Top news, reports and insights for today:
- Flat growth in deaths does not signal a peak in the epidemic
Social media, commentators and news outlets are hailing the flattening of growth in deaths as a victory. It is a victory in the sense that we are doing what we set out to do (albeit late): flatting the curve. But a flattening of growth is not the same as a peak as the two figures below show. The top figure (pink/red) is the one I post every couple of days. It shows daily new death reports. Growth in deaths has been flat for the past 4 days, averaging just under 2,000 per day. The lower figure (purple/blue) plots the cumulative number of deaths each day. That shows that the total death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. continues to rise linearly.
What this means? Numerous pundits are now attacking the modelers, claiming that death projections were clearly wrong, that we have over-reacted and that undo harm has been done to the economy. It is certainly true that modeling and projections are constantly changing as new information becomes available. But what I see is that social distancing is starting to work; in many states, the curves have flattened. That does not mean that death estimates were wrong. We need to keep in mind just what the goal was. Flattening the curve is about slowing the pace of the outbreak to allow the health sector to keep up. That is what we are doing (although the pattern is uneven). The result is that we are prolonging the duration of the outbreak by slowing the transmission cycle. If we continue to see 2,000 deaths a day for 100 days, we will reach 220,000 deaths. Today, the U.S. becomes the nation with the most overall deaths. The peak in deaths won’t come until A) steady and consistent decrease in daily deaths and B) when the rate of recovery is greater than the rate of new infections.
- Regional pattern of recent hotspots in new cases
In early March, the pattern of growth in new cases was distinctively regional. In more recent weeks, region had grown less important. Now, I believe we are seeing bigger differences by regions once again. The chart below shows growth in new cases over the last 3 days by state and region. A total of 14 states and DC have seen growth of 30% or more in cases over that time. This includes only 1 of 13 western states (New Mexico), 4 of 13 mid-western states (Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, and South Dakota), 4 of 13 southern states (Kentucky, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia), and 7 of 12 northeastern states (Connecticut, Washington DC, Delaware, Massachussetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island). Candidates to become the next major hotspots include New Mexico, South Dakota, Kentucky, Texas, Maryland and Rhode Island. The northeast region continues to be the center of the epidemic in this country with smaller clusters of states heating up around the great lakes, Texas/NM, and much of the eastern seaboard.