Sunday COVID-19 Briefing

Top news, reports and insights for today:

Update notice: I thank alert reader James S. who spotted an error in my Sunday update. I entered death data wrong for Saturday August 15 that made it appear that record high daily deaths had occurred in 15 states. I sincerely apologize for the error. I modified point 3 to reflect this change. The error did not impact the accuracy of Figure D.

  1. Daily headline summaries for Sunday:
  • CDC says that while children make up only 7% of U.S. COVID-19 cases, rates have been “steadily increasing” in young people from March to July (CNN)
  • A school district near Phoenix Arizona will not reopen as planned on August 17 because so many teachers refuse to come to work over safety concerns (Axios)
  • The U.S. CARES Act, signed into law in March, requires the Food and Drug Administration maintain a publicly available list of equipment and supplies that are in shortage. Five months later, FDA has just put out that list containing 20 items including gowns, gloves and other critical PPE (Axios)
  • White House task force warns COVID-19 is “widespread and expanding” in Georgia, which now has the 5th highest number of cases. Against this backdrop, the state reopened many of its schools including in Cherokee County which now has at least 110 confirmed school cases resulting in over 1,600 students and staff in quarantine (NBC News)
  • USC researchers studied the order that COVID-19 symptoms appear, finding that fever most often occurs first, followed by cough, and muscle pain with a host of other symptoms coming later (Ladders)
  • The FDA authorized a new fast, cheap saliva test developed by researchers at Yale. This potentially groundbreaking test could be a game-changer, dramatically increasing our ability to test and track. More testing is needed first and it’s being done in NBA players (Wall Street Journal)
  1. New cases continue at 54,000+ a day. There is something wrong with this picture.
     The SARS-CoV-2 epidemic keeps chugging along (See Figure A). As a disease detective, I am scratching my head. Most infectious disease epidemics have a given shape. It works a bit like a fire. Energy, oxygen and fuel. Quantities that exist in given amounts at a particular forest or building or fireplace. Plotted over time, the fire will shift and change as fuel runs out relative to the energy, oxygen and burn rate. The shape is constrained by higher-order laws. It’s physics to some extent. What goes up (in flames) must come down.
     This virus isn’t acting right. Every day I show you the epidemic curve. We know what is suppose to happen. There is a rise, it accelerates, the fuel (susceptible hosts) starts to run out, the peak is reached, then a shift, a downward drift. Eventually, not enough fuel or oxygen and the fire wanes and expires. We had a peak in April. Then a waning. Then another big rise, past the earlier peak. Then a new peak in mid-July, followed by an apparent decline. But now, we are stuck in neutral. It’s been a fairly constant 53,000ish cases a day since August 2. Is there another peak coming? Will the decline be apparent when the clog in test processing clears? I don’t know. I’m not sure anyone does. At this point, the data is a frothy bitter-tasting cocktail of what the virus is doing, what our testing isn’t doing with a good dose of political shenanigans thrown in. The picture that we see in this graph is not the picture we should be seeing. I scratch my head and wait for the smoke of confusion to clear.
Figure A
  1. Another day, another 1,200 American souls lost. Are we getting getting numb?
     We are getting numb aren’t we (See Point 4)? It’s hard to grasp the reality reflected in this pink graph everyday. On Saturday, 1,190 new COVID-19 deaths were recorded (see Figure D). We know that we are capturing about 60% of the real death toll. We also know the book-keeping is sloppy, delayed and error-prone. But in the real world, where you and I live, about 2,000 American citizens got sick, suffered and died yesterday. They all had names, parents, stories, dreams, regrets, and favorite ice cream flavors. Many died miserably, often without loved ones, with front-line doctors and nurses, exhausted, desperate to keep them alive, hoping for the virus to pass. Two thousand sheets pulled over real people.
Figure D
  1. Need some perspective? Stare at this for a moment
     The U.S. has now recorded 158,069 deaths (according to Wikipedia) from the SARS-CoV-2 virus in just five and a half months. Are we losing perspective? That is more American lives lost than were recorded in:
    1. The first SARS-CoV outbreak (aka SARS)
    2. The Gulf war
    3. The September 11 terrorist attacks
    4. The Swine Flu H1N1 pandemic of 2009-10
    5. The Korean War
    6. The Vietnam war
    7. All deaths from influenza in the U.S. for the 6 years prior to this year
    8. And World War I

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