In August the US experienced a coronavirus surge. So did Western Europe. How do those surges compare? For the US and five European countries I looked at the average daily diagnostic test-positive count from August 10-20 and, assuming a ten-day lag between diagnosis and death, the average daily death count for August 20-30. To evaluate the size of the national August surge, I looked at each country’s daily deaths over the past 10-day interval compared with the average death rate during the epidemic’s peak in that country back in the spring. Finally, I used deaths as a lagging indicator of infections: assuming a rough estimate of 1% virus fatality rate, then each death represents 100 infections. If the computed infection rate equals or exceeds the test-positive count, then testing is successful in identifying everyone who’s been infected. Here are the numbers:
- 930 deaths per day = 41% of 2260 daily peak
- 50K daily test-positives = 0.5 test-positives per new infection
- 10 deaths per day = 1% of 979 daily peak
- 2.7K daily test-positives = 2.7 test-positives per new infection
- 6 deaths per day = 1% of 769 daily peak
- 0.5K daily test-positives = 0.8 test-positives per new infection
- 20 deaths per day = 2% of 828 daily peak
- 6.0K daily test-positives = 3.0 test-positives per new infection
- 10 deaths per day = 1% of 940 daily peak
- 1.1K daily test-positives = 1.1 test-positives per new infection
- 4 deaths per day = 2% of 227 daily peak
- 1.3K daily test-positives = 3.3 test-positives per new infection
The contrasts are stark. Though the Western European countries have experienced upticks in infections and deaths, they remain small fractions of the casualties experienced during the epidemic peak. All five of those European countries’ testing capabilities are strong enough to identify every new infection. Three of the five are also able to conduct repeated diagnostics for those who test positive, in order to confirm the diagnosis and to track their recovery.
The Western European countries have succeeded where the US has failed, bringing the rate of contagion down to the point where they can identify and isolate each new infection, tracing each individual’s social contacts and monitoring the effectiveness of their medical treatment. The contagion rate in the US remains very high, and so the country continues to rely on sporadic gross-level interventions to contain the viral spread. While it’s effective enough to flatten the curve, the American plateau remains very high relative to what’s been achieved in hard-hit countries in Western Europe.