The following title caught my eye, especially since I had unsuccessfully tried to convince family on a Zoom call that we were not out of the woods yet : “America Is Ignoring the Coronavirus Variants at Its Own Peril – A tale of “two epidemics.”
Everything was hunky dory (does anyone even use that term anymore?) around this time last year. There was some vague news about a virus in China but who was worried about trouble in a far, far away land. And then we ran into the buzz saw of COVID and we are all still in the midst of it seeking some normalcy.
More than 500,000 deaths in the US alone and millions and millions more infected but at least we are starting to see some possibility of normalcy. Cases seem to be declining…we’re starting to get the vaccines into arms – slowly but steadily. And voila, states who have been under enormous political pressure are fast re-opening everything, removing restrictions and generally pretending that we are out of the woods. And I know some of the readers will take me to task again for talking gloom and doom but there are two major flaws in this logic that should have all of us very concerned.
The numbers right now are actually worse than they were less than a year ago – and those numbers were unbelievable at that time – everyone thought those were alarmist projections. But because we have been through such high numbers of case, severe illnesses, deaths etc. etc., just getting back to those alarming numbers feels like we’ve made tremendous progress and we haven’t – yet. Alumni of Sourcing/Supply Chain “U” will remember the concept of “setting the anchor” in negotiations – this is the same concept in real life. We have all re-set our mental anchors from metrics that were alarming a few months ago to using the same metrics to justify going back to normalcy. “Researchers warn that their models indicate a “calm before the storm.” It seems that we have mentally negotiated against ourselves and reset the anchor because we are all tired of dealing with this – a very natural human reaction but one that could also be deadly in its consequences.
The second major flaw is that most of these indicators are lagging indicators which are the worst kind to base policy on in Public Health. Hospitalizations, cases, deaths are all lagging indicators – they tell us what has already happened and nothing we can do about them. Epidemiologists rely on leading indicators and those tell a much scarier tale today I’m afraid to report. While the virus is not an “intelligent” entity in the traditional sense of the definition, it does have a very strong ability to adapt and survive. Three variants have already been identified in the US that may reduce the impact of the vaccines – Pfizer is already talking about the need for a third dose. Tracking these variants gives us a peek into what’s coming – a leading indicator. Yet we are again way behind on this as well. “But unlike in the United States, Danish authorities are sequencing genomes from more than half of the country’s positive cases. As a result, they’ve been able to detect “two epidemics“—one driven by the old variants and receding, and another that’s on the rise, driven by B.1.1.7.” Fortunately, we are just starting to put funding behind this effort to start getting ahead of the curve. Otherwise, the pace of vaccinations will be outweighed by the spread of the variants and we will never catch up.
My profuse apologies for raining on the parade but prudent risk management demands that we not ignore reality and take mitigating actions now.