Delta Variant. How worried should you be? Vaccines work

The Delta Variant: How worried should we be?

Has the Delta Variant reignited the same level of concern we had for the original covid 19? There is no doubt that Covid 1`9 has wreaked havoc in terms of deaths that has caused the economic set back around the world.  The peak of the covid pandemic in the US was in January of this year, where the number of new cases peaked at over 300,000/day and the fatality rate was over 4000/day.  At same time, the UK had a peak of over 60,000/day and a fatality rate of over 1600/day. These numbers are reflective of the population of the US (350 million) vs the UK (69 million).

Since that time the corona has mutated into new strain commonly called the Delta Variant.  The Delta variant is more contagious that the original covid 19 virus.  In an unvaccinated group of people, one infected covid patient would infect 1-2 others while the Delta Variant could infect 3 or 4.

However, the severity of the original covid and delta strain to no appear to be the same.  With recent increase in infections that has some states reinstituting mask mandates, the numbers look very different.  In the US, cases spiked again August from a low of 11 cases/day in June to a high of 165,000 cases/day in August (half of the original spike in January) but had fatality rate of 1038 deaths/day (compared with 1600 earlier.).  More importantly only 1100 of these deaths occurred in people who had received the full dose of a vaccine.

As there are estimated to be 170 million people in the US who have been vaccinated, this means that there were 1100 ‘breakthrough’ patients who were fully vaccinated and died.  Each death was/is tragic but there 1100 deaths occurred over a few months.  For perspective, there are are 454 car deaths each day in the US.  Although it is possible to die from covid if you are vaccinated, the chance is much lower than driving your car or any other number of causes of accidental deaths.

This same trend can be seen in the UK.  The most recent UK covid peak (due mainly to Delta) was 51,000 in August, but there were only 138 deaths/day from the virus compared to 1600 deaths/day reported earlier.  This difference is believed to be due to vaccinations.  Over 75% of the UK population has been vaccinated compared to roughly 50% in the US.

There is still much that we do not know about the virus, even after 2 years of experience.  Most clinical trials, for instance, are made up of 95% white patients.  There is controversy over how immunized people are who got infected and then recovered.  Most of the studies shows that these ‘naturally immunized’ people are more protected than vaccinated people, but there are really too few studies to be definitive.  The effect on different ethnicities, pregnant women and people who different health conditions is simply not specifically known.

There is still controversy, from a scientific point of view, over the effectiveness of masks on adults and children.  There are only small studies done under different conditions in other counties.  The actual science takes time and the public should questions, why the vaccines are still under Emergency Use authorization, why are there no studies on different ethnicities, why are there any definitive studies on the use of masks (and what types of masks, how often they should be changed etc.).

Coronavirus Covid-19 vaccine. Vaccination destroying Covid19 virus. Medicine, pharmacy

In mean time, it appears that if you are vaccinated, the chances are very good that you are not going to dies from any strain of covid. IF you are NOT vaccinated, you run a higher risk of getting infected, but depending on your age and your general health, you will not die from covid either.

If you have had covid and recovered, there is strong likelihood that you are well protected against further fatal infection.

Remember that in a bad flu year, there are over 60,000 deaths (that’s 5000/month). In some years the flu vaccine is less than 50% effective.  During these years, there are no mandates for masks, social distancing or lockdowns. We exercise our own judgement and live our lives.  We had a terrible time with covid months ago, but thanks to the vaccine and more general knowledge of the public, we appear to be past the worst.  We are well below this fatality rate of a bad flu year.

The other important factor is that location makes a difference.  2/3 of the covid death in California come from Southern Ca. LA, Riverside, San Bernadino, San Diego and Orange county account for 44,000 of the 65,000 deaths in California.  San Francisco only accounts for 570 of the deaths.  As the mask mandates and lockdowns were statewide, can anyone say that they were actually effective or were other factors at work?

Similarly over 22,000 of the 54,500 deaths in NY state were in Kings and Queen counties.  In Texas, 5 of 254 counties Texas accounted for over 50% of the deaths.  Only 4 states have reported more than 2000 deaths/1 million population New York, Illinois, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.

This should be a topic of it own, but In a review of the effective of masks, it was found that most studies were supportive but not scientifically inconclusive. This is because that randomized control studies of mask wear with a large population is very difficult to carry out.  Most studies have been not been scientifically conclusive for a variety or reasons including statistically under powered (not enough patients), cofactors (hand washing, social distancing, living environment, combining other illnesses in the study), Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci, January 26,2021 118(4)E2014564118.

