When this whole crazy thing started two years ago, there was exactly one number that mattered: Daily New Cases. Indeed, it’s the only thing I was tracking when I first started writing about the pandemic, and I got pretty detailed in analyzing what it looked like. How fast was it growing? What’s the rate of change? What’s the rate of change of the rate of change? What degree of exponential growth is that? What’s the Time To Double?

Yes… if you were following this from the start, you inadvertently got a lesson in differential calculus, regression analysis, statistics and good old-fashioned estimation.

At the time, the reasoning was simple: You can’t get sick, hospitalized, intubated, ventilated or die… if you never got infected in the first place. Accordingly, that is *the* stat we need to watch.

Eventually, I added hospitalizations and ICU admissions and deaths to all of that, and, finally, of course, vaccination rates. The picture you see attached to this blurb has a lot of info on it… and, of course, Daily New Cases figures prominently.

A good question for the day is… Why? That number is now useless.

It’s not entirely useless, but let’s backtrack a bit. For a long time, and I do mean a long time… like since almost the beginning, there are people who’ve been saying the number is meaningless and useless and very much an undercount.

I don’t disagree that it’s an undercount; the question has always been by how much. And, more importantly, whether it’s been a consistent undercount. If so, then the number is still useful. To make it easy, let’s imagine the number is always off by an order of magnitude; by a factor of 10. Let’s call that the Factor of Undercount (FoU). With a FoU of 10, if Dr. Bonny says there were 154 new cases today, it was really 1,540. If she says it was 2,583, it was actually 25,830.

The reason it’s not useless in that scenario is because we can still analyze the trends. Basically, the shape of the curve, the slope of the line, the acceleration/deceleration… is all the same. If you take out the units from the X and Y axes, you’d never know the difference.

Also, whatever the numbers actually are, there’s no disputing the hospitalization numbers, the ICU numbers and the death numbers. Those ones we know exactly. So, again… with a consistent FoU, we can tell a lot with respect the load on the medical system.

Anyway, that used to be the case… but you’d have to be crazy… indeed, un peu fou… to believe any part of recent case numbers. For numerous reasons, we’ve certainly lost the consistent FoU, and with that, the numbers mean nothing.

It’s disappointing just what a massive failure our testing infrastructure has become, and it’s surprising. To some extent, the focus in this province has always been to make sure we don’t overwhelm the medical system. But to some other extent, the medical system doesn’t really want to deal with you at all, unless your condition is bad enough that it needs attention. The mantra of “stay home and isolate if you don’t feel well” trumps everything; test results are irrelevant. Unfortunately, there’s now absolutely no way to know who’s isolating, who’s walking around sick, who’s walking around infecting others, who’s walking around coughing behind their mask and not caring, who’s vaccinated, who’s not, etc. Contact tracing has gone out the window.

When we talked about overwhelming the medical system, we’ve always thought that meant hospitals… but it’s not just the hospitals; it’s everything else too. We are all, indeed, crazily overwhelmed.

So let’s look at what matters now: Hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths. The two graphs below the new case counts show what those three things look like. The top one, since last September. The one below it goes all the way back to September 2020, for context. Just how bad are things now compared to back then?

The answer is really good or really bad or somewhere in between, depending how you want to look at it. Hospitalizations are way up, of course. Record levels here and in all the big provinces. That’s not good. But proportionally, ICU cases aren’t following suit. That’s good. It’s the ICU cases that ultimately turn into deaths, so how’s that conversion rate looking?

Well, if things were kept proportional, we’d be seeing deaths at least 7x higher than they are. We’ve already agreed cases are well undercounted, so this example is actually even more extreme: Last January, Canada. saw 200,000 new cases… and 4,400 deaths. This January, which isn’t yet halfway done, we’ve seen 500,000 new cases and 871 deaths. If the death rate were the same as last January, we’d be facing more than 11,000 deaths this month.

And that’s the good news; this isn’t going to spiral crazily out of control. Because most of us are vaccinated and because Omicron is indeed less lethal and because we know a lot more these days about treatment.

I’m therefore going to stick with my optimistic hope that we’re nearing the end of this; not that it all goes away, but that we’re on the doorstep of when it becomes a seasonal pesky disease that’s manageable and treatable and, if you stay current with vaccinations, likely avoidable in any serious form.

I base that on the patterns of places that are a week or two ahead of us; new cases spike up very quickly and then very quickly spike right back down. Hospitalizations, etc. trail that, but Omicron is spikier in both directions compared to all of the previous variants. Two weeks from now might look surprisingly calm compared to where we are today. A month, for sure.

The thing is getting there, and most people are more than sick and tired of it. All of it. If you’d asked me at the start of this almost two years ago that by January 2022, I wouldn’t be that interested in daily case counts, I’d obviously have thought that it’s because it’s all over.

Crazy, I know.