The Second Wave has Peaked

I *think* the “second wave” has peaked. By second wave I mean the delayed first wave in the sunbelt. That’s the reason I used scare quotes– because it really isn’t a second wave.  While nearly a thousand people were dying per day in New York state, most of the country didn’t experience the death and suffering New York and other northeastern states saw. The first wave wasn’t a national wave. States across the country reacted and stopped the spread of the virus in time. Eventually these states reopened their economies. As they reopened it was obvious there would eventually be an increase in cases as people took less and less precautions against the virus. So, what we have experienced is less of a “second wave” and more of a delayed first wave. 

And while we have been dealing with that delayed first wave, many in the media and others have attempted to stoke fears about the “second wave”. They have used charts like the one below to make it seem like things are worse now than they were in April. 

But things have changed. The data from March and April is not comparable to the data from June and July. We’re testing magnitudes more– from 153,772 on April 20th to 768,461 on July 19th. Obviously when we look for more cases, we are going to find more cases! That’s a good thing. When we account for the surge in tests (the graph below), we see a rise in the percent positive tests. That rise represents an increase in actual cases. 

While many have been irrationally hysterical about the “second wave”– going so far as to call for new lockdowns– the situation really was deteriorating in many states and it was important to stop the viruses spread before it got out of control. I think things are back under control. Maybe I’m being too optimistic but here’s why I think the “second wave” is over:

First, let’s look at that second chart again. 

We see that since July 11th, the percent of positive tests has remained flat– and that’s as tests are increasing. That suggests the spread of the virus has slowed down. A similar phenomenon is seen in many of the states which had delayed first waves. And some are even seeing declines in their rate of positive tests. 

This data is supported by R0 estimates from The national estimated R0 peaked in mid-June as 1.11 and has declined to 1.02. Like with the percent of positive cases, the decline in the R0 can be seen in state levels R0. Texas has gone from 1.36 to 0.99, Florida from 1.31 to 1.0, and Arizona from 1.33 to 0.94. A R0 of less than one means the virus isn’t spreading.

Another sign the delayed first wave has peaked is death per day estimated. Last week, the program estimated a peak in the low 1,000s in mid-August. Now they estimate that peak to be 913 on August 11. 

While confirmed cases per day and deaths per day data is noisy, it looks like they could be flattening or even declining in some states! Because many of the effects are delayed, there will still be bad news to follow but the “real peak” has already passed– and we managed without high cost and blunt policies like stay at home orders. 

A real second wave is possible. So is a third first wave in states that were not part of the first or second first wave. It all depends on how responsible people behave. Wear masks– they are a safe way to protect you and others. Practice social distancing in public whenever possible. A vaccine could be ready for limited deployment by September. Use for the general population could be seen by the new year! Until then, we have two pharmaceuticals that work and news of a possible third. We can see the light at the end of this pandemic. 

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