Brilliant is the Advisory Board chair of the non-profit Ending Pandemics, a split from the Skoll Global Threats Fund, for which Brilliant was CEO.
He said coronavirus continues to spread in Marin and the rest of the world at an alarming rate and appears to have a mortality rate of 5%, making this pandemic worse than the 1918 influenza pandemic.
“We haven’t reached a peak,” Brilliant said. “We didn’t even make the first wave. We are at the beginning of this pandemic.
He said the virus spreads exponentially, with each person who gets it transmitting it to between two and 2.4 people on average. The World Health Organization, with whom Brilliant has been working on an effort to eradicate smallpox, has predicted that the coronavirus pandemic will hit new heights next week, with 7 million people infected and 400,000 deaths worldwide.
“And to our shame,” Brilliant said, “the United States accounts for more than a quarter of all deaths in the world.”
He said most of the hot spots in the United States are in the politically “red” states, which favored Donald Trump in 2016. Brilliant says areas where the infection rate is doubling every three or four days include: Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Southern Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arizona, Arkansas and parts of Texas.
“These are all places that were too eager to open up,” he said.
Brilliant said that Marin County appears as a “hot place” on the New York Times map of the spread of the virus.
“We are now at the highest rate of COVID we have had,” he said of Marin. “We are in the second most dangerous category.”
Nevertheless, Brilliant praised Marin County public health officer Dr. Matt Willis and Governor Gavin Newsom for their response to the pandemic so far.
“I’m pleased that we’re moving at a thoughtful and measured pace to reopen the county,” he said. “They really use a fact-based approach, which is not the case in many other places.”
But Brilliant added, “I’m afraid whatever our plan is, we’re going to be overwhelmed by national trends.”
He cited the recent mass protests that followed the death of George Floyd and the decision of many states to lift home residence orders around Memorial Day as events that could jeopardize the reopening plans.
“My heart goes out to the protesters in the street,” Brilliant said. “My first reaction when I see them is, thank God people take racism seriously enough to go out on the street, but that is followed a second later by … look at those who don’t have masks.
He said that wearing a mask is the most powerful action that people can take to quell the spread of the virus, with hand washing coming second.
“If 80% of people wore a mask 80% of the time, COVID would disappear,” Brilliant said.
Lee Pullen, director of Marin County’s Aging and Adult Services Division, said the commission was eager to learn more about the pandemic and its specific effects on seniors. Brilliant’s wife, Girija Brilliant, is a member of the commission.
Pullen asked Brilliant’s advice on how to balance the negative consequences of isolating seniors in assisted and skilled nursing homes from the risk of contracting the virus.Brilliant said a quarter of COVID-19 deaths in the United States occurred in nursing homes. He said that because housing is often cramped, every person in a nursing home who gets the disease spreads it to an average of five other people.He said it is not clear why coronavirus is so much more deadly for people 65 years of age or older. He said the initial explanation was that older people have a weaker immune system.
“Then they found that having a poorer immune system is in some ways protective against what is called a cytokine storm,” he said, “which is an immune system that becomes more exuberant.”
New research suggests that COVID-19 may be more of a disease of the blood vessels than the lungs, he noted.
He anticipates that a vaccine for COVID-19 will be found, but it may require refrigeration — making it difficult to distribute worldwide — and regular booster injections.