Because October is a decisive month to understand what will happen with Covid-19

Because October is a decisive month to understand what will happen with Covid-19

The numbers of positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths in early autumn will make it clear where we are with the pandemic between vaccines, viral variants, green passes and anti-contagion measures

(photo: Chris Liverani / Unsplash) During the month of September, the data on the Covid-19 pandemic gradually received less and less space in the Italian media. As always, newspapers, radio and TV reported the data from the bulletins on a daily basis, but the general impression is that they no longer made the news, so much so that they were confined far from front pages and featured content. In addition to the chasing of other relevant news, from Italy and the world, the numbers of the health emergency ended up relegated to a corner of the information map probably for their values ​​in themselves: after the peak of new infections around at the end of August, the curves of positive cases and that of hospitalizations (in the ward and in intensive care) have had a slow but inexorable decline.

In short, a succession of minor and all in all positive updates, which leads to moment to have just over 400 people hospitalized in intensive care, less than 100 thousand currently positive, an average of 3 thousand new cases per day and an average of 40-50 deaths per day.

Looking at how things went in 2020, and also based on the scientific plausibility of the effects induced by the change of season, in October it will be particularly interesting to understand the evolution of the curves. With the end of the summer season, the less and less time spent outdoors and the resumption of many activities (school, sports, associations ...), in fact, we could be faced with the proof of the facts of how much the combination of the strategies implemented - vaccines, green passes, anti-contagion regulations still in force - and the new viral variants in circulation impacts on the health situation. That is to say, whether we will still have to consider ourselves in full pandemic or if we can finally breathe a sigh of relief and begin to believe that the worst is behind us.

October curves

If we look what happened exactly a year ago, digging up the old numbers, we immediately notice that October was the month in which the circulation of the virus regained strength more quickly. At the beginning of the month there were a thousand new cases of contagion a day, and in the end it exceeded 20 thousand. The trend has affected deaths even more: oscillating around twenty a day in the first week of October, they have risen to touch 300 (then even reaching over 800 in November, because as known the death curve always moves lagging behind that of infections). Ditto for intensive care, which in just one month went from an occupation of 300 to 2 thousand, and for hospitalizations, from 3 thousand to about 18 thousand. excessive measures and attention during the summer (when more than one was under the illusion that Covid-19 was now only a memory), but the coincidence with the resumption of the various activities and with the end of the summer season does not seem to be at all it was a coincidence.

More than 2020, less than 2020

One of the issues that has been taking hold for some months now, also regarding the debate (not scientific, but in the collective chatter) regarding the efficacy of vaccines, is the direct comparison between the epidemic curves of last year and those of 2021. One of the arguments most often brought up by the no-vax camp and by the hesitant is in fact that - despite a vaccination campaign in advanced stage - the absolute numbers of this summer they were higher than in 2020.

The argument is obviously fallacious, because the differences between the two summers cannot be attributed to the vaccine issue alone (and perhaps argue that vaccines circulate plus the virus, ça va sans dire), ignoring the differences between the durations and especially the intensity of the various lockdowns. In fact, in 2020 we lived for a long time "on income" thanks to a particularly rigid and prolonged spring lockdown, something that this year, due to the traffic light system of the regions.

In any case, looking at the graphs, this superiority of the numbers of 2021 compared to those of 2020 seems to have a short life: even if as we have written several times here on Wired it makes little sense to make forward projections of the curves or even forecasts, it is undeniable that last year all the curves in this phase were starting to surge, while now they are in the waning phase. So much so that, to cite a numerical example, the employment fork of intensive care 2020-vs-2021 which had reached 500 in August has now been reduced to a hundred, and the gap in the number of new positives is just a few hundred cases per day (while in August the difference was in the order of 3 thousand cases). In short, if the trend does not change, the curves of the absolute numbers of 2021 will soon end below those of 2020.

What the data could tell us in October

What will happen in the next weeks will be determined by the overlap and combination of a long series of factors. There is the aforementioned effect due to the change of season (the real novelty of these weeks). There is a vaccination campaign that is advancing with about 80% of the over 12s who have finished their course of administration. There are the different variations that keep mixing. There is the practice of the green pass now fully operational (with the upgrade on October 15 coming). There are new indications on the capacity of cinemas, theaters and stadiums and there is - it must be said - a slight general relaxation that can be seen in recent weeks, in conjunction with the minor media pounding, the confidence effect determined by vaccinations and the fact that the curves at the moment appear to be under control.

In any case, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to decouple the effect of the various factors and determine what exactly will determine the rise or fall of the curves. Comparing the trend of the epidemic in the vaccinated and unvaccinated populations already clearly indicates that vaccines are working, but this evidence may not be sufficient on its own to determine how the curves will evolve.

However, ahead of the October stress test, it will be useful to see and understand the overall general effect, i.e. whether the mix of conditions we now have is sufficient to keep the impact of Covid-19 on the health system at an acceptable level, or if the specter of new restrictions begins to emerge. To date, the data would seem to point more towards the first hypothesis, but it is not excluded that there may still be a reversal of the trend. This is why numbers can now become a useful beacon once again to guide us in the continuation of the pandemic.

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