Nobel laureate with proven track record expects US slowdown of COVID-19 sooner than predicted, urges calm heads

The Nobel laureate who foresaw the slowdown of coronavirus cases in China predicted an optimistic outcome for the United States.

Stanford biophysicist Michael Levitt lent some weight to the positive forecast being touted by President Donald Trump who has been promising America would be back to business soon. Levitt, who won the 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry, believes the data does not support the catastrophic predictions of months – and even years – of upheaval as well as millions of deaths.

(Image: Nobel Prize/YouTube screenshot)

“What we need is to control the panic,” Levitt said, adding, “we’re going to be fine,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Levitt had predicted that China would see a peak in the outbreak with about 80,000 cases and 3,250 deaths, after he began to look at the global numbers of COVID-19 cases back in January. As of March 24, the actual numbers have been pretty close with 81,588 reported cases in China and 3,281 deaths.

Noting the difference between the increase in the number of daily deaths and the rate of that increase, which had not also jumped up, Levitt wrote a report he shared on Feb. 1 that was also circulated on Chinese social media.

“This suggests that the rate of increase in the number of deaths will slow down even more over the next week,” he wrote.

Now looking at data from 78 countries, Levitt is seeing “signs of recovery” in many of them, including the U.S.

“Numbers are still noisy, but there are clear signs of slowed growth,” he said, adding that though his data was incomplete, “a consistent decline means there’s some factor at work that is not just noise in the numbers.”

Levitt agreed with the strong measures enacted to combat the virus, telling the newspaper, “this is not the time to go out drinking with your buddies.”

However, the Stanford University biology professor “also blames the media for causing unnecessary panic by focusing on the relentless increase in the cumulative number of cases and spotlighting celebrities who contract the virus,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Levitt remarked that, even with the death toll so far, it is “not the end of the world.”

“The real situation is not nearly as terrible as they make it out to be,” he said.

Trump has been downplaying fears as well, warning that the measures to handle the pandemic “cannot be worse” than the virus itself.

“Our country wasn’t built to be shut down. This is not a country that was built for this,” Trump said during his coronavirus task force press briefing at the White House on Monday, as he predicted that “America will again and soon be open for business. Very soon. A lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting.”

And while the president is regularly raked over the coals for allegedly not doing enough, or doing anything quickly enough in the battle against the highly contagious virus, voices arise like that of Levitt’s that seem to back what he has been feeling by instinct.

An Israeli expert in epidemic modeling believes Trump’s low prediction of death rates due to coronavirus are going to prove to be more accurate than those claimed by the World Health Organization.

Dan Yamin, of Tel Aviv University heads the Laboratory for Epidemic Modeling and Analysis and agreed with the president’s comments earlier this month when he questioned the 3.4 % global fatality rate for coronavirus being cited by WHO.

“Do you know what’s most absurd?” Yamin asked in an interview with Israel’s Haaretz newspaper. “That in the final analysis Trump was right. Not that the coronavirus is just plain flu – it absolutely isn’t – but as he put it: ‘This is just my hunch – way under 1 percent’ [will die].’”

“Well, I think the 3.4% is really a false number,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity in a phone interview back in the beginning of the month.

“Now, this is just my hunch,” Trump said. “Based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this, because a lot of people will have this, and it’s very mild – they’ll get better very rapidly, they don’t even see a doctor, they don’t even call a doctor.”

“You never hear about those people, so you can’t put them down in the category of the overall population, in terms of this corona flu, and/or virus,” he added. “So you just can’t do that.”

Vaccine expert Paul A. Offit agreed with Trump at the time, saying simply, “I think Trump is right,” and that there has been a “wild overreaction” to the virus.

“We’re more the victim of fear than the virus,” he said.


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