At the end of February, I have predicted that the COVID-19 pandemic will recede definitively. I said I will hold myself accountable and evaluate my prediction after three months. The time is due. As promised, I reviewed the current situation.
As of 6/4/2021, 79% of San Francisco over 12 have received at least one dose of vaccine. My elder son is going to get his second dose today. The vaccination effort in SF is hitting a plateau. Nevertheless, 79% is a great milestone to attain. Congratulations to the citizens and health workers.
As you can see from the data, new COVID-19 cases in San Francisco have fallen from about 50 per day at the end of February to about 12 per day now. The threat is now at minimal level. Further large-scale outbreak is very unlikely.
I did not have any extra information or used any sophisticated model to make my prediction. I thought the trend was pretty obvious just from public data reported. The winter surge has clearly passed. At that point, many people have already been infected. The vaccine supply and adoption is robust (contrary what many health officials said). The pandemic will end, one way or the other. I thought it was so clear that everyone should see what I have seen. It is perplexing to me that so many people still have a fatalistic view. This includes public quotes from many epidemic experts. For example, this article from March is titled Why another COVID surge could hit the Bay Area in the months ahead. Specific predictions made by experts includes
Dr. John Swartzberg, a UC Berkeley infectious disease expert, gives the likelihood of another surge a 45% chance. If it occurs, it will hit at the end of March and into April, he says.
Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a UCSF infectious disease expert, has a bleaker prediction: The likelihood is 100%, he said.
I wish the press would hold themselves and the experts accountable like what I have done here. It is to the best interest of the public when we check the statement people made about the future. Granted they can hedge by saying there is a surge somewhere around the country. But that is the pandemic has receded in the San Francisco Bay Area rather than surging. This article actually quoted similar data and used similar arguments like what I have done here. Why we come up with polar opposite prognosis is a mystery. The stakes are higher than just who wins the wager. It is about trust and credibility. For their own good, they should do a post-mortem to analyze why some of the things they have said are so off.
Back to the big question, when does the pandemic end? I think of this from two perspectives. From one perspective, there is still much going on. A significant portion of the population do not plan to receive vaccines. Inflection and death from COVID still happen everyday. Problems are flaring in the rest of the world, where vaccination is lacking behind the developed countries. And then there are variants to worry about. In the fight against COVID, there is no end in sight.
The other perspective says that political leadership means the ability to make decisive decisions in a messy world. There is never a time when things are 100% alright or when people are 100% in agreement. Yet we cannot afford to delay decisions forever waiting for perfection. From time to time, we have to make a clear decision. From this perspective, I say the pandemic is now over. Take a second look at the data I quoted in the beginning of this post. They are sufficient information. I hurray Governor Newsom’s plan to end all pandemic measures in California by Jun 15th, or President Biden’s goal for the citizens to properly celebrate 4th of July. These are great rituals to signal the end of our main pandemic responses.
The next phrase will be to make the best effort to vaccinate the rest of the US, and more importantly, the rest of the world. To my surprise, like the puzzling fatalistic view of the medical experts, a portion of the population are not comfortable with the idea that the pandemic is over. They have dutifully practiced all the COVID precautions since last year, it is hard to put them down. In particular, some people are very uncomfortable that we are not all wearing masks anymore. They seem to be less concerned with the actual efficacy in real life, but more about doing everything to eliminate any risk no matter how small they are. As COVID-19 cases and death continue to drop, the gap between their fear and the reality widens. At some point we would ask if this is irrational fear? I name this condition COVID-phobia. Those people who believe they have legitimate health concerns may find this offense. On the other hand, I sincerely believe that a large-scale phobia is of real public health concern. It could manifest as the Hikikomori phenomenon observed in Japan. Or it could manifest as the problem that US public school teachers continue to refuse to return to school, unconvinced by the efficacy of vaccines, and unconcerned that they are out of step with the rest of the society.
My new prediction is the medical community will become aware of the problem of COVID-phobia in the coming months. I admit this is less certain than the COVID-19 is waning prediction I made a few months ago. But if a prediction is risk free and unsurprising, it is not much of a prediction. I will again revisit this in six months. I hope the story will end well.