There may be a strange silver lining to Trump’s complete abandonment of all efforts to mitigate the raging conronavirus outbreak in the United States. It is possible that within a few weeks of President Elect taking office, the combination of increasing daily infections and the first 40 or so million vaccinations, the United States may in fact see the beginning of herd immunity.
There will be a tragic cost to this gift. Daily deaths just broke the 2000 mark for the first time since early May. With detected cases about to hit break the 200,000 level and little sign of abating we can expect deaths to continue to climb to over 3000, breaking the record of a little of 2700 in one day set on April 21st.
In my recent post I suggest a simple way of calculating the number of infections in the US. The cumulative number of cases reported each day in the media are based on confirmed cases from Coronavirus tests. But as I explain on the post of Case Fatality Rates, these counts vastly underestimate the true number of infections going on in the community. Instead I use an estimated Infection Fatality Rate of 0.5% to calculate the number of likely infections based on the number of deaths. An Infection Fatality Rate of 0.5%, means that there are on average 200 infections for each death. This generates an estimate of 50 million infection in the United States to date.
250,000 deaths x 200 (infections per death) = 50,000,000 likely infections in the U.S.
If, the US averages 2,500 deaths per day over the next 90 days, a rate we are rapidly approaching that would mean an addition 45 million infections.
2,500 daily deaths x 90 days x 200 infections per death = 45,000,000 new infections
The 50 million already infected, plus 45 more million over the next 90 days, plus 40 million people treated with newly released vaccines brings us to a total of 135 million people with some form of immunity, either from recovering from infection or from being vaccinated. This will represent over 40% of the U.S. population.
Though most estimates of herd immunity talk about needing 50 to 60% immunity. Even before full herd immunity is reached, it gets easier and easier to control the virus as we approach the level of immunity needed to achieve herd immunity. All you have to do is think about the concern for spreading infections at large gatherings this Thanksgiving. If an infected person is indoors and in close contact with others and no-one is wearing masks we can expect a high rate of new infections. However, if 40% of the guests are immune due to prior infection or vaccines, than the number of new infections created by that Thanksgiving event will be 40% smaller. It might not totally prevent new infections, but 40% existing immunity would greatly reduce the number of new infections.
In this way, if infections and deaths continue to climb as they have been for the last couple of months, we can expect that management of the virus will become substantially easier within the first couple months of the Biden Presidency. Like President Trump prematurely predicted many months ago, and like the 1918 influenza in November of 1919, one day we will wake up and suddenly the outbreak of Coronavirus will be disappearing.
This is not to say the Trump’s lack of a conronavirus strategy, or perhaps his “secret” pursuit of a herd immunity strategy was a sound scientific strategy. Quite the contrary, as I outline in my post the The Great Barrington Declaration, any rational use of a herd immunity strategy would involve first establishing additional protections for those at high risk. It would also involve strategies for mitigating the inevitable stress such a strategy would put on the medical system. So for example it might have involved pre-planned “mini-10-day- shutdowns” when a critical ICU capacity was reached in local hospitals. But nothing like that was done, so the nation will face some very dark days in the coming few months because of the federal abandonment of any responsibility for coordination a response to this pandemic.