There’s some good news on COVID, so let’s start with that.
A second vaccine, Moderna’s, has reported efficacy data and it’s very promising – above 90% again. This clearly shows that highly effective vaccines are possible. The distribution of this vaccine will be much less challenging than Pfizer’s as it does not require such extremely low temperatures for storage and transport. We also got some safety data and it looks pretty good. There were some adverse effects but not really anything beyond flu-like symptoms for a short period. If you want to read up on this in more detail, I recommend Derek Lowe’s post about it at https://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2020/11/16/modernas-vaccine-efficacy-readout .
Vaccines will be that tool that allow us to finally beat this virus, but we’re still some months off from widespread vaccination; we still have to make it to that point. Some good news on that front is that states are beginning to increase restrictions. Those restrictions won’t really beat the virus, but they can help reduce the spread and the death rate. Once again, we’re trying to flatten the curve. Alas, these restrictions will also cause hardship. It would be nice if we saw some federal support for workers and small businesses as we did in the spring, but thus far the Senate has shown no inclination to sign on to significant stimulus. It will be up to the states to do what they can with their much more limited capacities.
Unfortunately, the curve we’re trying to flatten is already quite steep. Our 7-day case average stands at just below 148,725. We are adding more than one million cases per week now and are still rising rapidly. Daily deaths from COVID also continue to increase. Our 7 day average is now 1103. This is about as high as the death rate got during the summer surge. However, at that point the surge had already peaked and started to descend while the current surge is still rising. I expect the death rate to get significantly worse this time. Here is the national graph as of last night.
This surge remains quite widespread with 39 states over 1000 cases per day and 9 of those over 5000 per day. While Texas and Illinois have the highest number of cases and deaths per day, on a per capita bass the surge is still centered on the Dakotas. 8 states are averaging more than 100 cases per 100,000 population per day. Here are maps showing each state’s 7-day average in cases and deaths. (I’ve switched the map to blue to be more consistent in color coding the data presented: case data-blue, death data-red.)
Remember that this map is adjusted for population. Texas may have 7 times as many cases as North Dakota does, but it has 36 times more population. Illinois is in very bad shape because it has easily the highest daily average of cases AND a high per capita rate.
Looking ahead, expect the nation to reach 12 million cumulative cases later this week. There’s a good chance we’ll see at least one day with 200,000 cases. Deaths will also continue to rise, but I’m less clear by how much. If I had to hazard a guess, I would guess the 7-day average for deaths will be around 1250 next Monday, but it could be significantly higher than that or somewhat lower.
Whatever your state regulations, do your best to reduce risk. Vaccines are on the way, but they won’t arrive until after this surge. It’s up to us to protect ourselves, our families, and each other until then.