Coronavirus isn’t a new epidemic anymore, it has been around for 6 plus months in the United States, I would say March 1, 2020 is when the epidemic “got started” in terms of the public reaction to it. So where are we now?
The first major cluster of deaths in the United States happened at the Life Care Center of Kirkland; a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington. Kirkland has a population 93,010 (2019 estimate from Wikipedia) and Kirkland has had a total number of 62 deaths from the coronavirus as of September 24, 2020. That is 1 death per 1,500 residents or 667 deaths per million population. The interesting thing is that the last death seen in Kirkland from coronavirus was on August 21, 2020; it has been more than a month since Kirkland has seen even a single coronavirus death. Herd immunity? Does Kirkland already have herd immunity against the coronavirus? Is that why Kirkland has so few deaths in recent months?
What about Sweden? Sweden is famous for never going into lockdown or imposing severe mandatory restrictions against the coronavirus. According to Worldometers Sweden had a total of 5,875 deaths as of September 24, 2020 and 5,825 deaths as of August 24, 2020 meaning a grand total of 50 deaths in Sweden over the past month. Sweden has a total population of 10,343,403 (March 31, 2020 estimate from Wikipedia) so that is a death rate of 568 per million population.
What about New York City? New York City indeed got hit hard by the coronavirus with a total of 19,099 confirmed coronavirus deaths up to September 15, 2020 but from September 2, 2020 to September 15, 2020 there were only 57 confirmed coronavirus deaths in New York City. New York City having a population of 8,336,817 (2019 estimate from Wikipedia) for a death rate of 2,291 per million (confirmed cases).
Detroit is almost as bad as New York City in terms of the number of deaths per million it has seen from the coronavirus but you see the same story of not many deaths recently. Detroit has had a total of 1,519 deaths from coronavirus (2,267 per million population) up to September 15, 2020 but only saw 4 deaths from coronavirus from September 2, 2020 to September 15, 2020.
This is the thing, if the coronavirus has an infection fatality rate overall of about 1% and 70% of the population needs to get infected before you have herd immunity that means in the United States with a population right now of 330 million people 2,310,000 people would have to die in order to achieve natural herd immunity; that being 7,000 deaths per million population, more than 3 times as bad as New York City and Detroit, New York City and Detroit being the worst hit cities the United States has seen. That would be a death toll comparable to the 1918 flu pandemic on a per capita basis; though it should be kept in mind the 1918 flu pandemic killed a lot of otherwise healthy people 20 to 40 years old while the current coronavirus very definitely kills the very old much more than younger age groups.
It terms of what we have seen in reality however virus deaths simply burn out or disappear long before we reach 7,000 deaths per million; often virus deaths disappear at around 600 deaths per million at least when looking at the European countries. The worst hit state in the United States as far as deaths per capita is concerned is New Jersey; according to Worldometers New Jersey had 16,213 deaths up to September 24, 2020 and had 16,011 deaths on August 24, 2020 for 202 deaths in New Jersey over the past month; the population of New Jersey is 8,882,190 (2019 estimate from Wikipedia) so that is a death rate of 1,825 per million.
Again and again wherever you look the coronavirus simply disappears or burns out at least in terms of deaths sooner or later, sooner than you expect, and I don’t know any way to explain this other than herd immunity, that herd immunity develops rather quickly before that many lives are lost, certainly far before 1% of people die which was the fear in the early months of the pandemic.
If you remember way long ago the initial reason given for the lockdowns against the coronavirus was to “flatten the curve” so that the hospital system would not be overwhelmed; the logic being that if everyone got infected all at once and as a result a huge number got sick all at once then the health care system might not be able to treat everyone in need and a lot of unnecessary deaths would result. We are a long long way from our health care system being overwhelmed today; indeed our health care system is under utilized right now because people are afraid to seek treatment for the ordinary health problems they have unrelated to the coronavirus.
Definitely New York State, New Jersey, and Connecticut have reached herd immunity as states. Michigan and Massachusetts are close to herd immunity as states. Lots of localized areas, different cities and counties, have reached herd immunity already. If the United States was to get rid of all of its coronavirus prevention efforts all at once I would say at least our health care system would not be overwhelmed, that the original “flatten the curve” justification for coronavirus restrictions is no longer valid, that there is already enough immunity in the United States population that even with no efforts to limit the coronavirus the hospital system would be able to treat those who came down with the illness.
This is not 1918, the coronavirus as it currently exists is not as deadly in general as the 1918 flu and it does not have the ability to kill the young and the otherwise healthy like the 1918 flu did. One could speculate that the current coronavirus might mutate into something worse but as of now the coronavirus is already weakening as a threat and is losing its ability to kill people even before fall and winter arrives. The virus is still infecting large numbers of people in Europe but it is no longer killing large numbers of people in Europe.
Looking at the United Kingdom, according to Worldometers, the peak 7 day average of deaths was seen on April 14, 2020 at 943 deaths per day, this falling to a minimum of 7 deaths per day on August 21, 2020, the 7 day average of deaths then rising to 28 per day on September 24, 2020. Yes, 28 deaths per day is 4 times the minimum of 7 deaths per day achieved on August 21, 2020 but it is 1/34th of the 943 deaths per day seen on April 14, 2020. The 7 day average of infections was 4,999 on April 14, 2020 and 4,964 on September 24, 2020; about the same. The deaths however today are much lower even though the number of new cases are about the same as previously. Time to panic in the United Kingdom? I don’t think so.
If I was to give public health advice I would say get rid of all coronavirus restrictions in New York State, New Jersey, and Connecticut; nothing bad will happen because the herd immunity there is very strong. I would say nationwide open up the schools for in person classes without face masks for all ages from kindergarten to college because the education and social experience of the young is important and they personally face no significant health risk from the coronavirus and the youths’ teachers and parents face a limited health risk from the virus; only the children’s grandparents and people of retirement age have a personal reason to worry. If a student actually lives with a grandparent then some measures could be taken to protect the grandparent but in general schooling should resume as normal.
From a political perspective I now favor the Republican individualistic approach to coronavirus over the Democratic collectivist approach because I think in general heavy handed measures to try to suppress the virus are likely to do more harm than good since the virus itself isn’t as much of a threat as I earlier feared. I am not opposed to a collectivist response to an external threat in general or in principle, it is just in this case the worst of the threat has already passed and it is time to get back to normal rather than to continue to cultivate fear and worry about worst case scenarios that are unlikely to happen. Natural herd immunity probably means 200,000 more deaths in the United States, not 2 million more deaths, and it will come whether it be intentional public policy or not.