We are daily deluged with reports of the spread of new cases of COVID-19.
The fear level (as opposed to the just good sense level, which includes routine precautions such as masks and hand washing) is astronomical.
But one potentially encouraging COVID-19 statistic is being overlooked consistently: the death rate from the virus is plummeting. The New York Times did at least take note of the falling death rate amid a rising number of new cases:
In April and May, Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, led to as many as 3,000 deaths per day, and claimed the lives of roughly 7 to 8 percent of Americans known to have been infected. The number of daily deaths is now closer to 600, and the death rate is less than 5 percent.
In general, experts see three broad reasons for the downward trend in the rate of coronavirus deaths: testing, treatment and a shift in whom the virus is infecting. The relative contribution of these factors is not yet clear.
And because death reports can lag diagnoses by weeks, the current rise in coronavirus cases could still portend increases in mortality in the days to come.
Yes, there is a lag in death certificates being filed and we should be cautious about the fall in death rates. But at this point it is very real. I looked around for stories, and here is a typical report from Utah’s Deseret News:
In early June, the daily average new case number rose from 200 to 400. That happened about two weeks after restrictions were lifted when Utah moved into its “yellow,” or low-risk phase in the pandemic. Since then, the Beehive State for the past two weeks has confirmed an average of more than 500 new cases each day.
But at the same time, the state’s hospitalization rate is falling. While that rate once stood at about 8%, it is now about 6.3%, according to Utah Department of Health data. Meanwhile, the state’s death rate of confirmed cases has fallen to 0.75%, down from 1.07% in early May.
The CDC’s weekly report also acknowledges a decline in the death rate (while stating that this could change as more death certificates are processed).
This is not to say that getting COVID-19 is a picnic, even if you are young and in the pink of health. But falling death rates are significant and, should this trend continue, a turning point.
Why is it being so underplayed?
Well, for one thing, a possible contributing factor is that we are learning to deal with the virus. Treatments are better, we now know that requiring nursing homes to accept infected patients can be deadly, so we are more careful. But this implies something that would be a bitter pill for the media: it would indicate that we are doing something right.
Without impugning anybody’s integrity, may I just note that many people seem to have a vested interest raising the fear level? Again, I am not talking about abandoning caution. I am talking about gut level fear, such as I saw in the face of a luncheon partner last week when I casually mentioned that I had been to church. She was clearly terrified that I might have picked up the infection at church.
Sean Trende of RCP suggests that President Trump’s electoral fate will hinge on two V-shaped recoveries. One is the jobs recovery. The other is the virus:
The second V is related to the first: whether there is a V-shaped recovery in COVID-19 cases. If you’ve been paying attention to the news, many states are seeing an acceleration in cases, especially in the South and Southwest. The exact cause of this is unknown; it could be people retreating indoors to beat the heat, it could be a refusal to wear masks, but regardless, the acceleration is real. If this continues through November — if parts of the country begin to resemble New York last winter — the president will likely feel the heat.
Regardless, if the curve bends in these states soon, and then cases abate through the fall, the memory of these outbreaks will likely fade. However, if Arizona is the next New York, and things spread into Colorado and Nevada, the president will pay the price.
Right now, Trump is an underdog for reelection. It would be foolish to write him off, however. At the same time, his fate is not entirely in his hands.
The media has a huge incentive to bury the falling death rate.