Of Covid-19, Lockdowns, Masks, and Fatality Rates

Here’s the best overall wrap-up of the actual data that I’ve seen. Worth checking all the linked articles, particularly the Financial Times piece on Sweden, and Daniel Horowitz’s wrap-up of the data on masks and their actual (vs. theoretical) effectiveness in preventing virus spread.

In case you want the TL;DR version re: masks, see this review of the CDC guidelines summary. In short: N95 masks–if anyone had them–are useful in stopping something like Covid, but the cloth/surgical ones everyone is wearing don’t actually do much to stop Covid transmission.

Despite everyone’s diligence and best intentions, it looks like the only thing which stops Covid from spreading is letting 15-25% of the population catch it, trigger an immune response, and (in almost all cases) shrug off the effects. It then becomes harder to pass on to the next person, and the overall infection rate tapers off, along the lines suggested by of Farr’s Law on epidemics.

Within this framework, I’d like to believe that it’s still possible to largely shield old folks from catching the disease, and that seems to be where our energy ought to be devoted. But as hard as we all tried to live in our little hermetic bubbles, there’s been virtually no correlation between lockdown efforts and the overall fatality rates, world-over. At great economic and human cost, it’s been possible to delay infection, but in the end, there’s been no stopping it from working its way through the populations, even of countries like Peru which used a heavily militarized approach to ensure enforcement of their draconian lockdown measures.

Source: John Hopkins University

Mask use seems similarly ineffective. See if you can spot the correlation between mask use and deaths/100,000 in the scatter graph below. If you can, I’ll buy you the socially-distanced drink of your choice:

So what are we to do?

I can’t believe I’m typing this, but as an American, I’m jealous of Sweden. They didn’t lock down, and didn’t destroy their economy. Instead, they took their hit, moved on, and now their Covid death rate is now essentially nil.

For all practical purposes, Covid in Sweden is done. Hell, they were done almost two months ago:

Source: Worldometer

As for us, at least the trend lines say we’re well on our way to reducing this to a tolerable nuisance in life, even given the incentives to overcount on both infections and deaths:

Source: CDC. Green trend lines added to emphasize post-inflection direction.

Granted, all of this is as of September 14th, 2020, and things can change. At this point, though, my money is on the trends continuing until it falls into the range of “background threat” of a type with the seasonal flu. Covid-19’s never going away entirely, but it’s far past time for us to drop the posturing and political shenanigans associated with it and get back to living life.

…but given the nature of politics (and that this thing long ago morphed into an issue more political than public health-related), I for one, am not holding my breath.

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