When Does COVID End?

When does COVID end in the U.S.? Soon. I think we can be more sure than ever. Deaths continue to fall, nearing some of the lowest levels of the entire pandemic. The rates of vaccination are quite impressive. Herd immunity is closer than ever given the number with natural immunity (from contracting COVID) and immunity from vaccinations. Cases are up, but not that much.

First, let’s go a little in-depth on vaccines. 267 million Americans are eligible to receive a vaccine (those 16 and above). As of Friday, April 9, 114.4 million have received at least one dose. This leaves approximately 150 million eligible Americans who have not yet received any doses. Given the current rate of vaccination, we would need 7 weeks to distribute another 150 million doses. A second dose is needed for two of the three vaccines currently being distributed, so a little bit more time would be needed to also distribute the second dose of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. This number also doesn’t include the roughly 60 million kids under the age of 16, but the bottom line is that just based on vaccine numbers alone, we are closer than ever to achieving the vaunted herd immunity (but there’s more to this logic; see below).

But the story isn’t simply hurry up and vaccinate everyone. Not everyone wants the vaccine nor should it be necessary for everyone to receive a vaccine. This is important to keep mind as we listen to more experts on TV like Dr. Leana Wen who believes people need to be compelled to take the vaccine:

So, yet another medical “expert” is calling for a one-size-fits all government solution (along with a media personality who won’t or doesn’t know how to ask any tough questions). This would be repeating the same mistakes we made with lockdowns and masking. Dr. Wen and Chris Cuomo would feel better if you would just wear your mask; they would feel better when your business is locked down (while their “essential” jobs continue as normal), and they would feel better if you were vaccinated. So, of course, you should comply because they know best. According to them, it’s no longer your decision; it is theirs as the experts.

On the other hand, I do believe the vaccines are indeed a modern miracle and they are our silver bullet against the virus, but we should not have government or medical experts making decisions for all individuals. There are reasons both for and against the vaccine for individuals. Let’s look at this more closely.

First, the goal has never been to vaccinate 100%, nor has full vaccination ever been the goal for any vaccine program. Herd immunity is achieved before everyone is vaccinated. I’ve heard various numbers thrown about with the consensus number being somewhere between 60% to 80%. So, if herd immunity is achieved and you’ve not yet been vaccinated, why do you need to be compelled to get the vaccine? Why do we even talk about things like vaccine passports when we don’t need everyone vaccinated to reach our goal? Why do we yet again throw out all we’ve learned about viruses the last few hundred years because some public figures think they know better than us and would feel more comfortable if we went along with their program? Do not let them do this to us again. It’s our lives; we live them as we see fit. We will listen to their recommendations, but we decide for ourselves whether or not to take the vaccine.

Second, every vaccine ever developed, every medication, in fact, has risks and side effects. The question I asked myself before being vaccinated was: are the risks associated with the vaccine greater than the risks associated with contracting COVID? I preferred to limit the risk from COVID. While I accepted the risk from the vaccine for myself, I also have two teenagers, one who will be eligible later this year and I would rather my kids not be vaccinated. I have to consider their future before rushing into this. The very low risk of COVID to kids has been well documented. Why not wait with them? For them, the risk from the vaccine may be equal or greater than the risk COVID poses to them. I worry more about them behind the wheel than I worry about them contracting COVID. COVID is way down the list of my concerns for my kids, in fact.

On a macro level, it appears the vaccine is having the intended effect of reducing the lethality of the virus. We see good results in those countries with the highest vaccination rates. We have heard of some short-term side effects, but those still appear to be limited to a few people and outweighed by the larger risk posed by the spread of COVID itself. But there is not enough history to know the long term effects of the vaccine. I’m not a doctor or scientist, but I know enough to say several of these vaccines are different than have ever been developed. I also know some doctors are asking questions and are taking a wait-and-see approach. The vaccine was also developed in record time, a remarkable achievement to be sure, but still worthy of some skepticism given the shortened time frame and lack of history.

