I’m afraid.

Not about the present political situation (although that’s pretty scary too). I’m frightened because of a graph that is updated daily on this site from the Covid Tracking Project. It’s a plot of the daily deaths from the SARS-CoV-2 virus versus the number of new infections, On the right I show the latest version that was posted on November 21. The seven day average of daily Covid19 cases is shown in red. The black line represents the number of deaths similarly averaged over a seven day period. I’ve labeled the graph with three numbers representing the three phases of the pandemic.

In phase 1, which covers the period from the end of March to the middle of May, the proportion of deaths to cases was high. That was probably due to three causes. First, the testing rate was pretty low meaning that the number of cases were underrepresented. Second, because we were ill prepared, the contagion killed a higher percentage of people who were more vulnerable to the disease than in later phases, particularly patients in nursing homes. And third, because of the great number of hospitalizations and the novelty of the disease, the medical community had difficulty in coping. That resulted in many more deaths per case than currently.

In phase two, which occurred during the summer, a broader section of the populace was infected, including younger people who are much less susceptible to dying from the disease. In addition, physicians and nurses were better prepared to deal with infected individuals and saved many lives that they would not have several months previously. Testing was also more widely available. The result of these factors was fewer deaths per detected case. One thing to notice about the two lines in phase two is that the peak in the number of deaths lags that of the number of cases by about two to four weeks. That’s because people don’t die right away after contracting the disease and their deaths aren’t reported immediately.

That brings us to phase three, which we’re in now and which neither curve has reached its maximum. Not yet. When will that be? How many deaths will occur? Of course, nobody knows. But here’s an informed guess. The percentage of deaths to cases when both curves were at  their maximum in the summer was about 1.6%. That is, on average about one and a half people per hundred who tested positive for the virus died of it. Let’s say the medical community has gotten better at saving lives, bringing that number down to 1.5% or so. That means, if the number of cases reaches 200,000 then we can expect to see 3,000 deaths per day after a lag of a few weeks! What’s frightening is that that yesterday the number of detected cases was more than 198,000. And the red curve doesn’t seem to be flattening. In fact, it seems to be gathering steam. As I said at the outset, I’m afraid. And I’m not the only one. An article that recently appeared in the Atlantic magazine cites  epidemiologists who have reached similar conclusions (“How Many Americans Are About to Die?” by A. C. Madrigal and W. Moser The Atlantic, Nov 19, 2020). And it looks like the newly developed vaccines, even if they’re as effective as touted, won’t be widely available until the end of the year at best. It appears we’re in for a tough time.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *