Post #930: Odds are that the U.S. is over the hump, COVID-wise.

Posted on December 28, 2020

In Post #925, I made the prediction that Tennessee was past its peak daily new infection rate.  That wasn’t based on any detailed analysis.  That was simply based on what had already happened 12 times before, in this pandemic, to states in a similar situation.

The only value-added here was in figuring out that this was the 13th time a state was in this situation, and then quantifying what, exactly, “this situation” was.

That was then:

This is now:

And I’d say that’s looking pretty good, prediction-wise.  So far.  Plus-or-minus a Christmas data-reporting artifact.

And sure, doctors bury their mistakes.  Meaning that people don’t brag on the times that they were wrong.  So if I’d screwed this up, it’s unlikely I’d be writing this post.  (Though I try to be as scientific as I can, announce things ahead of time, and admit when I am wrong.)

But there’s a reason behind this.  This wasn’t a lucky guess.  There’s a reason that Tennessee is the 13th in the series. It’s h*** i*******.  The condition that dare not say its name (Post #928).

And the exceptionally good news is, the same thing that gave me the confidence to call it for Tennessee tells me that the US, as a whole, is (probably) now over the hump on COVID-19.

In short, I think we’ve seen the worst of it.  And we’re starting to leave it in our rear-view mirror.

This is definitely something you won’t read in the mainstream press.  As the news coverage flits from peak awfulness to peak awfulness, state-by-state, try to keep your eye on the big picture.

And the big picture is, we’re over the hump.  It’s light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel time.  Maybe not for your particular state.  But for the US as a whole.

A few details follow.  But I’ll be fleshing this out in the next several posts.

I now think we’ve reached the point where the odds favor an improving U.S. COVID-19 situation going forward.  You aren’t going to be reading that in the newspaper, so I thought I might do a post on the evidence in favor of that.

But let’s ask the obvious question:  Based on some definition of “peaked”, what fraction of the U.S. population lives in states that have already appear to have had their peak COVID-19 new infection rates?   States like North Dakota, where the crisis is firmly in the rear-view mirror.

Here, I’ll use a definition that combines timing and descent.  Highest observed rate was at least 5 days ago, and current rate (as of 12/24/2020  — as explained below) is at least 20% below peak.

  • States that peaked in November — 16%
  • States that peaked before 12/15/2020 – 33%
  • Add in Tennessee and California — 47%

So let’s keep this short.  Because, again, this isn’t rocket science.  We’re reaching the point where half the people in the U.S. live in states where the COVID-19 new infection rate has already peaked.   That’s what I mean by “over the hump”.  Half the people live in states like North Dakota, or Tennessee.  Or anywhere in the Midwest.  Or anywhere in the Mountain states.  Or most of New England.  And so on.

Do I need to provide visual aids?  I’m getting tired of providing my six regional graphs, so just look at the tangle of lines in the right side of this US graph.  See the downslope?  I sure do.  Sometimes your eyes are better at integrating data than you might think.

I had to cheat a bit to get that “half” figure.  I included Tennessee (now almost certainly past peak) and California (much more arguable).  Without those, it would only be a third of the U.S. population.

But here’s the central point:  Have you seen the recent news about North Dakota COVID-19 infection rates?  Of course not, because they’re now doing OK.  And OK doesn’t make the news.  See Post #928.  And the reason they’re doing OK is arguably the reason that most of the Midwest is doing OK.  And that gets back to h*** i*******.

As the news coverage focuses on the latest disaster, keep your eye on the big picture.  And at this point, the big picture is that half of us live in states that are (arguably) over the hump, for this U.S. third wave of COVID.  And that pretty much works out to the US being over the hump.

As the mainstream media throw the latest crisis, wherever it may be, in your face, just use your eyes, on the graph above.  Supplemented with a little basic arithmetic, as presented here.  And say, yeah, but for the country as a whole, it looks like we’re over the hump.

But not for me, unfortunately.  I think Virginia may take a few more lumps, based on the weather.  But that’s because I’ve reviewed the literature, and I think that indoor relative humidity is the primary driver of the peak of flu/coronavirus season.  And the recent cold weather may have an echo of higher COVID rates in a couple of weeks.

There are a couple of additional reasons to think that we’re just about over the hump.

The first is the non-surge after Thanksgiving.  (You can see my earlier posts on that.)  Fact is, despite all the grave warnings, there was no post-Thanksgiving surge in COVID-19.  All we saw was continuation of trends.  You may have heard people talk about a “surge”, but all they were looking at was a post-Thanksgiving continuation of existing trends.  But a “surge”, in terms of some large, fresh wave of new cases?  That just didn’t happen.

So that argues that there probably won’t be any great post-Christmas surge, either.  Granted, that’s a pretty simplistic argument.  It didn’t happen the last time, so … duh.

But I have yet to see or hear of a better one.

The second is the average seasonality of other coronaviruses.  As a whole, incidence of all types of human coronaviruses peaks in February in the Northern Hemisphere (see this recent meta-analysis, or this one, regarding seasonality).

I think we’re going to see an earlier peak for the simple reason that nobody was immune to this particular virus, so it spread faster and peaked earlier.  Be that as it may, even if we see a peak for COVID-19 that matches that of the average coronavirus, that constrains the US peak to occur sometime in the next seven  weeks or so (between now and mid-February).

And so, if this coronavirus is merely in synch with the rest of its family, we have maybe a max of seven weeks to see the peak.  If the peak isn’t in our rear-view mirror, well, it soon will be.

Anyway, I think I’ll end on that cheerful note.  If you follow this blog, you know I’ve been keeping a pretty close eye on this.  And to my eye, it sure looks like we’ve seen the worst of it.

That’s not an excuse to be sloppy or stupid.  It’s not an excuse for going around without a mask.  But as I see it, we’re over the hump.