My kids are healthy and have an almost zero risk from COVID. Nobody should be compelled to receive the vaccine, least of all kids and young adolescents who are the least vulnerable. Maybe in a year or two when my kids are older and we all know more, we can revisit our decision, but I don’t see a need to risk their future health for this minimal short term gain. I trust those who developed these vaccines knew what they were doing and acted responsibly and in good faith, but I don’t have a blind faith.

A third factor to consider is for those who have already contracted virus and may still have natural immunity. I found this article from February in which the CDC estimated as many as 83 million Americans had contracted COVID at that point, three times as many as had actually been diagnosed:

https://www.acsh.org/news/2021/02/09/cdc-estimates-83-million-us-covid-infections-has-major-implications-15330

Two months later, the number of COVID cases reported is 31 million, so extrapolating the numbers would mean that as many as 93 million have been infected. We should assume most of these folks have immunity as well (this would include some children as well).

If you are one of the ones who was infected or if you are not sure if you were infected, then maybe you should find out if you have antibodies before getting the vaccine. This video from a doctor who contracted the virus more than a year ago is very insightful. I recommend you watch it before making any decision.

This doctor is hesitant to take the vaccine himself. He says natural immunity, which he already has, provides better protection than the vaccine immunity. He also mentions there is an additional risk for those who have contracted COVID and also received the vaccine. You won’t hear any of this advice from Dr Fauci, Dr. Wen, Chris Cuomo, Joe Biden, and others who want to convince you it is your patriotic duty to get the vaccine. They want to compel you to be vaccinated without sharing all the information about it. It’s in their best interest to have everyone vaccinated, but is it also in your best interest? Fooled you once, shame on them. Fooled you twice, shame on you:

How about antibody testing as well? A year ago, we heard plaintive cries from the media about the lack of available testing. We didn’t know who had COVID and who didn’t so we had to lock down until we were more certain of who was infected. Well, now we have this additional tool in our kit, so why not use it? It was top priority a year ago and it is still relevant today. My wife and one other in her family have been doing regular COVID antibody tests. This test is easy and can be done at home. So, if you’re not sure, get a test to determine if you ever had it. You’ll have more information that you and your doctor can use to make your own informed decision. Technology is wonderful, but only if we make proper use of it.

Nevertheless, despite all the risks and the concerns stated above, I remain sanguine about the vaccine. I believe it makes the most sense for older individuals like me and others at high risk; it appears those who need it most are getting vaccinated and it is having a positive impact on the numbers. I certainly won’t criticize anyone who gets the vaccine for themselves or for their kids. It is a decision each has to make for themselves. I just recommend you consider the risk-reward ratio and get all the available information before getting the vaccine.

Adding it all Up

So, if we have 114 million vaccinated and another 93 million who may have already contracted the disease and have a natural immunity, we may actually be on the threshold of herd immunity. There may be some overlap in these two numbers, so that we can’t add the two numbers to get a total with immunity. Furthermore, the vaccines are not 100% effective, but I think we can see that have a very large percentage of Americans who are already immune, maybe half or more than half.

Furthermore, we are heading out of the traditional cold and flu season as the weather warms up in much of the country. Last year around this time the COVID numbers started to fall and they fell dramatically throughout late spring and early summer. This year, we have a vast number of people with immunity, so we should expect an even bigger drop.

I go a little bit deeper into the case and death numbers further below. I don’t see any reason for pessimism.

The Insanity Continues

I believe we are on the threshold of a very big drop in numbers, but you wouldn’t know it listening to some folks. COVID is not an existential threat to humanity. We do not need vaccine passports and we need to continue rolling back the restrictive measures. But now our good friend Dr. Fauci is at it again; he is advocating for the vaccination of kids 6-months and up. Let me add the adjective “insane” for the many others I have used to describe him in the past. Why would a parent vaccinate an infant with what is still considered an experimental vaccine? Would you do it if Dr. Fauci said it was safe? I certainly wouldn’t.

