COVID-19 DIARIES, WEEK OF 9 OCTOBER 2020
Shelter From the Storm
California enjoys coronavirus calm as cases spike nationwide
In 1348, as a plague killed thousands in Florence, a lucky few escaped to the Tuscan hills, enjoying themselves with the stories memorialized in Boccacio’s The Decameron.
That’s been the situation this past week here in California: We live in comparative calm, while new cases and hospitalizations rose rapidly around the rest of the country.
Locally, computational biologist Mike Bass’ analysis of state data shows the number of new cases per day is far lower now than it was two months ago. New cases dropped low enough for the county to move out of the state’s most infectious tier.
In Ventura County, if case levels remain low for another two weeks, public schools can reopen. That’s not only a relief for parents but also a very good thing for kids. Fears that schools would be superspreader locations now appear to be overstated, provided schools implement adequate safety protocols. More local businesses also reopened, but with relatively low occupancy requirements still in place.
Mike’s analysis also shows numbers of hospital and ICU patients are flat in Ventura County and down statewide. Death rates also are down.
For all the good local news, however, there is a sign of concern: In the past three or four days, cases rose in Ventura County and statewide. The county increase isn’t statistically significant so far, but the state increase is.
Even prior to the recent uptick, we’d reached a kind of plateau. Mike likes to compare each day’s new case number to a 14-day rolling average, and declare that either the humans or the virus has won that day. For the past few days, it’s essentially been a tie — and case numbers are on the upswing again.
Nationally, cases rose sharply in the past week, up 11% over the previous week. Testing rose too, but only by 1%, not enough to explain the spike in new cases. There’s more virus around.
There were 57,500 new cases reported Friday, a level of infection we haven’t seen since the peak of the summer surge in early August.
Further, although states in the Upper Midwest remained the most infectious, there’s evidence new cases are growing in many areas throughout the county. New York and New Jersey, which struggled with heavy caseloads early on, again are at risk after months of relative calm.
Hospitalizations also rose 11% nationwide compared with the previous week. There is every indication that we are at the beginning of a third cycle of cases, following those that occurred early in the year and again this summer.
Nationally, deaths declined by 1%. While this is encouraging news, it’s important to remember that deaths are a trailing indicator. What we’re seeing now may be the last throes of the summer surge, it’s not necessarily a sign that the virus is becoming less lethal.
It remains to be seen whether new therapeutics (including the experimental ones the president received) will lessen the effects of the current wave of infections.
Not surprisingly, the widespread resurgence of coronavirus cases has public-health experts worried, especially as it comes with the onset of cooler weather and flu season.
“We’re looking at a pretty tough fall and winter. We’ve got to get ready and do everything we can to protect people and get through this time period,” says Ashish Jha, MD, dean of public health at Brown University.
That doesn’t mean more lockdowns, Jha says, who views closures as a last resort. We have much better tools, he says, such as mask wearing and avoidance of indoors gatherings.
We know how to defeat the virus. We just need to employ these means, and hopefully create more safe shelters from the storm, just as we’ve done in Ventura County.
Here are this week’s coronavirus stats, all sourced from covidtracking.com.
US stats for the week ending Friday, October 9 (with % change from previous week):
Total tests (positive, negative, pending): 6,715,239 (+1%)
New cases: 329,619 (+11%)
Cumulative US cases: 7,623,648
Confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations: 34,839 (+13%)
Confirmed COVID-19 ICU: 6,713 (+10%)
Deaths: 4,859 (-1%)
Cumulative US deaths: 205,470
CA stats for the week ending Friday, October 9 (with % change from previous week):
Total tests (positive, negative, pending): 868,066 (+6%)
New cases: 21,329 (-8%)
Cumulative CA cases: 838,606
Confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations: 3,186 (+1%)
Confirmed COVID-19 ICU: 742 (-7%)
Deaths: 442 (-25%)
Cumulative CA deaths: 16,428