COVID Update – Nov. 20

I published my last COVID update slightly over two months ago. In the interim, I was working on a series examining conspiracy theories and the logical fallacies that make them possible. The 11 articles that make up that study are all on

In September, cases were decreasing in California. San Diego, LA, and Orange were all in relatively good shape. Restaurants were serving food again. People were getting together with friends. Everyone knew the pandemic wasn’t over yet, but it felt like we would be able to manage the spread until a vaccine came.

Epidemiologists were worried about the fall, but I think all of us were hoping for the best. Then, starting in October, this happened:

The chart shows that this spike is growing quite a bit faster than the previous spike from May to July. That one took 5 weeks to double; this one has doubled in just 3 weeks, and there are no signs of slowing.

The danger of this spike is evident in the infection rate:

From August 18 through September 10, we even had an infection rate under the threshold of 1.0. That may have contributed to a relative degree of complacence.

On a county level, case increases in LA are worse than the state as a whole, but slightly less dire than the high point on July 17th.

In SD County, the cases are higher than they’ve ever been, causing SD to go into the dreaded “purple zone.”

The daily rate of almost 900 cases per day is 62% higher than the peak on July 20. All this happened over a very short period of less than one month.

OC looked really, really bad at the beginning of July. The rise in cases is concerning, but OC is not faring nearly as poorly as LA or SD.

OC went from 5.3 cases per 100K on Oct. 18. Even though the normalized case rate has tripled in a month, it’s not nearly as bad as the spike in SD and LA.

Is there any good news?

Yes! First, we have two vaccines that are around 95% effective. Here is a good article on Pfizer’s vaccine and another good one on Moderna’s vaccine.

There is no reasonable evidence at this time to suggest that Trump has somehow “tampered” with these vaccines. Now is not the time to be an anti-vaxxer. While “herd immunity” before the vaccines are available is a cruel, unethical and murderous strategy, once the vaccines are available, we need everyone possible to get it. That’s the only way we’ll get herd immunity before the end of 2021 and be done with this nightmare.

The other piece of good news concerns death rates. They’ve declined in every county, but the rates for CA tell the story:

A month ago, Dr. Steven Novella wrote an article on the declining death rate. I strongly suggest you read the article in full, but here are the main causes for lower CFR.

  • The high CFR in March was a reflection of hospitals getting overwhelmed and shortages of PPE, ICU beds, ventilators, etc.
  • Doctors are better able to manage COVID patients, even though there are no cures or effective anti-virals. For example, they know now to rest patients on their stomachs, to delay ventilatation, and use steroids to reduce risk of a cytokine storm.
  • Younger and healthier people are now the main ones getting infected, and they have higher survival rates, even when hospitalized.
  • Mask wearing and social distancing, even when not uniformly adopted, reduces viral loads. There is a high correlation between initial viral load and risk of death.

The third piece of incredibly good news is Biden’s resounding victory in the election. Even though Trump has clearly given up on COVID, on January 20, 2021, we will have national leadership that for the first time is guided by science. This will make a huge difference.

What to do in the next two months

Clearly, things are looking very, very bad this winter. With a vaccine so close, it would be tragic to become yet another COVID statistic. We are all ready to throw the entire year of 2020 into the trash can. We’re sick and tired of the pandemic. But now is not the time to succumb. He need to hold on for a few more months, because there is indeed “light at the end of the tunnel.”

Here is what I recommend over the next two or three months:

  1. Wear a mask – everywhere, except inside the car and the house.
  2. Stay far away from people I don’t know, especially people who are careless about mask wearing and social distancing.
  3. Limit inside seating to our immediate household. That means when we get together with our family, we have to do it outside and socially distanced. We’re using heaters and coats on Thanksgiving. No common food platters.
  4. Absolutely no going indoors to restaurants, churches, bars, etc. Since cases are going up so rapidly, if we order from a restaurant, it will be take out only.
  5. Limit your time in grocery stores to less than 15 minutes. Stay away from anyone without a mask. Politely insist that people maintain distance from you.
  6. Remember that risk is not a binary thing. Every time you leave your house, you take on some risk. Evaluate it and minimize it. Science Sam has developed a great risk assessment quiz to help you in this.
  7. Chip away at the foundational beliefs of the people you know who still buy into the idea that COVID is a hoax. Yes, it’s disheartening that over 70 million people voted for a president who totally botched the response to the pandemic. Many of them trot out “facts” and “experts” to justify their opinions. We all must systematically expose the fallacies of these beliefs. Don’t “agree to disagree.” Challenge the falsehoods. Question the legitimacy of so-called experts like Dr. Scott Atlas. It’s hard, but as long as we have millions of people who are rooted in a fictional universe, we will have a very difficult time getting the virus under control, even with a vaccine.
  8. Challenge political leaders, local and state, who try to separate control of COVID from a healthy economy. Speak up at city council meetings. Write to your political representatives. You can’t have a healthy economy without controlling the pandemic.

And a request from you:

I’m not totally sure these updates are necessary or wanted. If they are, please let me know, and also give me an idea how often you’d like to see them.

Stay safe and healthy, everyone!

8 comments on “COVID Update – Nov. 20

  1. Thanks so much for these updates. It’s very helpful to have real data presented in an efficient way like this. Which means you do all the work! I saw your post on reddit and came here and will now be watching your blog for more posts. One thing, could you tell us a little about yourself? I didn’t see anything here on the website

    1. Thanks, Karen. I don’t want to put too much identifying info here – hope you understand. I will say that I’m a retired man, happily married for over 40 years, and not an expert in anything, really. I did spend 4 decades in the business world, and started around 5 businesses, some of which are still active today. I worked in software development for 40 years as well, starting with an old Radio Shack Model II with 64K of RAM and COBOL as my first language. I guess that really dates me!

      My adult children are both married and we love them, their spouses and our three grandchildren to death! We’ve been able to see them in person during this horrible year, but we leave a few weeks in between each visit to be safe.

  2. I have loved your data and commentary since March, and have truly missed it this fall. It would be great to have you update weekly, with your opinions, to help us all make sense of this. It seems the media just wants to spit out case numbers and fatality rates without giving us trends. No other source has been as helpful trying to navigate what risks are worth taking in the San Diego area. Thank you for all you have done!

  3. Thank you for the Covid Update. You have a unique ability to condense information and communicate it in a readable way. Please continue until we get through this.

  4. I would love your continued updates. Really missed them! Thank you for your hard work and research! Happy Thanksgiving!

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