We should continue to practice safe practices but we should also keep the actual level of danger in perspective.

Remdesivir approved for Covid 19. How effective is it?

Today, the FDA authorized the emergency use of remdesivir for the treatment of patients who have Covid 19 symptoms severe enough to be given supplemental oxygen or placed on a ventilator.  Remdesivir is an emergency treatment for severe cases of Covid 19 and is not a cure or a vaccine.  https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-fda-issues-emergency-use-authorization-potential-covid-19-treatment

Let me start with the conclusion.  According to the announcement of results from a NIAID study,  Remdesivir appears to shorten the average recovery time in patients with severe Covid 19 symptoms.  It does not appear to reduce fatalities and there may be adverse side effects.  The benefit to patients with less severe symptoms of Covid 19 are unknown.  Although any helpful treatment is welcome and needed, the actual impact of remdesivir is not clear.

The FDA issued the approval under the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) .  This allows the FDA to grant authorized use of medical treatments and products during medical emergencies which are NOT approved by the FDA under normal regulatory procedures.  The EUA allows the FDA to approve a product for emergency use to short cut the time to market to address a medical emergency.   EUA does not mean that the FDA has determined remdesivir to be safe and efficacious, but its ‘safe enough to try’ under emergency circumstances. The FDA grants EUA based on the information they have on hand to determine that the use of the product will be more likely be beneficial than harmful.  There is no adequate, approved, and available alternative to the emergency use of remdesivir for the treatment of COVID-19.  The authorization can immediately be withdrawn if on more widespread use, results are not favorable.

What is remdesivir?  Remdesivir is a molecule that was developed in the pursuit of treatment of the Ebola Virus.   Ebola Clinical trials with remdesivir were conducted in 2013-2016.  Remdesivir was approved for Ebola treatment.   In 2018-2019 another outbreak of the Ebola virus occurred but during that time remdesivir use was stopped when alternative drugs were found to be more effective.  However, until this week,  the clinical efficacy with humans with Covid 19 has never been established by accepted clinical trial protocols.


Remdesivir has had mixed results in treating Covid 19 patients with severe disease.  Severe disease is defined as patients with low blood oxygen levels or needing oxygen therapy or more intensive breathing support such as a mechanical ventilator.  Some reports seemed to indicate that remdesivir reduced the time to recovery for seriously ill Covid 19 patients, while other studies showed no benefit.  None of the studies have shown a significant difference in fatality rates and some serious adverse events have been reported.

NIAID Study. Two recent reports of clinical trials have been recently reported.  The National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases (NIAID) issued a preliminary  report on a randomized, double blinded clinical trial comparing remdesivir with a placebo (a pill that looks like remdesivir but doesn’t actually have remdesivir in it)  in 1063 Covid 19 patients.  This type of study design is meant to minimize possible bias by the doctors, patients and other factors to make the best determination if the drug is better than doing nothing.

The group that received remdesivir recovered in an average of 11 days compared to 15 days for patients who received the placebo.  The remdesivir group had a lower mortality rate than the placebo group (8% vs 11% respectively) but this difference was not statistically significant.  This means that if a larger study is done, there is a chance that this apparent benefit will disappear.  It is important to note that this was a summary report and the full details of the study have not yet been published, provided or peer reviewed.

It appears that the FDA provided the Emergency Use Authorization based on this data that, for seriously ill Covid 19 patients, remdesivir reduced the recovery time and average of 4 days (11 days vs 15) than patients who received no treatment.  As the details were not provided, it is not known what percentage of the patients had their recovery reduced nor do we know the range of recovery times involved.  We also do not know how the demographics of the patients in the trial compared to the general public in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, pre existing conditions etc.  These details will hopefully be disclosed when the full study results are published.

