A Dismal COVID19 Miscellany

May 5, 2020 2:43 p.m.

Let me run through a few miscellaneous news items.

*** After San Marino, which is a city-state with too small a population to make the statistic meaningful, the highest per capita COVID19 death toll in the world is in Belgium. Belgium has 692 fatalities per million inhabitants. Compare that to 386 for France; 433 for Great Britain; 215 for the USA; 83 for Germany; 548 for Spain. Why haven’t we heard more about this? According to the Belgians their death toll is really not higher. Their counting is just better.

We’ve spoken about all the excess mortality deaths during the epidemic, fatalities which are products of the crisis and in many or most cases caused by unknown COVID19 infections. Belgium says they’re simply doing much better at properly counting them. Most countries aren’t or at least weren’t counting all the deaths in nursing homes because a great proportion of those people never get tested. Belgium has been counting those deaths on the basis of symptoms even if there was no test. Belgium is counting them. So is it just better counting? At least partly. This chart from the Times shows that Belgium total excess mortality was highest than all the other European countries on this list but Spain. But their official count – from mid-April account for 85% of the total excess mortality, much more than the other countries listed.

*** The LA Times has an ominous new article which reports a new study out of Los Alamos National Laboratory which, according to the Times, says that there’s a new strain of COVID19 which is more infectious, possibly more lethal (the study itself doesn’t speak to that point) and seems to be responsible for the epidemic in Europe and the East Coast of the United States. This sounded very worrisome and very problematic for the chances of developing an effectively and durable vaccine. So I searched through my list of virologists and epidemiologists on Twitter to see what they made of it. I found this from Angela Rasmussen, at Columbia University. She says there’s less here than meets the eye. To be clear, I don’t think she’s saying it’s bad science. She’s saying the article draws conclusions which the study does not support. I recommend reading this Twitter thread to put the article into context.

*** This article in Science looks at the still unsettled and conflicting evidence about the role of children as spreaders of COVID19, a critical question for when and how to reopen schools.

*** This article reports that the first COVID19 case in France, based on going back and testing earlier samples, was in December.

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