Covid won’t necessarily get naturally less deadly by itself

The topic of consensus has come up recently and it is interesting to look at the flip side of scientific consensus and look at broad rules of thumb that exist in wider society. With diseases caused by viruses, bacteria and parasites etc there is a reasonable (but flawed) assumption that over time a specific disease will become less deadly. The assumption rests on a rough sketch of how evolution works. An infected person needs to be alive for the virus to grow and spread and so, killing the infected person is of less advantage to a virus than leaving the person alive and walking about. It’s a reasonable idea because we are all hosts to a wide range of viruses that cause common colds that usually just make us snotty and miserable rather than dead.

But it is no more than a rule of thumb and the reasonableness of the idea hides a whole pile of complexity. Also, there’s an underlying cognitive error we all fall into when considering how natural selection works that makes us pretend that there’s some sort of agency behind how these changes happen. A virus doesn’t want to kill people, it has no wants or any capacity for anything like wants or a direction nor does evolution strive for perfection. An additional reasoning error is a more subtle version of the old anti-evolutionary argument “if humans evolved from apes, how come there are still apes?” Evolution spawns new varieties of reproducing things rather than just replacing old ones with shiny upgraded versions.

A moment’s thought about examples of long term diseases that humans have faced shows that many diseases remain very deadly despite long histories. Evidence of smallpox is present throughout most of recorded history and its deadliness was reduced not by the virus becoming less virulent by itself. Obviously, there are related viruses to smallpox that are less deadly but humanity had to live with those as well as smallpox. Improved care reduced the deadliness, inoculation as practice (intentional infection of people with matter from a smallpox-infected person possibly first used in China) reduced the impact of the disease and eventually, vaccination led to the disease being wiped out.

Influenza keeps working its own happy way through the evolutionary gambling tables each year, throwing up variations that are more or less injurious. Every living (or not quite living) thing is a glitchy, cobbled-together trade-off of adaptations. “Less deadly” is one direction but there’s not a simple genetic switch or “deadliness” parameter a virus can turn up or down without affecting other features of the virus.

Now I’m not a virologist or even a biologist. I don’t know what the odds of new variants of covid being more deadly are. The rule of thumb isn’t utter nonsense, all other things being equal, I can see why it makes sense that maybe a more infectious & less dangerous version of the virus might become more dominant and maybe (if we were very lucky) also give people sufficient immunity that the nastier versions would fade away. I wouldn’t bet money on it though. Again, appealing to what we can see, covid currently is relatively slow to kill people and there’s plenty of time for an infectious person to spread the virus before they feel so sick that they aren’t out and about spreading the disease. Also, many infected people are asymptomatic, so the deadliness is not much of a disadvantage to the disease.

But we really can only get so far trying to think these things through with general knowledge and a critical eye. Expertise matters and literally whatthehelldoIknow. Expertise matters much more, particularly when evaluating multiple competing factors. Here’s an article by experts in microbial evolution and mathematical biology explaining some of the issues far better than I can: https://theconversation.com/will-coronavirus-really-evolve-to-become-less-deadly-153817

That article also links to an academic paper looking at the potential evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. That paper looks at multiple ways the virus may evolve into new strains. On this specific topic it notes:

“A crucial question is how virulence will evolve [28]. As discussed above, direct selection on virulence is weak (Figure 3D,H). Thus, virulence evolution will be driven largely by the indirect effects of pleiotropy. In Figure 4, we consider two potential examples. First, consider mutations that couple a higher transmission rate, the βs, with higher mortality, ɑ (positive pleiotropy, Figure 4A,C), as might occur if mutations increase viral replication rates. In this case, evolution will lead to higher mortality (see inset bars), as an indirect consequence of selection for increased transmission (see Supplemental Information and also [12,29]). Alternatively, consider a mutation that alters tissue tropism such that the disease tends to preferentially infect cells of the upper respiratory tract, rather than the lower respiratory tract. Such infections could lead to a higher transmission rate but be less virulent (negative pleiotropy) [30]. This would generate indirect selection for lower mortality rates (Figure 4B,D).”

On the evolutionary epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2, Troy Day, Sylvain Gandon, Sébastien Lion, and Sarah P. Otto Current Biology 30, R841–R870, August 3, 2020 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7287426/pdf/main.pdf

[Word of the day: pleiotropy – when a gene impacts two or more unrelated traits https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pleiotropy]

So there you go, right? I’ve got experts and an academic citation from a paper with maths in it AND GRAPHS! Case closed, right?

Not really. I like the argument I just wrote but it is far from immune from being BS. I’m smart, STEM-educated and I can find academic papers and quote from them (and thank the Humanities for those skills). Yet, I’ve no real idea whether the academics I quoted are actually good at their jobs. I don’t know whether the two essays I’ve quoted are actually making well-known errors in the field of evolutionary virology or pushing some heterodox minority position. For all I know, the field of evolutionary virology is currently engaged in raging flame wars on this very issue and there’s a really, really strong argument that (aside from a few exceptions) viruses nearly always get substantially less deadly for reasons other than better treatment or vaccines. It’s not just that I’m not an expert on these topics but also I don’t know anything about the community of people who ARE experts.

