I’ll take my COVID curve short and steep, not long and flat

Scientists are still debating whether we should try to “flatten” the COVID curve. The curve is a plot of deaths on the vertical axis versus time on the horizontal axis. The graph above is an example, showing daily deaths worldwide from COVID since the advent of the pandemic.

If you add up the daily deaths, you of course wind up with the total deaths – currently over 800,000 in the U.S. This is the “area under the curve.” (Calculus, anyone?)

“Flattening the curve” means lowering the peaks – lowering the daily deaths. Scientists on one side of the “flattening” debate – call them the Flatteners – say that we can accomplish that by taking preventive measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing, as we have for the last two years to varying degrees.

On its face, that sounds prudent. It was certainly prudent two years ago when COVID infections threatened to overwhelm hospitals.

Other scientists – call them the Non-Flatteners – contend that, with Omicron now the dominant variant, we should do the opposite. (Yes, “follow the science” is a meaningless platitude when scientists disagree, as they frequently do.) The Non-Flatteners point out that the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, and so preventive measures are futile.

Moreover, the Non-Flatteners say that the lethality of Omicron in low anyway. So people who catch it are even more unlikely to die than people who caught previous variants. In fact, Omicron infections seldom require even hospitalization, and so the threat of overwhelming the health system is mostly gone.

Finally, the Non-Flatteners say that allowing people to catch Omicron would be a good thing because, though a small percentage of them will die of it, the vast majority will survive. And the survivors will be conferred immunity from future infections that is far more effective than the immunity conferred by the vaccines.

The Non-Flatteners say that even if we can flatten the curve, and it’s not clear that we can, the flattening will lengthen it, and so the area under the curve will not be reduced. In other words, the pandemic will go on for longer, albeit at a lower daily death rate, to produce the same or a greater number of total deaths.

I’m not skilled in COVID epidemiology (and, the last two years suggest, neither are epidemiologists) but my instinct is that the Non-Flatteners are right. Flattening the curve by reducing the daily death rate will produce a longer curve by prolonging the pandemic. Consequently, the area under the flattened but lengthened curve – the total deaths – will be the same as under the higher but shorter unflattened curve.

And so the question becomes, do we choose a short steep curve of greater pain or a longer flatter curve of more moderate pain?

Expressed that way, this choice is no longer a debate about science so much as a debate about philosophy. It’s a debate about how to live. Some people will choose low-level pain that goes for years over high-level pain that goes for months.

I respect that. But for me, I’ll take my pain short and steep. I recognize that this short, steep curve of pain could claim me personally, or those I love. But so could the long, flattened curve of pain.

I don’t live recklessly. I take risks, but I calculate them. Sometimes I miscalculate, but better to miscalculate than not to calculate at all. Regular readers know that I was in the original Pfizer vaccine clinical trials, and still am. That entailed risk but my calculation was that the risk was acceptable when weighed against the benefits.

So too on this issue of flattening the curve. In my calculation of risks and benefits, I choose to live real over living long. I’m done with masks and social distancing. Life is too big, brave and steep to live it small, fearful and flat.

28 thoughts on “I’ll take my COVID curve short and steep, not long and flat

    • Yes, Ruechel’s report makes complete sense to me. Basically it says that one respiratory virus will likely give you frontline mucosal resistance against others. I had a bad cold in November and have almost certainly been exposed to Omicron since, but have been and probably will be protected for months to come, from strains of the flu as well as of Covid. So get sick, suffer for ten days, and then get on with life. Trying to hide doesn’t work; our past experience tells us that. About every 18 months I come down with something, among the many “somethings” out there; and that’s life.

      • The same happened to me. Bad cold back well before Christmas. On Christmas day my wife got sick and tested positive. I tested negative. Since then, I have been fine. I suspect the bad cold was the variant. Either that or I have a hell of an immune system since we still slept in the same bed and didn’t isolate.

  1. Pretty reasonable analysis.

    There were two valid arguments for flattening. The first was to prevent everyone from showing up at the hospital at the same time, and that has largely been accomplished.
    The second was more theoretical, but one could argue that by slowing it down more people would survive until better treatments became available, ultimately the vaccines. I’m sure many lives were indeed saved by “flattening” the curve in 2020, but everyone now has access to the vaccine and has for a year.

