COVID19: March 21, 2020 update

(1) Israel saw its first death from the epidemic, an 88-year old Shoah survivor from Jerusalem named Aryeh Even. May his memory be for a blessing.

The total number of patients reached 883. Despite “soft lockdown”, people still went out to the beach and to national parks.

(2) Neuroscientist and sci-fi author Robert E. Hampson: reports on an Icelandic biotech company has been organizing a free testing program running in parallel with the official one, and where everybody can ask to be tested. Presumably the purpose is to gather better data about what the small island nation is really dealing with. (At about 335,000, they can in principle test their entire population.)

The biggest takeaway of the results: about one-half of those who tested positive never got ill at all — a number congruent with what is seen on the Diamond Princess.

(2b) From the same post, a preprint on MedRXiv (DOI 10.1101/2020.03.05.20031773 ) of a detailed epidemiological analysis of the Diamond Princess data and of the China data. The central result: they estimate an IFR (infection fatality rate, i.e., dead per number of people infected) of 0.5% (one-half percent), with a 95% confidence interval running from 0.2 to 1.2%, and a CFR (case fatality rate, i.e., dead per number of people who actually get sick) of 1.1%, with a 95% confidence interval running from 0.3 to 2.4%. I certainly hope it’s closer to the bottom than to the top of these CIs.

Israeli epidemiologist Dan Yamin, interviewed here in Haaretz (archive link) argues for low figures as well, and (very much to the distaste of Haaretz’s small, leftist readership) gives Trump’s response positive marks and the WHO’s negative marks. He also stresses what I’ve been suspecting: that anomalously high apparent CFRs in some countries (notably Italy) reflect a selection bias in testing, with scarce testing resources being applied primarily to cases with an already probable COVID19 diagnosis. (Link via Jordan Schachtel.)

We need more and faster testing, and we need it yesterday.

Happy first day of spring, stay healthy, stay safe, stay calm.

Addendum: somebody forwarded a graph highlighting the flatter case incidence graphs for countries like Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, as well as for Hong Kong. Correlation is not causation, of course, and particularly the Japanese by default practice a considerable degree of social distancing on the micro level, but in all of these places, wearing face masks when one has even the slightest hint of a respiratory infection is common social custom. Wearing a mask prophylactically when one is not feeling ill: somebody who lived in Japan for a long time told me people won’t routinely do it except in flu season, but it is definitely socially acceptable.

Addendum 2: The Johns Hopkins COVID19STATS dataset is online here.

Addendum 3: HonestReporting produced this brief memorial video for Aryeh Even z”l.

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