silver bullet is the vaccine. It is a paradigm shifter.
Two-thirds above the age of 65 and a third between 50 to 64 are at least partially vaccinated (per the Washington Post: Tracking the covid vaccine: Doses, people vaccinated by state – Washington Post ). Half of those over 75 and a third between 65-74 have been fully vaccinated. A large percentage of the most vulnerable are now protected from the virus, not to mention an equally large percentage has already been infected and developed COVID-19 antibodies naturally. U.S. cases are rising now, but among the younger and less vulnerable, so we could see deaths continue to decline even as cases go up.
The U.S. vaccination rate of 2.6 million per day is among the best in the world. Unfortunately, most countries are lagging behind in the rollout, so cases and deaths are rising significantly in many countries; France, Brazil, and India among others are seeing a significant resurgence right now. The vaccination leaders as of March 26 are listed below (per Bloomberg: More Than 518 Million Shots Given: Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker (bloomberg.com):
Let’s look at what’s happening for the countries ahead of the U.S. in vaccine distribution (I’m going to ignore the very small countries of Seychelles, Maldives, Bahrain, Monaco, and Malta as there isn’t enough data to analyze). The U.K. and Israel are a few weeks ahead of the U.S. in terms of distribution; they are now where we will be in a month or two. Deaths are down a remarkable 95% in the U.K. and 80% in Israel and are still coming down.
Is it too good to be true? We saw similar declines in some U.S. states last summer. Deaths in New York and New Jersey fell an incredible 99% from their peak last April, only to rise again in the fall. But as I said earlier, this time is different; we have a vaccine, a silver bullet. What evidence do we have that it will be different this time? Well, cases in the U.K. came down a heap this winter and then flattened during the last 30 days, but it doesn’t seem to matter as deaths continue to fall. In Chile, a country slightly ahead of the U.S. in vaccine rollout, cases have been rising for the last month (in fact, the case graph looks ugly and scary), but nevertheless deaths fell more 20% just in the last week, more empirical evidence of a paradigm shift. (source: United States Coronavirus: 30,911,667 Cases and 561,965 Deaths – Worldometer (worldometers.info))
Note: it is hard to discern the drop in deaths in Chile from the graph, but the most recent peak in deaths was on March 19 at 91 per day. A week later, on March 26, deaths are at 72 per day.
We in the U.S. are going to catch up to these three countries soon if the vaccine is truly effective (as it certainly appears to be given these numbers) and we continue to vaccinate at a high rate (Friday March 26, the U.S. vaccinated more than 3.4 million, a record setting day). Per Bloomberg News: In the U.S., the latest vaccination rate is 2,624,410 doses per day, on average. At this pace, it will take another 4 months to cover 75% of the population.
Only ten countries have partially vaccinated more than 15% of their populations. Another 25 or so are between 10 and 15%, but half the world’s countries haven’t even reached the 5% threshold. COVID is still a threat world-wide, especially now for Southern hemisphere countries which are just entering Autumn. However, the threat is diminishing rapidly for the U.S. and others. The U.S. developed three of the current vaccines in use, has the needed medical infrastructure, and was well prepared for distribution of the vaccine even before they were approved last year. The U.K. was also well prepared and obtained approval to begin vaccinations a couple weeks before the U.S.; they distributed the AstraZeneca vaccine which was developed at Oxford University. Israel as the country leading the way was obviously well prepared as well.
The countries leading the vaccine charge will be out of this pandemic very soon, if not already. The goal may be to vaccinate 75% of the population, but as shown above, we see good results even before we hit that level. Ignore the politicians and the news media behind the curtain telling you otherwise. Demand your life back and whenever you can do not follow their silly rules which have only made things worse.
Follow the Trends
The rest of the world may take a while to catch up in vaccine distribution, but remember that a large percentage of the world’s population has already been infected. This is why world-wide cases (along with U.S. cases) dropped dramatically earlier this year. Cases in the U.S. peaked exactly one month after the vaccines rolled out, but cases were down 77% over the next nine weeks. Why did cases drop so much? The vaccine could have been a contributing factor to the decline, but it was too soon to have a large impact; it’s more likely the virus followed the trend that every other virus ever known to man has ever followed: it hit its peak and then declined. We are seeing a rebound in U.S. cases, but that is among younger, healthier people who are willing to take more risks and are not vulnerable to dying from the disease. In addition, the vaccine is now reaching significant numbers, so the virus is finding fewer and fewer to infect.
