Well, despite my dramatic and terrifying underestimate of how US residents would pull together and alter their behavior to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, there are still many COVID-19 deaths happening around the USA. Looking at graphs, the growth of the disease looks a lot more linear than exponential lately, and that’s a very, very good thing. With linear growth, each doubling takes twice as long as the last doubling, which means that we buy ourselves lots and lots of time to make vaccines and take more preventative actions before reaching megadeath-scale numbers. Of course, this is still much worse than negative growth rate in COVID-19 deaths or just stopping the disease in its tracks, but when the choice is between linear growth and exponential growth, as it was for the USA at the end of last month, you have to choose the former.
So where are we? In my first post on this subject, regardless of how wrong I was on the important question of whether infections and deaths would continue doubling at the same rate as in the recent past, the math on how many doublings it takes to reach megadeaths is the same: it would require 8 doublings. I thought COVID-19 related deaths might get as many as 6 doublings before finally slowing dramatically. But it only got two, it looks like, before we hit linear growth. (This was, if you remember, foreshadowed by someone who had better data and better thinking on this than I, militantagnostic, who told us then that we were less than two weeks out from killing the exponential growth curve.)
Still, that first look at the data indicated 6,593 deaths. And if I’m calculating correctly, that means the most recent doubling, which has taken 9 days, brings us to 2.5 doublings, total. Those doublings represent 45,000 human beings who have lost their lives to this disease, as you can see:
If growth stays linear, we will reach a total of 3 doublings at about 52,000 persons dead, which is about 3 days from now. This is bad. This is tens of thousands of tragedies playing out across the country that must be partly attributed to our government’s response. Still, I did say:
There really is very little hope at all that deaths will be less than 100k on Earth Day this month.
and yet here we are, and we’re at less than half that number. For those of us not grieving someone, we might take a moment to reflect on how much better things are than they might have been if we hadn’t gotten good leadership from our governors and good cooperation from our neighbors.
This is a good thing, yet it is also not time to relax. With 2500 people dying in the last 24 hour reporting period, that means that there are many, many infected persons in the USA right now, and “reopening the economy” won’t place us back where we were in mid-to-late January with a single hot spot. There are tens of thousands of infections ready and able to touch off tens of thousands of hot spots if people begin mingling again. And yet, that’s exactly what we seem set to do with beaches reopening in Florida and churches holding more services again this weekend in Texas and Georgia. There are many places where this is going to get bad again.
I won’t tempt the wrong again by making more projections, but we are barely more one doubling away from 100,000 persons to mourn. Clearly some people are going to show up for demonstrations and church services and days at the beach. Clearly more people will get sick and some of those will die because of this behavior. I hope that the people of the USA continue to show more wisdom than I thought likely at the beginning of this month, and I’ll continue periodically checking the statistics to see whether or not that comes to pass.
Stay safe everyone.