Covid-19: What you need to know today

This is the 200th instalment of a column on Covid-19 that I began on March 19. I’ve written it at least five days a week since (there are a few weeks when I wrote seven or six, and one week when I could manage only four). I’m still learning, but because the column requires extensive reading, it has deepened my understanding of the virus, testing, the human immune system, drugs, and therapies. My background (in math and engineering) has helped, but not as much as my colleagues Jamie Mullick, Sanchita Sharma, and Binayak Dasgupta, who have generously shared with me their expertise in math, public health, and science. Our understanding of the virus, how it affects us, and what works and what doesn’t, continues to grow, as the pandemic itself ebbs and flows across geographies – continuing to provide me with fodder for this column. And when they don’t, I come up with something – such as Dispatch 73, on June 4, where I wrote about masks, and used the opportunity to quote from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem We Wear The Mask, which is about racism and identity in the US (the column appeared around the time the Black Lives Matter protests peaked).

“…Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while,

We wear the mask.”

There are some Constant Readers who have told me I should continue to write the column till a vaccine comes out, and is widely available, but I don’t know – I do have a day job, after all. But I’m being self-indulgent; 200 is a personal milestone on a day there were other not-so-personal ones related to the pandemic.

The first is the peak the US touched in terms of daily new cases: at least 121,000, according to the New York Times; 102,830 according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center; and 118,319 according to worldometers.info. The third wave of the pandemic has been the worst in the country, and across most states, the seven-day average is trending up, a clear indication that the number of cases could go even higher. The world, too, saw a new peak in terms of daily cases, 605,269 according to the New York Times, and 608,550 according to worldometers.info. The US and Europe are seeing a sharp spike in cases with the onset of winter, but there is a far more disturbing statistic. On November 5, the seven-day average of deaths from Covid-19 globally reached a peak too – 7,595, according to the New York Times. This is worrying despite case fatality rates being lower (until now) than they were in the first wave – more people are dying now simply because there are more, far more, cases. At this pace, the world will touch 50 million cases shortly. According to most dashboards, the number of daily deaths around the world from Covid-19 is nearing 10,000; the NYT database says this number was actually crossed on November 4 (there are usually some differences based on reporting times and time zones).

Clearly, fears about winter accelerating the spread of the pandemic were not unfounded. In Europe and in most US states, hospitals have been overwhelmed by the number of patients needing care, putting pressure on not just already stretched health care systems, but also on doctors and other health care workers who are at a breaking point after around eight months of dealing with the pandemic (although there was some respite in Europe through the summer). India is relatively better off; while cases have risen in some regions (including Delhi), at a national level, both daily case numbers and the seven-day average of cases are at levels last seen in early July. There will be a second wave, though, and the country would do well to prepare for it now.

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