Now, given the currency and high profile nature of this issue, I’m fairly confident that I’m not making an ass of myself and quoting a paper that virologists are scorning. Yet, this takes me back to the real topic of this post: consensus and truth not just in science but in any body of knowledge/field of expertise.

A body of knowledge is not a set of textbooks but a community of expertise in which opinions and experience matter. Those communities are flawed. They will have biases. They will be slow to adopt new ideas that are actually more true than old ideas. They will be vulnerable to professional and commercial pressures. These things are true because science is done by humans and communities of humans have these issues. That means we should not unthinkingly accept what any given community of experts say as the unimpeachable truth. However, the odds are that a community of expertise that adopts methods of self-correction and reasoning is far more likely to be a source of truth than our naive intuition about complex issues.

Do I have one more rhetorical trick up my sleeve to convince you that covid won’t necessarily get less deadly? I have lots but as this is a portmanteau essay on many things, including the art of rhetoric then I shall use a failed student of the art to convince you that covid can get worse:

“These utterly ignorant idiots don’t understand that it is the flawed vaccines that are causing the next variant to be worse, not the unvaccinated. If it had been left to progress naturally through the population, the virus would have become more infectious and less harmful, like every other virus in history. It’s already doing that, which is why the Delta variant is estimated to be 10x less lethal than the original one.”

Vox Day, https://web.archive.org/web/20210726205857/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2021/07/when-vaxxing-makes-it-worse.html

I call the move I’m making here the anti-appeal to a lack of expertise 😀

74 thoughts on “Covid won’t necessarily get naturally less deadly by itself

  1. “An infected person needs to be alive for the virus to grow and spread and so, killing the infected person is of less advantage to a virus than leaving the person alive and walking about.”

    The key point is that a pathogen that kills off all its hosts will itself die off. Because there is no host left to infect. But that only works for high lethality diseases like Myxoma in the article you cited where it was recorded that “the virulence of the disease decreased over a few years from 99.5% mortality to about 90%”.

    It does not apply to SARS-CoV-2 a.k.a. COVID-19. Estimates vary for IFR (Infection Mortality Rate) which measures your chance of dying if you get infected with COVID-19, but they are all under the 5% mark. So for the purpose of this question, COVID-19 is not that deadly…

    So if fewer than one-in-20 people infected with COVID-19 dies, that still leaves plenty of humans living for it to re-infect. That still leaves plenty of humans to keep reproducing & making new potential hosts for COVID-19.

    Conclusion: All else being equal, there is no selective pressure for SARS-CoV-2 to be less deadly.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Exactly. A mutation that makes SARS-CoV-2 more deadly is essentially neutral because it won’t affect the spread of the virus. Whether or not more or less deadly strains of SARS-CoV-2 will become dominant depend on other factors.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A mutation that makes it deadly enough will absolutely affect the spread. If people start dying in much higher numbers, it will affect all behaviour around it.

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      2. True. Let’s say, though, that a mutation makes a strain that is twice as deadly. The fatality rate is still going to be low enough to be ignored by the people who are already ignoring it. I think it would have to be significantly more deadly to get them to change their behavior.

        Even then you know there’s going to be a long lag before they start changing their behavior.

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  2. There was a fantastic article in Wired about the error made early on about masking (and the over-emphasis on cleaning surfaces), that was based on flawed research on droplet size that had, in fact, long since been repudiated by the original author, but because it had been the consensus for decades, that was the model that most of the folk who were now in charge of major public health bodies had learned and had relied upon without necessarily realising that things had changed. But again, to their credit, this did change very fast once the first significant bodies of research about transmission came in.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Colds and flu are less-lethal than they were too, but that doesn’t mean people don’t die every year from flu. (Or wish they did.)

      And colds still make people miserable and can kill a few people who are otherwise compromised.

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      1. There are several thousand flu deaths every year and it’s not just elderly and vulnerable people either. A boy I knew from school died of the flu at age 23 sometime in the 1990s. He was healthy, fit, no risk factors.

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      2. @Cora: In the 1918 influenza pandemic (popularly known as the Spanish Flu, although it really should have been called the American Flu or, more precisely, the Kansas Flu) the young (adult) and healthy were more likely to die, in consequence of their fully-developed and functioning immune systems being driven into overdrive.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. PhilRM: the young (adult) and healthy were more likely to die, in consequence of their fully-developed and functioning immune systems being driven into overdrive.

          My understanding is that they also believe that the older generations had been exposed to a milder variant of that flu a few decades before, which is why the reactions of the younger people were so much more severe.

          Liked by 2 people

      3. @JJ: One of the (many) fascinating things I learned from John Barry’s terrific book, The Great Influenza, which purely fortuitously I read a few months prior to the Covid outbreak, was the astonishing rate at which RNA viruses (like those responsible for influenza) mutate, due to the absence of error-checking during replication provided by DNA. Hence the need for a new flu vaccine every year, and its relatively limited effectiveness.

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      4. I had the flu for the last time at about age 25, at which point I said to myself “Self, that sucked for weeks, you missed work and school, and you are a grown-up with health insurance. Get the shot.”

        Liked by 1 person

      5. And even if I hadn’t had insurance, they’re so cheap here that I’d have still been well ahead monetarily, since it would have cost me less than a day’s income — and I was paid by the hour with no sick leave. No work = no money for several days, and I had a desk job that I could do when I was recovering.

