Can Covid go Exponential from here?

(Coronavirus Update 14 Jan 2021)

 Hello folks. I just did an update less than a week ago and I do updates based upon anything new I might happen to unearth in regional, national and world news on Covid. I have recently returned to trying to watch this pandemic more closely since just after Thanksgiving when I noticed increases in cases worldwide. I follow Covid related information on the CDC and WHO websites. I also have access to some research abstracts from a variety of sources without pay walls  and on a variety of other websites that most of you may be familiar with such as woroldometer , The Covid Tracking project at the ATLANTIC, and particularly our excellent Wyoming Covid site: Tetonwy covid response overview. My wife opens that website every morning and she pointed out the recent jump in daily cases from about 12/day at Christmas to now over 60/day. That marks a 5X increase in about the last 2 or 3 weeks. I also happened to notice that Ireland in about the same time period experienced a 30X(!!!) jump in cases along with continued increases in the UK. This merits a graph:

Yowza! Our recent Wyoming spike bears a morphological similarity to this Ireland disaster spike but instead of 30X it is just 5X:

I am sorry I can’t insert this graph but click it to view if you wish. Here is a headline on CNBC today that caught my eye along with a comment from Larry Kudlow, one of the resident economic geniuses in the Trump administration:

“Up to 30% of Americans may be infected with coronavirus by year-end,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb says.

White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said Tuesday that the U.S. has “contained” the threat of a domestic coronavirus outbreak”, breaking with the warnings of officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We have contained this, I won’t say airtight but pretty close to airtight,” Kudlow told CNBC’s Kelly Evans on Tuesday afternoon.

SO with this I decided to look at what data Larry Kudlow and Scott Gottlieb were referring to at the CDC  and I found this graph of current and projected cases.

The first thing I noticed was that it sure didn’t look like Ireland or Teton County and I wondered why. ….Text from the CDC website:

  • This week, CDC received forecasts of new reported COVID-19 cases over the next 4 weeks from 32 modeling groups that were included in the ensemble forecasts.
  • This week’s national ensemble predicts that 900,000 to 1,800,000 new cases will likely be reported in the week ending January 30, 2021.
  • The state- and territory-level ensemble forecasts predict that over the next 4 weeks, the number of new reported cases per week will likely decrease in 8 jurisdictions, which are indicated in the forecast plots below. Trends in numbers of future reported cases are uncertain or predicted to remain stable in the other states and territories. There are 32 models displayed here!

I wondered how they came to this prediction based upon what seemed to be happening not just in Teton County and Ireland but in England, Europe, and hot spots in the US like CA and AZ.  If you click on countries in Worldometer to check their cases graph, you will notice that even formerly well contained countries like Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden have exponential curves. Everything in these jurisdictions seemed to be going exponential;. By the way I need to insert a famous quotation from Albert Einstein which has been patently obvious for this whole pandemic:”The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.”

Gottlieb in that CNBC article said that about a third of the US has either had the vaccine, an asymptomatic infection or a symptomatic infection and with the hopeful increase in vaccine production we may be peaking based upon the cdc models.

So here is how I think the models break down (this from several sources and one recent blog:

10 million Americans have had asymptomatic covid

23 million have tested positive for Covid

5 million or more are immunized and more each day

And get this: 70 million have already had Covid with symptoms but decided not to get tested and ride it out.(????)

There. That’s your 1/3 that Scott Gottlieb is talking about. If his educated guesses are right you can make a plausible argument that the graph may be right. But I don’t buy it.

 Here is my take on this. Even if these numbers are correct this projection does not seem to take into account the variants of the Corona virus now starting to sweep the world: The UK and the S. African variants seem to be far more communicable (40-70%) than the Wuhan virus.  Increase in percentage is VERY IMPORTANT , as it is percentage increases or decreases that form the basis of exponential functions. I have read reassuring comments from a variety of political and media sources that it may be no more lethal even if it is more communicable.  Comments like this are absolutely nuts because just a 50% increase in communicability changes the shape of an exponential curve drastically in a short period of time. Another question I have asked but rarely answered is what does an increase in communicability really mean?  I have read that it may mean that the virus binds more tightly to the ACE Receptors primarily in the Respiratory tract. It probably also means that a smaller inoculum may be needed to induce disease in that case and just those two factors are enough to kickstart new and larger  outbreaks. If the variants bind more tightly in the lung will they bind more tightly in the heart or gut as well? Will that alter the percentage of people  becoming “Long Haulers?” These are just some of the speculative questions that occur to me.  Will the vaccines work as well on these new variants? Pfizer seems confident their vaccine will handle these few mutations so far elaborated by genomic testing. Well it turns out that there are not just single mutations on these viruses. The UK has had 23 and the S. African at least 21.(Sorry…lost that source).

Somebody else must have noticed these tidbits I am throwing out and questions I am raising and I am certain they have, but questions like these tend to undermine trust in the Trump Warpspeed Rollout. The Trumpian response to the epidemic has been botched from the very first press conference almost a year ago and trust is not a word that can be associated with his administration. “Mistakes have been made,” as the politicians love to say and of course I hope that a new administration might reduce the frequency of mistakes but there is a lot of complexity and unknowns around this pandemic and what we believe today may be rejected tomorrow. Think System theory also. The mistakes made have stemmed from structural failures of the entire system and not just individual mistakes.

  One of the long standing questions in epidemiology is why bacteria and viruses behave the way they do. Basically they are smart little buggers. Their goal like most of us is more reproduction. The more individuals they can infect, the more successful they become. If they become more lethal that becomes self defeating. If the host dies, they die. The host’s immune system fight back with antibodies to stay alive and kill the invaders which often prompts a retaliatory response from the microorganisms. And so it goes.But I digress………

    I will take up and elaborate  in future posts issues such as immune responses, new vaccine and treatment options , changes we need to make to our Public Health System as well as big picture questions I have covered for years about how this little detour in the trajectory of the civilization affects our future. Stay tuned.



Published by Rendezvous Mountain Farm

I was born in Cascade county Montana and raised in a dozen Air Force SAC bases. I attended Holy Cross,West Point and UNC in Chapel Hill(MD"71). Army doc in the last years of the Viet Nam fiasco. My wife and I live in a log cabin I built from standing dead lodgepole trees we cut from Shadow Mountain and regional local timber in 1976 . I've done a dozen different jobs including construction, boat building,magazine writing and commercial fishing and retired from the Emergency and Operating Room in 2004. We manage a small diversified organic farm including leased land which totals about 40 acres in the Jackson Hole valley. We raise a variety of livestock which includes some heritage breeds of animals and poultry. We grow most of our food and forage. Our land is irrigated from Granite Creek and the Snake River and we raise and bale our own organic hay. We supplement with food collected from Jackson Hole Food rescue which is mostly dairy, bread and past date vegetables and food from the grocery stores and restaurants.

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