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The Columbia COVID Study

Really interesting study about COVID-19 out of Columbia University. This study based their model on actual data at the county level (rather than state or even country), which is important because virus transmission is always local, and used 7-day averages, which is important to avoid data noise.

The result that is getting all the headlines is that if the US had started distancing measures just 1 week earlier than we did, then the death toll would have been reduced 55% (less than half the people would have died). And if the US had started 2 weeks earlier, then they would have been reduced by 83%.

This is all about exponential growth. Small changes early on lead to huge changes in results later.

A study result that is even more interesting to me is that they actually showed that when distancing measures are relaxed, there is a significant delay in response. Here’s the important quote from the study:

… a decline of daily confirmed cases continues for almost two weeks after easing of control measures. … This decreasing trend, caused by the NPIs [non-pharmaceutical interventions] in place prior to May 4, 2020 coupled with the lag between infection acquisition and case confirmation, conveys a false signal that the pandemic is well under control. Unfortunately, due to high remaining population susceptibility, a large resurgence of both cases and deaths follows.

The original study itself is a bit of a slog. The NY Times has a easier-to-read summary. If you don’t have access to that, I’m sure there will be more articles about this soon (although the further away you get from the original study the more it gets muddied by the media).

Bottom line:

  • Timing is everything in the spread of a virus. If you wait until things are bad, it is way too late. Just a one-week delay killed 36,000 people by May 3 (more than ten times the death toll from 9/11). It will continue to kill more in the future if we don’t get this under control.
  • Opening things up and then waiting two weeks to see what happens is a trap. We are already falling for that trap. If we fall for it a second time, then shame on us.


One Comment

  1. Dan wrote:

    Forget that, let’s talk about the second wave. That is assuming we are done with the first. Had we started social distancing and testing/tracking a month earlier, the second wave may be smaller, but that didn’t happen, and waiting before lifting restrictions isn’t happening, plus now we have these idiots who have “constitutional right”. Hey,it’s my “Constitutional right” to be free of paying for the healthcare of people not wearing masks or social distancing. I also want to know how “stand-your-ground” laws apply here? Can I shoot someone in public who refuses to wear a mask?

    Friday, May 22, 2020 at 11:13 am | Permalink