Top news, reports and insights for today:
- The COVID-19 epidemic is moving faster in the U.S. than any peer nation
The graph below comes from OurWorldInData.org and is based on data gathered from the European CDC. The graph compares the rate of growth of new cases in a number of countries by setting all nations to the day each arrives at it’s first 100 cases. It shows that the U.S. has the fastest pace of growth in confirmed cases through the 25 days since 100 cases.
What does it mean? Other countries have been more aggressive with social distancing measures than the U.S.. Also, testing and preparation efforts were especially slow to get started in this country. The accelerated pace of the epidemic in the U.S. is partly the result of these trends. The rate of doubling of new cases has been between 2 and 3 days, although that may now be slowing (see point 2 below). Hopefully, social distancing measures will begin to slow the epidemic and put us closer to the average of other peer nations.
- Growth in U.S. cases and deaths slows on Saturday
Below are my versions of the epidemic curves in deaths and new cases in the U.S. up to March 27. Both show a slowing in the rate of new COVID-19 infections and deaths compared to recent trends. New cases rose by 20% on Saturday (20,102) and deaths by 28% (447). While both new cases and deaths set record daily highs, the rate of growth may now be slowing. Cases appear to be doubling every 4 days (rather than the 2 day doubling rate of the past week). Hot spots in deaths can be seen in every region, with substantial rises in Montana (+67%) and Colorado (+41%) in the West, Illinois (+38%) and Oklahoma (+82%) in the Midwest, Arkansas (+57%) and Mississippi (59%) in the South, and Delaware (+120%) and Pennsylvania (+53%) in the Northeast.
What does it mean? We have seen growth rates slow in previous days only to see a quick return to faster growth. These data are, however cause for cautious optimism. It is possible that the slowing is a byproduct of saturation of our capacity to process new information. It is way too early to conclude that we are near peak in the U.S.. In the last week, national growth in new cases has been driven by skyrocketing cases in New York where 43% of all U.S. cases have occurred. However, that state saw a modest 17% rise in new cases on Saturday. As the epidemic begins to slow in New York, it is just starting in many other places.
- Some now calling for widespread use of masks for the public
Like many public health experts, I have urged people not to wear masks in public unless they are sick or caring for those who are. This is based on the idea that priority must go to health workers who don’t have adequate supply of masks, and the belief that wearing masks if you are not sick is unlikely to lower your risk of contracting the illness. It is widely believed that the main way the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads is by respiratory droplets coughed or sneezed by those infected, which land on surfaces and are then transferred to a person’s airways by touching. Generally speaking, it is believed that the virus does not float in the air for long and therefore, a mask is not useful for keeping the virus out. This advice is still correct in my view. However, a growing number of experts are starting to question current guidance on masks. As reported in the New York Times, some are starting to urge the public to wear a cloth or paper mask in public. The reason for the shift is a growing understanding that masks may play a role in slowing the rate of infections by preventing the spread of infectious respiratory droplets from those who have no (or only mild) symptoms. That’s right, the case for masks is not about keeping the mask wearer safe, but rather in preventing those of us who are infected and don’t know it from passing the disease to others. In my view, it makes sense for people to cover their mouth and nose in public providing that doing so does not divert the scarce supply of medical masks and respirators from health workers who need them. It may be time to get out the sewing kit and make a cloth mask at home.
- If you have any symptoms, consider taking my COVID-19 Symptom Checklist on line. It’s free and confidential and will help develop better screening tools.