    There are no other reasonable arguments. It’s like driving from Atlanta to New York at 70 mph vs 40 mph. You drive the same number of miles and arrive at the same place in the end. The second just takes longer.

    Vaccinated and boosted, I got the omicron in Beaver Creek our first day in town for Christmas. A bad cold for two days. That week, three of the five highest incidence counties in the entire US were Summit, Pitkin, and Eagle.

  2. Glenn, I especially agree, with enthusiasm, with your last paragraph. Absolutely! However, as to this sentence earlier in your post, not so much: “It was certainly prudent two years ago when COVID infections threatened to overwhelm hospitals.” Many thought it was prudent, but I think it was the wrong thing to do.

    • Hard to say. In retrospect, it might not have been the right decision.

      But at the time and with the information we then had available, it looked like the hospitals could indeed have been completely overrun. If that had happened, many sick people — of COVID and other illness too — could have died.

      Now, it’s a diffenent story. We know that Omicron won’t overrun the hospitals.

  3. It’s the oddest virus, impervious to facts, data or science. We double down on what didn’t work in the first place. In Oregon we are STILL wearing the stupid masks. Last night I went to a talk at a local church. We had to register and check in. Then we were escorted to our seats (after being sure our masks were on and carefully fitted) and every other pew was left open. The reality that we have long since gotten past “we’re all gonna die” hysteria, I’ve concluded that there ARE a lot of people who enjoy living fearfully and flatly.

  4. Yep, the hospitals have now had two years to ready themselves for surges… of course it would help matters if they weren’t firing so many of last year’s healthcare heroes. Double vaxxed, I opted out of the booster because I started peeing blood clots after the second Moderna shot. I was an early skeptic of the .guv when they started warning people about “dangerous” drugs such as hydroxychloroquine, which I’ve dosed with three times over the past three decades as a prophylactic for malaria, along with hundreds of millions of other people around the world.

  5. Out of curiosity, can anyone tell me one other time when “quarantine” meant compelling healthy people to isolate from the rest of society? The dictionary definition of “quarantine,” (“A condition, period of time, or place in which a person, animal, plant, vehicle, or amount of material suspected of carrying an infectious agent is kept in confinement or isolated in an effort to prevent disease from spreading.”) suggests it applies to isolating SICK people, or those suspected of harboring the infectious agent, not requiring isolation of the healthy part of the population. That the government has been able to reverse the traditional definition tells me that the process was actually about something other than preservation of health. That so many people have agreed to this regime tells me that there is very little else that people will refuse if “the government” tells them to do it, especially if couched in terms of being “good for you.” As proof, I offer the recent polling data that supports imprisonment of the unvaccinated.

  6. “something other than preservation of health”

    Indeed. But how to identify or define this “something other”? Is it a matter of profits and greed? Or some kind of “save the world” ideology that holds that populations must be strictly regulated, that personal freedoms endanger us all? Or just pure enjoyment in the exercise of power?

    Or is it a wicked brew of all of these?

    • There is no need to be exclusive in assigning motivation. Different constituencies can use (and have used) the Covid panic to further their own ends and sometimes the motivations overlap. Politicians gain power; paranoids gain affirmation of their delusions, not to mention self-righteous power trips; pharma companies gain massive wealth for their owners (and major shareholders, which in may cases, includes politicians). The list goes on, as you no doubt know.

  7. Kind of funny how the highly censored group, “America’s Front Line Doctors has been ridiculed for what turned out to be mostly true. That Group of doctors that held the hour long Presser out of Bakersfield 6 months in also appear to be vindicated but exactly what happened to them? There has been way to much censorship to suit me over this whole thing. Yes, ripping the band aid off quickly in the long run is less painful but I’m thinking it’s almost to late for that. America is starting to “Flip the Bird to all this.”

  8. One note. As a sometimes engineer you should know that an accumulation of measured values is not the area under the curve. It is simply the sum of the measured values. Contrast that to, for example, the area under a curve of acceleration vs time which is velocity as opposed to the sum of discreet acceleration measurements (that’s calculus).-

    • No, that’s incorrect.

      (1) The area under a curve plotting daily numbers vs time is indeed the total number. A bit of dimensional analysis confirms this. Numbers per day multiplied times number of days equals total number over those days (the days cancel out in the multiplication).

