COVID-19 numbers are dropping everywhere. Like rocks.
To be clear, when we say everywhere, we mean everywhere. Not just in St. Louis County, not just in Missouri, not just in the Midwest, not just in the United States, not just in the northern hemisphere. Everywhere, worldwide, numbers are dropping like rocks.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), new infections dropped by 16% worldwide last week. Every single region in the world saw declines. Majority White, majority Black, majority Asian, rich, poor, Christian, Muslim, warm climates, cold climates – everywhere saw declining numbers.
To be clear, when we say numbers, we mean all numbers. Not just total infections, but positivity rates, deaths and hospitalizations. Deaths worldwide dropped 10% last week according to the WHO.
All numbers, in all areas, are going in the right direction. Great news, right? It is, except for one problem: Nobody knows why the numbers are improving so much. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been told to follow the science. Listen to the science, trust the experts, do what the science is telling us to do except that right now, as numbers are finally, mercifully trending downward, science is basically throwing up its hands and saying, “Yeah, we’re not sure what is going on.”
It isn’t the vaccines. The vaccines give us long term hope, but they have not made this kind of impact. Not yet anyway. Some 130 countries, home to 2.5 billion people, have yet to administer a single vaccine. In the United States, just over 11% of the population has been vaccinated. That cannot account for the 26% drop in new cases the U.S. saw last week. Former CDC Director Tom Frieden said he doesn’t believe that COVID-19 vaccines at this time are “having much of an impact at all on case rates.”
It isn’t masks and social distancing, either. Those things help, and there was a definite spike in numbers after the holidays, but there is no chance that we have seen a worldwide behavioral change toward stricter adherence.
Some scientists point toward seasonality, but it isn’t the same season everywhere on the globe right now. Some less optimistic scientists are saying that the decline in new cases could be related to a decline in testing. OK, but that wouldn’t account for the decline in hospitalizations or deaths.
And before you ask, no it also isn’t because Donald Trump is out of office or Joe Biden is in office. Biden is doing a fine job modeling mask wearing, but it is highly unlikely he has changed the behavior of a single member of the MAGA crowd.
Different scientists have different theories, and where there are many different theories there is no conclusion. It means that right now we cannot really follow science, because science has no real idea what is going on. That is OK and it is understandable. Viruses are highly complex, they mutate, the science and data are constantly changing. We will get it figured out and science will eventually be able to explain what is happening. They just can’t right now.
So what can be learned from all this, what should our next steps be? Well, where science doesn’t have definite answers, we should let common sense rule the day.
Masks and personal hygiene make a ton of sense and should be continued. High risk persons should continue to take high levels of care. But we need to stop placing relatively arbitrary restrictions on businesses and claim that it is justified by science.
Take Florida and California as an example. The two states took completely opposite approaches to the pandemic. California had extreme lockdowns. They banned outdoor dining at one point, for goodness’ sake. Florida, on the other hand, was just as extreme in protecting business’s ability to operate. They made it illegal for local governments to restrict capacity by more than 50%.
What are the results? Adjusted for population, the two states have nearly identical results. California has 24 hospitalizations per 100,000 people. Florida has 22. California has seen about 8,822 cases per 100,000 people. Florida is at 8,508. Given that the outcomes are similar, should we not lean toward allowing businesses to operate? After all, that’s what the science is telling us to do.