Minnesota’s Light at End COVID Tunnel: Is It the Runaway Fourth Wave Train?

Meet the Press last Sunday, noted University of Minnesota Epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm called the current rising wave of COVID-19 cases “category five hurricane status.” He warned that a fourth wave of infections is imminent. Meanwhile, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky echoed that same sense of doom in an interview with CNN. Is the sky falling? Rather than strapping on my second mask, I decided to dive into the numbers and again tap the analytic expertise of Rich Heichert, retired Ecolab V.P and current supply chain consultant. Last year, Rich applied a keen mix of calculus and algebra to help defuse my panic wrought by the faulty University of Minnesota model- that predicted 74,000 Minnesota COVID-19 deaths (6900 to date)  And as luck would have it, Minnesota’s current level of vaccinations lines up perfectly with one of the best comparative areas in the world—Israel.

The Case for Comparative Modeling with Israel

Last week Minnesota reached 31 percent of the population receiving their first dose of the vaccines, matching a significant milestone in Israel’s remarkable and inexorable march against the pandemic. Israel reached the 31 percent mark the week of January 25th and five weeks later had crushed the pandemic to less than 200 cases per day (see chart.) Alright, you wonder can we really compare ourselves to Israel? What about the fears of the surging UK variant, B.1.1.7? Well, Tel Aviv University implemented a large study and found that the country was overrun by the strain, 92 percent of cases by January 21. Minnesota’s UK infection rate is half of that. What about compliance, the Israelis may have more effective lockdown measures? Far from it. In January and February ultra-Orthodox religious groups were holding large super-spreader weddings and funerals that caused clashes with police.  And Israel’s population of 9.1 million is a reasonable comparative to Minnesota. Let’s look at Heichert’s latest model. He has superimposed Israel’s vaccination trend line over Minnesota’s (one dose) vaccinations. Israel reached the 50 percent one dose level on February 21st. As Minnesota’s supply of vaccines surges, it is very likely that we will reach the 50 percent one-dose- level by early May. We are averaging more than 200,000 new initial shots given already. In following the Israeli trends, it is reasonable to predict that Minnesota will obliterate new COVID-19 cases approximately three weeks later.  By Memorial Day. Heichert’s second chart forecasts daily positive COVID cases plummeting below 300 then but in my opinion, the decline will be steeper than that because Minnesota’s rate of vaccination is  rocketing right now. It is also telling to note in Heichert’s chart that there is a plateau at 55 percent of the population vaccinated. That is where Israel ran into a vaccine hesitancy barrier. There has been only very muted progress since then.   On the Minnesota front, my exciting news is that the elusive “Old Normal” is less than five weeks away. This doesn’t mean I will throw caution to the wind. I am going to exercise my regular discipline through the safety period of my second Moderna shot. On the other hand, if you thought that the end of Prohibition was a big party, don’t be surprised to see me leading a parade indoors to my favorite restaurants and bars by Memorial Day. Follow me!    

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