Data on new COVID-19 cases is now being reported for the majority of states again, following the July 4th holiday. The only high-population state still missing is Florida. As I explained in an earlier post, when that happens, I gap-fill with the seven-day moving average based on the most recent data on which the state reported some data.
Data source for this and other graphs of new case counts: Calculated from The New York Times. (2021). Coronavirus (Covid-19) Data in the United States. Retrieved 7/7/2021, from https://github.com/nytimes/covid-19-data.” The NY Times U.S. tracking page may be found at https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html.
The little notch at the end of the curve is the effect of July 4th on reported positive cases. As we’ve seen in the past, that’s likely a combination of slow data reporting due to the holiday (which is then recouped later), and some permanent reduction in new positive cases, presumably due to people with marginal symptoms not bothering to get tested over the holiday.
Until the data settle further, I think the only important takeaway there is that we’ve returned to an upward trend. But so far, not much of an upward trend. How rapidly new cases are actually rising at this point is hard to say, given all the factors that are perturbing the data (as discussed in my last post).
Good news, Delta is already here!
And not much is happening (yet), other than in southwest Missouri.
The CDC has updated its estimate of the incidence of the Delta variant, and it’s right on track with what I reported out yesterday. As of the two weeks ending 7/3/2021, Delta accounted for more than half of new cases. Given the less-than-two-week doubling time, Delta plausibly now accounts for two-thirds of new U.S. cases, as I reported yesterday based on the Scripps analysis.
By region, Delta has plausibly saturated the market in the Mountain and Central regions. For the US Health and Human Services (HHS) Mountain and Central regions, Delta already accounted for more than 75 percent of new cases as of the two weeks ending 7/3/2021. Currently, Delta must account for nearly all new cases in those regions. Those regions have already hit a Delta incidence rate similar to that in Great Britain.
And yet, if I simply plot the trends, you can see some possible impact of Delta, but not an overwhelming or consistent impact. Region 7 — where the southwest Missouri outbreak is occurring — has a distinct upward trend. Region 8 — where Delta is nearly as prevalent — does not.
Good news, Missouri is the new Michigan.
Similarly, CDC published an updated listing of the prevalence of Delta by state. These numbers are, on average, close to a month out-of-date. Given the doubling time, that means that in all likelihood, most of the states at the top of the listing now have an incidence of Delta in the 90 percents, similar to what is now seen in Great Britain.
And yet, if I simply plot the trends for the top states on that list, to look for a spike in cases, I find Missouri. And only Missouri.
The numbers suggest we ought to have a fairly significant U.S. spike from Delta. It’s just that much more contagious.
But instead, this is shaping up to be weirdly similar to the U.S. fourth wave, driven by the Alpha (U.K.) variant. We don’t have any nationally-uniform impact. What we have is some apparently mild and sporadic impact of the Delta variant on daily new cases. And, as with the Alpha (U.K.) variant, we have one locale with a fairly significant outbreak. For Alpha, that centered on Michigan and surrounding states. For Delta, looks like that’s centering on southwest Missouri and surrounding states.
Basically, so far so good.
It’s worth restating that we owe this most recent round of COVID-19 to the people who won’t get vaccinated, full stop. In the past, we could try to place blame on any number of possible bad actors, from bad advice from the CDC to bad planning on the part of the Federal government, to people who didn’t have the good sense to wear a mask during a deadly pandemic. But no longer. We have an effective vaccine. We just have a large segment of the population that’s not smart enough, or cooperative enough, or caring enough to take it.
I still say that the numbers and the theory still suggest we ought to be having a larger outbreak. The Delta variant is estimated to be that much more contagious. So, maybe it’s just a matter of time. On the other hand, maybe we have enough people immune via prior infection or vaccination that this fifth (Delta-driven) wave will never be more than a mild annoyance for most of the country.
That said, the bottom line is that there’s no rational reason to have had this fifth wave at all.
Afterword on separating fact from fiction.
As you can tell from reading this blog, I’m very much a science-based reasoner. I did health services research of one sort or another for most of my career, so I’m fairly well armed in the battle to sort information from nonsense.
That said, I had another health-related question tossed at me this morning, and it really highlighted how straightforward it should be for the average person to do the same thing.
Here’s the giveaway: Reality tends to be constant, simple, and internally consistent. But bullshit comes in infinite variety and shifts almost daily from one inconsistent story to another.
I believe that’s because evolution applies as much to memes as to biology. In effect, our social media keep trying out different varieties of bullshit to see if anything will stick. Some of it — the bullshit with the perfectly crafted back-stories, and the elaborate and memorable details — is plausibly disinformation. That is, stories deliberately created by adversaries to try to mess up Western civilization. But you don’t need that hypothesis to explain what you see. All you need is the notion of “stickiness”. Some stories simply resonate with some people.
And so, much like the virus itself, the bullshit evolves to become ever-more-effective based not on some grand plan, but based on whatever succeeds. Whatever sticks.
And, as air travel is to the spread of the more effective virus, social media is to the spread of the more effective bullshit. Instead of containing a more virulent story to one area, any piece of bullshit that resonates with people gets rapidly splattered across the globe. A virus or story that might otherwise have been isolated to a small group rapidly finds all the individuals who might potentially be infected with it.
But the easy way to spot the bullshit is that it does, in fact, change and evolve.
The real story is simple. This is a somewhat deadly disease, the vaccines available for it are pretty good at preventing infection, and they are downright excellent at preventing the worst outcomes (hospitalization and death). Near as I can tell, nobody in any mainstream public health organization anywhere in the world has said any differently. Some details have changed — airborne spread is one, spread via fomites (inanimate contaminated objects) is another. But the main story line has been consistent.
By contrast, if you stop and look back at it, the sheer variety of the bullshit is truly astounding. Just off the top of my head, with no research:
- It’s not real, it’s just a hoax by the World Health Organization.
- It’s a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to mess up the U.S. economy.
- It’s a hoax, and if the Democrats win the election, you’ll never hear of it again.
- It’s real, and was deliberately released by the Chinese to mess up the U.S. economy.
- It’s real, but it’s no more serious than the flu.
- It’s real, but if you’re healthy you won’t have any problem with it.
- People aren’t dying from COVID, they are dying from other conditions.
- Hospitals are pretending people have COVID to collect more reimbursement.
- Physicians, ditto.
- It’s all a conspiracy to prevent the free exercise of religion.
- Mask requirements are the first step toward dictatorship.
- Mask requirements are a way for the government to control your lives.
- The vaccine will alter your DNA.
- The vaccine contains a microchip designed by Bill Gates.
- The vaccine will kill you.
I’ve probably missed a few dozen there, but I’m hardly going to take the time to look them up.
You’d think that by the time the average person saw the Nth piece of bullshit, they’d kind of figure out that all of that stuff was nonsense. But that’s not the way it works. Instead, each bullet point above has its own separate effect. Each finds some fresh segment of the population that is happy to use that particular story as their excuse for ignoring mainstream public health advice.
And so, collectively, that process of mutation and spread of mis- and dis-information prolongs the pandemic. At this point — where the only reason we still have a pandemic is that some people won’t get vaccinated — you almost have to ask which form of evolution has been more harmful. You have to wonder whether the rapid evolution of all that bullshit has contributed more to the pandemic than the rather slower mutation of the virus itself.