For obvious reasons, we’re all concerned about how many people will get infected and, more importantly, how many will die. That’s a human response, but it’s not the right way to make government policy. The truth is that neither of these numbers are important for deciding how to manage lockdown orders.
The three numbers that everyone should be paying attention to and basing policy on are infection rates, infection acceleration, and the percentage of the population that is infected (or uninfected).
Infection rate and acceleration explain the number of new infections per day. If daily new infections are consistently rising, then we have infection acceleration. If daily new infections are consistently shrinking, then we have infection deceleration.
These are also the two numbers that determine the curve that we’ve been trying so hard to flatten. If infection rates are accelerating, we’re headed up the curve. If they’re decelerating, we’re heading down the curve. Easy stuff. The important thing to understand is why we’re going up or down that curve.
Conventional wisdom says we’re currently past the peak in the U.S. because of social distancing. This is dead wrong. Social distancing does not reduce infection rates. It can only reduce infection acceleration (which is different from total isolation). The peak of the curve exists for another reason. Social distancing cannot and will not kill the virus. That was never the point.
The real reason the curve has a peak is because of the disease’s ability to spread. This is true of all infectious diseases, not just coronavirus. When people get infected, they either beat the infection, or they die. Those people can no longer catch or spread the infection.
That means that eventually, enough people have caught the disease that it can’t keep spreading as fast as it used to. That is the point where we get past the peak we’ve been discussing, and for the most infectious kinds of diseases (which COVID is), this peak usually happens when somewhere between 10 and 30 percent of a total population has been infected.
This brings us to that other important number. It sounds counterintuitive, but diseases like coronavirus pretty much can’t infect more than 60 percent of a population (this is herd immunity). That means that when the whole thing is done, roughly 40 percent of all people will have never caught it. More importantly, as immunity rises among the population, the infection rates start to decline.
Generally speaking, a virus will stop having exponential growth when around 10 percent of the population is immune. It can still grow, just not exponentially. By 30 percent infection, the rates have to decline.
Knowing that, we can go back in time and figure out COVID-19 stopped spreading exponentially somewhere between March 6 and March 20.
This is the hard pill to swallow. This data means that the peak of the disease was predetermined (for the first week of April) before the first lockdown order came. By March 20, at the latest, roughly 10 percent of the country was infected/immune, and overwhelming the healthcare system became impossible. The lockdowns have done absolutely nothing to impact the spread of the disease. They have only hurt us.
Barring severe mutations, the United States already has partial herd immunity, and the disease has a sealed fate — no matter what we do. When you look at objective math, it becomes clear we need to stop lockdowns NOW. We don’t need a partial or careful reopening. We need a full reopening, and every delay is killing people.
What also becomes clear is that a second wave can’t happen unless the disease mutates enough to break through immunity, and staying locked down makes that more likely.