Steepening the Curve

Do you remember the parable about the little boy who cried “wolf”? He did it for attention, but the third time there really was a wolf, and no more little boy.

We talked about “flattening the curve” this year. That wasn’t to stop the virus, because we don’t have a proven way to do that, but to slow it so that medical systems could cope.

The Corona virus ran amok in the Northeastern US (especially New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts) in the Winter and Spring of this year. Shutdowns finally brought it under control, but the rest of the country didn’t react. Now the virus is surging again.

The Northeast had the advantage of a heavy concentration of hospital services. The rest of the US doesn’t, and there is a story of patients in Georgia being taken 500 miles to find a hospital with an available ICU bed. If your condition is serious and time critical, that’s a death sentence.

Wisconsin is running out of ICU beds statewide. So is Iowa. The Republican governor of Iowa finally issued an order to wear masks, but that was classically “too little, too late.” The governor of New Jersey, who was accused of being too aggressive with the virus in the Spring is now accused of being too slow to react with this wave.

We have 252,838 deaths from Covid-19 as of this morning according the Johns Hopkins University. The forecast is for that number to rise to 471,000 by the end of February, and even that may be low if Americans fail to change behavior.

Note that 7% of patients who survive hospital stays with Covid still die after being sent home. Another 15% have a second hospital stay, and may not survive that.

The shortage of beds due to Covid will impact deaths from other medical conditions. Deadly heart attacks can be caused by the virus, but they can also be made deadly if a bed isn’t readily available. Whether both kinds of deaths should be counted as Covid related will be the subject of endless debate. In my view, a death caused by a bed shortage due to Covid is a Covid death.

And that’s the problem with Covid data. There are many ways to die from Covid, some of which aren’t consistently counted as Covid deaths. While critics argue that Covid numbers are inflated, it’s far more likely that they undercount the deaths attributable to the disease.

And then there are cases like El Paso, where some of the critically ill are being flown to other states. The dead show up on death tallies for Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma, instead of Texas.

And then there’s a question of lingering and long-term effects. According to a study, only 25% of patients released from a hospital are able to return to work within 2 months of their release. There a physical symptoms, mental health issues and financial issues that linger long after release.(3)

Ultimately, the US response is being retarded by the many people who still believe the lies about the virus being a hoax. The consolation for the rest of us is that the roll of GOP voters in future elections will be substantially reduced as they die off.

Stay safe and mask up!




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