‘China Study’ Almost simultaneously, a paper in the British medical journal Lancet, became the first published (the NIAID paper above has not been reviewed and published), peer reviewed article with a randomized, double blinded, multicenter clinical trial comparing remdesivir to placebo.  Note: this paper is often referred to as the ‘Chinese Study’ as many of the authors were Chinese and the study was partially funded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.  However, the research  was done by a collaboration of a large group of researchers from several universities in China, United Kingdom (Cambridge, Oxford) and the USA (Virginia) and funded by UK and USA sources as well.  The full publication allows a more granular look at the actual data obtained in the study, not just the summary conclusion.  I will include a more detailed discussion here to demonstrate issues that may be in the NIAIDS study once the full publication is provided. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)31022-9/fulltext

In the Lancet publication, 237 patients were at least 18 years old and positive for Covid 19 with severe symptoms.  These symptoms were severe enough that the patient required supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation.   Patients were admitted into the program within 12 days of onset of symptoms.  Patients were randomly assigned in a 2:1 ratio to either the remdesivir (158 patients) treatment group of the placebo group (79 patients).  Patients received an initial intravenous dose of 200mg (or placebo) on day 1 and then 100mg on days 2-10.  The two outcomes assessed were clinical improvement and speed of recovery.  It is important to note that the study was terminated before reaching the planned study end because of a higher incidence of severe adverse events in the remdesivir group.

Time to improvement21 (13-28)23 (15-28)NO
28 day mortality22 (14%)10 (13%)NO
Improvement Rate103 (65%)45 (58%)NO
Adverse event - Stop Test18 (12%)4 (5%)YES

The patients in the remdesivir group had a numerically shorter average time to improvement (21 vs 23) , but not statistically different.  (note: No statistical significance is an indication that the difference may be due to chance rather a true reflection of a difference). The mortality rates were the same.  The clinical improvement rate was better for the remdesivir group but, again, the difference was not statistically significant.  The one difference that was significant was that there were more complications with the remedesivir group that required that the remdemsivir be discontinued.

The paper concluded that there was no significant clinical benefit from treatment with remdesivir.  A larger study would need to be done to confirm remdesivir has a shorter time to clinical improvement.  It is important to note that there were only 237 patients in the trial and the trial was stopped short of completion.  Nonetheless, there is so little remdesivir data available, the results should not be ignored.  It is interesting to note that the time to clinical improvement range from 13-28 days for the remdesivir group and 15-28 days for the placebo group.  This means that there people in the remdesivir group that were not helped and there were patients in the placebo group that recovered faster than the remdesivir group.  This is the nature of clinical trials and why it takes larger numbers of patients over longer periods of time to determine true differences between groups.  We can not judge the NIAID study until all the data is provided.

The conclusions on remedesivir are:

  1. The FDA has granted Emergency Use Authorization for remdesivir.  This mean that physicians can use the drug if they deem it necessary for the care of patient with severe Covid 19 symptoms.
  2. The Emergency Use Authorization means that there is not enough data from clinical trials to grant approval but the FDA has determined that there is enough information to determine that the potential benefits of remdesivir out weigh the potential risks.
  3. The main benefit appears to be that remdesivir can shorten the recovery time by a few days in seriously ill Covid 19 patients..
  4. The results on this recovery time benefit were not consistently reported by the few other studies that have compared remdesivir vs placebo in a randomized control study.
  5. The full adverse effects are not known and in one study there were more severe adverse events in the group receiving remdesivir.
  6. There is a question of whether or not remdesvir lowers the fatality rate.
  7. More study is required and is on going. Some key unknowns how does remdesivir effect Covid 19 patients that do not have severe symptoms?  What is the effectiveness as a function of patient age, gender and ethnicity?  Is the current dose optimized?  Will there be more adverse events as the number of patients is increased?  Will some patients respond more positively of negatively due other existing medical complications?

Remdesivir may speed the recovery of patients with severe Covid 19 symptoms.  The safety and efficacy are not known.  This may help many people recover but will unlikely improve fatality rates and side effects are unknown.



Covid 19 Tests: What we can and can’t say.

I am a data driven person by training, education and personality, but data must be very carefully examined – ‘granularly’ as Dr. Birx would put it.  Simple interpretations of data can provide some very wrong direction.

Much of the discussion around the management of Covid 19 has been around the concept of testing.  However, the details of testing and what you can and can not say about the results of testing are almost never discussed.  As of April 19, the US has conducted 3.7 million tests.  The country with the next most test is Germany with 1.7 million and then Italy with 1.3.

Are there different tests?  Who needs to get tested?  Does everyone need to get tested?  These and other questions will be addressed here.

First, there are 2 general kinds of testing, molecular and serological.

Molecular tests were the first type of Covid 19 test available from the CDC and WHO.  At this time 22 companies have received FDA authorization of distribute these tests and additional 50 companies are preparing their applications for approval.  The Abbott 5 minute test is a molecular tests.

