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a newsletter from NOVEL SCIENCE

Science & Society

Dec 8, 2020 at 7:45PM CST


Covid Situation Report

The US CDC reported for December 7th:

  • 14.64 million total cases in the US
  • 281,253 deaths total in the US
  • Noteworthy: 219,187 new cases on December 3, making it the first country to exceed 200,000 cases in a single day.



The US now ranks #11 globally in terms of per capita daily incidence, with 608 daily cases per million population. Of the 10 countries ahead of the US, 5 have populations of less than 1 million, and only Serbia (6.8 million) has a population greater than 5 million. Five (5) of those countries are averaging fewer than 600 total cases per day, and none are reporting more than 7,500.

Our daily update is published. States reported 1.8 million tests, 180k cases, and 1,347 deaths. There are 102, 148 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the US.

From the first case reported in the US on January 22, it took 96 days to reach 1 million cases. Now, it takes 5 days, but it will be another week before we see the effect of Thanksgiving. If that interval shortens more we could have a period where we see 3,000-5,000 deaths per day and overall healthcare quality would decline. People with critical illnesses not related to Covid that were survivable may die because of a care delay.

  • 0 to 1 million- 96 days
  • 1 to 2 million- 44 days
  • 2 to 3 million- 27 days 
  • 3 to 4 million- 15 days
  • 4 to 5 million- 17 days
  • 5 to 6 million- 22 days
  • 6 to 7 million- 25 days
  • 7 to 8 million- 21 days
  • 8 to 9 million- 14 days
  • 9 to 10 million- 10 days
  • 10 to 11 million- 7 days
  • 11 to 12 million- 5 days
  • 12 to 13 million- 7 days
  • 13 to 14 million- 5 days


The US passed 275,000 cumulative deaths on December 3 as well. From the first death reported on February 29, it took 46 days to surpass 25,000 deaths.

  • 0 to 25k deaths- 46 days
  • 25k to 50k- 9 days
  • 50k to 75k- 13 days
  • 75k to 100k- 20 days
  • 100k to 125k- 31 days
  • 125k to 150k- 32 days
  • 150k to 175k- 24 days
  • 175k to 200k- 31 days
  • 200k to 225k- 34 days
  • 225k to 250k- 24 days
  • 250k to 275k- 14 days

The US reported more than 2,300 deaths for 5 consecutive days for the first time everincluding 2,861 deaths on December 3, the third-highest daily total to date.

The US is currently averaging 2,171 deaths per day, the highest since April 25. This corresponds to 1.5 deaths every minute, or 1 death every 40 seconds. The US has only exceeded the current daily mortality for an 11-day period from April 15-25, at the peak of the first surge.

Case reporting shows that most states either recently had or are currently having their highest number of recorded cases in a single day.

While the midwest may be turning the curve—though there are indicators that suggest the decline may not be to the degree it appears—the South, the West—pretty much everywhere but Maine, New York, and Hawaii are seeing the worst of the pandemic.

As a reminder, the CDC data from last week included delayed cases and deaths over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, which could have elevated figures in the past week.

Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security reports that it expects health departments and hospitals to resume normal reporting after catching up after the holiday, so this week will likely provide a more accurate representation of the current state of the US epidemic. It will be another week before we see the effect of Thanksgiving travel and gatherings.

A rough average for testing, hospitalization, and deaths timeline could look like:

  • Spreading Event
    1/3 of those infected may never show symptoms or know they are infected.
  • Testing: 1 week, usually prompted by symptoms—otherwise contact tracing.
  • Hospitalizations: 1-2 weeks
  • Deaths: 2-4 weeks


Moral of the story

Hospitalizations and Deaths lag cases. If cases go up, it’s likely the other two will also, but it takes time. Do not operate under the assumption deaths have gone down simply because they haven’t risen. 

This two-factor graph shows deaths and cases. Deaths are to the left and cases are to the left. While cases took off after June 9th, the deaths did not begin to increase until almost a full month later in July. Unfortunately, many outlets published headlines emphasizing that the death rate had gone down despite infectious disease experts warning that deaths lagged and that this was likely a false narrative. It was. Deaths surged.


HHS Publishes Facility-Level Data on Hospitals

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published detailed, facility-level data on hospital capacity with respect to COVID-19. The data cover more than 2,000 hospitals nationwide, and initial analysis by COVID Tracking Project found that 126 counties are reporting bed availability at 10% or less, principally in Kentucky, Georgia, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Texas. The release of local data provides a much more detailed look at COVID-19 hotspots than the state-level hospitalization data previously available.

Already we have this, which may help divert resources and show where policies are and are not working.



‘V-Day’ in the UK, Delays in the US

“It’s the best early birthday present I could wish for…”

This morning a 90-year-old shop clerk named Margaret Keenan received Britain’s first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as the country rolls out its fledgling vaccination program, starting with people over 80, AP reports.


BREAKING US NEWS: The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is safe and effective, according to a much-anticipated FDA analysis released this morning, priming vaccine for an emergency use authorization, NPR reports. Independent FDA advisors will convene Thursday to consider recommending the FDA grant the Pfizer vaccine a EUA.

