Today marks the first time I can really see King county approaching zero cases. Of course there will be some cases in the wild, but our new case load and new death rate is consistently approaching a low enough level that we can start considering issues like false positives in testing. The next three charts show the progress.
I still think testing is a very conservative measure – remember that nearly anyone who gets a medium to severe case of COVID will show up at the ER to be tested. So the 60 or so cases we’re seeing each day is probably nearly everyone in King County who is symptomatic.
The news is also great when we look at deaths.
The last two days, only 3 people have died each in King County. This low number is especially impressive when we remember that death rate is the most laggy indicator – the very last to show results – because it takes people 3-4 weeks from infection to die.
None of this indicates to me that we’ve got this thing beaten to zero cases in the wild. Lots of evidence points to a sizable number of patients with mild or no symptoms who can still transmit the illness to others. These patients won’t get tested and won’t show up in the stats, but they may be the source of the 60 or so new cases we’re seeing per day. Even as we approach zero new tests per day, there will still be some out there. Now, if we could put a bubble over Seattle for the next 4 weeks and keep it up, we might be able to eradicate the virus. But we can’t so we will continue to get both native new cases and an influx of new cases from neighboring states that could set fire to the tinder of our population. Thankfully it appears we will coordinate our opening up with Oregon and California, but that leaves a lot of other states who are earlier in the cycle or refusing to seriously social distance who could reinfect our people.
Opening up will thus be very tricky, and will require great caution. An no matter what we do, opening up will reignite infections and deaths. Rushing it will set us back four weeks of hard work and force us to do it all over again from scratch. We’ve surely acquired essentially no herd immunity so we’re still a giant pile of tinder waiting to be set aflame.
The good news is this virus appears to be manageable with extreme social distancing – it’s not so easily transmitted that our remaining freedoms – shopping for groceries, hiking on trails, cycling down the road – and our natural rate of noncompliance were enough to keep the fire burning. Now we just need to see how far we can push it without having it explode again.