In a molecular test, a non blood sample such as a nasal swap or saliva is collected.  The molecular test detects the presence of genetic material from the virus.  In this test, the genetic material from the swab is copied to make large enough quantities for use and the compare the known genetic sequence of the corona virus.  If you want to impress you friends, this process is called reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction of RT-PCR.  Depending on whose product you use, the time for analysis in the machine is 5 minutes to 48 hours.  Note that often the rate determining step is getting the sample to the lab, often the lab is not the hold up.

What does the molecular test tell you.  A positive test means that is possible that an active Covid 19 infection has occurred.  However, a positive test does NOT rule out bacterial infections of infections by other similar viruses (eg influenza)

A negative samples means that there was no Covid 19 infection found.  However, if you were tested soon after you were infected, they may not be enough virus to be detected.

The guideline is a positive test is indicative of Covid 19, especially if you have a hard time breathing and fever, but there is still a chance that you do NOT have the virus.

If you test negative, you have either been too recently infected for detection or you don’t have the virus.  The only way to be sure is to be tested again in a couple of days (if you are still symptomatic)

Serology Tests

These are the antibody tests everyone is talking about.  The human body is an amazing thing.  When the body detected a new infection, like Covid 19, it sets about making a protein specifically to combat the virus.  This takes awhile but eventually the body develops a protein which will kill or neutralize the virus.  The proteins it makes are termed immunoglobulin (Ig).  The presence of immunoglobulin M (IgM) in the blood indicates a recent infection.  The presence of immunoglobulin G (IgG) indicates that the infection has been around for awhile.  The test used to detect the presence of these proteins is called ELISA (enzyme linked immunological assay).

It typically takes less than 20 minutes to do an ELISA.  However, it can the body several days to make enough IgM to be detectable, so if you get tested too soon after infection you test negative.

If you test positive for IgG, then you probably had the disease and in the best of worlds, you are immune.  However, it is critical know that (at this point) we do not know how long the immunity lasts or even if it’s possible to get reinfected even though you have the antibody. If you test negative, then you probably have not had the virus, but it doesn’t mean you won’t get it tomorrow.

Key points:

Molecular tests are available but will only tell you if you are likely to currently have the disease.  You could get it tomorrow.  This means that there is little reason for asymptomatic people to have the tests.  It only means you are infected the day of the test.

Even if the molecular tests is positive, it is not 100% assured you have covid 19.  There are some number of false positives and the positive result may be from other strains of related flu or bacteria.

The antibody tests must be run several days after you are infected, otherwise it will be negative.  It is not know what level of immunity a positive tests means.

A key specification that is never discussed in the news is the specificigy and sensitivity of each test.  That is each test a different accuracy rate of the number of false positives and false negatives.  The much vaunted Korean test has over a 20% error rate for instance.

Final Points

  1. It is not likely necessary or desirable that everyone get tested. Especially if you are asymptomatic.  Going in to get this test while you are asymptomatic gives little helpful information as far as treatment goes and does not tell you anything about tomorrow if you are negative.
  2. Antibody testing would be important from an overall disease understanding point of view but is unclear how useful it is for treatment.
  3. The common sense approach is still the best drving force. If you feel sick, especially with respiratory issues and fever then either stay home (if the symptoms are mild) or call your physician and they will give you instructions in how to come in and get help…try not to just want walk into a drs office of hospital (exposing others) unannounced.


How are we doing? Better

The number of new Covid 19 cases is still rising.  However, the number of new cases per day seems have ‘flattened’ in the past week .

It is also important to look at the data in a more ‘granular’ way.  These national numbers are driven over 70% by the data from 4 states New York, New Jersey, Michigan and more recently Pennsylvania.  New York has been the ‘hot spot’ for Covid 19 and dominates US statistics.  There have been 544,906 total cases reported and 188,694 (37%) were from New York.

These states also dominate the daily statistics.  Yesterday, there were 12027 new covid 19 cases reported across the US.  However, 63% of those cases (7550) were in New York and another 1029 were reported from Pennsylvania.  These two states accounted for 71% of all US new cases.  Maryland was third highest with 539.  Overall, the total number of new cases seems to have flattened around April 2.

Yesterday, there were 858 new deaths reported for the total US.  New York reported 758 of these accounting for 88% of the new deaths.  The second highest reported number of new deaths was Maryland with 29.  However, it should be noted that NJ reported 251 new deaths, and Michigan 111 which were NOT included in the 858.  This would make the nation total 1120 with New York contributing 68% of the new deaths.

