Reasons to believe the rate is slowing and has upper bounds.
For those of us wondering “how bad can COVID-19 get and when will it be over”, I wanted to provide a prediction that it won’t be as bad as many are saying and will be contained faster than it might seem, based on a very light analysis of publicly available data. I neither wish to be Pollyanna nor Chicken Little about it — the disease is deadly and problematic, but while I believe in the prudent action of many, draconian measures are not warranted.
I list three reasons to be optimistic, but note some trends which temper my optimism.
Data from the Diamond Princess cruise ship suggest upper limits to exposure and contact risk.
The Diamond Princess cruise ship serves as an excellent controlled population to make some hypotheses about the overall spreadability of the disease. Yes, it is not random and otherwise has limitations on it representativeness of the population as a whole, still we can make some inferences.
Keep in mind how ideal a cruise ship would be for an infectious disease to spread. Mostly a confined space of commonly gathering and dining people with recycled forced air. We know a great deal about the health of the people before and after — most did not contract the illness
Two important factors:
- Nearly 83% of people (3711 people on board less the 634 who tested positive) have no evidence of illness. 64% (634 of 3063) tested negative to the virus, suggesting a high rate of innate or acquired immunity. This suggests an upper bound to the likelihood of infection. (Covad19info.live reports a higher confirmed test rate of 697).
- Of the people who tested positive, nearly half (306 versus 328) reported symptoms. This suggests an upper bound of exposure to non-diagnosed, non-identified, and non-quarantined (self or otherwise) carriers.
While this report isn’t about the deadliness of the disease, 7 people died from the cruise.
The official rate in China has stopped; the official rate in South Korea has slowed dramatically; France and Iran cases have slowed growth.
Data from Our World in Data and https://covid19info.live/ indicate negative new cases in China between March 11th and today, and South Korea has gone from 7869 on March 11th to 8086 today (it had doubled between February 29th and March 11th).
The amount of entities worldwide that have implemented contact fencing.
While I could lay my hands on no official statistics, anecdotal evidence suggests a large multinational slowdown on travel and working in offices. Having spent time in the tech world of business continuity planning, it’s instructive to look at official statements from tech powerhouses. Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Salesforce, IBM, and SAP (my employer) have all implemented aggressive work-from-home stances, and have likely demanded supporting evidence from their supply chain that they have protections in place. On March 2nd — before most companies got more aggressive — 2/3 of the Global Business Travel Association members had cancelled at least some event and travel plans, and nearly half were unsure when travel would return to normal; In the US, broadway is dark, the NCAA, NBA, MLB, and NHL have all cancelled events. It’s noteworthy to look at the amount of voluntary action before aggressive public health stances took place.
Reasons to be pessimistic:
Cases in Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and the US are still growing exponentially, as cited in sources above. Italy is of major concern, while the other countries have much smaller bases by comparison. We could speculate there is some impact from increased testing, but keep in mind the likely upper bound of asymptomatic cases as suggested by the Diamond Princess data.
So while there are obvious problem areas, evidence of upper bounds, positive trends, and ample prudent measures, and hopefully coupled with warmer weather, provide reasons to believe.
I, for one, am looking forward to spending more time with colleagues and friends, sharing at least some handshakes and perhaps even a hug or two, when the risk is entirely contained.