COVID journal: Day 269

The coronavirus has continued to burn through the United States. Americans divided and unable to agree on even basic science-based measures to mitigate the pandemic, have been dry kindling to this slow, patient, steady forest fire of infection. A large segment of the population has chosen to live in ignorance, peddling conspiracy theories and wishing away a deadly disease while pretending it will all be over soon, or that somehow a vaccine that almost 40% the population says it won’t take will somehow magically end this madness. [1]

Collin County, Texas has been no different than any other place in the U.S. The local government has taken a classically hands-off approach that disregards psychology, economic thinking, and over 100 years of the germ theory of disease. In response, coronavirus has steadily charred the population. A death here. A few deaths there. In 2019, about 9.89 people died every day in automobile accidents (https://ftp.txdot.gov/pub/txdot-info/trf/crash_statistics/2019/a.pdf). Since Collin County is home to 3.57% of Texas’s population (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/TX), we can naively scale the daily deaths in Texas to estimate the daily traffic accidents in Collin. That corresponds to just 0.35 deaths per day you would expect in a typical year in our county.

In contrast, daily deaths from coronavirus have been on average 0.94 per day over the 269 days of the pandemic. Comparing these apples and oranges, we nonetheless see that on a typical day the number of SARS-CoV-2 deaths is almost 3 times the traffic fatality rate from the most recent year. Of course, traffic accidents are not contagious; you cannot pass an accident from yourself to another person just by breathing around them for too long. But just like traffic accidents, if you take the recommended precautions – drive defensively, wear your safety harness, be always aware of your surroundings, and obey traffic laws – you can help reduce the rate of fatalities. To stem the tide of COVID-19, all people have to do is wear a mask, stay at least 6 feet apart, remain away from one another unless unavoidable or absolutely necessary, and obey any rules or regulations that are imposed to reduce the severity of the viral spread.

A helpful poster from the state of Minnesota, reminding people why masking is caring for each other, and thus for our national economy.

It’s not hard. It’s a mix of both common sense and science. No magical thinking required.

But this has proven too hard for many people. Despite the guiding myth of American sacrifice, while many in the workforce and healthcare profession have made tremendous sacrifices to save lives, many others have ignored, denied, flaunted, undermined. They have helped to undo all the good that has been done.

We see this in Collin County. As people have grown weary or acted more irresponsibly, we’ve seen the cases climb, and climb, and climb.

Top Graph: (purple) new cases each day, (magenta) rolling 7-day average of new cases per day, (blue) and the 7-day average of new tests per day. The Harvard Global Health Institute’s current minimum recommended tests per day is shown, the lowest target needed to begin mitigating the pandemic. Bottom Graph: key events in the most recent 90 days (color lines) and the window where you might expect effects to begin showing up (color bands).

In general, North Texas has crossed the Governor’s own “red line” for taking more public health action. The positivity rate of people showing up at hospitals crossed the 15% threshold in just the last few days, and now has gone above 17%. Yet no new public health action has been triggered by meeting the 15% threshold. No effort at educating people further, inviting them to participate in basic life-saving activities, and certainly no effort as regulating human behavior. You can see the continuing fraying of human behavior in all the little interactions: the people who take up the whole sidewalk and won’t give any space, even if you give it to them; the person insulted at being asked to wear a mask inside a business; the cars piled up in front of private homes during the holidays, when never on any normal day are so many people at that same house. It’s casual disregard for human life that is killing us.

So here we are. It’s day 269. Cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are climbing here, as everywhere else. We should expect a flood of new cases from bad behavior over Thanksgiving, and another flood over the December holidays. Vaccinations of the general population won’t be possible until something in the spring of next year. We are kindling and the fire burns.

[1] https://news.gallup.com/poll/325208/americans-willing-covid-vaccine.aspx