  • President Trump plans to sign an executive order that aims to ensure Americans get priority access before doses are shipped abroad to help other countriesABC reports.
  • Pfizer and Moderna—the companies behind the top 2 vaccine candidates—declined to attend President Trump’s vaccine summit, underscoring the rising acrimony between the administration and drugmakers.
  • This summer, the White House opted out of a deal to lock in 100 million additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which may delay US delivery further as the company fulfills commitments to other countries, AP reports. The executive order, which intervenes in the marketplace, may be contributing to the troubled relationships.


DIY LifeHack Compliments of Yale

Low-Cost Air Purifier

Noise: Depending on the fan used, this unit can be relatively quiet (~35 dB).

What you need:

  • 20” x 20” box fan
  • 20” x 20” x 2: MERV13 or higher rated (i.e. HEPA) filter
  • Tape
  • a sense of humor because how has it come to this?

How to assemble:

Attach the filter to the back of the fan with caulking putty (optional, I didn’t use it) and tape. This air purifier works best if above the ground — placement on a small table is a good option.

I made one to see how it worked. It definitely filters the air. Like so many things in the pandemic I find experts say, it’s better than nothing. It’s a low bar, but if you are indoors there are good reasons to think this might help including studies showing this type of filter removing particles from the air in the size range we might find the virus. You can do it with one filter or for a higher volume of air, create the cube as depicted below.


Studies that suggest this may work:


Diagram of how to assemble the filters and fan.

diagram for making a high flow design air purifier


CAVEAT, per an excerpt from an article from WIRED:

This isn’t science yet. These aren’t peer-reviewed studies. This hasn’t been tested under ideal conditions multiple times. No one has run these stats. Caveat experimenter. Still, though—seems worth it. Right? 

“Sure, absolutely. It’s an air purifier. It’s not a HEPA air purifier, but it’s a reasonably good air purifier,” Rosenthal says. “If that’s the only option, I’d rather see people do that than have nothing.”


Be aware that this does not remove the need to wear masks. A man in a restaurant for 5 minutes spread Covid to two people 15 and 20 feet away from him and it’s likely airflow carried it there.

Air can move the virus around indoors which is a reason why filtration of some kind may be worth it. This isn’t an endorsement, so much it is sharing that this may be helpful. We don’t have good evidence on it but past evidence says it might help. The possible unintended effect of dispersing the virus, while not seen in studies for other diseases, cannot be ruled out and DIY filter-fan users must be advised, however unlikely that is.


Goings-on About the Government


NIH-funded Tool Helps Organizations Plan COVID-19 Testing A team led by the Consortia for Improving Medicine with Innovation and Technology (CIMIT) at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, developed the tool to model the costs and benefits of COVID-19 testing strategies for individual organizations. The team developed their mathematical model and calculator as part of NIH’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) Tech program. The calculator is simple–a user enters a few specifics about their site and the tool produces customized scenarios for surveillance testing. The tool models four different COVID-19 testing methods, including onsite and lab-based, and calculates the number of people to test each day. It shows the estimated cost of each testing option and outlines the tradeoffs in the speed and accuracy of each kind of test. (NIH, 12/7/2020).



FDA Authorizes First COVID-19 and Flu Combination Test for Use with Home-collected Samples The US Food and Drug Administration authorized the first diagnostic test for at-home collection of patient samples to detect both COVID-19 and influenza A and B. The FDA authorized Quest Diagnostics RC COVID-19 +Flu RT-PCR Test for prescription use with the Quest Diagnostics Self-Collection Kit for COVID-19 +Flu by individuals who are suspected of respiratory viral infection consistent with COVID-19 when home collection is determined to be appropriate by an individual’s healthcare provider. Under a health care provider’s order, patients can collect a sample at home and ship it to a Quest Diagnostics laboratory for analysis following the instructions included with the self-collection kit. (FDA, 12/4/2020)


Recommended Reads:


Words That Work When Talking About Coronavirus 


from outside sources

To Control COVID, Biden Needs to Marshal Federal Resources—and Change Attitudes from Scientific American

  • The incoming U.S. president must help skeptics see benefits in masks, and persuade Congress to spend more money on testing and protective gear.

Does the World Need a New Global Health Organization? from Foreign Affairs
We at Foreign Affairs have recently published a number of pieces on global health organizations and the COVID-19 pandemic. To complement these articles, we decided to ask a broad pool of experts for their take. 

Here’s Why Vaccinated People Still Need to Wear a Mask from the New York TimesThe new vaccines will probably prevent you from getting sick with Covid. No one knows yet whether they will keep you from spreading the virus to others — but that information is coming.

Johns Hopkins releases online guidance for schools returning to in-person learning
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Schools of Public Health and Medicine on Monday released an online educational series that aims to guide school and district officials nationwide, on best practices to reduce COVID-19 risks, when they decide it’s time to have students and teachers return for in-person learning.


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