Nine months ago this week I was recovering from what seemed to be a mild case of the newly named Covid-19. What have we learned since then, what we’ve failed to learn, and what does the end game of this pandemic hold in store?
What we learned
Exponential growth is not intuitive. The 70 national daily cases looked troublesome back on March 9th. Today, 70 cases in a single city would be hailed as a miracle of governance.
Three weeks later, at the end of March, 40,000 total cases in a country looked catastrophic. That is now a fraction of the daily cases in the U.S., Europe, and India:
Unfortunately, a bigger learning is that a significant percentage of the population still doesn’t’ understand how diseases spread. With that, over 10,000 people per day, more than ever before.
What we failed to learn
No country has been able to have a fully functioning economy while their local epidemic is spreading and the world as a whole can not return to a functioning global economy while the pandemic continues growing. The summer-long rhetoric of “opening up” led to a second and third surge of cases and the current tragic level of losses.
The first set of Lockdowns worked. If the U.S. and Europe had followed South Korea and New Zealand with even stricter lockdowns, those regions would not be suffering now.
Personally, I’m aghast that the U.S. never shut down all domestic flights. Doing that back in March would have immensely slowed down the spread of the virus from the early outbreak cities into the smaller cities.
On the topic of masks, it was already clear back in March that masks slow down the transmission rate. How masks became a debatable topic is a lesson in the failure of leadership, both here in the U.S. and across Europe.
The last nine months of loss and suffering all centers on a lack of leadership and a failure to take this disease seriously. In hindsight, we should have shut down everything but the hospitals and supermarkets back in March, everywhere.
If we get this right, Covid-19 will be gone forever. If we get this wrong, we’ll need an annual Covid vaccine as the novel coronavirus becomes the new annual flu pandemic.
Then only once we were back to dozens of new cases nationally in a day talk about opening up, with a plan to shut down again and again in each city every time an outbreak occurred. Instead the talk of opening up began the day we hit the peak number of cases in April.
Treating exponential growth as reality would have saved over 1 million lives globally and tens of millions cases that have caused long-term health issues. This strategy was known in March, posted as The Hammer and the Dance, and then ignored by government leaders and the media.
What comes next?
We can’t go back and fix the mistakes, so it’s time to look forward and avoid the next mistakes.
Given the latest surge we clearly need to repeat the lockdowns. Across teh whole U.S., and this time that includes domestic air travel. Yes, lockdowns are not fun, but the alternative is continued exponential growth, making 10,000 deaths per day look as tiny as the 70 cases per day from back in March.
The next step after that is the rollout of the vaccines. The fact that the vaccines work, and have completed testing in under a year is science fiction made real. The fact that two vaccines tested over 90% efficacy is truly amazing. That said, with the wrong leadership the vaccine rollout can lead to another half million deaths.
What the populace needs to understand is that the day you get your vaccine shot, you are not immune. Nor the day after. Nor after one week. The 90% immunity level comes only weeks after the second shot, and the second shot comes weeks after the first.
In this vaccine end game we thus get one last time chance to apply our learnings of exponential growth, and this time to get it right.
If there were 14 billion vaccine doses available in one day (which they isn’t and won’t be), the ideal rollout would be one last six-week-long lockdown. That way the disease stops spreading while everyone gets two doses of vaccine.
Alas, the vaccine rollout won’t be that simple. It will take at least six months to distribute billions of vaccines, and likely all of 2021 before every country receives enough vaccines to distribute to all their citizens.
This Bloomberg article explains the state of the vaccines, how many doses each company expects to produce, and where those doses will be distributed. Globally this will be a slow, messy, and complicated process.
Given the ignorance demonstrated for the last nine months, I expect more of the same leading to a tragic fourth wave of infection that will most likely peak higher than we’ve seen so far. That will lead the most ignorant people to believe the vaccine doesn’t work, adding to the anti-vax crowd and potentially leading Covid-19 to Covid-21, Covid-22, Covid-23, etc., making the novel coronavirus an annual pandemic like influenza rather than a one-and-done pandemic like SARS.
Be smart. Stay safe. Get your vaccine as soon as you can, keep wearing your mask, and keep social distancing for a full two months after your first shot.