Overall the national number of new deaths also seems to have ‘flattened’ around April 7.

The big question, of course, is when can we start to ‘relax’ the social distancing restrictions we have been living with?  More data will help – but that always takes time.  The effects on the economy have health effects too.  The estimates for the number of people who live paycheck to paycheck varies from 50-80% (most estimate are around 70%).  This is a lot of people who don’t have money to pay for their homes and food let alone medical expenses.  Each day, we are shut down, more and more people don’t have the money to minimally live.  The stimulus package of several trillion dolllars is an enormous amount of money but is not enough to feed, house and medically treat all those who need it.  So if we stay socially distanced, we ‘flatten’ the curve, but families at risk in many other ways.  If we go back to work too soon, we risk reigniting the Covid 19 infections.  The following is a photo of cars lined up at Food Bank on Friday.

Our best bet is more data.  We are getting more and more data each day here in the US and we will learn a lot from countries such as New Zealand, Norway which will begin to relax regulations this week.  The response to reopening schools, and businesses by these other countries will be closely watched by all.

In the mean time, things are all going in the right direction.  With the exception of a 4 or 5 states, the number of new cases and new deaths have either flattened or decreased depending on the state and city.  There does not appear to be a shortage of hospital beds or ventilators anywhere and the supply chain for medical equipment gets better each day.  This was a potential disaster that seems to have been averted (knock on wood).

Did Germany handle Covid 19 better?

Germany has been touted a standout nation due to it’s low fatality rate.  This of course, makes everyone wonder why we don’t handle the virus like Germany?  However, just little deeper dive shows that the reason is not clear and may not in fact hold up as time goes on.

Does Germany have more success managing Covid 19 and if so, how did they do it?

First, the summary data from a combination of WHO and the CDC as of April 7.

  US Spain Italy Germany France World
cases 404056 146690 135586 109329 109069 1,485,535
deaths 12988 14555 17127 2096 10328 87292
population (millions) 375 46.9 60.4 83 67 7,800
cases/million 1221 3137 2243 1305 1671 3,137
deaths/milliion 39 311 286 25 158 314

At first glance, Germany seems to look pretty good.  Compared to the US, Germany has 109,329 cases vs the 404056 in the US.  More importantly, Germany reported 2096 deaths vs the 12988 in the US.  However, the population of Germany is 83 million vs the 375 million of the US.  This means that Germany actually has more cases/million people than the US (1305 vs 1221) respectively.

Germany has 600% fewer deaths than the US, but only 56% lower based on deaths/million people.

Germany, to date has run the most number of tests/1000 people than any country in the world but the US has actually run more total tests.  As the US rate of testing increasing weekly, the Germany rate of testing is remaining constant.  The US will pass Germany in terms of tests/1000 patients in a few weeks.

It is also noted that Germany has tested the most asymptomatic or mild symptom patients of any country.  This would also lower their deaths/thousand cases.  There are also some reports that the Germans who are infected are significantly younger than those infected in the US.  As the disease is more deadly to the elderly, this would also skew the results.

In comparison with the other large countries of Europe, the US has the lowest number of cases/1000 patients and the second lowest fatality rate.

It is also interesting to note that although there were some targeted closings,  Germany’s national lockdown and social distancing regulations were put in place more than a week(March 22) after fellow EU members France (March 10), Austria, and Spain(March 14) had imposed similar policies.

There is no evidence that Germans are respecting shelter in place and social distancing more than any other country.

A large factor in Germany is that the ‘states’ have essentially more power than the central government.  Each German state made it’s own rule of what was an essential business and what you could and could not do.,  For instance in Berlin, bookshops were open but picnics were forbidden.  In Baden-Wuttenberg, it was exactly the other way around.  However, it allowed each state to do what it thought best for itself.  The German Public Health service is not one agency but rather by approximately 400 public health offices, run by municipality and rural district administrations.  This allowed each state to pick which test to use and when and how to use it.  The state did not have to wait for any national approval.  This seems chaotic but the end result seemed to be good or at least satisfactory.

The chart below shows that the daily deaths in Germany are still increasing.

The current data from Germany is relatively very good but only better in the category of deaths/million people than the US.  Although this is important, there may be other reasons for these numbers and the numbers are changing daily.  Who knows what the comparison will be in a week.

It does not seem like Germany has a special or different plan for managing Covid 19.


