US Covid Endgame: It Could Have Been Better/Worse

The IHME projects that, by the end of May, the covid-19 pandemic in the United States will be nearly over. The estimated daily infection rate has declined from nearly 400K in mid-December 2020 to around 110K in mid-March; it’s projected to drop to 14K by the beginning of June. Similarly, daily deaths, having reached an early January peak of 3,200, now average around 1,100 and are projected to decline to just over 100 per day by the end of July.

So far the coronavirus has infected around 30 percent of the US population, while nearly a quarter of Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine. By the end of May infections likely will have risen only slightly, but vaccinations will have more than doubled, putting the country at the threshold of herd immunity. Barring the emergence of a radically deviant mutation, covid-19’s presence in the American populace will dwindle to nearly nothing for lack of fresh bodies to infect. The toll: over 110 million infected, over 600 thousand dead.

For the past twelve months covid-19 has been the number one cause of US deaths overall. Particularly lethal for the elderly, the virus was also the leading cause of death for adults aged 35-44 and for each subsequent 10-year age grouping.

It could have been better. If the US had managed the pandemic as aggressively and persistently as Australia, only around 2 million Americans might have been infected, leading to a death toll of around 13 thousand.

It could have been worse. At the beginning of the outbreak the goal was to flatten the curve, reducing the rate of contagion in order to prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed. Despite at-times high plateaus punctuated by localized spikes, the curve was flattened. The virus follows its own mysterious trajectory, and its spread might have ebbed and flowed regardless of measures taken to prevent contagion. Still, the annual flu season came and went with rates of infection not even reaching the usual off-season baseline numbers — a dramatic viral suppression attributable in large part to social distancing measures implemented to restrain covid’s spread. Had the curve not been flattened, the highly contagious coronavirus would likely have infected three-quarters of the population within the first few months. The fatality rate for those infected would likely have doubled due lack of resources, of personnel, and of accumulated expertise in treating the condition. Three million Americans might well have died of covid-19 by the end of summer 2020.

Early on, it was expected that the development of a safe and effective vaccine would take at least 18 months. That R&D interval was cut in half, with the first vaccinations being administered 9 months after the start of the pandemic. Had the original timeline held steady, the US would likely have experienced twice as many infections — 200 million — and twice as many deaths — 1.2 million — before infection and immunization together brought about herd immunity and the end of the pandemic..


One thought on “US Covid Endgame: It Could Have Been Better/Worse

  1. 4 April update:

    US infections:
    – Total reported covid deaths = 570K; 7-day death rate = 800/day; estimate around 580K covid deaths.
    – Divide by 0.0065 fatality rate = 90 million covid infections to date.
    – Divide by 330M US population = 27% of US population infected.
    – Based on current death/infection rates and trends, estimate an additional 1% infections per month = total of 30% infected by the end of June.

    US immunizations:
    – So far 32% of the US population has received at least one shot, 17% have had both shots.
    – First shot = 80% immunity, second = additional 15% immunity.
    – The 27% of infected population are already immune.
    – Total vaccine-based immunity to date = (.32 x .8 x .73) + (.17 x .15 x .73) = 20% of the US population is vaccine-immunized.
    – 3.2M shots per day over the past week, and the trend is up. Estimate 3.5M shots per day over the next 3 months = 315M additional shots by the end of June. That’s 95% of the entire US population of 330M.
    – Estimate half the shots are first shots, half are second shots.
    – Estimated additional vaccine immunity by the end of June = (.47 x .8 x .70) + (.47 x .15 x .70) = 31% of the US population.

    So, total US herd immunity the end of June:
    – total infected immunity = 30%
    – total non-infected immunity = 20% + 31% = 51%
    – total immunity = 30% + 51% = 81%


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