The number of daily reported cases of the Wuhan coronavirus in the U.S. increased by three fold in the past month. As we approached mid-June, around 20,000 new cases per day were being reported. Now, the daily number is averaging around 60,000. (All numbers cited in this post are from Worldometer.)
Some of the increase is due to more testing. But last week, testing reportedly plateaued. Yet the number of reported cases increased.
Many coronavirus cases are fairly mild and some don’t even produce symptoms. Thus, the surge in cases is only a major concern if it’s resulting in a surge in hospitalizations and, most importantly, deaths.
So far, there hasn’t been a surge in deaths, but there has been an increase. Last week, there were more than 700 deaths attributed to the virus on five days and more than 800 such deaths on four of the five days (with a high of 993 deaths on July 7). Before that, there had been more than 700 deaths attributed to the virus on only six of the previous 20 days, and no days with more than 800 deaths since June 23.
It’s been only three weeks since the number of reported cases per day in the U.S. began spiking significantly. Thus, it’s easy to imagine deaths from the virus accelerating in the coming weeks, even though it’s likely that a high percentage of the new reported cases involve people in fairly low risk populations.
It’s possible, however, for the daily death count to remain flat or even decrease significantly in the face of a spike in reported cases. Consider Sweden.
Sweden chose not to go on lockdown. It relied on voluntary measures, i.e., people looking out for themselves. High schools and universities closed, but younger children stayed in school, shops remained open, and Swedes were encouraged to stay a few feet away from each other, but weren’t required to do so.
Sweden experienced a spike in reported coronavirus cases that was well in excess of neighboring countries. In mid-to-late June, the number of such cases was around 1,500 per day, double its number in mid-to-late May.
Sweden also experienced an extraordinarily high number of deaths on a per capita basis. Yet the daily death count in Sweden has been declining steadily since early-to-mid April — a three month period. On April 15, Sweden matched its daily high death total of 155. A month later, with the number of new cases rising, the number of deaths was 57. Another month later, at or near the peak of reported new cases, the number was 29. In recent days, nearly a month after the peak in new cases, the number of deaths attributed to the virus has been in single digits.
All of this, in the absence of a government-ordered lockdown.
Will the U.S. escape a large spike in deaths, corresponding with the spike in cases, the way Sweden so far has? It would be foolish to hazard a guess — all the more so because we don’t know how testing in the U.S. compares to testing in Sweden. All we can say with any degree of confidence is that a large spike in deaths doesn’t seem inevitable.
The U.S. confronts at least one factor that Sweden doesn’t. We’re a much larger country. Thus, deaths can decline to roughly zero in one hot spot, but surge in another. This makes it unlikely, in the foreseeable future, that the daily death count in the U.S. will plummet the way Sweden’s has. But maybe it will remain stable or decline.
But maybe not.