Last week, the number of new reported infections from the coronavirus reached the approximate number of new reported infections in early February of this year. Very few would have imagined that the reported infection numbers with 70 percent of adults fully vaccinated would be comparable to what the numbers were when less than 10 percent of adults had been, especially given the likelihood that more covid tests were being administered back then.
These surprising numbers are a reminder of the unpredictability of the coronavirus. They should induce humility from those opining about matters relating to the virus — a quality sorely lacking on both sides of the political spectrum.
The vast majority of new infections involve the Delta (or India) variant. How deadly is that variant compared to the Wuhan version?
Among the non-vaccinated, there is evidence suggesting that the Delta variant is at least as deadly as its predecessor, that it inflicts serious damage more quickly, and that it affects certain organs to a greater degree. Among the vaccinated, the evidence so far supports the view that the risk of severe illness and/or death is extremely low.
Let’s look at the number of reported deaths per day from the virus in the U.S. The latest numbers are in the 500 to 750 range. That’s more than double the number from this time last month. However, it’s much lower than the number in early February when new reported infections were about the same as now. One must go back more than a year to find pre-vaccine daily death numbers as low as the current ones.
With new reported cases having risen so recently, we can expect the daily death count soon to rise some more. But it seems likely that, as long as it’s the Delta variant and other existing known variants that are causing the infections, these deaths will be mostly among those who have elected not to be vaccinated.
The UK experienced a sharp increase in new cases last month. In fact, new reported cases reached a level not seen there since early January of this year, at the peak of the UK pandemic.
This spike has not produced a large number of daily deaths in absolute terms — fewer than 100 per day. However, the number of daily deaths from the virus has more than doubled in the past month.
The number of new cases in the UK is falling now, yet another outcome many did not expect. Should we expect the same thing to happen here?
Maybe. As in the U.S., the surge in UK cases involved primarily the Delta variant.
But the answer probably depends on the explanation for the decrease in UK cases (which may or may not continue). Unfortunately, it’s not clear what that explanation is.
We know more about virus politics than about the future of the virus itself. Rising infection and death numbers mean trouble for the Democrats nationally (the Washington Post reports that the virus surge has “alarmed Democrats” as the midterm elections begin to take shape) and for governors of states that experience them. Slow economic growth due to virus-based restrictions and/or fears means trouble, as well.
Each party will blame the other, but I doubt that the excuses offered, whether valid or not, will have much impact on the electorate.
In my opinion, this unpredictable virus, not public policy, will be the key determinant of whether it’s possible to have low death and serious illness numbers and robust economic growth at the same time.