Much of America has been in some phase or another of a lockdown since the middle of March. Most of us want to know when we can return to normal. But the officials who have cooped us up, shut down businesses, ruined personal finances, outlawed gatherings, and created an environment of fear won’t tell us when we’ll be free of their grip. To call our situation discouraging is to understate the case.
Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control’s most recently posted data set are reason for optimism, though. The chart below shows the most current figures available, through the week of Aug. 15.
The blue bars that indicate actual weekly deaths since January 2017, which have recently been inflated due to COVID-19 fatalities. The roughly horizontal line shows the upper range of expected deaths each week based on historical averages. The two are the closest they have been since March 21, right after the pandemic lockdowns. Based on the trend, we should expect the bars and the baseline to fully converge when the newest data set is released next week. In other words, back to normal.
Another version of the chart (below) separates COVID-19 deaths from all fatalities. The portion of COVID-19 deaths is as small as it has been since the last week of March.
Why is this important? Stanford biophysics professor Michael Levitt explains:
“US COVID19 will be done in 4 weeks with a total reported death below 170,000. How will we know it is over? Like for Europe, when all-cause excess deaths are at normal level for week. Reported COVID19 deaths may continue after 25 Aug. & reported cases will, but it will be over,” he tweeted on July 25.
On Aug. 18, Levitt followed up that tweet with this message:
“Aware of my prediction, here is latest CDC data (dated 1 Aug. posted 12 Aug.) https://cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/excess_deaths.htm#dashboard…. Corrected for delays, Excess Death is near baseline so it may be over by 25 Aug. Reported CV Death is 169,350 so my estimate too low. Still happy COVID19 death may be over soon.”
We’re not quite bold enough to proclaim that it’s all over. The data show that after the initial spike and fall, a smaller bump appeared on the charts. It might be explained by the virus moving from the higher latitudes to the lower ones. Or maybe it’s simply a particularly tenacious pest.
Yet we’re upbeat, buoyed by the facts, and Levitt’s experience- and knowledge-based observations. We hope policymakers will look at the data and find it as compelling as we do. We don’t need the “new normal” that many insist we learn to live with but a return to the normal we had before the pandemic frightened officials into panicked decisions.
Editor’s Note: This editorial originally had the name of Stanford professor wrong. It has been corrected. We apologize for the error.
— Written by the I&I Editorial Board