Will the panic peddlers win again in 2021? I hope not, but I am not as optimistic on this front. Here is yet another story of how rational thought goes out the window when it comes to COVID. This weekend, the island of St Vincent in the Caribbean is being evacuated because of a volcanic eruption. So, what slows down the evacuation? Well, you may have guessed it: yes, concern over COVID vaccinations. They apparently slowed the evacuation so that more folks can be vaccinated before leaving the island. Come on, folks.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-04-09/saint-vincent-orders-evacuation-amid-volcano-eruption-threat

In my last post, I mentioned Steve Deace’s new book, Faucian Bargain. You can hear the author himself discuss the book during this 35-minute interview on C-Span. He gets the full gamut of doubting Thomas’s but handles their skepticism very well: Who are you to doubt Dr. Facui? What credentials do you have? We had to do something. It would have been worse if we had done nothing. You’re just trying to sell a book and make a quick buck. Here is the full interview:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?510293-3/washington-journal-steve-deace-discusses-book-faucian-bargain

Read his book, so you can learn the right lessons from this crisis.

Quick Look at the Numbers

Deaths continue to go down while cases have gone up the last four weeks.

Cases hit a low of about 56,000 on March 13. They have been inching up rather slowly since then. This is not the start of the fourth wave. If it were another wave, we would see an increasing rate of change along with weekly double digit increases as we did with each of the three waves last year.

Week Ending13-MAR20-Mar27-Mar3-Apr10-Apr
7-day moving average56,00756,61162,00466,76367,906
% change from prior week-8.91.089.537.681.71
U.S. 7-day moving average COVID cases

During the same four week period, we have seen relatively large double digit drops in deaths each week. So even as cases rise, deaths continue to fall and fall at a relatively steady pace. Deaths as of April 10 are at 764/day, still a relatively high number, but the lowest in six months.

Week Ending 13-Mar20-Mar27-Mar3-Apr10-Apr
7-day moving average 1,3181,0801000873764
% change from prior week -27.46-18.06-7.41-12.7-12.49
U.S. 7-day moving average COVID deaths

note: the numbers change slightly as they are usually adjusted the following week. This is the data as of Saturday, April 10.

My Crystal Ball

We can look at individual states to see where we are headed as a whole.

As of Saturday, April 10, there are actually five states which are averaging zero deaths for the last seven days: Alaska, Wyoming, Hawaii, Vermont, and Maine.

We have another four averaging just one death per day: South Dakota, North Dakota, New Hampshire, and Kansas as well as four averaging just two deaths per day: Delaware, Rhode Island, Missouri, and DC.

COVID is clearly not out-of-control in these 13 states, but in fact, deaths are ten or fewer in 31 states and DC. Once we see declines in the remaining 19 states, we will see deaths fall to the lowest levels of the entire pandemic. Let’s look at a few of the bigger states to see how they are doing and what we should expect:

  • California:
    • Cases are down 94% since they peaked in December and have been declining the last month.
    • Deaths are still at 100/day (highest in the nation) but down from 562/day in January.
    • Vaccine roll-out is very good: 37.5% with one shot
    • Outlook: Death numbers continue to plummet the next few weeks and there is no significant increase in cases given the vaccine rollout. COVID is just about done in California. The state will finally open up as numbers continue to improve.
  • Texas:
    • Cases are down 85% since a peak in January and have been declining the last month.
    • Deaths are down to 74/day from 345/day.
    • Vaccine rollout not quite as good as California: 31.5% with one vaccine shot.
    • Outlook: Death numbers continue to decline the next few weeks and there is no significant increase in cases. Just like California, COVID is just about done in Texas.
  • New York:
    • Cases have been stubbornly high the last seven weeks and are still around 7,500/day.
    • Deaths continue to decline down from 205/day in January to 70/day currently, despite cases being stuck at the current level. The absolute peak was 956/day last April (we haven’t been anywhere near this level in the past year!).
    • 37.9% with one vaccine shot.
    • Outlook: Cases may rise some but will eventually come down in the next few weeks. Deaths will decline further after cases drop and the vaccine continues to rollout. COVID will be basically done in New York in another month.
  • Florida:
    • Cases are still relatively high at around 6,000/day. Cases have been rising slightly during the last month.
    • Deaths are down from 186/day to 55/day currently.
    • 33.5% with one vaccine shot.
    • Outlook: The same as New York: cases will eventually come down and deaths will decline further after cases drop and the vaccine continues to rollout. COVID is almost done here as well.
  • Michigan:
    • Per capita case rate is currently the highest in the nation.
    • Cases rose 7-fold in the last two months. The death rate is starting to increase as well given the dramatic rise in cases.
    • 34.2% with one vaccine shot.
    • Outlook: Cases will eventually peak but deaths may continue to rise for a while still. We should start see better numbers by May. This may be COVID’s last stand in the U.S.

