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Mortality during explosive epidemic
Death rate doubles if the sick get no care
I hate being like CNN or MSNBC and to even utter the dreaded sentence “overwhelmed hospitals”. I feel like this is March of 2000 all over again, with the stupid talk that never materialized, and now I am suckered into the same discourse.
I wrote several separate articles about hospital utilization, how Covid is not to blame for current hospital capacity problems, how it is the vaxxed who are taking up hospital beds with colds from hell and heart problems, etc. So I am not out there waving the “hospitals are getting full” flag and begging people to take useless mRNA boosters.
But, at the same time, I try to be a realist and model reality. So let’s model Omicron for a minute.
Assume, for ease of calculation, that it reproduces in our society, without tyrannical lockdowns, at the rate of 10 times increase per week. The actual rate is probably close to that and may be 8 times per week or some such. We do not know the exact number and it is not important. What is important is that Omicron is very contagious and almost nullifies vaccine protections by evading Spike-antibodies. It also infects covid recovered, at about three times the usual reinfection rate (so perhaps 3-5%), according to one newspaper article.
If so, we can do a little modeling. It is easy for the beginning stage of the pandemic, which resembles an exponential curve. Note that the “epidemic curve” always eventually starts bending down and resembles a “bell”, but the beginning looks exponential.
This is how Omicron wave looks like:
So you can see that it rises FAR more steeply than the previous waves.
Making a crazy assumption, for a moment, that we do not change our behavior and do not get locked down, this kind of growth rate puts us into uncharted territory.
For example, let’s say that today, December 8, 2021, we have 1,000 cases of Omicron in the USA. A week later, we will have 10,000, another week later 100,000 and in three weeks (by New Year) it will be a million total cases. Growing by about 40 percent per day, this would be 400,000 new cases per day. A week later it is 4 million cases per day.
Again, this is just a little numbers exercise to get a feel of the scale of the problem. Without a doubt, some attempts will be made to “lock down”, which might slow down the pandemic, perhaps, to about 3 times per week growth.
In any case, it is clear that in 4 weeks, we will have a big pandemonium, with the number of sick exceeding anything that we experienced.
In my earlier article, I said that Omicron may be twice as deadly as Delta. But that is assuming “all things being equal”, specifically that Omicron patients get hospital care as the Delta patients do right now. You can put forth a good case that Covid patients are not treated well, are not given proper early treatments or even proper late treatments. And you would be totally right.
But even with what we have, the number of Delta deaths would be probably double if Delta patients could not receive any hospital care. With the Omicron patients, if hospitals get actually overwhelmed (and extra beds will not help if there is no personnel), the fatality rate can easy double over what it would be with adequate medical care.
Earlier I described possible US fatality rate from Omicron as 2.5-3.2%. But that’s assuming people get cared for medically.
So a million of sick patients who fell ill on a particular day, who are not getting medical care, could end up having double the fatality rate — such as 5% fatality rate. This means, shockingly, that out of the 1 million sickened on this day, 50,000 people would die on average two-three weeks later.
Even a 2% fatality rate would translate into 20,000 deaths per day. To remind you, during the worst of the last winter pandemic, we would lose 4,400 persons per day maximum. Here we are talking about numbers an order of magnitude higher.
Important: almost no projections such as the above ever come true. They either come way below, or very rarely way above. There are very powerful reasons why we may not see crazy numbers like 20-50,000 casualties per day: the most important reason is that people get scared and hide out at home, or are mandated to. This slows the infection rate down.
However, we need to be supplied with food, electricity, trucking, fuel, etc and at least a half of all workers (the “essential” ones) have to work unless we want dire economic collapse. And essential workers have families. In addition, everyone is tired of the pandemic, lockdowns, etc. Fatalistic attitudes abound, including in your humble servant. I shopped maskless at my local Walmart today. People still want to visit friends, work, date, shop etc.
Thus, we cannot lock everyone down and so the epidemic growth rate will at best be a half of uncontrolled rate. Lockdowns cannot stop something as contagious. We will talk about lockdowns and “policy responses” later. And even if the rate of growth is a half (5 per week), the results will be similar. The point of this article is to underscore that something so extremely contagious can lead to fairly calamitous short term consequences as described.
The most dangerous aspect of Omicron is that it appears to be extremely airborne, sort of like chickenpox. If so, persons living in multifamily housing will likely NOT be able to hide out at all.
This means that, whatever the growth rate, if vaccinated and Covid-naive people are unprotected and covid recovered are only somewhat protected, we are in for a very wild ride of unknown magnitude.
Again, this is not a reason to despair, we were through worse pandemics such as smallpox in South America, or the plague in the Middle Ages. But we might see crazy death numbers like 20-50,000 deaths per day and feel like these people: