COVID19 update, September 25, 2020: CDC publishes revised fatality rates per age group; The new normal in Italy; petition by Belgian physicians; Israel tightens lockdown starting tomorrow

(1) (H/t: Instapundit) The Centers for Disease Control, which has a very detailed website, published a report that contains new “best estimates” for infection fatality rates, broken down by age group. According to Table 1, last column:

ages 0 tot 19: 0.003% (i.e., 1 in 33,333)
ages 20-49: 0.02% (1 in 5,000)
ages 50-69: 0.5% (1 in 200)
70 and over: 5.4%  (alas, 1 out of 19)

Especially the figures for the young and fairly young are way lower than what the average person on the street has picked up from the sensationalist media.

The same report claims an estimated asymptomatic infection rate of 40%, but it could be as low as 10% or as high as 70%. Let that sink in for a moment: of 10 people who get infected, 7 will never even notice being ill. (My guess is their T-cell system works properly and nips the infection in the bud. T-cell immunity weakens with age…)

(2) The Wall Street Journal has an article on how people in the hard-hit Northern regions of Italy are coping with the aftermath of the lockdown. While current regulations there are pretty lenient, the population exercises caution of its own initiative, moving activities outdoors even when it is not required, and avoiding crowded places. Also, the common reliance on grandparents as “unpaid babysitters” has been toned down a little.

Months after Italy’s lockdown against the coronavirus ended, Enrica Grazioli still sanitizes everything that comes into her Milan apartment, wears face masks diligently and limits interactions between her sons and their grandparents. […] Ms. Grazioli, a self-proclaimed social butterfly who loves to cook for guests, still hasn’t had friends over for dinner since the virus struck. “Am I overdoing it?” says Ms. Grazioli. “Maybe, but we had a national tragedy of epic proportions and you don’t quickly forget something like that.” […] Italy, the first nation outside Asia to suffer a major coronavirus outbreak, had one of the world’s worst death tolls this spring. Overflowing hospitals in parts of northern Italy had to choose which patients got the last intensive-care beds. The Italian army drove truckloads of victims out of the city of Bergamo, which couldn’t cope with the dead. […] That shocking experience helps explain why Italy is so far having greater success than many other European countries in limiting the pandemic’s second wave.

I frankly also think that many of the hardest-hit towns in Italy being infected at near-herd immunity levels has a lot to do with it. Witness:

The percentage of tests that come back positive—a measure of whether testing is sufficiently comprehensive—is 2.1% in Italy, higher than it was in June but lower than in most of Europe, according to official data. A low positivity rate indicates that testing is widespread and not restricted to people who show symptoms. The World Health Organization recommends a positivity rate of 5% or less as a condition for reopening.

The percentage of positive tests is lower still in Lombardy, the epicenter of Italy’s pandemic, according to the regional government.

In Spain, by comparison, government data shows 11.9% of tests are positive, suggesting many infections go undetected.

“Reynaert”, one of my sources in Belgium, pointed to an article from De Standaard (in Dutch) discussing the second wave there — and how the province of Limburg, which was so hard-hit in the first wave, is now doing well in part because people are quite cautious.

(3) A libertarian think tank has picked up the English translation of an open letter by a group of Belgian doctors who are calling on the government to discontinue disruptive social distancing mandates and instead to adopt the Swedish model, rather than ruin the economy (and public health other than COVID19). The English version is definitely worth a read.

(4) Israel’s “lockdown lite” changes to a more severe lockdown starting tomorrow at 2pm local. Escalating hospitalizations, and “unprecedented” positive testing figures led to this move: PM Netanyahu wanted to impose it now, as an escalation of the existing lockdown, because this is a Jewish holiday season where stores are closed several days anyhow and people often take many of the remaining days off. Hence the economic cost is lighter than to have to do it anyhow after the current lockdown.

One goal is to bring down new infection figures to a range that the “track and trace” system can manage. Privacy concerns aside (not that Israelis are very privacy-minded to begin with), South Korea and Taiwan have shown this is one way to “tame” an epidemic without lockdowns (in this case, further lockdowns).

I am personally at best ambivalent about this second hard lockdown (after the one in the spring). Indeed, health professionals as senior as “Corona czar” Prof. Roni Gamzu say it goes too far. See also here. I’m aware that several hospitals (Assuta in Ashdod and Shaarei Tzedek in Jerusalem, off the top of my head) have announced they cannot admit more COVID19 patients, so I realize something had to be done. I just do not believe this is the best of all somethings.

ADDENDUM: the “KAN” news had a segment (in Hebrew) about the situation at the HaEmek [“The Valley”] hospital in the town of Afula (North of the West Bank). They are currently full up on one corona ward, the reserve ward has room for another 10 patients if they do not require respirators. Some of the patients on the ward actually only have mild corona but are in hospital for other ailments and cannot be placed in general hospital population lest they infect staff and patients. (Mild corona cases who otherwise have no need to be in hospital are generally kept at home or in a “corona hotel”, as per their preference.)
An (Arab Israeli) doctor being interviewed explains the difference between the two waves: “The first time around, we saw mostly Jews: returned from trips abroad, or got infected at Purim parties. Also some Arabs returning from Turkey. This time around? 90% Arabs. Most got infected at mass wedding parties. This is the result of taking things lightly and of fatalism. (He did not use the term “inshallah” but paraphrased it.)

Their local positive rate on tests is 15% —- in another segment, we are told that the rate in Arab East Jerusalem is 18%, vs. 10.5% national average.

In a third segment, we hear that the Rambam academic hospital in Haifa opened its emergency underground ward (originally meant for war or mass casualty events), adding capacity for 110 COVID patients immediately, with maximum capacity of up to 700 patients (of which some 170 can be on respirators).

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