Health and Public Policy

Rays of Hope, Looking Forward

The growth rate calculations that I published in my last post showed that the infection and death rates due to Covid-19 are both declining. Again, these are the growth rates and not the absolute numbers of cases. The decline in rate of growth is encouraging however. The last few days I performed the calculations on the last seven days of data (rolling seven-day window) and the growth rate has gone down 1-2% per day so this trend seems to be continuing.

The data I use are United States aggregate (all regions) data and as I also pointed out in the last post, different regions will peak at different times.

As for the predictions of when certain regions will peak this article explains that some of our current “hot-spots” may be seeing their peak now (New York/New Jersey either today or tomorrow). Boston may reach the peak soon (Boston April 18th). So there appears to be hope (which we all need) as to when this thing will begin to decline so that we can start planning on going back to work. A combination of testing and appropriate workplace and social behavior can give us confidence over time that we can be with others we know are safe.

This will require staying socially distant in the near term and not going back to socializing in packed bars and restaurants immediately but with some testing and reconfiguration of social norms we can at least start seeing people in person in certain circumstances again. Restaurant tables farther away than they used to be and testing to ensure that we are safe to be with others will probably be some of the “new normal”.

Going back to work will require a plan of testing and verification of health status but if we can see the case numbers peak and then if we have four to six weeks to plan on how to go back to work it would let us all help revive the economy again. If New York could start re-opening its economy by mid-May to late May with Boston and other Northeast cities a week or two after that, then the economy has a chance to be starting to operate again by late June or July.

Having tests available to identify those who may have been exposed and developed immunities (anti-bodies in their system) to Covid-19 will be a key component to help us plan a way forward. When testing is in place and we can identify those who may be safe to work in a certain environment then we can move on to the second phase of economic re-entry: therapeutic treatment of the population.

Having therapeutic drugs to help give people who are infected some kind of treatment (instead of a ventilator) and those who are not infected some limited scope immunity would allow us to function as a society again. I think that it will be some time before we are all packing bars and restaurants again, but at least having some ability to be in public and not feel that we are going to get deathly ill and be confined to an ICU bed would be progress.

Many companies are in clinical trials with therapeutic drugs to help give individuals some limited scope immunity or to allow the infected to get better sooner. The therapeutics should allow those who get sick to avoid severe lung disease and the need for ventilators and ICU care. For others, therapeutics can allow them to fight the disease off without getting sick or becoming severely ill.

Next year a vaccine would allow us to know that we are generally safe from this disease but in the interim it would be nice to be able to feel relatively comfortable having dinner with friends (in our homes or at an appropriately reconfigured restaurant where staff have been tested, etc.). If we had therapeutics that would allow us to even have passive temporary immunities to the virus until a vaccine is available we could get to the next step in this fight.

Better times are coming.