JACKSON — This morning (Monday, March 30) I was encouraged by a drop in COVID-19 deaths for the first time in two weeks. This occurred in both our country and the world.
The number of new cases in the world also dropped that day. U.S. cases were up, but just ever so slightly. If you look at the graphs, it clearly looks like things are leveling off.
It is beginning to look like Farr’s Law of Epidemics is at work.
William Farr was a 10th-century British epidemiologist. He is regarded as one of the founders of medical statistics. He postulated that epidemics, when graphed, resemble a bell curve.
As Wikipedia describes it: This means the number of cases starts out small, incrementally picking up pace, then slowing down as it reaches a peak, before sloping down at a roughly symmetrical rate to how it approached the peak, eventually dying down to the point where there are still a few cases (perhaps per year).
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The China COVID graph matches Farr’s law almost perfectly. So does South Korea. It’s now looking like Italy, Spain, France, the United States, indeed all countries are progressing along Farr’s curve with remarkably symmetry.
If so, that means we are just at the start of the peak. Deaths and cases will start to decline in a week or two. Wouldn’t that be a relief to everyone?
I expected some report of the decline in deaths on the news, but saw nothing but very scary articles that made it seem like the virus was exploding. I suppose this makes sense. Sensationalism sells, even more so in the age of the internet, when you sell digital ads based on the number of reads.
The last thing we want right now is for people to get complacent, so I think the powers that be are probably going to err on the side of scaring us rather than comforting us.
I rely on a website call “Worldometer” for my stats. Weeks ago, I found it to be by far the best website for coronavirus statistics. I check it several times a day.
The thought occurred to me that maybe I was going to a flaky website, so I spent some time researching Worldometer. Turns out, John Hopkins Medical School, The New York Times and a host of other prestigious organizations use Worldometer as their source. I couldn’t find anything but superlative reviews on their accuracy and legitimacy.
Containment is a big factor in Farr’s Law. People change their behaviors, and this prevents the spread. It is impressive to see the whole world join together and fight this disease. In addition, viruses mutate and become less deadly. Even though coronaviruses mutate more slowly than flu viruses, there are already a dozen slightly different strains. Eventually, these mutations will make the disease less deadly. Viruses need their hosts alive to better spread its genetic code. Natural selection will see that this is done.
Finally, the virus will usually take out those most susceptible quickly, leaving strengthened immunity for those who survive.
This is not a new battle. It has been going on for millions of years. The human immune system is pretty good at fending off invasions.
There are five common coronaviruses that are endemic in our country, causing various respiratory infections. One unknown issue is whether human exposure to these coronaviruses confers some built-in immunity to the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.
Another unresolved issue is how many people are infected but don’t get sick. We simply don’t know, but it could be as high as 50 percent. If it’s that high, I doubt any human effort can stop its spread.
We’re all waiting for the blood antibody test which can tell whether a person has the antibodies for the virus. Doing a random sample of the population using such a test could tell us how many asymptomatic carriers are out there.
As I wrote recently, there is a natural balancing act at work here. If the virus is super deadly, then it won’t be as widespread and can be contained. That’s because it’s easy to identify those infected. They are very sick and can be hospitalized and isolated.
On the other hand, if the virus is spread rapidly by asymptomatic individuals, then there are probably millions more people that got infected but never got sick. If that’s the case, the mortality rate of COVID-19 may end up being something akin to a bad flu virus. To be sure, I am an optimist by nature, but Farr’s Law supports this. The statistical trends support this. And logic supports this. Remember, this is not a new virus. It’s a new strain of a virus that has been infecting humans and animals for hundreds of millions of years.
So why do some people get COVID-19 and barely get sick while some people get deathly ill? You could ask the same question about the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2017-2018 flu season killed 61,000 Americans. As of Monday, COVID-19 had killed 3,000.
Older and sick people are more vulnerable. No surprise there. A lot depends on your initial exposure. If you ingest a huge load of the virus, it starts replicating so rapidly that your immune system gets overwhelmed and never catches up.
But if you get infected with a small amount of the virus, then your immune system can fight it off before it gets out of control. In the process, your body builds up antibodies to quickly ward off any future infection. This gives you sort of an immunity from the disease.
What we don’t know is how many people are now immune, having been exposed to small quantities of the virus which they quickly fought off. This is vital information that we need to know quickly. We are still flying very blind in terms of knowledge of this virus and how it behaves.
Given our heightened awareness, it’s much less likely to get a big dose of this virus from a sick person. That’s because we are on our guard, practicing social distancing and, most importantly, washing our hands.
The World Health Organization statistics show that 8,200 people die every day, on average from infectious respiratory diseases. Right now, COVID-19 deaths are about 3,500 a day. This is a serious matter, but is not outside of our capacity to handle.
This is a crisis. It is real. But even so, we must remain calm and keep our heads cool as a nation. We still must keep the economy going and get food on the table. Every other generation has faced some sort of major health scare, and the world survived.
Social distancing is meant to be a logical short-term attempt to get a head start on the virus. Don’t let it be a long-term excuse to succumb to hypochondria. Our national welfare depends on us all being strong and brave.