Why the biophysicist who correctly predicted China's virus spread says "we'll be fine"

Anyone else out there getting tired of all the gloom and doom in the news regarding the spread of the virus? I know I certainly am. With that in mind, let’s take a look at one person who is countering the common narrative describing 2020 as the End Times by saying that he’s run the numbers multiple times and we’re going to be fine. This may not be just pie in the sky to make us feel better, either.

Michael Levitt is a Nobel Prize-winning Stanford biophysicist and someone who has been analyzing the pattern of infections and deaths since the virus first started picking up steam in January. The level of prescience he showed in predicting how this pandemic would roll out in both China and Italy is nothing short of amazing. Now he’s been tracking the numbers here in the United States and he’s concluded that this thing may be over sooner than previous predictions indicated. (LA Times)

Michael Levitt, a Nobel laureate and Stanford biophysicist, began analyzing the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide in January and correctly calculated that China would get through the worst of its coronavirus outbreak long before many health experts had predicted.

Now he foresees a similar outcome in the United States and the rest of the world.

While many epidemiologists are warning of months, or even years, of massive social disruption and millions of deaths, Levitt says the data simply don’t support such a dire scenario — especially in areas where reasonable social distancing measures are in place.

“What we need is to control the panic,” he said. In the grand scheme, “we’re going to be fine.”

Anyone can make predictions, but before we start paying too much attention to them we should look at their track record. Here’s what Levitt predicted for China compared to what actually happened.

On February 1st, he predicted that the number of deaths in China would peak in three weeks and begin to decrease. 21 days later the published numbers peaked. At that time, he published his prediction that China would end up with around 80,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with about 3,250 deaths. By March 19, China recorded a total of 80,298 cases and 3,245 deaths. As the linked report goes on to remind us, that’s an unbelievable accuracy rate when you’re talking about a country with 1.4 billion people.

Levitt believes that the number of cases in the United States is still increasing, but the rate of increase has already begun to slow. If that pattern continues and everyone gets on board with social distancing, we should hit a peak in a few weeks and then see a steady decline. Of course, he also warns us that it might not be the last peak, particularly if everyone goes back to normal interactions immediately.

His predictions may be helped by another bit of potentially good news. The CDC is still hopeful that the warmer weather of the summer will tamp down the coronavirus much the same way it does the flu. Of course, the news out of Australia (where it’s currently summer) doesn’t seem to support that thus far. But if it does work out that way, it could give us another solid six months or so to get an effective vaccine or antiviral treatment approved and deployed.

I’m definitely hoping that Dr. Levitt is as smart as we all hope he is. We could certainly use some good news at this point.