Will the end of 2020 bring the start of the end of the pandemic?Dec 21, 2020
The year 2020 started quietly. The New York Times headlines on January 1, 2020, were anodyne and hardly portended what was to come. Of course, the run-up to the 2020 election was well underway. The Dow Jones average was set to soar to a new record on January 2, but below its current new record-setting levels. There were not yet news stories about an emerging virus. China had reported the outbreak on December 31, 2019, as told in the first New York Times story about the emerging epidemic on January 6. Our vocabularies were yet to include SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, lockdown, masks, and social distancing.
As 2020 ends, the pandemic is again surging in the United States and Europe while we experience yet another wave of infections. The news from much of the country is dire with some regions reaching care capacity, including Southern California with its population of 24 million. Fortunately, the epidemic curve has bent in Colorado with hospitalizations dropping from a peak of 1,847 on December 1 to 1,293 on December 20. The downturn signals that Colorado escaped a surge from mingling during Thanksgiving. Coloradans begin the Christmas and New Year holiday positioned to weather the possibility of another holiday-caused surge. This is good news, but compare the current incidence rate (1,500 infections per 100,000) to the April peak (836 infections per 100,000) and the summer low (138 infections per 100,000). At the current incidence rate, still double the April peak, an upward inflection in the epidemic curve could quickly lead to a threatening rise in infections.
If we can maintain transmission control at its current level with the effective reproductive number (RE) below one, the curve will continue to decline. To do so, we need to stick with the current measures in place across the next few weeks. Then, Colorado should be better positioned to begin to relax current policy measures and to consider reopening schools in January.
These measures come with consequences that we dislike but need to endure, including allowing outdoor but not indoor dining. In Sunday’s Denver Post, faculty member Beth Carlton and I, along with other modeling team members, comment on the need to restrict indoor dining for now. The op-ed speaks to the risk of transmission in restaurants, places where customers are not wearing masks and servers and other personnel are placed at risk for infection. We are sympathetic to the plight of owners and workers who need relief as they sacrifice to help control Colorado’s epidemic. Accompanying op-eds bring the perspective of restaurant owners. One speaks to the frustrations of owners who are doing their best to reduce transmission in their restaurants while others are noncompliant. The second speaks to the loss of restaurants, a theme that Beth and I echoed. I am hopeful that the next few months will be the last of this “dark winter” and that restaurants can begin to reopen if the epidemic curve continues to decline.
This is my last commentary for 2020. I am proud that the Colorado School of Public Health has played key roles with many partners to help slow the COVID-19 pandemic. Our faculty, staff, and students are engaged in looking at how we can advance diversity and equity in the Colorado School of Public Health as we seek to identify and remove the barriers implanted by structural racism. Some of this work was highlighted in the recent State of the School presentation. Watch the recording for a recap of an extraordinary year and what we hope to accomplish in the next.
Happy New Year. My metaphorical model predicts a healthier 2021. Stay safe, distanced, and masked over the holidays.