Georgia is the only other state with a death rate in the 40’s (currently at 40), but cases have been dropping there for several months (down 86% from its peak). They are not doing quite as well with the vaccine (28.9% with one shot). We should see the death rate begin to fall here by the end of the month at the latest and the situation improve throughout May.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania are the only remaining states with death rates above 30, standing at 33 and 31 respectively. They have seen cases rise in the last month and are still relatively high. Both states are in the top ten in vaccine rollout, so we should see cases and deaths drop very soon.

No other states are higher than 24 deaths/day. The death rate should continue to fall in most states, Michigan being the glaring exception at the moment. What is to stop the further decline? We have been hearing of variants for a couple months, but they don’t appear to be having an impact at this point.

The lowest the U.S. death rate has been since the start of the pandemic was 525 per day (on July 5). I expect as the weather warms, the vaccine rollout continues apace, cases will flatten and then fall; deaths will fall even faster as cases go down. It may take a little while longer than we want and it may not be a straight line down, but we will drop below last year’s low point much earlier this year. Almost a year ago, on April 17, the U.S. death rate was 2260/day. We are starting at a lower point this April and we have a vaccine to boot. I expect us we will be seeing some very low numbers in the near future.

Word to the Wise

I don’t actually have a functioning crystal ball. I just base my predictions on what seems most likely and given all the data points we have right now is seems almost certain that we are headed towards the end of COVID. I suppose there could still be some bizarre twist with the virus: the Chinese could figure out how to re-introduce a new, lethal strain in perpetuity or the vaccine could stop working after a couple months, or some other unforeseen calamity could strike us. Otherwise, I will continue to provide optimism where I think it is appropriate.

I shared these words a few months back in the midst of the more difficult days, but they are still relevant today:

  • So, if you are making decisions based on fear or anger or hatred or despair, then look for another antidote to those emotions.   If reason and logic are not enough, try faith. The reason we often give into our worst emotions is because our faith is weak.  We believe God has abandoned us.  We believe He should have done more.  We lose hope.  Last March I remember a video of a NYC nurse who was distraught at all the patients who were dying in her hospital.  “This is my life for 12 hours every day from now on.”  It was obviously unbearable for her and she had no hope whatsoever.  But within a month, the situation in NYC had improved.  Life did go back to something more normal.  At a point over the summer, NYC was reporting zero deaths many days.  If she had more hope she would have survived the month of hell on earth.  Faith in God, faith that He stands with us through all our trials, will provide that hope.  My family and I have prayed for nine months for a return to normality, for an end to COVID, for strength to make it through this difficult period, for hope that a better day is coming.  So many died in the interim, but tomorrow vaccine distribution begins in America.  It has already begun in the UK and other countries.  How many lives will be saved because three American companies developed vaccines in record time?  Is this an answer to our prayers?  Did God send us this grace?  I believe he did.  Give thanks to God for this miracle.  Did He answer my prayers in the way I expected or on the timeline I had hoped for?  No, probably not.  But then He usually doesn’t.  But He is with us and will continue to be with us.  As our faith increases, our fear diminishes.  If we are overcome by the fear, then perhaps our faith is not what it should be.   Turn to God, increase your faith and hope in His promise and shed those miserable feelings of fear, anger, and despair.

Remember too others have gone through much more than us. We think we are unique in history and other generations have not suffered as much. We need to be stronger as a people and learn how to adapt to crises, to live our lives as best we can during difficult times. If the son of COVID hits us next year or a new strain of Ebola falls from the sky, we should be more ready than we were this time. Shouldn’t we have learned by now how to adapt to a crisis situation?  In 1940, Londoners learned to go about their lives and reopen shops while Germans bombed their city day after day, so we should certainly figure out how to get back to normal in a situation considerably less dangerous. If we can’t learn any lessons from situation like this, God help us when something worse comes.

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