        In the Before Times, when people were in offices, a lot of companies brought in a nurse with a supply and offered them free to all the employees, since that was more cost-effective for them, too.

        NYC and California are about to give their employees a choice: either get the shot or get a Covid test once a week. My BFF’s had a couple tests for other reasons and is always complaining about her eyes watering, nose running, and wondering if the swab has gone through to her brain.

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  3. “Flawed vaccine”.

    So, he’s given up on insisting they’re not really vaccines, eh?

    Or at least for this post.

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  4. An argument: In a naive population selection is primarily for the ability to infect cells, so we can expect the virus to become better an entering cells. As given in the post, this is plausibly linked with increased lethality, though we haven’t seen an obvious series of steps of increasing lethality – the alpha (B.1.1.7) strain is reckoned to be worse, but that didn’t seem to be the case for the G strain and it’s earlier derivatives. On the other hand, when the population is not naive, either due the previous infection or to vaccination, there are two selection pressures – for the ability to infect cells again, but also for the ability to avoid adaptive immune responses, and the virus genome has to make trade-offs. This could plausibly lead to lower virulence.

    There is a meme going around that the delta (B.1.617.2) strain is 200 times more transmissible than the original strain. I don’t know what that means – it isn’t that R is 200 times larger. In one case (a pharmacist publishing on a Ghanaian web site) that meme has mutated to 200 times more lethal. Another number going the rounds is that delta produces a 1000-fold higher viral load (on first positive test).

    Did VD/TB/NB give a source or argument for the delta strain being 10 times less lethal, or does he just assert it?

    Worldwide the case fatality rate for the last week is 1.5%, which is not 10 times less that the 5% of the initial Wuhan outbreak.

    The UK has had a ten-fold fall in case fatality rates since Christmas, which are now under 0.2%*, but that’s down to vaccination. The US is still running at over 0.5%.

    Over the course of the pandemic there has been a fall in case fatality rates, but pre-vaccination that seemed to be a result of better testing finding more of the mild cases and better treatment protocols.

    *It’s not clear whether the last spike in cases has fully fed through to deaths, so the true rate could be somewhat hight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those numbers come from this paper. What they mean by factor of 1000 is that at the point the disease can be detected by PCR, the body already has 1000 times as much virus as the original COVID variant had. It’s much better tuned to the human body, so it replicates faster. As a direct result, the body sheds much more virus, with the result that it’s a lot more infectious.

      Elsewhere, I’ve seen estimates that this boosts R by a factor of 2 (so maybe 5 to 7). That not only makes it spread twice as fast, it makes the requirements for herd immunity higher.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, yes, as the base level for ‘herd immunity’ is essentially greater than 1-(1/R), so the point at which the product of the average number of people infected (R) and the proportion of those people who are still not immune (1/R) is less than one. All the masking and cleaning has been an effort to reduce R while we ramp up the immunity level.

        This means that a disease like measles, where R is around 20, has a herd immunity requirement of 95%. An R of 5-7 means a base immunity requirement of 80-85%. Which, sadly, we’re not up to yet, and in some places it seems unlikely that we’re going to get there in the near future, or possibly ever in some locations without measures that are unlikely to get political will behind them.

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        1. R^2 43% on a negative trend comparing share of Trump vote v proportion vaccinated!

          Mind you, it looks like population size of the county is a factor as well. So it may be less about partisan politics per-se and more about Urban v Rural roll-out of vaccinations (which, will also be correlated with partisan politics).

          Liked by 1 person

      2. R^2 43% on a negative trend comparing share of Trump vote v proportion vaccinated!

        If you’re feeling energetic, try the same thing with the log odds instead of the probabilities. Log odds of probability p is log(p/(1-p)). It’s nice for regressions because instead of being on 0 to 1 it’s on -inf to +inf.

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      3. @Camestros: Mind you, it looks like population size of the county is a factor as well. So it may be less about partisan politics per-se and more about Urban v Rural roll-out of vaccinations (which, will also be correlated with partisan politics).

        That doesn’t appear to be the case, however. There’s certainly wide variation between states as to how effectively they’ve implemented vaccination programs. Here in Colorado, for example, the government of Democratic Governor Jared Polis has done an excellent job, and overall the state has hit its vaccination targets, but you see exactly the same trend in a county-by-county breakdown (this article also has a state-by-state plot):

        https://www.denverpost.com/2021/06/25/covid-19-vaccine-rates-donald-trump-joe-biden/

        The stalling of vaccination progress isn’t due to the unavailability of vaccines; it’s overwhelmingly the result of refusal to get vaccinated:

        https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-science-health-government-and-politics-coronavirus-pandemic-36ea18ee3a3397da7edd5b8249f0e477

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  5. The poster child for vaccination causing selection for lethality is Marek’s Disease. Anti-vaxxers have seized on this, ignoring the contrary experience with many other vaccines.

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      1. Because lifelong care for polio patients (and there still are living polio patients who still require care in many western countries. My Uncle Jürgen is one of them) is so much cheaper than a vaccine.

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    1. I just saw your comment from a coupla days ago.

