Charting the Virus

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Let’s check in on the latest coronavirus data this morning, with help from three charts.

The first shows that the situation in Europe has worsened over the past week — but not nearly to the level of the U.S.:

Controlling a pandemic during the fall and the winter is simply more difficult than during warmer months, when people can comfortably spend time outdoors. Experts long predicted that the later months of the year would be difficult in much of the world, and those predictions proved to be correct.

In Europe, several big countries have gone through cycles of having more and less success controlling this virus: Cases rise, and countries respond with new restrictions that bring down caseloads — until they lift the restrictions, become careless and then watch cases rise again. That has happened lately in Britain, Germany and elsewhere, and they have responded by announcing new restrictions.

The U.S. went through similar cycles in the spring and the summer. But since September, this country has failed to make another concerted effort to reduce infections. It’s worth emphasizing that the current U.S. problems were not inevitable. Just look at the lines in the chart above for Mexico and especially Canada, which has to cope with even colder weather.

The second chart shows that the recent U.S. trends reflect a real increase in virus cases. It’s not a statistical mirage in which more widespread testing leads to a greater number of official cases. We know that because the share of tests that come back positive has surged:

The final chart may be the most alarming: Deaths in the U.S. are almost certain to rise in the coming weeks — probably to more than 3,000 a day, which would be by far the highest level yet.

I’ve shown you a version of this chart before. The basic idea is that if you track the number of new virus cases, you can fairly accurately predict the number of Covid-related deaths about three weeks later. Every 100 new cases in the U.S. has led to an average of roughly 1.6 deaths, with a 22-day lag. (Trevor Bedford, a scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, explains why in this Twitter thread.)

The chart here suggests that the surge in cases during the first three weeks of December will lead to a surge in deaths during late December and early January.

All of this points to the same conclusion. As encouraging as the vaccine news is, most Americans will not be vaccinated for at least another several months, leaving plenty of time for the virus to do damage. And absent a rapid change in the country’s approach, tens of thousands of more Americans will needlessly die.

Some perspective, from my colleague Nicholas Kristof: By the end of March, one analysis suggests that the vaccines will have saved 25,000 lives in the U.S. More frequent usage of masks could save 56,000 lives.

Dead Malls: When a shopping mall closes, where does its stuff go?

Winter Solstice: For thousands of years, during dark winters, humans have turned to rituals and stories to remind one another of hope and deeper truths.

The Media Equation: The Times’s Ben Smith writes about a lawsuit by makers of voting machines that could sink right-wing media.

From Opinion: A nurse who came out of retirement to fight the virus. A postmaster who laid the bricks of the building he managed. The Times’s Opinion section asked five people to tell the story of someone they lost to the pandemic.

Lives Lived: Catie Lazarus quit a doctoral program in clinical psychology to try her hand at comedy, and gained a passionate following with a live show called “Employee of the Month.” She died at 44.

More people have turned to outdoor activities this year to keep themselves occupied. There have been booms in jogging, biking, camping — and hunting.

As The Wall Street Journal writes, it’s an activity “seemingly designed for a pandemic: outdoors, thriving in small groups and featuring built-in social distancing.” Nationwide, sales of hunting licenses have increased by more than 12 percent this year. Sales of fishing licenses are also up by 14 percent.

Hunting had been in decline for most of the past four decades, partly because older hunters were aging out of the activity and younger generations were turning toward school sports and indoor hobbies instead.

Pandemic escapism isn’t the only cause. More Americans have become interested in locally sourced meats. And hunting tends to rise somewhat during recessions.

“These are activities that people do when they have time and, unfortunately, a number of people are out of work,” the commissioner of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department told The White River Valley Herald. “We wish that weren’t the case, but it does result in time for people to hunt and fish.”

Roasted salmon with lime, jalapeño and honey is a speedy weeknight meal with a kick.

Looking for a new hobby? Knitting is relatively inexpensive and has great mental health benefits.

Mariah Carey, Dolly Parton, Carrie Underwood — there’s no shortage of Christmas musical specials helmed by stars this season. Which ones are worth watching?

“Saturday Night Live” spoofed Vice President Mike Pence’s coronavirus vaccination.

The pangram from Friday’s Spelling Bee was notably. Today’s puzzle is above — or you can play online if you have a Games subscription.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Fundamental truth (five letters).

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