I’m not a scientist of diseases, but in 2020 when there was no immunity, one of the easiest ways of spotting a dummy was the words “it’s just like a cold/flu” coming out of their mouth/Zoom-chat/blogpost*.
Firstly, it wasn’t true per individual: flu’s hospitalisation rate is about 1 in 50 & common-cold much less frequent, whereas Covid’s was much more frequent.
Secondly, and more importantly, wasn’t true per society: flu’s a variant of something we have historic immunity to, whereas Covid was snowballing through a fresh population with an R-rate much higher than 1
But in summer 2022, in a post-vaccine & widespread infection world - where 95%+ of pop built immunity to some Covid variant - is the comparison now valid, not necessarily for scientists or policy-makers but as a day-to-day heuristic to help non-scientist humans manage their daily risk by drawing on wisdom they grew up with?
Here’s my back-of-envelope reasons why:
Hospitalisation rates in West are much lower. In US last week 1 in 30 (calc’d from OWID) which is in flu ballpark. Covid harm-per-case is especially low for young people, and symptoms experience more like colds.
If we accept the comparison is valid, then we can potentially reduce the worried well’s anxious case-number watching.
In a ‘cold/flu’ framework, tracking the right-tail - i.e. spikes in hospitalisations & (mainly elderly) deaths - becomes more important than cases (until you start reaching nationwide hospital capacity, as Dom Cummings thankfully pointed out to No.10).
A fellow blogger’s family recently saw same-month reinfection. But “adults have an average of 2-3 colds per year, and children have even more” (CDC on common colds), so perhaps frequency alone is not cause for alarm, especially for children.
From a public-health comms standpoint you don’t have the massive mountain of new-expert aversion & conspiracy-theories to climb, because you are appealing to generational wisdom on colds&flu.
Public are fatiguing from alarm about BA 4 & 5. Note that public aren’t generally communicated the subtype markers of each seasonal flu variant:
And yet they do tend to stay off work for at least the crucial first few days of symptoms with “the flu”.
Finally, have to consider the opportunity-cost of keeping our most creative&productive age-group isolated during (especially the latter stages of) infection. Maybe the ©old advice to “keep going” (outside, back to work after 5 days from symptoms etc.) is best.
Perfectionist forms of long self-isolation (eg 10 day from test) should be avoided in favour of mental-health.
In this world, more young people will test and we’ll actually stop spreading in high-contagious 1st few days, particularly among the 1/3 asymptomatic cases which do seem to be a unique hallmark of Covid.
Therefore, if Covid is similar enough to flu in society, then I believe embracing an analogy will make for more sustainable - albeit less ambitious - public-health messaging.
Would love to hear thoughts from any disease-scientists on which metrics they think would need to be different enough that we switch on the alarms and put it in a different category again?
Independent blogposts about Covid basically shouldn’t be read due to the preponderance of misinformed eegits writing them.
Usually if I communicate about Covid, I’m mentioning it briefly in a more creative form (“6 Foot”, “Spitfire” in the new record) or asking questions to any disease-scientists & doctors whose brains I can get hold of IRL.
However, I’m currently on the tail-end of Covid having recovered from symptoms, have the faintest whispher of red on T on an LFT after 30mins but still being socially-pressured to isolate: so a) I have time to write this blogpost and b) I’m wondering why!!