American Exceptionalism = 300,000 Deaths?

Today, as we log 180,000 deaths from COVID, we have a grim look into the crystal ball known as the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), which is part of the University of Washington. The IHME model hit the news way back in April, when they raised the possibility that hospitals could get overwhelmed and that by August, 81,000 people would die. Their actual estimate had a low bound of 38,000 and a high of 162,000.

At the time, the White House used the IHME model, but injected their typical false optimism into the numbers. “I think we’ll be substantially, hopefully, below the [100,000] number,” Trump said. “And I think, right now, we’re heading at probably around 60-, maybe 65,000.”

By May 5, as we passed the 65,000 mark and then some, Trump said we would keep the death toll to under 100,000. He claimed that the IHME model didn’t take into account mitigation measures, which meant that he either didn’t understand the model or simply added it to his 20,000 lies told as president.

Now that we’re in August, the month described by the IHME April model, it’s clear that we far surpassed even the upper bound of 162,000. And I should note that the IHME continuously updated their model from April to the present day.

So who do you think is more reliable: Trump or the IHME?

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the latest IHME model for the US and individual states.

If nothing changes, which under Trump is the most optimistic scenario, that means by Election Day, we’ll could be looking at a death toll that is around 85,000 what it is now. That translates into a daily fatality rate of around 1,100 people per day, pretty much what we’ve had for the past month. With schools opening up and states easing restrictions, that certainly seems like a very possible, even probable, outcome.

Joe Biden said he would put a national mask mandate in effect if he were president. Trump flatly rejected that. In numerical terms, if the IHME model is correct, as it has been so far, that means that Trump stands for a loss of somewhere between 69,000 and 180,000 lives. [Trumpsters reading this: save your fingers; I won’t respond!]

When I write that Trumpism is much like a death cult, this is exactly what I mean. Anti-maskers are in essence campaigning for the loss of lives under the banner of “freedom.”

Here’s what the model looks like for California:

This demonstrates why down-ballot voting is so important. That’s where you determine who’s on your county board of supervisors, and they’re the ones making public health decisions for you. If you have a Republican dominated Board, as we do in San Diego, this could mean a difference of thousands of lives. Some people claim that “moderates” like Kristin Gaspar, will keep us safe.

It’s almost a truism that Republicans don’t grow a spine until they’ve announced their retirement. We should remember that this November. If Trump wins steals reelection, The Gaspars of San Diego, Orange County, and LA will no more protect us against COVID than Susan Collins of Maine protected us against a misogynistic Supreme Court appointee.

What does this have to do with American Exceptionalism? Wikipedia starts its definition of the term as follows:

American exceptionalism is the theory that the history of the United States is inherently different from that of other nations.” In previous posts, I used the metaphor of COVID as a sandstorm, stripping off all the outer layers and exposing the structure of what lies beneath. We have used this phrase to gloss over the theft of Native American land, the enslavement of millions of Africans and the systemic racism that followed Reconstruction. It is high time that we realized we are not exempt from human greed, from dictatorial impulses, and in the time of COVID, the consequences of rejecting science.

A couple of days ago, I think I allowed my fear about what Trump is doing to the infrastructure of government to interfere with my judgement. I was reacting to tweets like this:

In a response to a question about vaccine development, I think I exaggerated the effect of these attacks. Redditor /u/YeOldeSir fortunately straightened me out, and I think his response is worth repeating:

Development of these mRNA vaccines has been in-progress far longer than most people realize. Specifically, the mRNA delivery method has been in the work for years. The concept is that we have a functional, well-tolerated “vehicle” to deliver instructions to the human body to transiently produce one or some of the proteins created by a virus. The vehicle used to deliver the mRNA won’t cause an immune response, and the mRNA is broken-down after its genetic instructions are read and the selected parts of virus constructed (but not the whole virus!). Ultimately, this technology enables vaccine manufactures can swap out the mRNA for one virus and insert mRNA from a different virus, and re-use this delivery system. This method was already shaping up to be the future of vaccines, until SARS-CoV-2 came knocking at the door so this needs to be deployed ASAP… But the technique is ready.

In regards to safety, the mRNA vaccine technology is more recent, and far more precise than standard attenuated (heat-weakened or chemically-weakened) live virus vaccines that have been developed in the past. Therefore, there are fewer safety concerns with mRNA vaccines than typical vaccines.

The biggest concern is simply effectiveness of the vaccine. Fortunately, the SARS-CoV-2 virus NEEDS it’s damn Spike protein… without it, it wouldn’t be the highly-contageous threat that it is. Therefore, the Spike protein, being so essential to it’s function, is also a super-huge target for these mRNA vaccines… Other viruses don’t have that. Also, the Spike protein cannot undergo major mutations without becoming less potent, so evolution-wise it is highly-conserved.

The only major concern I’d have about an mRNA vaccine is that the viral protein selected would have a similar structure/shape to some normal protein in the human body and this would “confuse” the immune system and result in an auto-immune response in which the body attacks the virus first, but then erroneously begins attacking something else in the body after the virus is cleared. Fortunately, the ability to predict such cross-reactions ahead of time has improved by light-years in the past decade, so I’m less concerned now.

In regards to development time, we’ve never had a virus be so widespread and contagous at the same time as the development of the vaccine. Therefore, the stage III clinical trials will not need to be as long. That’s because the people in the vaccine trial who are administered the vaccine will likely come into contact with the virus pretty quickly because it’s so widespread now. I don’t believe that polio was nearly as widespread at the time its vaccine was created as SARS-CoV-2 is now.

Anyway, from all of the data I have seen, I’d definitely be willing to get either the Moderna or the Pfizer vaccine as they are now. I even applied to enroll in the vaccine trial at UCSD but they already have too many people in my age/gender/race/risk bracket.

I thank /u/YeOldeSir for responding and reminding everyone that you should not take what I say as gospel truth. I can make mistakes like anyone else.

There are only 72 days left until Election Day. Your vote counts, no matter where you live. We have to get rid of not just the people at the top who are responsible for the current state of the pandemic in the U.S., but also his enablers on every single level. So plan now: check your registration, make sure your family and friends do that, and motivate others to save our country.

For up to date numbers on COVID, take a look at the Interactive pages on

Have a great Sunday, everyone, and keep safe and healthy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.