Covid 19 Models: Bad News/Good News

The models presented less than a week ago have turned out to be very wrong – which is good for us.

On April 2 (just 6 days ago), the Corona Virus task force showed a model that predicted that there would be 100,000-240,000 deaths due to Covid 19.  However, since that time, the predicted number of deaths have decreased steadily and significantly.  Today’s estimate is that the number of deaths is now projected to be 60,415.  This by the way, is the same number of people who died of the flu in 2018.

The decrease in predicted deaths is due to a reduction in the number of new cases, number of hospitalization and number of ICU patients in the past several days.  This was especially true in ‘hot spots’ such as New York, Los Angeles and Italy.  The projected fatality numbers will continue to drop if the trends continue.

The models are generated by the International Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) organization from the University of Washington.   They are recognized as a reputable and respected group that does this kind of modeling all the time.  However, models are only as good as the data that goes in and assumptions that the modelers make.  In the vast majority of cases, the actual numbers used and specific assumptions made are either never disclosed or are only disclosed at later dates.  In other words, we just have to take their word for it.

The IHME also predicted the number of hospital beds, numbers of ventilators etc. that each city might need.   The IHME models for any states were off by a factor of 5.  States that were predicted to have shortages are now predicted to have surplusses.  On April 2,  IHME predicted that Tennesse would have 3000 deaths.  The current IMHE estimate is 600.  Further on April 2, IMHE predicted that Tennessee would need 15,000 hospital beds.  This caused great concern as Tennessee only has 7812 beds.  However, it appears that they will actually only need 1232 beds.  IMHE also predicted Tennessee would need 2000 ventilators and it appears that they will only need 208.  Unfortunately, the IMHE greatly over estimated in many, many instances, including New York and California.  The good news is there seems to be plenty of capacity rather than a shortage.

This is not really the fault of modeling – the limitations of modeling are well known to those familiar with the process and procedure.  But these details are complicated and rarely communicated to public.  The problem comes when decisive action is taken based on models that are not validated and changing almost hourly due to new data.

Great efforts were made to construct makeshift hospital beds, icus and settting up the manufacturing of ventilators.  Fortunately, from the public health side this is all good news, but it could turn out to be a huge sum of money spent on equipment and facilities that are not needed – not mention the anxiety, fear and worry that was generated.

Models have their place, but we know the limitations of models.  It can not accurately predict the track of a hurricane more than a few hours ahead, it can not predict which stocks will go up or down, or if the market will go up or down.  In all these cases, we continue to use models because it is thought to be better than not having it.  However, that’s not always true.

California – Cautious Optimism

Two weeks ago, health models predicted that there would be over 6000 deaths by May. Last week, the model predicted a little more than 5000 deaths.   Today, the models again decrease the predicted of deaths to 1783 by mid April.  There is still uncertainty over when the ‘peak’ will be, but it is possible that it may come earlier than the current May estimate.  The next week will be an important time to watch the data.

The trends for the past 3 days show a lowering of the rates of hospitalization to 2.1% (was over 10% a week ago).  This was good enough that California loaned 500 ventilators to other states this week.

It’s too early to say with  certainty, but the policies of social distancing, hand washing etc. may be working and that is possible that the effects of the virus will be significantly lower than predicted just over a week ago for not just California but the nation.

It is more important now, even more than before that we continue to social distance…the virus is still infecting thousands of people/day and many people are infected and don’t know it.  Isolation is difficult but it keeps the infected and uninfected apart.

Sweden: A Different Covid 19 Plan

Sweden: A different Covid 19 Approach

The picture above was taken yesterday in Sweden.  Look: No Social Distancing.

Sweden has taken what is called a ‘different’ approach dealing with Covid 19.  They have been using minimal behavioral adjustments which relies of some selected precautions and only ‘lockdown’ the most vulnerable people.  Gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited and high school and colleges are closed.  Sweden has kept it’s borders open.  Preschools, grade schools, bars, restaurants, parks and shop remain open.  A driving concept in Sweden’s approach is to use practices that can be continued for a long time.  More severe lockdowns are limited (even though we don’t know what the limits are) in they can not go on forever.

It is interesting to note that social distancing being practiced now is the first time that healthy people are being isolated as well as the sick.  In past epidemics, only the sick were isolated.  So in a way, Sweden is doing what is usually done and the rest of the world is really running an experiment.

The question is: How is Sweden doing?

To make the closest comparison possible, I compared the Scandavian Counties of Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark.  These other countries had nation wide social distancing policies like the US with nonessential operations and schools coming to a stop.

Here is an overview as of April 6, 2020.

Sweden Holland Finland Denmark Norway
deaths 477 1867 27 187 74
cases 7206 18803 2176 4681 5760
deaths/million 47 109 5 33 14
cases/million 713 1093 396 836 1067

Holland had the most cases, the most deaths, the most cases/million people and the most deaths/million people.  Sweden did remarkably well given the ‘minimum’ adjustments they made to daily living.  They had fewer cases/million people than Holland, Norway and Denmark.  Sweden did have a higher fatality rate but it is not clear what the reason is?  Differences in testing and the demographics of who was infected may have played a role in the results.

It is not known what the future will bring?  At this point, Sweden’s approach does not seem to give demonstrably worse results than countries more strict social distance policies.  However, it is not know what the future will bring?  It is possible that Sweden’s infection rate will go up or down  in the weeks to come.  They are offering an interesting comparative example of another approach to handling the disease.  Time will tell if they made the right decision or not.

Commentary:  There are many who criticize Sweden for not taking more action.  However, the data suggests that it’s infection and death rate are essentially the same as other countries who are imosing strict social distancing guidelines.  However, if an outbreak should occur anywhere in the country, the infection rate could be catastrophic.  They could look like they smart if things stay the way they are and they will be judged incompetent and perhaps even arrogant if Covid 19 should break out.

I wish them the all the best and they be spared from the strength of an epidemic, but their policy is quite a gamble.

Deaths/day of Sweden, Holland, Finland, Denmark, Norway



Covid 19: Italy Experience

Italy has recorded the highest number of Covid 19 deaths (15887) in the world.  It also has the second highest national fatality rate of 263 deaths/million people.  This in comparison to the US which has has 9652 deaths and a national fatality rate 29 deaths/million people.  It is not completely clear why the Italian and US experience is so different.  It is likely that the virus was spread during the 3 week period from the first detected case to the date that a nation wide quarantine was put in place.  Restaurants and bars remained open for another 2 days after the national quarantine was announced.

As of April 6, there has been a decline in the number of deaths for 3 straight days.  It is hoped that this signals that the ‘peak’ of the infection has passed and that quarantine efforts are having an effect.

Here is a timeline of events in Italy.

The first 2 cases of Covid 19 were made on Jan 31, 2020 when 2 Chinese tourists in Rome tested positive.  On the same day, Italy suspended all flights to and from China.

In February, 11 municipalities in northern Italy were identified as infection centers and placed under quarantine.

February 23.  Additional specific towns are placed under quarantine.  Carnival celebrations and some soccer matches were cancelled.

March 4.  Schools and university were closed but there were now over 3000 known cases.

March 8.  Quarantine expanded to all of Lombardy and 14 other northern provinces.

March 9. Quarantine exteded to all of Italy.

March 11.  All bars and restaurants closed.

March 22. Factories are closed and all nonessential production is halted (59,138 cases).



Covid 19 in California

Because so many of my family and close friends are in California.  I thought I’d provide an update on some of the latest numbers.

April 5, 2020.  There are currently 334,730 confirmed cases and 9572 deaths due to Covid 19.  In the US.  California accounts for 14,812 of these cases and 344 deaths.  California has the 4th highest number of cases after New York, New Jersey and Michigan.

IF the process was random, there are 378 cases of Covid 19 for every million Californians so, the chance of getting is numerically small, but in reality, the odds go up the more you are in contact with people.  If you bump into the wrong person, that’s all it will take.  Also, if you are in a ‘hot spot’, your chances of getting it are much higher.

Within California over half of the cases and half of the deaths are in Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Clara Counties.  This illustrated in the map below.

ca map

When will the ‘peak’ arrive?  There is little data to go on, but the data from China and South Korea indicate that the curve flattens (new cases and deaths decrease) somewhere between 20 and 30 days after the 50th case has been confirmed.  IF (and it’s a big IF), this hold, then the peak for Ca and most of the US should come before the end of April.

top usWe are looking for the dark blue squares to become lighter blue – that will signal the turn down in the curves.

You already know this, but the disease is primarily passed person to person – stay distant…if you don’t come into contact someone, you probably won’t get it.  Also, up to 50% of infected people will have either no or very mild symptoms, so feeling ok is does NOT mean infection is not present.