‘Cause for optimism,’ says COVID-19 stats team, a week after its bleak warning

Analysts find rate at which new infections are doubling is leveling off, assess worst will be over in two weeks, so no new lockdown needed

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Medical staff in the coronavirus isolation ward of Sheba Medical Center, in Ramat Gan, July 20, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Medical staff in the coronavirus isolation ward of Sheba Medical Center, in Ramat Gan, July 20, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Coronavirus restrictions are working, there is “cause for optimism,” and hospitals could be over the worst within two weeks, a Hebrew University statistical team has concluded.

A new lockdown shouldn’t be necessary based on the latest statistics, according to Nadav Katz of the university.

“There should definitely be no lockdown now — the way things stand, the trends now, mean a lockdown is not a necessity,” he told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

He said that while the number of infected people is far higher than in the first wave of the outbreak, the number of daily new cases is doubling far slower — in around 24 days — and pressure on hospitals is mounting at a slower pace.

Prof. Nadav Katz at the Hebrew University’s Quantum Information Science Center. (Yitz Woolf for the Hebrew University/Courtesy)

“In the first wave, things were very fast and the lockdown was very reasonable, but now, we are moving slower and have more time to make decisions,” he said.

Katz, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Racah Institute of Physics, is part of a specialist stats team, together with Hadassah Medical Center doctor Ronit Calderon-Margalit; epidemiologist Ran Nir-Paz, an infectious diseases expert; and several other scholars. The team has representation on a Health Ministry advisory committee.

Last Monday, the team warned that the number of people needing specialist COVID-19 care was growing so quickly that the health services were in danger.

Hospitals were seeing double the number of serious and moderate patients around every ten days, and he said this could overwhelm the system by early August. Katz’s team takes the view that numbers of infected people have limited relevance, as the main priority is to keep health services functioning, so the important stats relate to how many patients are in hospitals.

“The doubling time for the number of moderate and severe patients is now 17 days, while a week and a half ago it was ten days,” he said. “Doubling so quickly was cause for concern but now, with the doubling rate getting slower and slower, there is cause for optimism.”

A Magen David Adom medic wearing protective clothing with a coronavirus patient outside the coronavirus unit at the Ziv medical Center in Zefad on July 19, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Katz stressed that things are still set to get worse in hospitals — just at a slower rate than was seen over the last two weeks.

“Hospitals are busy and it’ll get worse in a week or two. Hospitals are in for a hard time,” he said.

However, according to the current trends, the pressure on hospitals will peak within two weeks.

After this, he expects that the number of serious and moderate patients will “level off and start decaying, the way the first wave did.”

He said that the improvement in trends is due to restrictions that were put in place on July 2. Patients tend to end up in hospitals around two weeks after infection, so their impact is being seen now, he said.

“The numbers are still high, but the trends are encouraging,” he added.

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