How Long Can COVID Cases Keep Plummeting?


Since almost the beginning of the pandemic last winter, Harvard’s Michael Mina has been among the country’s most outspoken epidemiologists, urging the public-health Establishment toward a more responsive and creative approach to managing the pandemic, particularly focused on deploying rapid COVID tests, similar to home-pregnancy tests, to help curb the virus’s spread. In October, I spoke to him about the very scary seasonality of the disease and the country’s complacency about it. In December, we talked about the maddening continuing resistance among the medical Establishment to rapid tests, as well as the risks of counting on the efficacy of vaccines, given how little time we’d observed them. We spoke again this week, with a new administration promising a rollout of more rapid testing and vaccine distribution in full swing, but the threat of new strains on the horizon.

How do you see the state of things, right now? I’m having a hard time sort of juggling the bad news about strains versus the good news about vaccines and the trajectories going down. How about you?
Well, my personal feeling is we are seeing the benefits of seasonality hit, which I know some of my colleagues don’t necessarily agree with. But it’s not uncommon for coronaviruses to essentially start dropping around now. Most of the known coronaviruses have something on the order of a three-month window where they’re really infectious — when they’re really transmitting.

And that’s more or less what we were expecting would happen, or at least what I was expecting would happen, in the fall. In the summer, when a lot of people were saying, “This might not be a seasonal virus,” it was just so obvious to me that this was going to hit harder in the fall and that we needed to prepare for that. Now, I think the corollary is that there’s no reason to think that infection rates wouldn’t drop a few months later, just like all of the other coronaviruses. We don’t fully appreciate or understand why seasonality works like this, but if the trajectory stays this way and we also start to achieve some level of herd effects or herd immunity, I think the next few months could start to offer a reprieve. Ideally that will last through the summer until we get into next fall, when we’ll probably have another wave of it. The wild card, of course, being the variants.


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