5 COVID-19 Myths Americans Need to Stop Believing

This post was written by guest writer, Ferdinand Schön. He is sharing facts with links to his credible sources in the hopes of educating others and debunking these 5 COVID-19 Myths Americans Need to Stop Believing. Born and raised in Germany, he moved to America several years after meeting and marrying his American wife in Germany. He is concerned with the daily increase in COVID-19 cases that are being recorded in Texas, his state of residence.

Ferdinand fears that if Texans and other Americans continue to believe in and perpetuate these myths then the second wave will be even more devastating, from an economic recovery standpoint, and the healthcare challenges will be greater. Personally, there will greater unnecessary risk for other families and his own. Please read!!

5 COVID-19 Myths Americans Need to Stop Believing

Myth 1: We are through the worst of the pandemic!

While many people say and act as though the worst of the pandemic is over (especially from the leadership in the country as well as many states), this is just not true. Unfortunately, most states in the US have not gone through the worst of the pandemic yet.

If you look at the new daily infections in the US, the graph looks like this: What we can see here is a small spike around early to mid-April. That, followed by a mild reduction and then plateauing with a possible small increase over the last days.

This does not look like a pandemic that is over, especially as the US curve by itself is very much misleading, one needs to look into the specific situation in each individual state.

Original Outbreak in the US

What you need to consider first is that the original outbreak in March and April happened in an exceptionally large part in just a handful of states, mainly consisting of New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois and Pennsylvania. Just these five states that account for only 19% of the population of the US, managed to record 56% of all new cases on the peak of 39,072 cases countrywide on April 24th. Earlier in the cycle they actually accounted for even higher percentages of all new cases, such as 60% on April 15th and April 4th.

Looking at the individual graphs for states like New York and New Jersey, which have registered the most cases in the US overall, you see a very different shape:

Obviously, these curves look a lot different and you can clearly see that these states have done their homework and have successfully reduced the spread of the virus to a level that is much lower than it was at its peak, which in turn enables these states to open up more safely.

USA Compared to South Korea, Germany, and Italy

If you look outside of the US, you can also see that the curves from NY and NJ look somewhat similar (or at least much closer than the whole US) to the curves of countries who have been most successful in handling the pandemic, such as South Korea, Germany or even Italy:

Problem with Looking at the Overall US Graph

The problem with the graphs of NY, NJ is that they are included in the overall US graph as well as the graphs of MA, IL and PA which look at least somewhat similar to NY and NJ. Now, if you would extract the cases from these five states out of the overall US graph, you would see a very different picture.

Daily New Cases in Florida, Texas, and California

If we look at the US without the few states that were predominantly hit early on, we would see a graph that would be much more in the shape of the curves of states like Florida, Texas or California:

You can see a clear increase in cases over time and many other states look similar or even worse, such as Alabama or Arizona. And with the increased opening up that many states are doing or have already completed, the number of cases are likely to increase.

Ending the COVID-19 Pandemic in the US?

There is clearly no current horizon of end to the pandemic in the US –at least if you are not lucky enough to be living in one of the few states that more accurately weighed in a timely manner the need to consider COVID-19 infection rates in the population against the desire we all have to keep economically productive.

And this is especially concerning as most scientists assume that the summer months actually carry a reduced risk for infections and they expect a big wave in the fall. The problem is, the higher the residual case level is through the summer, the bigger the following wave will be in fall, as the pandemic then already has a head start.

Myth 2: The increase in testing is responsible for the uptick in new cases over the last days and weeks!

5 COVID-19 Myths Americans Need to Stop Believing

This is a statement that has unfortunately been pushed by the government out of Washington, as well as from a number of governors. At best it is very much misleading. At worst it is a flat out lie for political reasons trying to soften a less-than-ideal reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Now, there is no doubt that there is more testing done today compared to March when the first wave hit us. So somebody could argue that we would possibly have seen much higher numbers of cases back in March or early April if more testing would have been more readily available back then. That might be true.

