So does the US have a fourth wave of the Kovid pandemic? Michael Osterhome of the University of Minnesota predicted a ‘Category 5 hurricane’ this spring. For some, this level of alarm can be justified by looking at the hard-hit Michigan. But Paul Affit of Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia is also right in his optimistic view that vaccines will largely tame the epidemic from this stage. After all, U.S. mortality rates and hospitals are not rising and may not return to those close to the fall / winter peak.
Predictions have become a roaring test, where people can find doom or hope or reassurance. But what is clear is that public health officials do not really know why this epidemic is coming here and falling there.
It is no longer acceptable that all this is happening because of mask orders or by tightening or loosening the restrictions more widely. If only the limits and rules were in the game, the current surge would not be in Michigan, but in a more aggressively reopened state like Texas or Florida. Cases are not as high as in the previous virtue, Maine and Vermont. Why are cases on the rise in Canada now?
In an interview last month, UCSF doctor Vinay Prasad brought up some of the factors that affect regional and national waves. One is the initial conditions. In the first wave, some northeastern states had much quieter cases than others, so cases were higher in New York and New England, despite tougher policies.
Another variants. It is unfortunate that more people with the Michigan virus infection, B.1.1.7, are being seeded.
Then there may be more complex seasonal effects than temperature fluctuations. Scientists suggest environmental factors ranging from pollen exposure to air conditioning to humidity.
Prasad said regional differences in Kovid peaks also reflect irregularities in the way cases are reported. There are huge differences for the state depending on how many people are tested, which people are tested and how many positives are raised.
And then there’s the plain random possibility — perhaps the hardest thing people can say or accept.
Prasad says there is a constant bias towards pessimistic predictions, because in the epidemiological society, there is a sort of moral exception to forming overly terrible predictions. If you are less prone to cases, hospitalizations or deaths, you are less likely to see an epidemic of “and you villain”.
Then there is the umption that our extracurricular activities are the main driver of cases – this may be true but does not support the data. Mask orders mostly affect the mask worn outdoors, where many experts say the benefit is minimal. Unauthorized people still wear Florida to supermarkets, and people on Rule-Following Rhode Island get sick at private meetings where orders are not much.
Prasad sees bias towards limitations as part of a broader bias in the medical community that overestimates the power of intervention. If a person has cancer that is never malignant, and has extensive treatment, for example, that person will die if left untreated. If you indicate that some cancer screenings are leading to unnecessary treatment, you have been accused of being cancer-friendly.
Peter Sandman, a risk communication consultant, said piping has also become an acceptable method in the public health community. The idea is that it is okay to mislead people to promote healthy behavior. Large and small losses are lumped together.
It may not work well with the pandemic. Some have decided to ignore public health advice altogether, while others fear being hypervigilant.
A story in the Wall Street Journal this week, for example, profiled people who were too scared to return to work. Many said they took stay-at-home orders so seriously that they never left home except to attend family meetings. These individuals were not informed that walking or going to the store were far less risky compared to indoor meetings — whether they were with family or not.
Although we cannot predict the size or timing of the next wave, public health officials know that the disease can be killed as long as some people do not qualify for the vaccine or get one. This is a good time to focus the message on what you know about the dangers, and stay ahead of what you do not yet understand.
Faye Flam Bloomberg Opinion Columnist.