Daily COVID-19 Briefing: 4/27/20

Top news, reports and insights for today:

  1. Top headlines for Monday:
  • New Washington Post/Yale University collaborative study shows that U.S. COVID-19 death total may be double current estimates (Washington Post).
  • Colleges and universities wrestle with prospects of re-opening next fall (The Atlantic).
  • California sees serious car crashes fall by half due to social distancing (Wired).
  • University of Maryland studies anonymized cell phone data, finds evidence of “quarantine fatigue” as adherence to social distancing falls by 3% (NBC News).
  • New York City starts using “self-swab tests” reducing risk to health workers. New testing protocol introduces saliva testing as well (Vice).
  • National Bureau of Economic Research working paper argues that New York city subway system may be key to understanding why that city’s outbreak was so explosive (NBER Working paper by Jeffrey Harris)
  • Japanese Island of Hokkaido lifted social distance restrictions too soon and was hit hard with second wave of infections, offering reality check to U.S. states (Time magazine)

  1. New U.S. deaths drop Sunday to levels not seen in two weeks
    In a hopeful sign, new U.S. COVID-19 deaths rose just 2% on Sunday with 1,168 reported deaths. This is the lowest daily mortality numbers seen since April 5. These numbers as compiled by Wikipedia from state health departments do not include growing numbers of ‘probable’ COVID-19 deaths. Estimates from sites that do include such numbers, such as WORLDOMETER, posts 56,139 deaths now. Also, because we have seen a consistent lag in weekend death reporting, we need to remain cautious about the magnitude of this decline. The U.S. continues to report the highest global death toll, with double the deaths in Italy, which ranks second. Nevertheless, the 7-day trend shows a decline in new deaths, which indicates we may be at or near peak. Minnesota was the only state to set a new record high death count at 28. New Mexico, Minnesota, Nebraska and Alabama all saw total COVID-19 deaths double in the last week.
    What this means? The drop in new deaths is welcome news. I remain concerned about a possible rebound on Tuesday as death reporting from the weekend catches up. The larger trend is toward a decline in new deaths, which may indicate we are at or near peak deaths in the U.S.. The mid-west remains an area where mortality continues to rise.
  1. Numerous states move to re-open despite insufficient evidence of peak in new cases
    Last week I explained how important it is to wait until new case growth has peaked before states re-open. I also argued that the best way to see the peak is in a special type of graph that compares last week’s new cases to total cases, both on the log scale. The graph below comes from Aatish Bhatia’s site and is based on the latest data in the 13 states that are now moving toward re-opening. The inflection point we are looking for signals the end of exponential growth and the slowing of linear growth. It shows up on this graph as a sharp pivot from an upward angle to a straight line pointing down. Here we see three patterns. The first is states that do evidence post-peak curves. That includes states with small outbreaks (Alaska and Montana) and just one state that has had a moderate outbreak (Ohio). These data support relaxation of social distancing in these states. New York started to look like it had peaked, but that state’s curve turned this last week, so it’s a special case. A second group of states shows a flat curve, indicating that community transmission is still occurring, but on a linear scale. That includes New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia (the state that has moved most aggressively to re-open). A third group of states is still experiencing rapid growth in new cases (including California, Colorado, Tennessee, and Minnesota).
    That this means? Beaches were crowded in parts of California over the weekend, even as new cases rise precipitously in that state. States with flat curves are at risk of re-igniting exponential transmission by withdrawing social distancing measures, an effect that would not be seen for 1-2 weeks. These data suggest that fewer states should be re-opening.
Link to this image taken by screen capture on 4/26/20: https://aatishb.com/covidtrends/?region=US&location=Alaska&location=California&location=Colorado&location=Florida&location=Georgia&location=Minnesota&location=Montana&location=New+Jersey&location=New+York&location=Ohio&location=Oklahoma&location=South+Carolina&location=Tennessee
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