Good news! Mississippi COVID-19 cases (seven-day average) are down 30 percent from the July 26 peak. Deaths are down 17 percent from the August 5 peak.
These numbers indicate a slight silver lining around the COVID dark cloud. The whole state is nervously waiting to see what happens when school starts back. It’s a scary time.
There is more good news. Before this latest state surge, COVID-19 deaths per case was five percent. More recently the deaths per case has been running at 2.5 percent.
Within just a few months the COVID-19 case fatality rate has been cut in half. This is a great testament to the ability of our medical system to learn and improve rapidly.
Like most Mississippians, I know many people who have lost their lives to this scourge, mainly the very old. I know younger people who got very sick but survived. And I know dozens of younger people for whom COVID-19 was no worse than a common cold. This is a very strange disease.
At the current 2.5 percent case fatality rate, COVID-19 is now about 2.5 times more deadly than the flu, which has a 1 percent case fatality rate. If a bad flu season is 70,000 deaths, then you can multiply that by 2.5 to get a prediction of the total COVID-19 death count. That would be 2.5 times 70,000, 187,500 deaths. The United States is already at 165,904. So maybe we are nearing the end. Or maybe not. We just don’t know.
The news from New York and other northeast states is good. New York’s seven-day death rate is now eight, compared to 956 during the peak in mid-April.
Italy’s seven-day average death rate is now seven, compared to 813 deaths per day at the end of March peak. All of Europe has experienced a similarly dramatic decrease in cases. More good news. Let’s pray that Mississippi will see similar declines after our recent surge of cases and deaths. It seems COVID hit the South a couple of months later than the northeast and Europe.
There is even good news from Sweden, which gained international attention for their refusal to shut down. The seven-day average death rate in Sweden is now zero.
All of this gives me hope, but state epidemiologist Thomas Dobbs wasn’t so upbeat during his Stennis Institute talk with journalists Monday.
“Mississippi is kind of a hot spot for coronavirus in the world,” Dobbs said. “In April, Jackson was a ghost town. We did a good job of stopping the virus. Then we went into summertime and Memorial Day, and we saw a massive increase. When it first came out everybody freaked out too much, then they relaxed too much.”
Dobbs said social events, driving together and living together are the main spreaders of the disease.
Dobbs did have some good news. “There has been stabilization of hospital utilization. The docs are seeing fewer COVID cases. We are seeing a rounding of the curve.”
I asked Dobbs if he thought the declines in Europe and the U.S. Northeast indicated some sort of herd immunity taking effect. His answer: No. Not at all. The declines, he said, was because Mississippians were wearing masks and behaving better.
I then asked Dobbs about Sweden. If human behavior was the key to COVID declines, how have Swedish deaths dropped to zero? His answer: Swedish people are different. They aren’t like Mississippians.
But he’s worried about school and careless young adults. “I’m terribly concerned that unless we get serious and actually punish the kids, it’s going to be a mess. It’s going to overwhelm us and we’re going to have to close colleges.”
So Dobbs is predicting disaster. I predict not. He’s an epidemiologist. I am a businessman and a journalist. Let’s check back in two months and see who was right. (It’ll probably be a mix.)
I asked Dobbs about the new studies showing white blood cell immunity in half the adults because of prior exposure to the four common coronaviruses. “I wouldn’t put much stock in that,” Dobbs said.
Wouldn’t 50 percent immunity caused by white blood cells mean that we only had an additional 10 to 20 percent left to go to reach herd immunity? Antibody testing is already showing 7.5 percent of Mississippians have the antibody, according to Dobbs.
“That wouldn’t really factor in but it might speak to the transmission values,” Dobbs said. Huh?
I get the sense that Dobbs and many other epidemiologists are taking the role of a concerned parent. “Don’t speed or you’ll die in a wreck.” “Make good grades or you’ll never get a job.” “Eat your vegetables or you’ll stunt your growth.” “Wear a mask or we’ll all die of COVID.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. If scaring the bejeebers out of people saves lives, I’m all for Dobbs scaring us. That’s part of his job.
But I’m a journalist. I’m supposed to report the truth, not scare people. And the truth seems to be a lot rosier than the Coronadoom so many experts portray. Remember the expert model predicting two million deaths?
If viruses don’t have a natural life cycle then what ever happened to the Swine flu or 100 other flus that came and went without any shutting down of the economy.
Can anybody tell me why the feds give hospitals an extra 20 percent for all COVID cases? What is that supposed to achieve other than distortion?
Hurting the economy kills people. A peer reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association study claims 35 percent of the recent excess U.S. deaths were caused by something other than COVID-19.
That’s why the U.S., with 10 times the per capita GDP of Africa, has a 25-year higher life expectancy than Africa. If you run the numbers, a 3 percent one-year decline in GDP will cause as many death years as a million COVID deaths. Public policy must not be based on fear and emotion.
A good immune system is our best defense. Stress weakens our immune system. Can you imagine the stress caused by being thrown out of your home? We are facing a huge foreclosure crisis in Mississippi and the nation caused by the economic shutdown.
It’s interesting. Many of the same people who don’t trust the free market are the same people who don’t trust our immune systems. They believe government must fix the economy and defeat the virus with various mandates and policies.
Some people trust the natural processes. Some people believe only human effort can avert disaster. There are worriers and trusters, probably born that way. It takes all kinds of people to make the world go round.
The answer is surely in the middle, so let’s not villainize those with whom you differ. We all need to keep an open mind and pray for God’s mercy.