COVID-19 Update, May 20, 2020

So, we have reached a global total of 5 million COVID-19 cases today, a couple of days before I suggested it would.  That means the case load is not slowing down but is in fact speeding up slightly.  Now that may be due to the increased rate of testing worldwide, or it may not.  Whatever the reason, something quite strange is going on.  Logically, at this stage in a pandemic, several months into the outbreak, when a pattern should have emerged relating deaths to the caseload in a settled routine rate (at least according to my expectations), the graphs of total case load and total deaths in the image here are showing a marked, if not large, decrease in the number of deaths over time – especially in the last 2-3 weeks.  Prior to that, the data showed (using both the adjusted closed cases and total cases methods) an identical deathg rate of around 10%.Today, and over the last 2 weeks, this has slowly decreased to a little under 8.6% using the same measures (which I won’t describe in detail, having done so a number of times in the past).

Why is this strange?  Well, if there is a settled and steady death rate (which there always is by the end of an outbreak), it should be expected that, after initial perturbations resulting from a settling down of non-disease related factors such as initial panic, not enough beds or this and that, and treatment procedures normalising, the grasphs of number of cases and number of deaths ought to follow a similar trajectory in some sort of convex curve which eventually both end up as a horizontal line as all cases and all deaths are finalised.  That is not happening here.  The total cases line shows no sign of abating whatsoever.  It has remained stubbornly linear over the whole period from mid-march to now and presumably onwards.  The deaths line is definitely leaning over to the right.  Why?

Well there could be a number of possibilities.  None of which are apparent, at least in the information I have read.  It could have been due to an initial rush of deaths due to the panic I mentioned, lack of readiness to cope or reluctance to accept the situation by both the population and the authorities.  But that does not show up in the figures.  There was a slow build up over several months and then the thing suddenly took off like a rocket, and still is.  It could be due to a slowness in reporting of initial deaths, resulting in a positive ‘bulge’ in the deaths line after the ‘take-off’ began.  That is entirely feasible and it would result in a higher calculated death rate across March and April – when I was calculating a 10% death rate from the figures – meaning that the real death rate was always something like 8.5 % all along. That’s my best guess at what may have happened.  But we won’t know until another several weeks have gone by and we see whether the case load line remains straight (it has to curve over to the right some time) or begins to act as one would expect.  And also what the deaths line does in that same timespace.

One thing is virtually certain now, even with a current 8.6% death rate, there will be half a million COVID-19 deaths well before the end of June.  And we could be looking at 600-700,000 deaths several weeks, not months, after that (though that is not as yet baked in).

One other thought occurred to me.  I have no data to prove this one way or the other, but this may be the very first pandemic where testing on the huge scale employed for COVID-19 has been carried out.  Perhaps we are finding far more cases than would otherwise have been detected or self-reported in earlier outbreaks.  While the size of this thing is currently not set to break any records for such things, it is certainly making history in different ways.

I want to add a note of caution here.  Much of the world is attempting to open up economies locked down by this virus, in a desperate attempt to revive them. With a rapidly growing case load still in operation and nothing much known or settled about this previously unknown affliction, that could be a signally unwise and potentially catastrophic thing to do.

But don’t let me get in the way of that.  Catastrophe is what I want to see coming from this.  Catastrophe, civilisation ending catastrophe, is the only thing that will save us from ourselves – and maybe leaving room for a second crack at making something truly worthwhile as a testament to humanity in the future.  Nothing else, nothing less than that, will provide the right sort of opportunity.

And I’m not talking about anything like what the evil genius Bill Gates has in mind.

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