Covid-19 Stands to Be Done by the Summer
Bold predictions based on ghastly data predict better times and future freakouts.
We all want to be done with this mess, but all the science folk are scared to say when. They like to lean on very complex modeling, since that’s their job, but there are some very simple and very interesting ways to back our way into the appropriate givens to answer this problem relatively cleanly. This analysis may not be perfect, but it’s pretty solid and easy to understand, and it predicts not only a Covid-19 horizon of early to middle summer, but also of the sorts of culture war freakoutery we’re likely to see develop in our social media feeds as it happens. Herein, follow the bold prediction and bet accordingly.
Infected Rats in Mazes
The best possible way to determine herd immunity threshold (HIT) would be to trap a large captive human population in a giant rat maze, let them all get infected, and count the infection rates and the deaths. Skip all this mathematical modeling, Rt projection, computer simulation, and such, and just run the experiment. We obviously can’t do that because it would be illegal and unethical and wrong and whoever even thinks about mentioning such a horrid experiment should be cancelled and fired and run out of town by angry mobs with pitchforks and brooms, so we’ll never see any data from such an experiment.
Just kidding, we already did it, and we already know the answer.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation does an admirable job of keeping their Covid-19 data up to date, current, meticulous, and freely searchable from their website. Anyone can go there and look at infection waves in each of their prisons. You can go there and search for infection waves that look, graphically, like Wuhan’s, and see the numbers. Here’s Folsom State Prison:
Folsom only has one new case of Covid-19 in the past fourteen days, out of a little over 2,000 inmates. Covid is done there. It got done there because they had an infection wave that started around the beginning of August and ended the beginning of November. They reached HIT in three months, at a final infection rate of 654.6 per 1000 people, or 65%.
Here’s San Quentin:
San Quentin’s infection wave hit June and ended September, also around three months. Curiously similar to how long Wuhan was locked down, yes? They reached HIT at an 84% infection rate. Here’s LA County:
LA County’s Covid-19 wave started December, is pretty much done now, and hit HIT at 55%.
As you cycle through the different facilities at this website, you can sometimes see infection rates up above 90%, which have longer curves and multiple waves. These are probably facilities who have rotating populations of fresh victims. On the other extreme you’ve got Pelican Bay, California’s only supermax facility mostly occupied by angry violent lifers whose interactions are really controlled, and they capped out at 9.7%.
Pelican Bay, we can definitively say, is the epitome of what “lockdown” looks like. We get a ten percent infection rate in tiny individualized socially distanced concrete boxes.
Accounting for overshooting in some facilities, and for the density at which these things are packed, it seems very reasonable to set a herd immunity threshold for some place like New York City with prison-like population density at 75%, and rural areas at 55% or lower. Call it 65% average. The range we get from looking at our ghastly accidental controlled experiment in our own prison systems is notably lower than Fauci’s now hotly debated 85%, which may have been spitballed purely to move the vaccination opinion needle.
How Close Are We Really?
NPR recently ran a bit of handwaving freakoutery called “The Pandemic is 10 Times Worse Than You Think.” HWFO readers should be pretty good at picking up on clickbait headlines by this point, but the article is interesting and relevant so let’s extremely crudely summarize it by talking about a couple of its graphs.
This comes from a researcher named Jeffrey Shaman at Colombia University, who did the admirable job of realizing that we have a lot of unreported cases, and then tried to back figure them with math and stuff. I think his analysis has the right idea, but probably somewhat wrong, because he doesn’t appear to be fully taking into account how god awfully rare the tests were in the spring of 2020 and how badly test rationing itself was. I know people in the spring who had it, their doctor told them they had it, and sent them home untested because there weren’t enough tests. I think he’s probably overcounting the winter and undercounting the spring, because up until June there were people who wanted tests and couldn’t get them. But let’s take his (not yet peer reviewed) research and presume those two balance out, and further presume that his bottom line is pretty accurate.
He's got the USA at a 36% net “already been infected” rate right now. NPR does what NPR does and talks about how this is all terribly horrible so they can peddle clicks, but I’m looking at the same graph thinking what great news it is that we have fewer vaccines we need to buy to get us to 65% HIT.