      Inserting a mostly irrelevant response of my own: It’s not actually true, as the wikipedia article suggests, that Marek’s infection is 100% fatal nowadays. I had terrible problems with Marek’s on my property until I started vaccinating all my incoming birds, so I can say with great authority that some birds spontaneously infected with my local strain of the virus will indeed survive with proper nursing care. That is not to take away from the impact of the disease nor the complexities involved with the vaccine against it, of course.

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  6. Btw: Question of a lazy reader. Beale wrote that other viruses mutated to get less lethal when humans did nothing against them. Is there any case where this is true? I mean of course trough reactions and learning (and medizine, which they “smart” people are against) Illnesses can be more managable, but mutating towards less deadly because nice virus is an interesting take.
    I have read that most experts don’t exspect mutations to get more deadly and it may be true that delta is getting more people infected and does kill less (but vacines make the second a more complicated question) but the main danger is as far as I know more mutation which happens the more virus we have active could mean imunity against vacination.

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    1. Syphilis isn’t a virus, but it does seem to have got less aggressive since the last 15th century outbreaks.

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      1. Also not a virus, but as a counterexample I don’t think there’s any evidence that bubonic plague (which is a bacterial infection) has become any less lethal: even with modern medical treatment, the mortality rate is terrifying. Of course, the annual number of infections is (fortunately!) very small.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. There’s some evidence for this with HIV as well. The reasoning is that counter-measures taken to combat HIV (condoms, needle exchange programs, etc.) have made it more difficult to spread HIV. Mutations that make the virus less deadly would mean more opportunities for someone with HIV to spread it.

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  7. Camestros: can you delete this post? I hit the wrong button and posted it way before I was ready to. In its current form, it’s both incomplete and not full thought out.

    Thanks.

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  8. Vaccinated people aren’t dying from Delta, but thanks to the high viral load and virulence, they might be able to get it or spread it asymptomatically.

    Which wouldn’t have happened if everyone had gotten their shots ASAP, at least in countries where they were available (or should have been).

    Right-wingers are literally cutting off their noses to spite their faces, since skipping the vaccine doesn’t pwn the lib’ruls, it just means there are fewer right-wingers alive. If they wanna truly pwn, they should be first in line for shots.

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    1. This is what gets me the most. These guys are so stupid they don’t realize that they are not only screwing over the country in general, but also literally killing themselves. Darwin at work, whether they believe in evolution or not.

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    2. We are at the moment now here in Germany where everyone who wants can get vaccinated. Some people won’t do it at the moment because holiday. I am also afraid that because the numbers are lower than some time ago (but allready rising again and 3 times the numbers from a few weeks ago) and now we have mostly young people who can get vaccinated we will have fewer people who do it.
      For me 2 reason played a role: 1 my own safety 2 friends and family I didn’t want to be a danger to others.

      I am very happy that getting vacinated is not a political partisanisue in Germany. (Yes I live in a part where one infliencell politican has not vacinated himself, which could be a tactic to get votes in the next election where his party will not get over the 5% they need) But for me the problems with the republican party (execpt the racism because that seems the glue for some) start when they became an anti intellectual party. Knowledge is bad is not a good political idea.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not happy with the way the vaccination campaign has been promoted in Germany, but at least very few politicians (basically Alice Weidel and Hubert Aischwanger and personally, I couldn’t care less if Weidel catches covid) try to turn it into a political partisan issue.

        The problem in Germany is IMO the ultra-aggressive tone, complete with dire threats against “vaccination refusers”, even though we have more than 50% fully vaccinated people and more than 60% people who have had one dose (at least 90% of whom will go on to get their second shot – mine is in mid August). Add to that roughly 10% of people who can’t get vaccinated, because they’re children, immunocompromised, etc… and another 10% of hardcore antivaxers. That leaves 20% who might be persuadable (and may just be on holiday and therefore didn’t get around to getting vaccinated yet), but certainly not if you yell at them and threaten them and tell them getting vaccinated is a social duty.

        A much better approach would be, “Please get vaccinated to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. The vaccine is safe and effective and it not only protects you, but others as well.” Also, what’s missing is outreach to immigrant communities (where vaccination rates are much lower) via mosques, community centers, churches, etc…

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      2. We have this discusions to early and to aggresive. I remember that people talked about opening the resteraunts for people who were vacinated, when we only had a quote of 10% (don’t remember if first or both), most of them over 80. It was not productive.
        We can reach some people by beeing clever, I agree yelling is not that. That everyone can get vacinated is still a new situation and I bett a few people are waiting and not in a hurry. On Problem I see is that we have over 80% of the people over 80 vacinated. Why about the others?
        Can it be that there are tecnically dificulties?
        Reaching out to immigrant communities would also be an important stepp, you are right.
        Hubert Aiwanger will hopfully not be a concern anymore when his party doesn’t get into the Bundestag. Then he is alone our problem.
        The children can’t be vacinated (except here where a doctor vacinated a nine-year old, he lost his job of course) is numerical a problem.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes, the “Let’s open restaurants and clubs to vaccinated people” discussion at a time when the only people vaccinated were over 80, many of them nursing home residents, came much too early. And it’s only since late June/early July that everybody who wants to can get vaccinated. Which coincides with the main holiday season, where a lot of people are not at home.

