If you are still following the trend in new COVID-19 cases, you would have noticed that today we finally seemed to have entered the end phase of the pandemic. But that’s not so.
The sharp dip in today’s counts reflects the Memorial Day holiday. A lot of states simply didn’t report data, resulting in zero new cases, and the sharp downturns in their trend lines. That should get fixed tomorrow.
So, no quick end of this in sight. Just a slow fizzling-out of the pandemic in the U.S.
Even with younger people getting vaccinated, the overall rate of new vaccinations continues to decline.
It now looks like we’re never going to reach herd immunity to COVID-19. In terms of herd immunity, best guess, we’re just about as shown below — 63% of the population has immunity at this point. Experts say we need somewhere near 80% to get herd immunity against the more infectious variants that have taken over.
Between the lower rate of infections and vaccinations, growth in that number has slowed to a crawl. Looks like we’re adding about a tenth of a percentage point per day to that total, which suggests that the U.S. as a whole will effectively never reach herd immunity.
Nominally, if we could keep that rate up, it would only be about half-a-year (170 days) before we reached 80% with immunity, from the current estimate of 63%. But in practice, immunity will begin to fade among those previous infected as fast or faster than we’re adding immunity via vaccination and additional new infections. In practice, even if we stay at this rate, it looks like we’ll never reach herd immunity as a nation.
And, starting about a week after the CDC’s pronouncement on mask use, mask use is now declining fairly rapidly.
Mask use by state, start of May (COVID Delphi project):
Mask use, end of May (COVID Delphi project):
So that’s how it ends. For most of us, COVID-19 is now just a real-life Darwin Awards. If you’ve been vaccinated, even if you catch it, it’s extremely unlikely to kill you or even hospitalize you. If you haven’t been vaccinated and you catch it, if it kills you, we can just think of it as evolution in action.
The innocent losers in this end game are the people who can’t afford to catch it. Those who are immuocompromised, those who are unable to get vaccinated, and so on. They remain imprisoned by the circulation of the virus, even as the rest of us declare victory and get on with our lives. But there’s nothing that we can, or at least will, do about that.