I’m starting with a graphic from Johns Hopkins. It shows the daily cases for the US since the beginning of the pandemic.
There are two things to notice in this graph. First, the low points in May are only about a third lower than the typical rates at the peak. As the country started reopening, we still had not even reached a 50% reduction in daily infections. Second, we are currently at about the same level as the earlier peak.
In short, we shut down the country to reduce infections, declared victory when we saw a little progress, and are now back to where we were before we made any progress against the virus. Let that sink in. We are now at the same level of infections as we were. However, when we reached this level before, we were taking extraordinary measures to control the virus. Cities and states shut down and there was at least some federal support for their doing so. Our response now is not nearly as strong. Some governors in hard hit states have started requesting or even requiring that people wear masks in public, but there is no federal support, and even some pushback, for such measures.
Think what you wish about the politics of all this, the reality is that our path forward depends on what we do. If we do not respond as strongly as before, we will see worse results than we did. The virus wants to spread. The less we do to stop it, the more it will spread. Since we are doing less this time around, we should expect worse results.
In any case, it will take time for any actions to have an effect, just as it did before. So, since we’ve just now started responding to this rise, we should expect it to continue for at least two weeks as a bare minimum. Two weeks ago, our daily cases averaged about 21,000. Now they average 30,000, an increase of 9,000. At this rate, in two week we should expect to see daily cases averaging close 40,000, much higher than we have seen so far. However, that estimate assumes that our acceleration is linear – that we increase by the same about per day. However, our acceleration is increasing, so I would expect to see that number in less than two weeks.
One thing to watch for over the next two weeks is how the deaths per day respond to the increase in cases per day. We would normally expect to see deaths rise with cases but at about a two week or so delay. There is some indication that this may be starting to happen, but it’s too early to tell whether it’s just noise or a real change. Here’s my usual style graph showing both daily cases and daily deaths so you can judge for yourself.
There are a couple of reasons to be hopeful that the death rate won’t spike as badly as it did, though I definitely expect it to rise. First, because the cases are spread out across several states rather than concentrated in a single area, we can hope that medical systems will not be as overwhelmed. Second, we know more about how to treat the virus than we did. In addition to a better understanding overall, one medication has been identified as reducing fatalities in patients on oxygen or ventilation. So, while I do think we’ll see a rise in the number of daily deaths, it’s not unreasonable to hope that the rise will not be as severe as the rise in daily cases.
Projections can be a bit dicey in a changing environment like this. Still, here’s a 10 day projection. I would expect this to end up being somewhat low on the case numbers just as the last one was. If so, I’ll try to adjust in future projections.
For now, the best advice I have is to stay home as much as possible, avoid crowds, and wear your damn mask whenever you’re in public. Your mask isn’t going to change the shape of the pandemic by itself, but like voting, it’s important that we all do our part.