Like you I’ve been combing through reporting to try and read the tea leaves of where we are headed this winter and into next year. I mean, the obvious point to make is that no one knows, but over the past week or so among the terrible news of case count spikes and restaurant closures a handful of trends/reporting/insights have really stood out to me and I decided that it was worth sharing something positive here. I understand, the numbers are bad. Case counts are high and the recent tapering of new cases is likely driven more by people choosing turkey over testing. But when trend lines look as steep as these (whether it was the stock market surge in 2000 or housing prices in 2007 or covid cases today) I always think of a quote from one of my favorite economic quotes, “If something can not go up forever, it will stop.”
Seems obvious, but it is profound in its simplicity. It is easier to report on the spiking trend line than look for the elements that will inevitably counterbalance it.
We’ve dealt with coronaviruses for centuries, the thing that makes this one tricky is its “novel” status. Because none of us have had it before we are all equally susceptible – as soon as enough of us have immunity either through exposure or a vaccine – we take its novelty (and therefore virality) away…and therein lies our glimmer of hope. In all the noise over the last week I haven’t spoken to anyone who actually noticed the CDC published a fascinating report. Using antibody testing they found for every 1 positive case reported, an additional 7.7 cases went undiagnosed! Why is this critical? Because the “novel” part of the “novel Coronavirus” might be beginning to wear off. This report was published with data as of the end of Sept when 6.9 million cases had been diagnosed, and it implied 16% of the population had Covid to date. Since then, an additional 6.3 million people have been diagnosed. If you assume the undiagnosed portion dropped from 7.7 to 5 (so 13% of cases being diagnosed to 20% as testing has improved – an assumption on my part but seems conservative) then we can assume an additional 31 million people since Sept 30 have also been infected. That leaves us at 26% of the US population! Still novel, but counterbalancing forces are at work in a very real way.
Note, yes it is true there have been cases of re-infection but to date there have been 24 confirmed cases – worldwide – out of the tens of millions of diagnosed cases.
While I am geeking out on numbers let me throw one more your way.
What causes governors to close us is not actually the infection rate. It’s the number of ICU beds available – for obvious reasons no governor wants to run out of ICU beds as that is when our hospitals are strained and death counts rise. So the issue is less “what’s the case count,” which is what the press focuses on, and more “what’s the % of cases going to ICU.” We have gotten much better at treatment which is why the current high case counts haven’t fully filled beds yet. But another interesting number recently is that 40% of the deaths to date are from nursing home patients.
Because of this, nursing homes appear to be in the CDC’s suggested group of first wave vaccinations (guidance to be released any day). If this works, and we can fairly quickly vaccinate those most at risk – a relatively small number of vaccinations will have a dramatic impact on that ICU hospitalization rate. My hope is that this will lower fear, and the need for lockdowns, and again – be a counterbalancing force.
It’s bad right now I know. I have been forced to permanently close one restaurant and another has sales down 50%. Because of our format we have very little delivery/take out, and if our county or state forces a shutdown we would go from 50% to 0%. I do not mean to minimize the pain at all. But dammit, “if something cannot go up forever, it will stop” has to apply to Covid cases as well!
I’m not an epidemiologist, just a restaurant guy looking at the data and trying to make some predictions on the path ahead for our industry. No question this is tough, and no doubt we are a couple of months away from real relief, but I’m cautiously optimistic and thought it was a sentiment worth sharing.