        Campaigns like “Get vaccinated and get a free sausage” in Thuringia seem to work to persuade people who are not antivaxxers, but who simply are not interested, to get vaccinated. And yes, it’s silly, but if a free sausage is what it takes to persuade these people, then offer sausages.

        My apologies for misspelling Hubert Aiwanger. I hadn’t heard of him before this, because a local politician from Bavaria is not all that interesting to people in other parts of Germany. I also don’t need to ever hear of him again.

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  9. Some thoughts –

    – I’ve been saying from nearly the beginning that it is going to take years of statistical analysis before anyone is going to know anything concrete about this virus.

    – Attributing any political motive is foolish. Read the last year’s worth of analyses from this guy and you should be convinced that the political inclinations of any US state government have little to do with the spread of the virus.

    – Who knows how the virus will mutate. It is certainly possible that it could morph into something that is not only more lethal but capable of being more widely spread. IMO, that isn’t the way I’d bet, but it is possible. The modern common cold is a form of coronavirus that jumped to humans a few hundred years ago. It was far more lethal then than is now.

    – With some exceptions for certain people, the vaccines are safe and effective. I’ve got my Trump Shots!

    @StephanB

    But for me the problems with the republican party (execpt the racism because that seems the glue for some)

    Don’t believe everything you hear/read. Racism is about as prevalent among GOP voters as it is among Democrat voters. The difference is that our media will bend over backward to point out racist GOP voters and bend over backward to avoid pointing out Democrat voters that are racist.

    There were Republicans that wanted Condoleezza Rice to run for President a few years back. Republicans support Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. Justice Clarence Thomas is treated as a judicial diety in Republican circles. There are other examples as well. The point is that labeling political dissent as racism is lazy, common, and woefully inaccurate.

    I’d also be a bit cautious above considering the GOP to be the home of anti-intellectualism when it comes to vaccines. Prior to Covid, anti-vaxxers were more commonly on the American political left.

    Had our Democrats not politicized Covid early on, we might have remained more unified. Or not. Almost everything seems to have a political divide these days. Both Mr. Biden and Mrs. Harris expressed early and frequent skepticism of anything coming out of Operation Warp Drive. Now they wonder why people are skeptical about the vaccines.

    IMO, Operation Warp Speed is one of two significant Trump Administration successes in 2020.

    Regards,
    Dann
    Wisdom includes not getting angry unnecessarily. The Law ignores trifles and the wise man does, too. – Job:A Comedy of Justice

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    1. @Dann: Can you the next time, when you quote me get my name right? It feels wrong (and is considered oldfashioned here) to spell it with ph.
      Re Racism: From what I see here, the Republicans have a problem with racism, yes.
      And while I don’t know the political spectrum of impfskeptics in America before COVID (I agree that in Germany the protest now have more rightwingers than what I did asociete with Impfskeptics before) the problem that the Republican party used beeing smart as an insult is not new.
      Re Covid and fault: I don’t think you can fault a politican for doing the right thing and you can absolutly choose your battle. If your political enemy does a) you do not do b) when you know b is bad (and costs live). So it is the fault of everyone who saw Covid as political isue if the do the wrong thing.

      Re Operation Warp Speed: I don’t think the name was good but from a quick wikipediasearch this could have been not bad. And sorry but from what I know, not getting vaccinated is a problem mostly in places were Trump got the most votes, so your theory that he is responsible for people not getting vaccined is not that convincing for me.

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      1. @ StefanB

        Sorry about the spelling. It happens. I appreciate the kind request and I’ll do my best.

        the problem that the Republican party used beeing smart as an insult is not new.

        Again, I respectfully suggest that your perspective might be influenced by the filter that is the mainstream media. That is a painting of a large group with a very broad brush that is based in part on an appeal to authority.

        Specifically, the idea that possessing a university degree is a signal of intelligence. It’s the signal of possessing a credential.

        The short version is that we see a lot of not very bright ideas coming out of academia. A bad idea is a bad idea regardless of how many letters a person puts behind their name.

        So it is the fault of everyone who saw Covid as political issue if the do the wrong thing.

        In this, we can agree. My point is that Democrats began the process of politicization early in the pandemic.

        That is a reflection of a larger problem in the US where are apparently not supposed to acknowledge when someone from the “other side” has a good idea. I make a habit of pointing out when politicians that I generally oppose end up doing the right thing as well as when politicians that I generally support do the wrong thing.

        In the last seven days the USA had an avarage of 321 deaths per day from Covid (Google-Fu New York Times). For you that is not a problem?

        We were looking at 3500-4000 deaths per day back in January/February. An increase from ~150 to over 300 per day is certainly not going in the right direction, but it is not a cause to foment panic, IMO. It’s not a binary choice; problem/not-a-problem.

        Roughly (very roughly) we have 8000 Americans die every day pre-Covid. 3500-4000 is worthy of more attention than 150-300. For scale, we lose roughly 1400 per day to cancer.

        Also, the reporting has focused on the greater increase in cases and not mentioned the much lower increase in deaths. IMO, that is selective reporting for the purpose of making a smaller problem appear to be a much larger problem.

