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COVID-19 - Decrease in the Rate of Increase

COVID-19 Insights March 31, 2020
COVID-19 Insights March 31, 2020


As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths due to COVID-19 jumps across North America, there is reason to believe the rate of increase in fatalities is slowing, Dr. John Whyte, Chief Medical Officer for WebMD, told a BMO Capital Markets conference call this week.

“The Surgeon General did announce publicly yesterday that the rate of increase of deaths has slowed, so we're still seeing new cases but the rate of increase has decreased,” Dr. Whyte, who, prior to WebMd, served as the Director of Professional Affairs and Stakeholder Engagement at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the USFDA, said on the call with BMO Capital Markets experts to discuss the impact of the coronavirus on global markets.

Additionally, Dr. Whyte pointed to optimism by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) that mitigation strategies are working. “So, overall, I do have this cautious optimism,” he said, suggesting that fatality rates might end up being quite a bit lower in the U.S. and other jurisdictions than early predictions.

As U.S. President Donald Trump announced this week an extension on social distancing measures for at least another month, Dr. Whyte predicted a further increase in testing will see the number of cases reported continue to rise, but that he expects that to peak over the next two weeks.

Case Count

As of Monday, in the United States there had been over 900,000 tests completed, with 143,000 cases testing positive and 2,487 deaths due to the disease, or about a 1.7 percent fatality rate. More than 50 percent of new cases have been in New York, with other hotspots including Chicago, Cook County, New Orleans (possibly as a result of Mardi Gras), Detroit, Florida and California. On the other hand, he noted that 19 states have fewer than 200 cases each.

There had been 214,400 tests done in Canada, with 6,320 people testing positive for COVID-19, resulting in 65 deaths and putting the fatality rate at around 1 percent, Dr. Whyte said, and 98 percent of cases have been either mild or moderate, with only 2 percent considered serious or critical.

Testing

Testing rates in the U.S. have jumped dramatically in recent days and weeks , and testing capacity is rising even further as U.S. healthcare moves to more point-of-care testing and self-swab tests that are applied by patients, which reduces the risk of transmission to healthcare workers.

The advent of point-of-care testing for COVID-19 will allow healthcare authorities to change their testing paradigm to scan larger swaths of the population to understand where and how the disease is spreading, Dr. Whyte said.

Commercial tests that make results available in a matter of minutes are also becoming available.

“If you look at the numbers, we're almost testing at a million people, but, you know, half of that have been just in the past couple of days,” he said. “It's been announced that they’ll be shipping 50,000 tests a day, starting April 2, and that is really going to ratchet up the number of cases, both positive and negative.”

A vaccine against COVID-19 is still a long way away, but Dr. Whyte said there have been encouraging developments in treatments against the disease.

Reasons for Optimism

As more data is compiled and social distancing measures remain enforced, authorities expect to be able to adjust their strategies to contain and fight the outbreak, moving from sweeping measures to surgical strikes like the ones deployed in Singapore and South Korea, which did not close down their schools for the most part.

Tracking technology might see people who have been affected upload their locations so that others who have been in close contact can be notified and asked to self-isolate.

Dr. Whyte also said there is more and more evidence coming in from other parts of the world to suggest that the northern hemisphere summer might provide a respite from the virus, decreasing the rate of infection in the same way it does for any other respiratory virus.

“We also have data that shows that the virus hasn’t mutated or changed, which is good, because that was a concern,” he said. “And all things being equal and testing, right now, we're seeing a decrease in the rate of increase of death, and that’s important.”

 

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John Whyte, MD, MPH

John Whyte, MD, MPH, is a popular physician and writer who has been communicating to the public about health issues for nearly two decades. Whyte is the Chief Medical Officer, WebMD. In this role, Whyte leads efforts to develop and expand strategic partnerships that create meaningful change around important and timely public health issues. Prior to WebMD, Whyte served as the director of profe...

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