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Beware of the Second Wave! 

By Shlomo Maital

   As the ‘rate of doubling’ (number of days COVID-19 cases double, from every three days to weekly or more) slows, in some countries, even plague-ridden ones like Italy, a new danger emerges: Complacency.

   Writing in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof warns of a second wave.

“….countless thousands will still die because of past mistakes and complacency. A pandemic is like an oil tanker: It continues to move forward long after you hit the brakes. In China, deaths didn’t fall sharply until a month after controls had been imposed. The benefits from social distancing in the United States will take time to ripple through the system, and there will continue to be new infections — and many more deaths.

  Kristof continues: “The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington has a constantly updated model that predicts that the daily death toll across the United States will rise until April 16 and then slowly decline. By the beginning of August, it estimates that more than 93,000 Americans will have died from Covid-19.”

   “More bad news: Case fatality rates have been creeping up, and lethality may be greater than many had expected. Germany was hailed for a death rate of only about 0.5 percent, and South Korea was not much higher; now both have case fatality rates well above 1 percent.   In models of the virus that my colleague Stuart A. Thompson and I published, we used a death rate of 1 percent. But if the South Korean death rate by age is applied to the demography of the United States, the American case fatality rate is about 2 percent, according to Dr. Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

 “A great majority of the deaths in the United States will have been avoidable. South Korea and the United States had their first coronavirus cases on the same day, but Seoul did a far better job managing the response. The upshot: It has suffered only 174 coronavirus deaths, equivalent to 1,100 for a population the size of America’s.

  “That suggests that we may lose 90,000 Americans in this wave of infections because the United States did not manage the crisis as well as South Korea did. As of Friday night, the U.S. had already had more than 7,000 deaths. ….. while we can bend the curve, it will bend back when we relax our social distancing.

  “This is more bad news, for many people seem to believe that once we get through this grim month or two, the nightmare will be over. But the virus is resilient, and health experts warn that this may be just the first wave of what may be many waves of infections until we get a vaccine sometime in 2021.

   “We’re just looking at this first wave,” noted Dr. Murray. He estimates that in June, some 95 percent of Americans will still be susceptible to the virus. “The world’s on fire with this virus,” said Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, and this means that even if one country succeeds in putting out the blaze, sparks will keep arriving from elsewhere to cause new outbreaks. He added: “I think the transmission will continue to occur for some time.”

 

 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital

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