Through the last year or so, I’ve been tracking the COVID19 data for the UK. My aim in reporting this has been to try and help church leaders with decision making around risk management. There have been three aspects to our risk management decisions. First of all, there is the objective and immediate risk of our decisions having an impact on cases, admissions and deaths, then we’ve needed to be alert to the subjective mood of people and their perception of where we are in the pandemic, finally, we’ve been having to try and look ahead and to some extent second guess where things might be in a few weeks and a few months from now.
As we are moving out of the Omicron wave I think this is a good time to step back from this data reporting. There are three reasons for this. First, the way that data is being reported has changed which makes it harder to compare like for like and comment on trends. The government are now including reinfections in the case data (more later). Secondly, in any case, daily reporting will cease by around about Easter. Thirdly, we have seen the risk of hospitalisation and death reduce significantly from the peak as a result of vaccinations and natural infection immunity. Whilst we are not out of the woods, COVIS looks increasingly less like a unique and specific pandemic threat and more like one of the other endemic illnesses we have to face.
This week, the UKHSA began including reinfection data in the statistics. Previously this was excluded because it made up a very small percentage and risked including data where people had tested multiple times, perhaps with false positives. Omicron and the phase we are in with the virus has meant that a higher percentage of postive tests are reinfections. In fact, I would expect the day to come when most cases are reinfection. It makes sense now to include reinfections in the data.
To be fair, this hasn’t made much difference to the trend line so far. Case numbers are effectively plateauing at the moment though this probably suggests that without the data change we might have seen another 10-15% drop in reported cases over the past few days.
Hospital admissions data goes up to the 28th January and shows a continuing reduction in the number of people going into hospital with COVID though we still have some way to go before we reach Autumn levels.
In patient and ICU numbers also continue to fall.
Once again it is worth repeating that we simply did not see the levels of admissions, in patients and patients on mechanical ventilation that our worst case scenarios projected. Numbers fell short of the peak we saw during Alpha back in January 2021.
ICU/mechanical ventilation data is of particular interest. Here we see that the % of those admitted ending up on ICU is significantly lower than a year ago.
This links to what we have seen with mortality data with a much lower number of deaths resulting from cases within 28 days.
Daily reported deaths peaked on around the 22nd January and have started to fall.
Again, this means that the number of deaths remains higher than during the Autumn but significantly lower than what we saw in the first two waves.
So, it does look like we’ve weathered the Omicron storm. We cannot second guess what will happen in the medium to long term. It is possible that we will see a new variant that is even more transmissible, even more serious than past variants and even better at evading vaccines. In such a scenario, we could well see cases, admissions and deaths sky-rocketing again.
However, Omicron has shown us that this isn’t the only possibility. That at least as probably is the scenario where through the immunity we’ve built up via vaccine and natural infection that even with new variants our repeat exposure means that the virus will be far less likely to lead to serious illness, hospitalisation and death.
I suspect there will be more bumps and surprising turns in the road ahead. As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of people who know their stuff think cases will stay high through the spring and that does mean that our hospitals remain under pressure. However, it does look, for now like we are on the road to endemicity and a return to normality.
In terms of church risk management, my advise was that when plan B measures were lifted, that we should continue to encourage maks wearing when moving about in buildings for a little while. This was to help with transitions. I also suggested that we might want to encourage people to keep doing tests before attending church. I would expect those voluntary measures to ease further over the next few weeks so that by the end of February I would be surprised if the majority of people attending church had not stopped wearing face masks altogether.