A health department random survey in the Houston area found 4x more people with COVID-19 antibodies than was suggested by official case counts.
What to make of this?
My first thought was to wonder what the levels might be now, since that study was done a few months ago. The September numbers showed between 10 and 18% of the population had already been infected, depending on neighborhood. Since then, the official case count has increased by a factor of 1.5-2 (depending on when in September the study took place). So, do we assume that the new range is somewhere between 15% and 36% of the population? That assumes no fundamental changes in Houston’s testing rate, which seems legit since there’s been no real policy changes since then. It also assumes that those who had antibodies in September are still immune – which may or may not be true.
That’s nowhere near high enough to provide any sort of meaningful herd immunity, but I suppose every little bit counts – everyone who is walking around in a recovered state with antibodies is one less potential vector for infecting others.
I understand that not everyone is comfortable with the idea of getting a vaccine. So if the question is how long it will take to get to herd immunity, then we’ve got two groups to follow – the group of people willing to get a vaccine (or forced to, by an employer or whatever), and those who won’t. For the first group, the question is how long it will take to get the vaccines produced, distributed, and dispensed. For the second group, the question is how long it takes for them to get infected and either recover or die, I suppose.
Vaccine distribution is a huge challenge, especially if you mix in questions like whether anyone can be required to be immunized. But the really complicated thing to predict would be the trajectory of natural infections in the unvaccinated population. Because that depends so much on how everyone’s behaving, and as more people get vaccinated, behaviors might change a lot. People may start to spend more time unmasked in public places, for example, because they and their loved ones are vaccinated and they don’t care much about protecting strangers. Plus there’s the new mutations that seem to be more transmissible, mucking up any model you might try to devise.
Frankly, while it’s interesting to think about what the variables might be, I have no idea how long it’s actually going to be until we can get back to life as we want it to be. My resolution at this point is to keep rolling with the punches and try to stay informed, and hope the ones I love are smart enough to stay home and stay safe.