Coronavirus has peaked

The number of Coronavirus (CV) cases in the U.S. has decreased significantly, but instead the focus has been on the number of masks to wear and that we’re in the middle of a “dark winter.”

The current seven-day average of cases is down by 75% from the high, and is now at the same level as in mid-October:

Source: Author’s graph of CDC data

We might wonder why cases are down, and whether this will continue: Cases fell last summer, yet the fall brought an increase that rightly concerned everyone.

But what if cases continue to drop, which is what Johns Hopkins medical professor Dr. Marty Makary suggested in the Wall Street Journal: “We’ll Have Herd Immunity by April”? He wrote, “COVID will be mostly gone by April, allowing Americans to resume normal life.” He also speculated that many Americans have natural immunity to the virus.

The thinking is that herd immunity may be achieved because many people have already battled the virus and more people are being vaccinated every day.

Also, this graph is the first to show cases and deaths on the same scale -- a CV diagnosis is not the “death sentence” it once was. Deaths have been relatively flat during the same time that cases escalated.  Deaths increased slightly in the fall, but nowhere near the increase in number of cases.

Of course, there is a multiweek lag in the progression from case to hospitalization to death. But this graph puts to bed any concern about the uptick in CV cases leading to significantly more deaths. Clearly, more recent cases are less severe and reflect more testing as well as more communication of the virus, but not more severe results.

If this is the first time you’ve seen the data in this fashion, your reaction might be one of surprise. That would be appropriate, since the data needs appropriate context, not scare-analysis that shocks. One should conclude that deaths have increased, but that getting CV leads to death a much smaller fraction of the time than at the beginning of the pandemic.

Here is another way to put the results in context:

Source: Author’s calculations based on CDC data

This table shows that dying with CV is over 50 times less likely than contracting CV.

However, alarm has been prevalent: Joe Biden said in January, “There’s nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.” He said we’re “at war” with the coronavirus. In February, he pessimistically stated we should be back to normal a year from now. What?

Dr. Anthony Fauci claimed that double masking “just makes common sense.” And he claimed that people who get the vaccine should still wear a mask. Then why get the vaccine? He claims we need to get to less than 10,000 cases per day to get back to normal. That moves the goal posts! And variants of the virus are more communicable.

Instead of beating a dead horse that the virus is highly communicable and can lead to death, we should analyze why fewer people are dying relative to the number of cases. An obvious reason is that new cases are less severe than previous ones (the virus is spreading amongst younger people, there are more positive tests of less-serious cases, healthcare interventions seem to be working, etc.), and the specific reasons should be quantified. Better analysis can lead to smarter decisions as to prevention and cure.

So, at a time when it appears the peak in cases occurred in December, politicians continue to claim, “the sky is falling.” These politicians have lost credibility because of alarmist predictions that did not come true, such as early projections of millions dying. Despite that history, they expect the public to listen again. And then they chastise people for not listening, as if it’s the public’s fault. Perhaps they need to look in the mirror.

Rich Yurkowitz is a healthcare actuary and author of the upcoming book, Medicare For All, Really?!

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