Is “the herd” on the table?

Now, they talk about Sweden, but Sweden is suffering very gravely.  You know that, right?  Sweden did that.  “The herd.”  They call it “the herd.”  Sweden is suffering very, very badly.  

April 7, 2020 – White House briefing

On Monday, the Washington Post reported that Trump advisor Scott Atlas was pushing herd immunity as a strategy. On Tuesday, dozens of major newspapers came out with editorials condemning the strategy, pointing out how that would result in up to 2 million lives lost, instead of the the almost 190,000 we have now. Today, Dr. Birx said:

Neither I, nor anybody in the administration, is willing to sacrifice American lives for herd immunity. We’ll get to herd immunity through a vaccine and that’s the right way to do it

Briefing at St. Mary Hospital, Livonia, MI

Who’s telling the truth?

That we even have to ask this question is proof of the chaotic and life-threatening strategy employed by Trump and his enablers since the pandemic broke out. Look at the countries that are successfully containing the pandemic and see what they have in common. One of the most prominent characteristics is a unified national strategy based on public health science. The U.S. strategy is a disunified, helter-skelter smorgasbord of tactical options based on what Trump thinks will help his reelection.

Is “herd immunity” a viable strategy?

Of course it is, but timing and context are everything. We use it as a strategy all the time. For example, that’s why we push so hard for children to get their MMR vaccine on time. MMR vaccine protects against measles, one of the most infectious diseases known, with an R0 of around 13. This means that between 92% and 95% of the population must have antibodies in order to suppress outbreaks. Where anti-vaxxers have made headway, as in Africa, it’s common to see large, and very deadly, measles outbreaks.

The following table shows the relation between R0 (the initial transmission rate of the disease) and the herd immunity threshold (HIT):

If we followed the advice of the “herd immunity advocates” in the White House, that would mean somewhere between 50% and 83% of the US population would have to have antibodies. Since we don’t have a vaccine yet, that requires people getting infected.

What would this mean in terms of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths? Let’s take the midpoint of these, 65%. We would need around 215 million people to be infected. The CDC estimates that the hospitalization rate for covid is around 157 per 100,000 people, so this would mean around 340,000 people hospitalized. The ratio of ICU daily patients to regular covid patients is slightly over 20%, so that would mean 68,000 people in ICU. The running CFR for covid, according to the CDC, is 7.9%. So even if we cut that down to 3%, that means that 6.5 million people would die.

Wait, hasn’t Zorgi always said that the CFR may well be below 1% when all is said and done? Yes, and there are several studies that suggest it might be as low as 1%. OK, let’s use that. 1% x 215,000,000 cases = 2.15 million people dead, or 11 times our current fatality toll.

That is the “herd immunity strategy” pushed by the likes of Laura Ingraham on Fox.

Election Day is in 61 Days

Sick of the pandemic and ready for a change? Your vote counts, no matter where you live. So plan now: check your registration, make sure your family and friends do that, and motivate others to save our country. And don’t wait until the last minute to drop your ballot in the mail!

Also, here’s another great site where you can track the status of your ballot:

Up to date numbers available, even if not in this post

Interactive pages on

More metrics for LA, OC, and SD

Here are the rest of the charts available from As in the last two posts, I’ve added a line on June 19th, the approximate date when California began easing lockdown restrictions.

Last updated 9/1/2020. The World Health Organization recommends a positive test rate of less than 10%. The countries most successful in containing COVID have rates of 3% or less. We calculate the rate as a 7-day trailing average. Learn more about our methodology and our data sources.

Note from the bottom of each chart on positivity rate

While the positivity rate isn’t quite where we’d like it to be an any of these three counties, compare those to San Bernardino county, which has a very high rate of infections:

ICU Headroom Used

Last updated 9/1/2020. Resolve to Save Lives, a pandemic think tank, recommends that hospitals maintain enough ICU capacity to double the number of COVID patients hospitalized. Learn more about our methodology and our data sources.

Note at the bottom of each chart

We also need to put the situation in California in perspective. One way to do this is to look at a state where things were in an exemplary state, and then went sour: Hawaii. Initially, Hawaii not only locked everything down, but imposed a quarantine on everyone coming into the state. On June 1, they were averaging just 1 case a day, 0 deaths, and 0 hospitalizations. The low number of cases allowed the handful of case trackers to quickly keep things under control. After a couple of months of very tight restrictions, almost everyone figured they had licked the problem. Hawaii was a unique success story in the U.S.

In May, things started opening up. People got tired of masks and social distancing. Bars and restaurants opened. The state should be a lesson to us all.

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