        Regards,
        Dann
        TRC eht edisni deppart ma I !pleH

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      2. @Dann: I try to make my points briefly.
        1. I see education as a good think. And in my opinion heads of state should be intelegent. It may be coming from my media (and its not American media that I get most of my info from) but it doesn’t seem to me that the Republican Party shares this particular belief if I look at the last two Republican Presidents (Bush senior was before my time).
        I give you that I have a very negative impresion of Donald Trump.

        2. My point of politicization is that in this case it was suicidal for the voters of the Republicans (in this case literally) to let it become a political isue. I come from a country where we don’t have this much of the other side is allways wrong because it could very well be that you need a comprimise with this other party very soon. (Not counting the AFD) So you may be right about this beeing typical American, but in this case sorry oposing common sense is stupid, no matter the excuse.

        3. I can’t talk about cases and deaths in the US media because here I come again from German media and here it was definitly the case that the deaths and the people who got very ill where the focus and also the highpercentage of unvacinated people who were the victims. (I don’t remember concrete numbers but in both cases over 95%)
        But how many people were vacined in the USA in January/February? So in a way you are talking apples and orange here. (May also my problem, because 300 is from a German perspective a lot, but then I look at New Zealand and imagine the horror they must feel if they hear numbers) 8.000 people dying would be an absolute Horror, I can’t imagine how we would react here with that.

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      3. Sorry picked the wrong number. 3500-4000 deaths were the covid deaths. And I think if you had normally 8.000 deaths a day, half of that number alone from one cause is a horror and a failure for any government.

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      4. Yesterday, a regular midweek day without reporting lags, 30 people died of covid in all of Germany. The US has roughly four times the population, but even taking that into account 300 covid deaths in a day is still a lot more than there should be.

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      5. @Cora: That’s because we have a pandemic among the unvaccinated, which in (politically) red states like Alabama approaches 70% of the population – because the Republicans decided to turn the response to a medical crisis into another front in the culture war.

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  10. Crap. Forgot one.

    The reporting on the spread of the Delta variant serves as an example of why no one should trust the media. Covid infections were really, really low before the Delta variant started spreading. Instead of reporting the raw numbers that people could easily identify as not being a big deal, the media started talking about there being a 300% increase in a few weeks.

    A 300% jump in a really, really small number is still a really small number compared to the much larger number we’ve seen.

    By switching from raw numbers or infections per capita, the media is fostering panic over knowledge and a sense of scale.

    Regards,
    Dann
    There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running around with lit matches. Ray Bradbury

    Like

    1. In the last seven days the USA had an avarage of 321 deaths per day from Covid (Google-Fu New York Times). For you that is not a problem?

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  11. @dann665 It seems to me that the Republicans politicized COVID-19 when Trump insisted (for months) that it was no big deal and would go away by itself. When we’re dealing with a new virus, our information changes continually, and the virus itself changes, so I certainly understand that someone could say something in good faith and yet be totally wrong. The test of that person’s character, in my mind, is whether he/she can correct the earlier statements.

    In this case, though, it’s pretty clear Trump knew the truth. He just thought it would be better for his reelection prospects to claim otherwise. I don’t think there’s any comparable example of Democrats politicizing the virus.

    As for the appropriate level of concern, here’s a chart I’ve been playing with for the past two days:

    Mississippi 8/11/21
    Louisiana 8/11/21
    Florida 8/11/21
    Alabama 8/14/21
    Georgia 8/21/21
    Arkansas 8/23/21
    South Carolina 8/27/21
    Delaware 8/28/21
    Texas 8/28/21
    Oklahoma 8/28/21
    Tennessee 8/31/21

    This is the estimated date when the hospital system in each of the 10 states above will collapse due to too many COVID

    Like

    1. (I’m not sure why my posts are getting posted before I’m done writing them these days.) Anyway, the chart uses the published hospitalization rates, fits an exponential curve, and assumes collapse occurs when 1 person in 1000 is hospitalized. (That’s based on what happened in New York last year.)

      This could be improved a lot, and there are many reasons to hope that things don’t really go this badly, but the thing about exponential growth is that the numbers look pretty small to start with. Up until they’re not.

      So if you think the press is making too big a deal out of COVID, you should think more carefully.

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  12. @StefanB

    I don’t have a positive view of Mr. Trump either. Being “better than the other person” is not a high recommendation of intellect or character.

    As the US media is quite close to the European mindset (or at least my impression of it), I don’t think it matters much which sources of information are used, it is subject to biases that deny the reader a full description of the facts.

    GW Bush was deemed by the media to be ignorant and was routinely challenged by the media. Barack Obama was deemed to be intelligent and was feted by the media. Yet Mr. Obama did more damage to America, IMHO.

    We routinely see moderate Republicans running for the Presidency turned into villains by the media only to be given positive press coverage after they have lost. The American media views any election that doesn’t result in a Democrat victory to be an aberration. It is important to keep that in mind when receiving any information from the MSM.

    @Greg Hullender

    As I recall, Mr. Trump shut down incoming flights from China (and other affected areas) and was labeled a racist. Democrat politicians then invited people to come down to various Chinatowns for festivals with large groups of people. They opposed everything his administration did in those first few months. When it comes to politicizing this issue, the Democrats were first.

