Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the chattering class has drawn several comparisons between the current administration’s efforts to contain it to countermeasures initiated in order to contain the H1N1 pandemic of 2009.
There are favorable and critical things to say of both, though the viruses at their centers are extremely different from one another.
For a start, the H1N1-flu infected 60 million Americans and claimed 12,469 lives over the course of a year. This low fatality rate discouraged the use of interventions like commercial lockdowns and shelter in place mandates.
The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), on the other hand, has infected 9.38 million Americans and 231,000 of these have succumbed since January.
Both evidence more severe presentations in elderly populations but H1N1 does so much more reliably.
In fact, public health officials were unable to determine COVID-19’s mortality rate initially. Because of this, it was much easier for those looking to ease social distancing to liken SARS-CoV-2 to seasonal influenza strains.
“People get the flu every year. People are hospitalized with the flu every year. People die of the flu every year. Go out and buy some yeezies.’
We don’t need to know COVID-19’s approximate mortality rate to appreciate the callousness of this surprisingly popular stance, but let’s explore what we know thus far anyway.
Earlier today, a retrospective surveillance study was published in the journal, Nature. In it, the authors analyzed 10,691plasma samples collected from COVID-19 patients between February 9 and July 11 at a Mount Sinai Health System based out of New York City.
According to the report, the infection fatality rate of the novel coronavirus is nearly 1%, which makes it 10 times deadlier than the flu. Moreover, seroprevalence, which refers to the number of members of a population who test positive for a specific disease, is on the rise in counties across the country.
Roughly 50,000 New Yorker citizens tested positive for COVID-19 in October, compared to the 25,000 reported back in September.
Last week, an average of around 2,040 residents were testing positive for coronvirus per day.
The research additionally suggests that SARS-CoV-2 appeared in New York City before their first case was confirmed on March 1. As of the time of this writing, more than 1.7 million residents (20% of the city’s population) have already contracted the virus.
“In late 2019, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) emerged in China and has since caused a pandemic of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). The first COVID-19 case in New York City (NYC) was officially confirmed on March 1st 2020 followed by a severe local epidemic,” the authors wrote in the new paper. “Here we show the dynamics of seroprevalence in an ‘urgent care’ (UC) group, enriched for COVID-19 cases during the epidemic, and a ‘routine care’ group (RC), which more closely represents the general population.
Seroprevalence increased at different rates in both groups, with seropositive samples as early as mid-February, and leveled out at slightly above 20% in both groups after the epidemic wave subsided by the end of May. From May to July seroprevalence stayed stable, suggesting lasting antibody levels in the population.”
These developments are in-line with previously conducted reports. Although antibodies may preclude clinically recognizable COVID-19, it is still unclear how long this defense is sustained.
Without a clear understanding of the general public’s immune response to COVID-19 challenge trials and herd immunity tactics are essentially off the table.
However, with the help of a targeted vaccine, medical experts may be able to depress the prevalence of severe disease instances. With cases on the rise again in New York City, immunology research will likely determine how the densely populated region makes the best out of a precarious situation.
“Our data suggests that antibody titers are stable over time, that the seroprevalence in the city is around 22 percent, that at least 1.7 million New Yorkers have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 so far, and that the infection fatality rate is 0.97 percent after the first epidemic wave in New York City,” said Florian Krammer, PhD, Mount Sinai Professor in Vaccinology at the Icahn School of Medicine and corresponding author on the new paper. “We show that the infection rate was relatively high during the first wave in New York but is far from seroprevalence that might indicate community immunity (herd immunity). Knowing the detailed dynamics of the seroprevalence shown in this study is important for modeling seroprevalence elsewhere in the country.”