Listen: Have We Turned the Corner?

Meyer: No, I agree with you. I think there is a lot of communication happening right now that’s like Don’t let up, don’t let up, don’t let up that is not as justified by the data. But if you want me to stake my credibility to saying we just saw the absolute worst ever, I would just want to attach a few more unknown unknowns.

If we do have another surge, it will be later than we might expect. It’s like looking at distant stars. If you look at a star that’s a hundred light-years away, you’re looking at the star as it was a hundred years ago. Because not everyone gets tested and because it takes time for the virus to incubate, it just takes a lot of time for us to see changes in the world in our data. When we look at cases going down, what we’re really looking at is infections going down a week ago. And if we expect a surge, by the time we even start to see that in the data, it would have to be, like, six weeks from now just because of how long it takes these things to show up in the data.

And I think there is a chance that at the very moment that vaccinations really open up to the general public in April, we also see our last peak of cases. I do think Alexis is right though, that we’ll have vaccinated a lot of the most vulnerable population by then. What we’d be more worried about in that final surge is not so much deaths as just: This is not a fun illness to get. There’s a lot of long-term problems that we don’t fully understand. And if we could, [we should] avoid another 50,000 people potentially having to deal with those problems.

Hamblin: So you’d be pretty confident saying that we might have another surge in cases, but that we probably passed our peak of hospitalizations and deaths?

Meyer: Unless there’s something really wrong with the vaccination data, it would be really hard to get more deaths.

Hamblin: So that’s the message people are hearing. It sounds very optimistic. And yet these numbers are still very high, and the way we play this out between now and the summer, it’s easy to lose track of those stakes because the numbers are already so high. Alexis, could you talk about California specifically? Are we potentially letting up on the basis of this future that’s just not quite here yet?

Madrigal: The policies that states have enacted have not always had, to me, a totally clear and explicable relationship with what is happening in that state’s data. Some of that is the lagginess that Rob was talking about. California has pulled out of shelter in place. I think the thing that’s really tough for me is: We went into shelter in place a fairly long time ago and it’s hard to see the inflection there [for] the state making an ask of its population, and then [later] them doing something differently.[2] [3]  Right now, the numbers in California are borderline unbelievable [in how] encouraging the last, say, five days [have been]. Even a week ago, it was still looking quite bad. And now we’re seeing case numbers that we haven’t seen since November.

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