    I agree that Mr. Trump’s decision to focus on the economy as a campaign strategy was a mistake. I think he could have strolled into a second term if he just would have made a few changes. Changes that he apparently was constitutionally* unable to make.

    A small question about your list of states. Did any of those health systems collapse under any of the previous waves?

    IMO, the media is portraying the current wave as though it is equal to (or worse than) March-May 2021. IMO, that is an exaggeration that ultimately undermines the media’s credibility.

    *reference to who he is as a person and not the document.

    Regards,
    Dann
    In the storm, the tree is glad of the root, Not of the branch. – Protesilaus – from Harrow the Ninth

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    1. dann665: GW Bush was deemed by the media to be ignorant and was routinely challenged by the media.

      GWB repeatedly demonstrated himself to be ignorant. (The fact that he now looks like a rocket scientist compared to Tr*mp is… damning with extremely faint praise.)

       
      dann665: Mr. Trump shut down incoming flights from China (and other affected areas) and was labeled a racist.

      That’s because he didn’t also shut down flights from other hotbeds of COVID infections which were predominantly white. Like the UK.

      Jaaaaayzus, dude. Could you be any more transparent with your disingenuity? (That’s a rhetorical question. I’m sure you can.)

      Like

    2. Dann, I believe that Florida has just set a record for new cases per day — higher than at *any* previous point in the pandemic. Would you prefer that the media ignore the disease until all 50 states reach a similar dubious goal?

      Liked by 1 person

    3. As I recall, Mr. Trump shut down incoming flights from China (and other affected areas) and was labeled a racist.

      This was because he only excluded Chinese people. Americans were free to travel to/from China. Obviously this measure did no good whatsoever–never mind the fact that he imposed it way too late to do any good in the first place.

      I agree that Mr. Trump’s decision to focus on the economy as a campaign strategy was a mistake. I think he could have strolled into a second term if he just would have made a few changes.

      Yeah, it’s the weirdest thing. When he first learned what a problem COVID would be, he could have called in leaders from both parties, told them “This is going to require a united response,” and actually led the whole country. As you say, he’d have walked to reelection. The problem–plain and simple–is that the man is just not a leader. He knows how to stir up outrage and turn people against each other, but he really doesn’t seem to want to do anything that might bring them together.

      A small question about your list of states. Did any of those health systems collapse under any of the previous waves?

      New York came close. Arguably they went over the line–they were unable to take new patients–but the curve was peaking, so very few people ended up turned away. Had there being one more doubling, the death toll would have been much worse, since hospital care cuts the death rate from about 5% to about 1%.

      A local doctor friend told me that hospitals in other parts of Washington State (which have low vaccine rates) are airlifting patients into Seattle (which has ~90% of people vaccinated). That’s an indication that the health system is already “collapsing” in some places–spared only by the fact that airlift still has the capacity, and that there are still hospitals willing to take the patients. Unfortunately, the number of overwhelmed hospitals will also grow exponentially.

      IMO, the media is portraying the current wave as though it is equal to (or worse than) March-May 2021. IMO, that is an exaggeration that ultimately undermines the media’s credibility.

      Yes, sensationalism sells papers. That’s been a problem for over 250 years, at least. In this case, I think it’s fair to say that it’s possible that this will be worse. There are too many unknowns and things are changing too fast to really be sure. But, based on the data, I have to say that things don’t look good right now. We’ll see what happens over the next two weeks.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. @Greg Hullender

        This was because he only excluded Chinese people. Americans were free to travel to/from China.

        I don’t think it is unreasonable for Americans to expect to be able to come back to America. One might say they have a right to do so. OTOH, people from any country that is the source of a pandemic do not have any right to visit/emigrate to another country.

        Now that we know what we know about the malfeasance of the CCP in reporting and containing this contagion, preventing Chinese citizens from coming directly to the US was one of his administration’s better policies.

        Everything else you offered was eminently reasonable. Any difference I might have would be quite small.

        @Contrarius

        Would you prefer that the media ignore the disease until all 50 states reach a similar dubious goal?

        That is a person of hay.

        I’m advocating for being aware of and reporting on the pandemic in a reasonable manner rather than hyping every shift in the data as being a sign of impending doom.

        And quite frankly, the media focus on Florida smacks of their history of using the pandemic to undermine the potential presidential aspirations of Ron DeSantis. Today, Florida has done much better than New York. Andrew Cuomo’s policies resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of senior New Yorkers. Yet Cuomo is feted by the MSM while DeSantis is routinely reviled.

        ———-

        As a separate issue, the various changes in reporting by government agencies really serve to undermine confidence in any reported information. Influenza was formerly reported separately. Now it is comingled with Covid.

        My own state has a pretty decent website that allows you to compare stats from early in the pandemic all the way to the end on a per-capita basis without much trouble. Other states have other dashboards/reports. Some of those change over time.

        When data is hidden due to changes in reporting format, it makes it a lot harder to talk people into taking the pandemic seriously. That’s why I referenced Matt’s site above. He’s taken the time to untangle all of the data from the GUI formatting so you can make apples-to-apples comparisons. At least McIntosh to Golden Delicious.

