Millions in U.S. could still die from COVID-19 if we keep opening up in the face of rising disease

Olgierd Rudak / Flickr Covid 19 handmade face mask 1590794274.jpg...
Olgierd Rudak / Flickr

On Friday, the United States topped 55,000 new cases of COVID-19 for the first time since the beginning of August. It may be incorrect to say that there has been multiple waves of disease in the United States, because in a very real sense, the failure to ever institute any national policy means we never got past the first wave—we just passed it from state to state. But in a nationwide sense, there have definitely been phases to the development of the epidemic in this country. In the first of these, cases rose rapidly until the first week of April, peaking at around 34,000 cases before settling back somewhat as states suffering that first large outbreak applied countermeasures.

The average rate of new cases was still at over 20,000 a day when relaxing regulations across the nation drove cases up again, peaking at over 70,000 cases a day in mid-July. As the states involved slowly—and inadequately—reacted, the numbers fell again. But they only fell back to an average value that was greater than the single-day peak value for that initial wave back in April. Now the cases are moving up again, and they’re moving up from that much higher plateau. And they are doing so at a time when states are insisting on reopening, no matter what.

Incredible as it seems, Americans have genuinely become inured to the loss of 1,000 people a day to COVID-19. The 200,000 dead line came, and went, with none of the pretense at sober reflection that appeared when America hit 100,000 dead. The nation reached 7,000,000 cases almost without notice. Florida alone topped 14,000 deaths earlier this week; it was in the top three states for new cases every single day of the week. Deaths in the state have “stabilized” at over 100 a day. Testing rates continue to be wildly inadequate and positive test results stand at 11%. That state’s Republican governor responded to all this by removing the last restrictions in place and fully reopening.

We’re facing a situation that is almost infinitely more dangerous than it was when two dozen states hurried to lock down in March or April. This is the point where America needs not just a national mask mandate, but a national stay-at-home order to address an epidemic that is genuinely running out of control. And exactly no one is taking action.

Here’s what the situation in the United States looks like from a testing point of view:

COVID-19 Percent Positive Tests by State
State % Pos + / –
South Dakota 24% +
Idaho 20% +
Wisconsin 17% +
Iowa 16% +
Kansas 15% +
Nebraska 14% +
Alabama 13% +
UTah 13% +
Missouri 12% +
Wyoming 12% +
Florida 11% +
Nevada 11% +
Texas 10% +
Arkansas 10% +
Indiana 10% +

Data from Johns Hopkins testing site

That’s not only 15 states reporting double-digit positive results, every one of those states had a higher level of positive results than the week before—and that includes those states that actually did more testing last week. Not one of these states is doing an adequate job of testing, or providing restrictions on the spread of COVID-19.

Though the numbers have been lowered somewhat, the projections at University of Washington’s IHME continue to suggest there will be about the same number of deaths in the next three months as there were in the previous seven. It’s not hard to see why: In state after state, the number of cases and the restrictions on the virus are heading in opposite directions. Governors are actually opening up bars, forcing kids back to school, and refusing to support mask mandates as cases and deaths increase. Florida’s DeSantis went even further, imposing a fine on local officials if they attempt to implement mask requirements in their city or county.

The CDC describes the rate of new cases and hospitalizations across the nation as “stable,” but it is stable at a very high rate. About 10% of all deaths in the country continue to be as the result of COVID-19.

Oh, and there remains this factor:

“Age-adjusted hospitalization rates for Hispanic or Latino persons and non-Hispanic Black persons were both approximately 4.6 times that of non-Hispanic White persons. The age-adjusted hospitalization rate for non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native persons was approximately 4.5 times that of non-Hispanic White persons.”

People of color are getting seriously ill from the coronavirus at a rate that’s over four times that of whites. That’s not because of genetic factors. It’s mostly a measure of the inadequacy of early testing on many communities of color, as well as factors like nutrition and quality of care.

With less than 40 days till the election, and with many other shocks in the news, it’s easy to see that absolutely everyone is tired of the pandemic: tired of living with it, and tired of talking about it. But for all the cases that have been reported so far, and all the cases that haven’t, best estimates are that well below 10% of Americans have been infected with COVID-19. The other 90% of Americans are still absolutely vulnerable to this disease. The misery and tragedy the nation has already suffered is only a small fraction of what can happen if we genuinely pretend that this is over.

This is the worst possible time for people to be either relaxing or surrendering.


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1 Comment on "Millions in U.S. could still die from COVID-19 if we keep opening up in the face of rising disease"

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Darin Peterson
Darin Peterson

This article has no basis in logic. There is no reason to assume that more of the population hasn’t been infected just because they haven’t been tested or shown symptoms.