By: Mark Glennon
“COVID-19 Thanksgiving warnings may have worked in Illinois,” wrote the Journal-Star on Saturday.
That may well be partly true.
However, the numbers are now undeniable that another factor is having a powerful impact suppressing the virus – a factor that continues to be almost entirely ignored: A huge portion of Illinois is now almost certainly immune to COVID-19, probably just over half. That’s a direct and simple implication of government numbers, though officials don’t say it outright.
“Government and health officials across Illinois issued grave warnings in the weeks preceding Thanksgiving, the JournalStar correctly wrote, “in an effort to keep holiday gatherings from causing a surge in COVID-19 cases.”
But as the JournalStar further wrote, no surge occurred. Hospitalizations and the number of reported cases began dropping meaningfully just before Thanksgiving. The drop continued through the holiday weekend and persists through today. Our daily update of charts on those Illinois Department of Health numbers is here.
Hospitalizations, which most experts now regard as the best indicator of the COVID’s prevalence, have dropped steadily from about 6,100 to about 5,100 since November 22. A Thanksgiving surge, if one had occurred, would have showed up in the hospitalization and case numbers by now. According to the CDC, the average time from infection to hospitalization is 7 to 16 days.
Do warnings alone account for the avoidance of a surge?
Hardly. A key is the true number of infections. It’s about eight times the reported number of cases confirmed by a laboratory test, according to what the Center for Disease Control is now using in its modeling. Most cases go unreported because symptoms are usually mild or not noticed at all.
And since Illinois now has about 850,000 reported cases, that means 6.8 million Illinoisans have been infected, most without ever knowing it. That’s well over half of the state that is almost certainly immune for a significant period of time. The virus, in other words, is running out of targets to infect.
Run through the same numbers for the nation as a whole and you will again find that much of the population should be immune — about 38%.
That 8X multiple used by the CDC isn’t certain. Other estimates range from 6 to 24, according to the CDC. But even if it’s only 6, that would mean 5.1 million Illinoisans have been infected and are immune. That’s about 40% of the state’s population and would still be a powerful restraint on the spread of the virus. Gradual arrival of vaccines, of course, will further speed the expansion of immunity.
Maybe the virus will spike again for reasons unknown, as it has before. And none of this is to say that official warnings to be careful haven’t helped or that they should be ignored. That’s primarily true for the older population and those with known risk factors, who comprise the vast majority of deaths. We continue to hope they will be extremely cautious and that policy-makers obsess about their protection.
In other words, the virus is real but some of the numbers and explanations aren’t.
Read more about COVID-19 in Illinois:
- Look Who Is Standing In The Schoolhouse Door Now: The Chicago Teachers Union
- Illinois still fails its elderly, veterans as COVID deaths hit record highs
- The right COVID policy for Illinois? Obsess about the elderly and infirm.
- Every Illinois school parent, teacher should know these COVID-19 facts
- Illinois’ own COVID-19 data reveals the state’s coronavirus policy is upside down