Watch the trends over the next couple weeks. What happens with deaths in the U.K., Chile, Israel, and the U.S.? Do rates continue to fall out as these countries approach herd immunity? As other countries catch up and reach significant vaccination levels, do their rates fall as well? What happens as we move into late Spring and Summer and more people are outside? Last year, we saw large declines after mid-April, not surprisingly since viruses does much better when people remain indoors during the colder months. Will that same trend be repeated this year? Almost certainly.
Look also at the U.S. States which have done the best in vaccine rollout:
Of the twelve states doing the best with the vaccines (I exclude the smaller U.S. territories) we see two states averaging zero deaths per day (Alaska, Maine), four averaging just one per day (South Dakota, Vermont, North Dakota, and Hawaii), and two averaging two per day (Rhode Island and New Hampshire). Connecticut is at five per day and New Mexico is at six per day. Last April, Connecticut was averaging 114 deaths per day. Why are these states doing so well and why are we not hearing more about them?
Only New Jersey and Massachusetts among the top vaccinators are not doing quite as well, with rates in the mid-thirties, but even these two states have seen death rate declines of 80% and 88% respectively. Let’s watch these states over the next week or two and see if deaths begin to drop there as well.
Also, what happens when all these states get to the 40% or 50% level of vaccinations? Do we see sharp declines in the death rates at that point? Some of these states are getting close to those levels.
At the other end of the scale we see a few states lagging behind, only at the 15-20% partially vaccinated level (Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah, Texas, Indiana, Idaho, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and South Carolina). The death rates for these states have not yet fallen as sharply as those in the top tier. What happens in these states over the next month as they begin to catch up?
Currently, California and Texas are still seeing triple digit death rates daily, 183 and 108 per day respectively. Their rates have been falling recently. Do these rates continue to fall below 100 and then below 50? New York currently leads the nation in COVID cases and is currently third in deaths at 77 per day. New York’s COVID cases have been stuck in the 7000’s for the last five weeks (since February 18), basically flat. Nevertheless, deaths have fallen almost 50% in the last five weeks, more empirical evidence that deaths can fall while cases do not. Where do New York’s numbers go in the next few weeks? Do deaths continue to decline despite the high level of cases? Or maybe cases finally begin to decline in New York as they have in many other states?
Put Things in Perspective
Cases have fallen 90% or more in many countries and U.S. states. California has seen a 94% drop and another ten U.S. states have seen drops of 90% or more; the UK has dropped 91% and Israel 92%. Unfortunately, nowhere in the world have cases ever dropped to zero. It appears the last few percentage point drops may take a long while. We are going to have to live with some low level of this virus for a while. Do we ever get to zero? Who knows? Maybe never.
Still, we have made remarkable progress in the last year and there is much to be optimistic about. Last year, we quickly achieved the two initial stated goals of flattening the curve and preventing our hospitals from being overrun. We also learned how to adapt to COVID and live our lives despite yet another new risk to our survival. We have flattened the curve more than once now. We learned how to treat COVID and have seen declining case fatality rates in the last year. We learned of simple routines like daily consumption of Vitamin C and Vitamin D can protect us from viruses. We learned again the diabetes and obesity are risk factors for this and so many diseases and many vowed to get fit again. We saw a modern miracle with the development of numerous vaccines to stem the tide of COVID. When I was a kid, the polio vaccine was touted as an incredible scientific achievement, but this one stands above that. So why are we still inundated with doom and gloom regarding COVID?
We will never eliminate all risk in our lives. We may never completely eliminate the risk of COVID, just as we have never eliminated the risk of the flu or so many other deadly diseases, just as we have never eliminated the risk from highway or air travel, or the risk from natural disasters, or the risk from so many other experiences of life. Why do we treat this virus differently from all other risks? Why do we listen to the panic peddlers who want to manipulate our thinking on this?
Let’s put this virus back into the proper perspective. Our politicians have imposed countless measures that have diminished or ruined lives in order to save our lives; our media has supported them and hyped the panic as well. Basically, they have destroyed lives in order to save lives. Does this really make sense? Let’s tell them no more. You run the country, protect us from the bad guys, and the rest of us will live our lives as we see fit, not as you would have us live our lives. You can’t do your jobs properly, so why we do trust your advice on how to run our lives? As long as we follow the rules for a civil society, stay the hell out of our way.
So folks, let’s get back to our lives, let’s learn the right lessons from this, let’s be optimistic about the future, and let’s move on to bigger and more important problems that need to be solved.