The ups and downs of Covid-19

Testing

Is it the current increase in testing, in the US and elsewhere, that is inflating the numbers? Is increased testing simply revealing that many more people have contracted the disease than was previously assumed? Sure, that makes the stats look more threatening, but let us compare:

Infections vs deaths

Currently, in the US the number of infections is certainly rising, while the number of people dying from Covid-19 is sinking, slightly. Let us speculate why that isn the case:

  1. After the Memorial Day loosening of restrictions in the US four weeks ago, it was young people who most readily abandoned caution. They are stronger and for reasons we don’t yet fully understand are better able to deal with the new coronavirus. They seldom need hospitalization and very rarely succumb to the disease. That means they can increase the number of infections while not increasing the fatality numbers. The percentage of deaths in the total number of infections sinks.
  2. We must consider the fact that the quality of treatment has, over the months, most likely improved. Doctors now know better how to save the lives of people infected with Covid-19. So a larger percentage of people who show dangerous symptoms are being saved.
  3. We must also consider the following: it is possible that the virus has now decimated the most vulnerable segments of the population (e.g. elderly people in care homes), or has driven people to implement special measures to protect them. This could reduce the initial fatality numbers.
  4. Another factor we discussed was the role of evolution. We need to remember that the less harmful a virus is, the better it can be passed on. Viruses that cause serious sickness or death, ones that kills you quickly, have very little time to spread. People who are infected are rapidly isolated, or they die and are buried — together with the virus. It is the ones that cause mild symptoms, or none at all, at least for a while, that can spread merrily. There are in fact many beneficial viruses that actually improve human health. That makes them especially capable of spreading, even becoming a permanent part of our genetic code.
  5. It is conceivable that the novel coronavirus, SARS-Cov-2, is mutating and that a less virulent, asymptomatic strain is infecting a greater percentage of people, while the deadlier strain is being better isolated. My virus researcher friend considers this unlikely, since, he says, we would have genetically identified the new strain by now.

Delayed consequences

There is another explanation for the sinking deaths in the face of rising infections. Why are they not also rising? The answer is: they are not rising yet! They are still sinking. Let me explain:

The spread

Say you hold a rally, and 6,000 people from all over the country attend, most of them unmasked, shouting and screaming. Say, as some studies have suggested, 800 people become infected. They will go home, to different parts of the country, taking the virus with them. After five or six days some will begin coughing, feeling unwell (as happened to the daughter of a dear friend of mine, here in Germany). But they may not immediately seek medical attention. At the end of two weeks a certain number will have done so, and, for the first time, been identified as covid-infected. Maybe a couple of dozen will be hospitalized, and a week later a few will be dead.

Addendum:

09 July 2020: Today we see first reports of an infection surge in Tulsa, where Trump held his rally on June 20, two and a half weeks ago. Not all of the 6,500 people that attended the rally were from Tulsa. A large number came from other towns and states — and returned home after the rally. The corresponding numbers are hard to track.

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The Friedel Chronicles

The Friedel Chronicles

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Frederic Alois Friedel, born in 1945, science journalist, co-founder of ChessBase, studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford.