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Making Sense of the (Happy) Mystery of the Declining COVID Death Toll

HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 30: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Medical staff wears full PPE as they wrap a deceased patient with bed sheets and a body bag in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on Ju... HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 30: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Medical staff wears full PPE as they wrap a deceased patient with bed sheets and a body bag in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on June 30, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations have spiked since Texas reopened, pushing intensive-care wards to full capacity and sparking concerns about a surge in fatalities as the virus spreads. (Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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July 7, 2020 1:16 p.m.

One of the true mysteries of this stage of the COVID Crisis in the United States is why the death toll from the disease continues to fall, albeit slowly, even after months of plateaued cases and weeks of rapid case growth in most of the country. The White House has glommed on to this disjuncture in a highly dishonest and opportunistic way. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to understand what’s happening on its own terms.

It is helpful to distinguish between two issues.

The first is the range of potential reasons why fewer people may be dying of COVID or becoming severely ill even though more people are getting it – even taking into account more testing. I want to devote another post to making sense of potential reasons for this. They are a variety of factors including the age profile of people getting infected, an improved standard of care, perhaps even people becoming infected with less intensive exposure.

Again, we’ll come back to those in another post.

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