      (2) The area under a curve plotting acceleration vs time is NOT velocity. For example, acceleration can be zero (it’s going at a constant velocity) or even negative (it’s slowing down) but there’s still velocity.

      You might be thinking of the connection between velocity and acceration in a time plot. The slope of the curve (I.e.the instantaneous differential) plotting velocity against time is the acceleration. Therefore, an upward velocity curve suggests an accelerating object.

  9. According to the CDC around 75%
    of deaths have been people with with about 4 cormobidities, not healthy people. They admit any vaccines other than Corminaty are EUA, which means it’s a violation to demand people take such vaccines.
    They refuse to release studies done by vaccine producers as to risk, damage, and effectiveness in a timely matter.
    The overall total death rate nationwide from all causes remains about the same.
    They ignore VEARS reports.
    The government ignores any studies which reveal alternative, effective treatments .
    Britain and a few other nations have stopped mandates.
    The Great Barrington Declaration is ignored by most governmental agencies .
    Masks are proven to have near zero protection .
    The vaccines available don’t stop contraction or transmission, may only reduce to an unquantified level the symptoms.
    In many areas , the vaccinated are hospitalized at unexpected rates.
    Many hospitalized people for other reasons than Covid are reported as hospitalized for Covid, and people who die of other causes who had Covid are reported as Covid deaths.
    Summation: It’s BS for people to think this is the Black Death.
    You can sit in a restaurant , bar, movie theater , other venues for hours without a mask, but if you stand up , you are told to mask .
    We are being scammed for the most part, for a psuedo fear/religious reason to satisfy the fearful and the government bureaucrats.

    • In my leftist leaning town in New Mexico, the sheep are doing testing at every facility to see if they have “the Covid”.
      My housekeeper sat in line in her car at a doc in the box, for 4 hours. They held her driver’s license while she waited, for some reason, then tested her, she was positive, and had a 103 fever.
      Then they told her to go home and take tylenol. Oh, and she has had two vaxxes. So, the treatment for “the Covid”, is Tylenol? Wow.

  10. It seems to me now that what we’ve inflicted on ourselves for two years is not unlike what occurred in and around Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. “Mass formation psychosis” is what Desmet and Malone are calling it.

    Just as witchcraft hysteria brought about the end of theocracy in Massachusetts, as residents vowed “Never again!,” so we need to reject the kind of lockdown governance that we’ve submitted to around the world. It starts with saying “Let’s go, Brandon.”

  11. It’s best to just go short and steep as you say, rather than long and flat.

    The societal and economic damage being done by drawing this thing out any longer is a major factor that needs to be reckoned with.

    During the past two years, how many people skipped routine medical check-ups and cancer screenings due to lockdowns?!? How many then succumbed to these otherwise preventable diseases and unknown/untreated conditions?!?

    How many people have turned to drugs and alcohol due to social isolation?!?

    How many people have died by suicide due to depression caused by lockdowns and social isolation?!?

    How many elderly people, perhaps now passed on, we’re denied time with their loved ones in the final days or even final moments leading up to their deaths due to quarantines and lockdowns?!?

    How many kids are permanently changed behaviorally and psychologically due to social isolation and lockdowns?!? Will these changes be to their long detriment, or to their benefit?!?

    Too many politicians and government bureaucrats seem to be ignoring these questions … yet all of the wreckage done to society will be at their hands and by their policies. There must be a reckoning and accountability for all of these long terms consequences …

  12. I’m not sure of how all this works, but it occurred to me that if we had done the two week bit and then just got on with life, there would have been a steep curve, but not only would it have been short, there wouldn’t have been enough time for the virus to develop variants. Does that make sense?

    • The variants would still happen, and will continue to happen. This virus was given a furin cleavage site by the Wuhan lab so it could infect nearly all mammals – and it does. SARS2 will continue to evolve in animals no matter what anyone does.

  13. The entire reason for the hysterical COVID response is perfectly easy to understand, given the curve of death rate vs age. The people in charge at all levels of society are the older people, of whom most have sheltered lives (think SES managers), and can easily work from home. When the most vulnerable people are the ones in charge, the official response is guaranteed to be hysterical.

  14. Glenn, lots of us Texans spend part of our summer in Colorado. So I suggest that you come down here for the worst part of the winter. Rockport is a friendly place, and we have lots of Winter Texans who come year after year. And guess what – we are a Republican town, well run and clean.

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