However, that does not take away any case that is recorded right now. Also, there is not really a significant increase in testing in many states over the last month. Therefore, an increase in cases registered over the last days and weeks cannot be explained that way.

It should also be considered that the states that are reporting increased infection rates, to a large part still do a lot less testing compared to other states that have seen their numbers decrease. That solidly debunks the argument that more testing would automatically lead to more cases.

Take Florida as an example:

You can see that the cases have clearly increased over the last two weeks, while the number of tests performed are pretty steady or have just increased very slightly. Furthermore, the rate of positive tests has also increased, which is a very bad sign, as well that the overall rate of 10% positive tests on June 17th is alarming. That actually signals that the state will likely be missing a number of positive cases. You would want to have the positive rate in the very low single digits to be more certain to be catching most actual cases.

The fact that Florida is still testing relatively little at only 1.4 tests per 1,000, has a very high positive test rate and an increase in numbers, is a very bad sign and likely means that the pandemic is still expanding in the sunshine state by community spread.

Take for comparison the same graphs for New York:

Here you can see that the daily test rate at 3.3 tests per 1,000 and day is actually more than double compared to the test rate in Florida. You can also see that the positive test rate has come down over the last two weeks and now stands at 1.1%, so far lower than in Florida.

Also, the overall cases have come down as well, so that alone is a slap in the face of these politicians that argue that increased testing would lead to an increased number of cases.

Unfortunately, the numbers for Texas look a lot like Florida (and not like New York), with even less testing (less than a third of the level of NY!), a very high positive test rate and an increase in positive cases.

There is no explaining away of these numbers!

You can also see that most of the states that have opened up early and aggressively are now paying the price for it.

Please don’t believe anybody who repeats that increased testing would be (solely) responsible for additional cases, rather, look at the data yourself.

Only if you have a large increase in tests done, combined with a drop in the positive test rate, can you argue that testing is responsible for (some of) the additional case count, in all other cases; that is just not currently true.

We Should Be Asking…

Furthermore, I think it is the misdirected question to ask if an increase in cases at the already high level in the US could be explained by more testing. We should be asking ourselves, why are our numbers increasing, and can that be mitigated in some realistic manner, though some directed, focused policy?

Why are our numbers holding steady on an increase and not dropping sharply, or at least incrementally, like they seem to be doing now across all European countries’ new case and death rate graphs?

In other countries that have dealt more successfully with the pandemic, such as Germany, they have implemented a local trigger. That means if new cases rise to a level above 30 – 50 cases per week and 100,000 residents, stringent counter measures are enacted. These measures could include a local partial shutdown such as school closures and limitations on stores and restaurants.

Such mechanisms are not planned in most of the US, even though overall the US is currently standing at 51 new cases over the last week per 100,000 people. So if we were in Germany, large parts of the US would be back in shut down mode!

Myth 3: The US has done more tests than anybody else in the world!

5 COVID-19 Myths Americans Need to Stop Believing

Raw Number of Tests vs Tests Per Capita

This is true if you only look at the raw numbers of tests (numbers for China are not accessible and could be higher). Obviously such a raw number comparison is highly misleading as the US has a much larger population than most other countries in the world. For a fair comparison, you need to look at the per capita tests done. How many tests per 1,000 or per 1 million of population. Then you’ll see that many other countries have done more testing for their respective population size.

Per Capita Testing Worldwide

Per capita, the US stands at about 80,000 tests per 1 million in population. However, many countries have higher testing rates: 107,000 per 1 million in the UK and Russia and 103,000 in Spain. The world leader is actually Monaco at 413,000 tests per 1 million. Under somewhat larger countries, the United Arab Emirates leads with 303,000 tests per 1 million.

Germany and South Korea quickly launched widespread testing and have some of the highest per-capita testing rates in the world. Their ability to identify and isolate those infected has helped prevent deadlier outcomes.“ These two countries have been so successful in dampening the outbreak. They no longer have the same need for testing anymore. Especially compared to regions where the virus is still spreading quickly (as in the US). Testing was especially important early on in the pandemic when a large testing regime could successfully stop an outbreak in its tracks. Unfortunately, the US administration completely failed to enact an early on testing regime.

