Take a look at these four charts. They pretty much speak for themselves.
Chart 1: New Daily Reported Cases per M people. (Actual daily cases are ~6x these numbers, per IHME)
Chart 2: New Daily Reported Deaths per M people. (Actual daily deaths are ~1.6x these numbers, per IHME)
Chart 3: Percentage of population vaccinated
Chart 4: % of population wearing masks, per IHME
What the data now tells us, in my opinion:
- The fourth wave is now upon us. In most parts of the world, this is now a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
- Thanks to the variants, cases are spiking in precisely those areas that have (a) the lowest rates of vaccination, and (b) low rates of mask use. While Canada, the US and the UK have very similar rates of vaccination (especially if you add in the proportion that have acquired immunity from infection — 11% in Canada and Germany, 21% in the UK, 33% in France, and 39% in the US — there is not a lot of differences between the total percentage of the population in these countries that is, we hope, now immune to infection. But that total varies enormously within countries, from about 50% in conservative, rural and vaccine-and-mask-hesitant areas (far below herd immunity levels), to over 80% in progressive, more urban and highly-vaccinated areas (where herd immunity has probably been reached). The difference in new case loads, hospitalizations and new deaths between 50%-immune areas and 80%-immune areas, even within countries, and even within cities, is enormous.
- Because young people have been the least encouraged to get vaccinated and to use masks, the fourth wave is hitting the young especially hard. The new variants are dense (much higher average number of viral particles per infected patient) and highly-transmissible, and even though young people are less likely to be hospitalized or die if they get CoVid-19, they are now making up a much larger percentage of the infected, hospitalized, and dying. And that means that the total number of people who are likely to get permanent or chronic “long-CoVid” syndromes is likely to soar.
- Wearing masks still helps dramatically. The decision to eliminate indoor mask mandates was clearly premature. Compare Canada’s case rate (65% wearing masks, leading to 10 new cases/M/day and 0.17 new deaths/M/day) with that of the US (only 20% now wearing masks, leading to 120 new cases/M/day and 0.75 new deaths/M/day). Back in the spring when Americans were nearly as diligent at wearing masks as Canadians, their new case rates and death rates per capita were comparable to Canadians’. Not anymore.
- Areas like Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand and Hawai’i (especially their older citizens) are especially vulnerable to wave four. Their “Go For Zero” strategy has saved countless lives and much “long-CoVid” misery, but their combination of very slow vaccination rates, vaccine hesitancy and in some cases low mask usage rates, means that once their borders are opened even a little, their infection rates could quickly catch up to global averages.
- New case rates have not yet dropped nearly low enough to justify reopening restaurants and other often mask-less indoor spaces, or to justify allowing events with lots of crowds and non-local visitors to resume. This is the fourth time now we have been either too slow responding to spikes in new case rates, or too hasty in reopening establishments and activities before the pandemic is under control.
My personal strategy for masks is to keep my mask on in indoor spaces and at crowded events if the local daily new reported cases/M people is above 3. Especially if I’m going to be in that space for more than, say, 15 minutes. That’s the gold standard the Go For Zero strategy recommends and it seems logical to me. Much of Canada was there last summer and we might, if we keep the masks on and the unvaccinated out, get there again (from the current level of 10) in a month or two. Until then, I’d rather be safe than sorry, and considerate of all those who can’t yet get vaccinated.