Vaccination Rate Tomfoolery
Biden recently scored 200 million vaccines to go along with the 100 million the government had already bought, raising the number of vaccines bought to pretty close to the total general population of the country. That’s a lot of vaccines, and I don’t think it’s too bold to predict that a bunch of these things are going to end up in the trash, or exported to Africa. According to a recent study in JAMA, only something like 56% of the country intends on getting vaccinated.
The reasons why assuredly vary by population group, and there are probably lots of different reasons within those groups. The media has pointed out that black folks have a general distrust of government sticking needles in their arms, owing to things like The Tuskegee Study where the government intentionally infected a bunch of black Americans with syphilis to see what would happen. But you’d imagine the amount of distrust in April 2020 didn’t change much by December, and the rates of those intending to get vaccinated dropped across every single category mentioned in that span.
The two most likely reasons for this drop aren’t the ones trumpeted by the media. For one, people are slowly becoming more aware that Covid rarely kills those under age 65, so the working age population are less likely to want to get vaccinated. And for another, a fair chunk of these people probably already got infected, so they have less need for it. Public health officials now are in a panic that we won’t get enough people vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, that we won’t be able to get them distributed through our current channels before the end of the year, that Covid may be around forever, and such. But their panic may be unwarranted.
Let’s say 56% of the population gets vaccinated. Let’s say half the 36% who have already been infected are within that 56% and are going for double immunity, if there is such a thing. That would give us:
18% infected but not vaccinated
18% infected and vaccinated
38% vaccinated but not infected
That immunity ratio puts the country 20% more immune than LA County Prison, 10% more immune than Folsom , and 10% shy of San Quentin, while Covid-19 is basically gone in each of those places. 54% vaccination should be enough, and that doesn’t even count immunity granted by however many additional infections we accumulate between now and full vaccine rollout.
As of today, 11.5% of the US population has been vaccinated, and at current rates we’re dishing out about 1.5 million doses per day, a rate of a little under half a percent of the population daily. If we maintain that vaccination rate, we get to 54% vaccination in 94 days. By the middle of May 2021 the United States will have an immunity threshold that exceeds most of our prison population cases where Covid-19 disappeared, without even counting however many additional infections we accumulate between now and then. Note that figure doesn’t include possible supply chain hiccups, but also doesn’t consider improving them either.
Based on this, I find it unthinkable that Covid-19 makes it past the summer unless mutations emerge that are highly resistant to the immunities being spread today. Rejoice ye faithful, Covid-19 is almost over.
The Fun Part
The thing to watch in the summer will be what our institutions do when it’s gone. There will be strange tension between people who want to be done with all this, and the government agencies sitting on a pile of 162 million unused vaccines and no virus. The vaccine makers will either walk away quietly if their contracts have been paid in advance, or will shovel lobby money to mandatory vaccine politicians if they haven’t. The government will flush hundreds of millions of vaccines. The mandatory vaccination crowd on Facebook will scream and yell at the anti-vax crowd on Facebook as usual, but the folks in the middle who don’t see a need for this particular vaccine to be mandatory may start to see the anti-vaxxers perspective. Teachers unions will demand children get vaccinated in order to return to school even though this largely doesn’t kill kids and the teachers can protect themselves by getting themselves vaccinated. Teachers unions might get paid by vaccine manufacturers for trumpeting this. We still won’t have good studies on Long Covid rates. Facebook fact checkers will start monkeying with facts to fit narratives. There will be a great explosion of articles from conservative media trying to evaluate the lockdowns in retrospect to see whether the potentially millions of dollars lost in economic activity per life saved were worth it, and we’ll see an accompanying explosion of articles decrying those article writers as heartless bastards.
And the media machine which peddles freakoutery for clicks will continue to churn, and the anxiety level will remain pegged to the limiter, even though the virus is gone. Buy ammo if you can find it.
And if like me you can’t find ammo, consider cruise line stonks. That’s what I just did.
Good piece - one quibble. I think with the Tuskegee Experiment, the govt didn't intentionally infect them - it was mostly knowing they had it and then not telling them so they could observe the long-term effects (I'm not saying this was better, it's just more accurate)
It'd be interesting if there's NPI data and, if so, what effect it had.