Trump takes bow for coronavirus numbers and eschewing herd immunity

The number of deaths in the United States attributed to the Wuhan coronavirus now exceeds 110,000. The daily death count has been around 1,000 the past few days. The number of active cases began to decline this month for the first time ever. (All numbers cited herein regarding deaths from the virus come via Worldometer.)

Based on the experience of major European nations hit by the virus earlier than the U.S., we should expect the number of deaths per day to keep declining. Later this month, they should be down to 500 per day, or so. In this scenario, we would end the month at around 125,000 deaths attributed to the virus.

However, we may end up with more deaths than that if the reopenings taking place this month or, more likely, all of those demonstrations and riots, cause a spike in cases. It’s not likely, though, that a spike in cases would produce a significant increase in June deaths. More likely, such an increase would occur in July, assuming hot weather doesn’t offset the effects of the reduction in social distancing. (After all of this time, we still don’t seem to know the impact of warm weather on the pandemic.)

Yesterday, in between taking bows for the new jobs numbers, President Trump took some for the coronavirus numbers. He said that, absent the lockdown policies the administration called for, we might well be looking at 1 million or more coronavirus deaths in this country.

Trump ridiculed the idea of eschewing lockdowns in order to create herd immunity. He noted that this policy hasn’t worked well for Sweden or Brazil.

He’s right, at least so far. Brazil’s reported deaths from the virus per capita are much higher than those of Argentina and Chile, and are the highest in South America.

Sweden reports 461 deaths from the virus per 1 million people, a number much worse than ours and, indeed, worse even than France’s. Sweden’s Scandinavian neighbors Norway and Denmark report 44 and 101 deaths per million people, respectively.

Sweden’s demographics differ somewhat from those of its neighbors, but the differences can’t explain the vast disparity in deaths. Nor do they explain why, before Sweden’s and Norway’s lockdown policies diverged, the disparity in deaths was much less pronounced.

The final returns aren’t in yet, however. We don’t know what will happen in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden in the event of a second wave of the virus. And we don’t know what the economic impact of the three nations’ anti-virus policies will be.

It’s clear, though, that Sweden hasn’t achieved anything close to herd immunity. We don’t know what infection rate confers such immunity for this virus, but most estimates I’ve seen say it’s between 60 and 80 percent of the population.

In Sweden, it’s estimated that less than 10 percent of the population has developed the antibodies needed to fight the Wuhan coronavirus. Thus, right now it looks like Sweden’s decision to end its lockdown in early April produced a spike in deaths and nothing like herd immunity.

In the U.S., developing herd immunity might well require 200 million infections. In that scenario, we could see the 1 million deaths Trump talked about yesterday. However, I’m confident that states, localities, and the public wouldn’t have allowed the virus to run rampant through the population in one wave of the virus regardless of what federal policies were.

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