Archive for 2020-04-23

The Puzzling Linearity of COVID-19

We all understand how the total number of cases of COVID-19 and the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 are expected to grow exponentially during the early phase of the pandemic — every infected individual is in contact with others, who are unlikely to themselves be infected, and on average infects more than one of them, leading to the number of cases growing by a fixed percentage every day. We also know that this can’t go on forever — at some point, many of the people in contact with an infected individual have already been infected, so they aren’t a source of new infections. Or alternatively, people start to take measures to avoid infection.

So we expect that on a logarithmic plot of the cumulative number of cases or deaths over time, the curve will initially be a straight line, but later start to level off, approaching a horizontal line when there are no more new cases or deaths (assuming the disease is ultimately eliminated). And that’s what we mostly see in the data, except that we haven’t achieved a horizontal line yet.

On a linear plot of cases or deaths over time, we expect an exponentially rising curve, which also levels off eventually, ultimately becoming a horizontal line when there are no more cases or deaths. But that’s not what we see in much of the data.

Instead, for many countries, the linear plots of total cases or total deaths go up exponentially at first, and then approach a straight line that is not horizontal. What’s going on? (more…)

2020-04-23 at 3:08 pm 10 comments


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