The State of COVID-19 in D.C.: Some Improvement, but Still Not There

After last week’s backsliding, the prevalence in D.C. has dropped by roughly an equal amount as last week’s increase. The city as a whole, and all Wards except for Ward 5, have dropped below the German rollback threshold of 50 new cases per 100,000 per week (0.05% in the second column below):

Ward one week prevalence one week % pos two week prevalence two week % pos
1 0.040% 1.0% 0.083% 1.1%
2 0.027% 0.6% 0.074% 0.8%
3 0.020% 0.6% 0.063% 1.0%
4 0.047% 1.7% 0.107% 2.1%
5 0.077% 2.6% 0.159% 2.8%
6 0.033% 0.8% 0.073% 0.9%
7 0.033% 1.8% 0.082% 2.1%
8 0.037% 1.6% 0.078% 1.6%
D.C. total 0.041% 1.1% 0.092% 1.3%

Wards 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7 all had substantial decreases in the number of cases, and the percent positive rate decreased for those wards, so this doesn’t appear to be an artifact of testing. The not-so-good news is that the prevalence is still too high for things like returning most children to schools (a one-week prevalence of 0.007%, column 2, and a two-week prevalence of 0.014%, column 4, would be equal to a daily new case rate of 1 per 100,000 people). Here’s why:

Low prevalence is not foolproof–it is absolutely not a vaccine, but it does keep infections low enough, such that we can mount an effective test and trace response, as well as survive the occasional bouts of stupid behavior.

To put an infection rate of 1/100,000 in the context of schools, we can look at D.C.’s public schools (DCPS). In its entirely, DCPS staff, students, and teachers number close to 55,000 (note that this doesn’t include the charter school system which is about 90% the size of DCPS). To keep the math simple, we’ll round to 50,000 DCPSers, which is about seven percent of D.C.’s total population. So, if D.C. has 50 cases per week, and seven percent of those cases affect someone in DCPS, we would expect two cases per week, give or take.

Two key points here. First, we will never not have COVID-19 cases in DCPS, even at a really low prevalence; without a vaccine or a very rapid, on-site testing scheme, a COVID-free school system isn’t happening. Second, we can manage a few cases per week in the schools. Most students and schools wouldn’t be have to be sent home or closed. We could ‘flood the zone’ with testing and tracing to find related cases in and out of the school system. But seven to ten times that amount, which is where D.C. is right now in terms of prevalence, and we’re quite strained in our ability to test and trace (remember DCPS is only seven percent of the city; D.C. also needs to deal with 93% of people not in the DCPS system). Likewise, at the current prevalence, it’s possible one or more schools get hit hard, requiring shutting down the entire school. And of course, all of this assumes that there wouldn’t be some spread within schools, so these are probably low-end estimates of the weekly number of cases if schools were open.

(Since D.C.’s charter school system is about the same size as DCPS, we can double this number if/when they return).

Thankfully, we’re not seven to ten times higher now, we’re ‘only’ about six times higher than 1/100,000 daily positives. But cases will happen, and I don’t think, based on the data DC Health is releasing, we have the capacity to run most of these cases down with contact tracing.

So there has been some improvement, but even the ‘best’ wards (in terms of COVID-19 prevalence) aren’t there yet. As I routinely remind readers, we are four to six weeks away from returning to normal-ish, but we intentionally remain four to six weeks away from safely returning to normal-ish because we’re unwilling to do what it takes to make that happen.

Anger is still the appropriate emotion.

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1 Response to The State of COVID-19 in D.C.: Some Improvement, but Still Not There

  1. ProNewerDeal says:

    Mike, what do you expect to happen with the COVID pandemic from now to Jan 2022 in the USA? What would be constant & what would be different under a Pres. Biden with respect to Trump? IMHO this would be an interesting blog post.

    Sadly I do not expect any US state or county to do like Australia/S Korea/Cuba/etc & consistently get the 1-wk prevalence to even 0.050%, with the possibly exception of a few Northeast states like VT. For the lower level of 0.007% you say is safe for schools (and presumably other high risk activities like bar/church/gym/indoor restaurants), I doubt even VT can consistently achieve this.

    The example of Spain is alarming, in that Spain was apparently competent/Australianish in crushing the curve to under 0.007% for about 6 weeks, before becoming incompetent/USA-ish & now are among-the-world-worst-hotspot of over 0.160%. I had previously thought that the US was an incompetent barbaric outlier in the OECD nations. US is still probably the worst in the OECD on COVID, but apparently only a few OECD nations like Australia/S Korea/Germany have shown potential to be consistently able to maintain even under 0.050% 1-wk prevalence.

    Do you have a take on Biden’s COVID policy? I skimmed JoeTheBiden’s COVID page on his campaign website. Typical neoliberal Corporate Democrat tendency of verbosity with little concrete details.
    1 Claims COVID testing & treatment are universal & free (does not clearly that will be implemented or funded though – why not detail a new Medicare Part P (for pandemic) emergency executive order or some such clear method)
    2 Vaguely claims to increase PPE availability to health workers (barbaric this is still an issue 6 months after the pandemic)

    3 No prevalence-based, Australian-ish approach of automatically lockdown with temporary UBI if the nation or state exceeds 0.050% 1-wk prevalence.
    4 If certain laws are at the state or municipal level such as requireing universal indoor masks, no mention of Federal incentives & disentives to influence states.

    Honestly if Biden wins, I think it should marginally decrease cases & deaths relative to Trump’s disasterous, unsteady, flip-flopping, unscientific non-policy. This COVID policy alone may make swing state voters consider LesserOf2Evils-voting for Biden as a LesserEvil than Trump. But I don’t see Biden or Harris either interested or capable of implementing an Australian-ish prevalence-based approach, & thus even in the relatively not-as-bad states & counties prevalence will often exceed 0.050% & the fugazi health & economic status quo will exist until a vaccine is created & 70+% of the population takes the vaccine, presumably July 2021 at best & possibly not until 2022.

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