        Regards,
        Dann
        The essence of America – that which really unites us – is not ethnicity, or nationality or religion – it is an idea – and what an idea it is: That you can come from humble circumstances and do great things. — Condoleezza Rice

        Like

        1. @Dann —

          “I don’t think it is unreasonable for Americans to expect to be able to come back to America.”

          Why should it be reasonable, in the face of a pandemic?

          “One might say they have a right to do so.”

          No one has a “right” to spread deadly viruses.

          “That is a person of hay.”

          Heh. It’s irrelevant to the subject of this discussion, but I can’t resist pointing out here that hay and straw are not actually the same thing. If you want to look smart playing with words, you should at least be familiar with the words you use. 😉

          “I’m advocating for being aware of and reporting on the pandemic in a reasonable manner rather than hyping every shift in the data as being a sign of impending doom.”

          No, you’re not. You’re claiming that what the media is doing is “hyping every shift in the data as being a sign of impending doom”, when that is not what they’re actually doing at all. Speaking of straw men.

          Stop being so disingenuous, Dann. It’s not like you’re fooling anyone.

          “And quite frankly, the media focus on Florida smacks of their history of using the pandemic to undermine the potential presidential aspirations of Ron DeSantis.”

          Oh, sure. Nothing to see here, move along. There is no virus, it’ll all disappear by last Easter, it’ll all go away when warm weather hits, it’ll magically disappear if we’ll all just stock up on hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. Uh-huh.

          I remember last year over on 770 when someone was saying that the pandemic wasn’t anything to worry about because it had “only” killed 100,000 people in the US, which wasn’t any more than the US flu epidemic of the 1950s.

          How many deaths is enough, Dann?

          “Today, Florida has done much better than New York.”

          Yeaaaaaah — highest infection rate since the pandemic began, Dann. Louisiana has also just set a new record. And hospitals in low vaccination areas are already setting up overflow wards again.

          But you want us to believe that there’s nothing to worry about. Nothing to see here, move along.

          Riiiiiiiight.

          Like

    4. Please Dann there is no European mindset. Even if the EU (which is not all of Europe) sets standards, there are very different nations. (One example is the now ex-member UK who was even when in the EU in many points more near to the US than other countrys).
      I give that the media I consume is influence by who I am as a person. I will rather read an article on the Zeit, than somethink from Axel Springer. I do read media that can be clasified as (probably center)left to center-right, but German Center-right which means pro CDU/CSU.
      So yeah probably want if I search for American Media not watch Fox News (I have seen TV Shows on Fox). I am fully aware that exspecially Trump and his followers don’t get a good press in Germany. Other republicans are treated better. I know Busch senior is popular for his actions that helped the reunion of Germany, John McCain didn’t if I remember correctly, get that bad a press here (until he picked his VP).
      But I am not convinced that the not mainstream media in the US would give me a better picture (some of the alternative media would make me vomite)

      We have voting systems here btw that would make some heads explode in the US. (For example how we vote for our citycouncel in Bavaria)
      I still find it funny that the Germany Grundgesetz (our constitution) had to be allowed by the Americans. I forbids a voting like that for the American President here.

      Re oposition to Trump: We have a voting year what do you exspect? And his policity re Corona was an epic fail. The US has worldwide most deaths, the US lifeexpectation get 1,5 years lower in 2020 (double for minoritys) where other countrys did get much better trough the pandemic. This are facts. In my opinion Corona alone should have been reason enough for Trump to loose. And he was president. A president has a responsibility and he (or she) decieds on his (or her) policies. There is no reason to do somethink because the oposition wants the oposite (in Germany sometimes smart politicans take the opositions topic to give them less munition for the next voting sesion)

      Unfortunatly for you the question if Bush yunior or Obama did more damage to America is unimportant because there is Trump. That was a lot of damage that either fades against this.

      Re intelegence: I should perhaps not be so harsh on Bush, but I still remember that it was the time that republicans insisted, that it was important for the vote who you want to drink a beer with. I give you that with Trump it was worse. He believed that he know everythink and that is not a good idea for a politican.

      Like

  13. I found a wonderful government website with lots of data on hospitalization and COVID in all 50 states. That lets me do a much better estimate for when hospitals will fill up.

    I used the whole of July to compute an exponential least-squares fit to the number of people hospitalized for COVID. Then I projected that out to the end of September.

    The government data gives me the total number of hospital beds and the number of people using them as of July 31, so I assumed the number of non-COVID patients wouldn’t change much, and, from that, I simply computed the date on which all the beds would run out due to increasing numbers of COVID patients. Then, for comparison, I figured the data when the COVID patients would use up all the beds. (That is, when hospitals would run out of beds even if they evicted ALL the non-covid patients.)

    Since this was more work, I only figured the numbers for three states. Surprisingly, they aren’t very different from what I was getting with my much cruder earlier method.

    FL 8/12/2021 8/30/2021
    TX 8/29/2021 9/24/2021
    TN 9/7/2021 9/25/2021

    These exponentials all had r^2 fits of 0.95 or better. Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future results. However, I think the next ten days in Florida are going to be informative.

    https://beta.healthdata.gov/Hospital/COVID-19-Reported-Patient-Impact-and-Hospital-Capa/g62h-syeh

    Liked by 1 person

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