Pandemic blog: is this as over as it gets?

Here’s the UW Smart Restart tracker, showing the number of positive COVID tests among students and faculty since August:

And here’s the Dane County dashboard, showing positive tests per week over the whole course of the pandemic:

and deaths per month:

The future of COVID is going to be one where just about everyone has acquired some immunity to the virus, whether by vaccination or infection. In Madison, that future’s already here. 83% of everyone over 18 and 94% of everyone over 65 in Dane County has received two doses of COVID vaccine. We have vaccinated away most of the risk of COVID death here, and you can see it very clearly in the numbers.

On the other hand, people are still getting COVID. Cases aren’t blowing up but they’re also not going away. Once the more contagious delta variant set in, people started catching it, even among our 95%-vaxxed student body, and even in a city where — I know this, I just went to Fargo, remember? — people are substantially more likely than most places to be suppressing COVID transmission.

You hear a lot about removing COVID restrictions triggered on a reduction to levels of new cases below what the CDC classifies as “substantial,” which is 50 cases per 100K people over a 7-day period. Is that actually going to happen? I think it’s fair to ask: even once almost everyone has some immunity build-up, whether through vaccination or repeated infection or vaccination and repeated infection, are we going to get to case rates below “substantial?” We certainly haven’t in Dane County. There are only a few places in the US where cases are that low right now, and most of them are in places that just suffered a severe wave of COVID cases and deaths.

So one possibility is this: cases stay substantial forever, and because the people who want to be vaccinated get vaccinated, and because we are at last getting treatments that seem to be really effective for really sick patients, the toll of COVID gets much lower.

I don’t want to say that’s obviously true. I have learned my lesson about predicting this stuff. Another possible story is that COVID waves are geographically correlated (which is clearly true) and that cases in Dane County have stayed steady because of the large numbers of people nearby taking no vaccine or no precautions. On that account, the minor wave Wisconsin is experiencing now will die away just as the much bigger wave in the South did, and case rates could be low for good once that happens.

Maybe! But I think we have to be open to the possibility that this is as over as it gets.

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6 thoughts on “Pandemic blog: is this as over as it gets?

  1. gershon says:

    Over, shmover. I had 2 shots in April & May, and I just got a full blown delta breaktrhough case.

  2. Noah Snyder says:

    Yeah, I don’t think that’s under 50 a week per 100K is ever going to happen (at least not in any sustained way). For example, I tried to do this calculation with flu recently and I think flu rarely goes below that threshold nationwide. I think it’s reasonable to think at this point that covid just always stays roughly in the 10-70 new infections per 100K per day range forever. I think once everyone has gotten vaccinated or gotten it, the hospitalization rates from that will be manageable. The number of people hospitalized for pneumonia will be up 50% or so from the pre-covid baseline, but since pneumonia isn’t the only illness that shouldn’t overly stress hopsitals.

  3. Noah Snyder says:

    For example, Florida bottomed out very close to that 50 per 100K per week threshold, and is now either plateauing or coming slightly back up again. I think stabilizing at around that 50 per week number is an optimistic scenario. I’d guess we’re headed for something like a yearly average of double that number.

  4. @gershon Were you hospitalized and ventilated? No? Then it wasn’t a “full-blown” breakthrough case.
    And we already know that vaccine immunity wanes after six months.

  5. Yiftach says:

    Just out of curiosity any idea how wearing masks and other caution measures affected flu or anything else?

  6. Richard Séguin says:

    Yiftach – Last winter, when most people were wearing masks in public, the number of influenza cases remained way below typical seasonal numbers. The fear for this winter is that relaxed masking mandates could enable influenza to surge as usual. Since influenza can also lead to hospitalization for pneumonia, the combined COVID and influenza hospitalizations could seriously tax hospitals.

    just different – I’m not sure there is an official definition of “full blown delta breakthrough.” A COVID infection can give you severe, even damaging, symptoms that don’t necessarily require intubation. That’s full blown enough for me. And those post-viral “long haul” symptoms from even milder cases can be life altering. A few decades ago I had personal experience with post-viral symptoms following a respiratory infection. Not fun.

    I got the third Pfizer shot about a month ago.

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