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Daily COVID case counts in EU rocket past U.S. levels

I hope this data isn’t the equivalent of a visit from the Ghost of Pandemic Future for the U.S.

I’ve written twice in the past month about the developing second wave of COVID in western Europe, but both of those items were of the “this trend looks worrisome” variety.

Today we get the full “oh sh*t” treatment. Spain:

France:

Italy:

Belgium:

And the UK:

As a special bonus for all the herd immunity fans out there, note that Sweden has a new wave developing too. No herd immunity there yet:

Sweden *is* faring conspicuously better than the other countries listed in terms of daily deaths, though. None are anywhere near their peak from this past spring, but Sweden is close to zero daily whereas the others are all creeping upward. Some are now seeing more than 100 deaths per day again, with that number likely to climb given the soaring number of cases. Deaths are a lagging indicator; we’d expect to see fatalities from new infections today in three or four weeks.

Which means there may be a major death surge to come.

If you’re wondering how these case counts stack up to the U.S., wonder no more:

It’s tempting to look at that and conclude that we’re doing “well,” but notice that our daily cases per capita are now at their highest levels in two months. Yesterday’s total number of new cases was the highest since July. And if there’s any lesson to take from that graph, it’s that big surges can happen quickly. From mid-August to mid-September, the UK’s upward slope was about as gentle as ours has been lately. After mid-September it wasn’t so gentle. Belgium went from low, steady case counts in early September to a vertical slope a month later. Things happen fast in COVID-world.

Europeans aren’t sure what to do to flatten the curve this time either. Lockdowns were universally ruled out when cases began climbing again in September, but the spread has been so dramatic over the last few weeks that they’re now being debated. In the UK, London just moved from “Tier 1” restrictions to “Tier 2,” which prohibits people from mixing with those from other households indoors for any reason.

And I do mean any reason:

Couples living apart in areas with Tier 2 restrictions are not allowed to have sleepovers unless they are in a “support bubble”, Downing Street confirmed today.

Boyfriends and girlfriends will be able to meet outdoors in Tier 2 but are expected to adhere to social distancing rules such as hands, face and space. They must also adhere to the rule of six…

Asked why there was no exemption for people in established relationships in Tier 2, he replied: “Because the purpose of the measures that were put in place is to break the chain in transmission between households and the scientific advice is there is greater transmission of the virus indoors.”

One theory for why Europe is seeing case counts rise now meshes elegantly with why the American south saw them rise over the summer. It’s all a matter of the weather forcing people indoors, where ventilation is poor and the virus spreads. In temperate climates, you head inside in winter because it’s too chilly outside. In hotter climates, you head inside in *summer* because the heat outdoors is intolerable. If Europe and the American midwest are already in the throes of waves in the middle of fall, when it’s still generally pleasant to be outside, what sort of case counts are we looking at in three months, when it’s frigid?

I’m surprised we haven’t heard more from Trump this week about Europe’s explosion in daily infections. He has a case to make that his handling of the pandemic hasn’t been as poor as his harshest critics claim. (I made that case for him here, sort of.) There are uniquely Trumpy liabilities in how America has handled COVID, from his ambivalence about masks to his disinterest in a national contact tracing program to his insistence on reopening early to his bizarre “it’ll go away on its own” rhetoric, but a lot of the big failures — like the CDC’s testing catastrophe — have nothing to do with him. Even America’s gory death toll can be partially explained by a poor baseline of health rather than laid entirely at his feet. He desperately needs some spin to try to convince voters that a different president wouldn’t have fared much better than he did. Why not point to Europe and say, “If I’m so bad, how do you explain what they look like right now?”