Rapid COVID-19 Growth Results in Scary Numbers on Halloween

COVID-19 test
Medical personnel prepare to give a COVID-19 test.

On Thursday, the U.S. surpassed 9 million cases of coronavirus infection, with a record 90,446 reported in the prior 24 hours.  However, there were only 1,004 reported deaths.  On Friday, the U.S. came close to 100,000 cases with the New York Times reporting 98,859 cases, but only 971 deaths.

Compare these numbers to the 2,300 deaths per day in April when there were only around 30,000 cases per day.  If you do the math, you’ll find the death rate per known case was about 6 or 7 times higher six months ago.

Even if we look at the rates one month ago, on September 30, the number of cases has doubled while the number of deaths is up less than 9 percent.  It is unclear exactly why the death rate is lower than previously, but here are some possible answers:

  • Deaths lag cases as it takes a few weeks for those reported ill to get very sick and die from COVID-19.  If this is the case, then deaths should soar over the next two weeks.
  • More people are being tested and most cases today are in people with only minor symptoms or no symptoms.
  • Younger people are catching the virus but are less likely to get sick.  For example, despite the hundreds of thousands of students going back to college this fall, only three have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 and there has been only one reported death.
  • As we better understand the virus, treatments improve and more patients recover.
  • Flu and similar illnesses are being reported as COVID-19, or the tests picks up flu, which is also a coronavirus, and reports the flu as COVID-19.
  • Some combination of the above

Rapidly Rising European Numbers Lead to Lockdowns

When we look at the total picture, the globe now has more than 45 million reported cases, with more than 500,000 cases reported three days in a row, topping out with 565,797 reported in the past 24 hours.  Europe is now responsible for more cases and more deaths on a daily basis than the U.S. 

France and Spain, both with more than 1 million cases, are about to be joined by the UK, which is reporting 992,878 cases.  Most European countries have implemented some kind of lockdown, France is telling people to stay home except to buy essential goods, but is allowing people who cannot work from home to go to work.  The lockdown in Paris is so strict that it led to waves of people leaving the city, enough to cause traffic jams. 

According anonymous sources in news reports, the UK may announce a new lockdown on Monday.  Germany has already ordered restaurants, bars, gyms and other non-essential businesses closed.  Belgium, where they have seen more than 15,000 cases in a single day, is a growing hot spot, as is Poland with 18,820 cases, as is the Czech republic with 15,663.  Belgium is going into lockdown through December 13.

While cases in the U.S. are predominantly among young people, Europe is seeing case growth in the over-65 population.  His may be because there are more multi-generational households in Europe and younger members who are asymptomatic spread the disease to their parents and grandparents.  This does not bode well for the holiday season, where families traditionally get together with loved ones.  Most European lockdowns do not include schools, and my feeling is that the elderly will continue to get sick as long as they live in homes with school-age children.

Protect the Elderly

I spoke to a 70 year-old man today who joked that he fenced his yard to keep the dogs in but now he is penned in with them as his wife refuses to let him go outside the fence due to rising COVID-19 cases in their state.  I think it is smart for anyone getting up there in years, especially those with heart disease or other serious illnesses, to minimize contact and go into self-imposed quarantine. 

You can minimize exposure and avenues for infection by ordering food from restaurants to be delivered or trying the contactless pickup of takeout offered by some places.  Groceries can be ordered online for local delivery and while some of these programs were overwhelmed in April, they have reportedly used the time since them to improve their performance.  Other stores have rolled our free delivery plans, like Walmart+, to help minimize the need to be physically present in a store.

Once the election is over and things settle down, expect states to roll out regulations and restrictions that may impact your holidays.  Plan your Christmas shopping and your holiday meal grocery shopping well ahead of time and be prepared for more unsettled times.  We’ll persevere, but don’t be surprised by bumps in the road or let them throw you off track.