Myth 4: The number of fatalities is still falling, so the pandemic is slowing down

5 COVID-19 Myths Americans Need to Stop Believing

It is true that the overall numbers of deaths due to COVID-19 is still declining. However, that does not mean that we are out of the danger zone, not even close.

The actual graph for the deaths in all the US looks like this:

Yes, there is a downward trend, which might be a little surprising considering that the new cases have plateaued or even slightly increased, but there are a number of reasons for that:

Why is the Death Rate Decreasing?

  1. The demographics of the infected might have changed since the spike of deaths. We saw a large number of deaths occurring in retirement homes and in the older generation in general. Now these facilities have largely implemented very strict measures to limit the outbreaks. So the average age of infected persons might have gone down and as they have a lower risk of dying, the death rate has declined. Generally speaking, the original outbreak happened a lot in a variety of locations including retirement homes, nowadays it is more within the beachgoers and party people community.
  2. More testing in May and June might be responsible to some degree, as we have to assume that there was a much larger number of unreported cases in March and April.
  3. Possibly the doctors and hospitals have become more efficient and successful in treating COVID-19 patients over the months where they have gained a lot of experience on the best practices used to prevent deaths.And, importantly, while the death rate (mortal element) is being reported actively, the quite diverse morbid element of a COVID-19 infection is under-presented as a risk. For instance, prolonged respiratory compromise and deconditioned states, as well as ischemic events in younger individuals such as small and large strokes, renal and cardiac injury, among other life-altering medication complications from such an infection are also being increasingly recognized in the medical community. Dr. Kirk
  4. The main number of deaths so far has come from the five states originally listed (NY, NJ, MA, IL and PA), at the peak of the death rate, these states accounted for 66% of all deaths on April 17th and 57% at April 21st. On June 17th, these five states still account for 37% of all COVID-19 deaths, much larger than their fraction of the population (19%), so with the case numbers coming down and deaths being a lagging indicator, we can still expect a further lowering of the death rate, as the five states named only account for 7.9% of new infections on June 17th.

Germany’s Death Rate in Comparison

So while it is of course great news that the daily death rate is coming down, that is no point to celebrate. Compared to other countries that have handled the pandemic much better, the US is looking very vulnerable.

Look at Germany’s death rate in comparison: They have successfully reduced the number of deaths to just over 10 per day, which would translate to about 50 in the US.

Now the US is still standing at about 700, significantly higher even if we come down to 400-500 in the next weeks. Do we really think that is an acceptable loss of life each day? Especially considering that we have to assume that the number of deaths will rise sharply again in the fall when a second-wave might hit.

Myth 5: We will soon reach herd immunity. Then we don’t need to worry anymore about COVID-19!

5 COVID-19 Myths Americans Need to Stop Believing

Unfortunately, herd immunity will not save us from Coronavirus. To reach herd immunity, about 70% of the population will need to go through the infection. However, even in a hard hit city such as Stockholm – where the government of Sweden actually supported the idea of a herd immunity – a large scale study showed that only 7 – 10% of the population has developed antibodies against the virus. And a large number of Sweds paid the ultimate price for this experiment, many times more than in the neighboring countries.

It is estimated that the rate of people with antibodies in New York City – one of the hardest hit places on earth – is somewhere between 15 and 21%, which is still far off from where it would need to be for herd immunity. To reach herd immunity in NYC, many more tens of thousands of people would need to die, a price that seems hard to justifiably equate with a quantifiable economic gain metric.

In other parts of the US, the rate of people that have had the Coronavirus is likely in the low single digits. At the current rate of infection, it would take about 20 years to reach herd immunity. Even if we assume a large number of unreported cases and/or if infections were to increase (with all the problems and death & morbidity that would bring) herd immunity is years away.

No scientist knows yet how long the antibodies from an infection will protect a person from a recurrent infection, mutations aside; it could be the case that the protection only lasts for a year or two in which case, herd immunity could never be reached.

5 COVID-19 Myths Americans Need to Stop Believing

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