Sunday, September 27, 2020

State of the COVID-19 Pandemic - Fall 2020

I've written only a few COVID-19 posts, mostly about masks and activities. Looking back at them today they hold up pretty well. This feels like the right time for a summary.

Obviously the American response has been pretty lousy. Given America's fissiparous culture and lousy record on things like managing gun violence and providing universal good-enough healthcare we were never going to do a terrific job, but Trump took us down a few more levels. The GOP's anti-science and anti-government stance has contributed as well, not least by underfunding the CDC for decades. It does suck that the disease is infectious before symptoms develop.

We will probably get a decent vaccine. Even if Trump, Xi, and Putin screw-up their national evaluations there will be a few nations that do it right. We probably won't get a great early treatment antiviral in the next year or two but our hospital management will keep incrementally improving and we ought to get a decent monoclonal. We are, despite America's almost incomprehensible incompetence, starting to see better masks in use. Masks that protect the wearer as much as they reduce spread. (We could have lightweight PAPRs for use by vulnerable teachers, but that's like asking for a warp drive.) We should get inexpensive antigen tests for use in school and home, and we'll probably figure out how to use them.

Our understanding of the American pandemic is not great. Data is getting harder to find for many states. That won't change unless Trump loses -- and even then it will take months to rebuilt. A few states may have good data collection so we will have to rely on them to sample pandemic progress. Universities and non-profits are trying to close the gap. Getting local prevalence data in Google Maps will help. There's still a chance states will adopt Google/Apple contact tracing (paging Minnesota, damnit).

On the bright side our knowledge of the innate immune system and of viral infection sequelae (myocarditis [1]!) is growing ten times faster than normal. Even in the QAnon world we can still do some science.

On the public front the situation is mixed at best. It will be a miracle if we don't see a big rise in numbers as winter settles in and we move indoors. Pandemic social and economic distress is amplified by the longterm issues of never-college income, information technology disruption, demographic shifts, and the legacies of American slavery. Remote work has been pretty successful though -- getting people out of air conditioned offices is a big deal.

Less unhappily, unknown sequelae aside, the vast majority of people under 40 with good innate immune systems seem to tolerate SARS-CoV-2 pretty well (though some will die horribly after months of struggle and the myocarditis thing is a bit worrisome). It also seems that a modest amount of ventilation dramatically reduces infectivity -- and, despite lack of public guidance and Trump's CDC sabotage, I think ventilation is improving. There don't seem to be big outbreaks in gyms or ice arenas for example -- though there's also no useful data. COVID-19 will become endemic, but over decades, as we develop true herd immunity, it will become more like the other coronavirae that we live with.

Between our various failures, residual strengths, and the peculiarities of COVID-19 much of America is more-or-less implementing some version of slow motion infection of the under 30 and more-or-less leaving the 40+ to protect themselves. The elite 40+ segment of Americans are learning to buy and wear user-protective masks, the non-elite are kind of screwed. But that's America in the year 2020.

- fn -

[1] Lots of people are wondering how common myocarditis is with viral infections. We've always known of viral myocarditis, but it's not like we did cardiac MRIs on everyone with a cold. The decrease in MIs during COVID precautions is certainly interesting. This review isn't perfect, but it's a good start.