This is a dangerous question. If this blog were mass media, I’d skip it. But readers are a pretty intelligent bunch, so they can handle it. Several plausibility arguments suggest that VOC 202012/01 will be found to be more lethal. This is not the same as proof. But it will be seen that spin is a powerful influence on how the public would view this.
Spin is in the paternal tradition of public health and medicine. Manage the truth, because the public are largely incapable of responding to the unspun version. If they were, they would be wearing masks.
The first step is an assumption, that VOC 202012/01 really spreads more easily. The Dice of the Universe, statistics, have great fake-out moves. We have to assume that “increased infectivity” is not a simply the result of an improbable superspreader event, or chain of events. We have to make this assumption, because statistical fact takes months to emerge.
This is discussed in For Pros Only: (CNN) Fauci says task force seriously considering new testing strategy; Vilfredo Pareto. The crux of that article is that the concept of R_o, the basic reproduction ratio, is not close enough to reality for good models.
But when statisticians report that VOC 202012/01 spreads 70% more easily, they are relying on R_o as a useful simplification. They are stating that R_o of VOC 202012/01 is 1.7 X R_o of the dominant COVID strain. That’s OK, provided we understand that R_o is useful in conversation, not for sophisticated modeling. Now we’re ready for our first argument.
Argument #1. Suppose the dominant strain of COVID arrives at a sleepy mountain village in the mountains of southern of Italy, or an isolated native American settlement in the far north.
- Each settlement has a population of 1000, with typical distributions of young and old.
- Everybody in the village gets COVID, but only symptomatic cases are tested and detected.
- 40% never have symptoms, so they aren’t tested. This reflects testing in the real world.
- 60% of each population develop symptomatic COVID.
- 6% of the infected die, 3.6% of the population of each village, 36 people.
Now repeat this with VOC 202012/01.
- R_o appears to be higher, because 100% of the inhabitants develop symptomatic COVID.
- Purists may object that this is a misuse of the concept of R_o, but the concept is fatally flawed anyway. It is a useful proxy.
- 6% of the infected die, 6% of the population of each village, 60 people.
- Yet the sick were no sicker, nor more likely to die than from “standard COVID”.
We find ourselves in public health spin-land.
- More village inhabitants people die when VOC 202012/01 comes to town, so it’s more lethal.
- If VOC 202012/01 is the dominant strain, you are more likely to die from COVID.
- If you have VOC 202012/01, you are no more likely to die than from standard COVID.
Why is this so hard to understand? Because it’s more than a single question can hold. A lot of things in life are that way. And it’s spinnable. In spinning a public health statement, which of the below concerns have more weight?
- Avoid panic, though, so far, panic has not been a problem.
- Puncture the egotism of the mask and vaccine deniers. This could offer them a second chance, without even the private admission they were wrong in the first place.
Argument #1 is unique. It does not come out of experimental science, logic, or statistics. It’s interpretation o f consequences. Yet it is real.