Daily COVID-19 Briefing: 5/15/20

Top news, reports and insights for today:

  1. Daily headline summaries for Friday:
  • FDA is warning doctors and hospitals about potential inaccuracies with a widely-used rapid point-of-care virus test by Abbott run on the ID NOW system. This test, which has been used in the White House, may miss up to half of all infections. The problem is related to the way the swabs are stored (Los Angeles Times)
  • Grocery prices are soaring amidst the pandemic, rising faster in April than any time since 1974 due to supply chain disruptions (CNN Business)
  • In the last two weeks, hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients rose in New Hampshire, Alaska, Iowa, Minnesota, Kentucky and North and South Dakota (Axios, see graphic below)
From story by Bob Herman, Axios, May 14: https://www.axios.com/state-by-state-coronavirus-hospitalizations-04da87ed-476e-4dad-84ec-bd5db7a7bce7.html
  1. New U.S. cases and deaths rise a 4th straight day, continuing the epidemic’s volatile behavior
    On Thursday, 26,768 cases and 1,858 deaths were reported in the U.S., an increase of 2.9% and 2.4% respectively. More than 10,000 American’s died of COVID-19 last week. The U.S. death toll over the first 10 weeks of the epidemic has surpassed 80,000, or roughly twice as many American’s who die in two full years from the flu. The U.S. now has 29% of all global deaths, almost triple the fraction of the second highest country (now the United Kingdom at 11%). The U.S. ranks 8th among nations in COVID-19 deaths per 1 million population at 270, while Spain, the UK and France remain at or above 500. Deaths increased by 30% or more last week in Arizona (+41%), New Mexico (+41%), Iowa (+38%), Minnesota (30%), South Dakota (+38%), Alabama (34%) and New Hampshire (+32%). Five states reported no COVID-19 deaths last week (Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Wyoming and Vermont). New record high death counts were set Thursday in Texas (58) and Delaware (13).
    The bottom line: The week-long trend is toward slower increase in deaths and cases, but this masks areas where widespread community transmission is still occurring. Deaths and cases have been volatile in recent weeks.
  1. Original analysis: How has the test positivity rate changed in the last month across states?
    Yesterday, I showed you how states differ in test positivity rate. This number is important because it tells us how wide a net we are casting in testing. Ideally, we want the percentage of tests that are positive to drop down to 5 percent or lower, a signal that we are testing the entire population broadly, not just people who are sick. The bottom line yesterday was that only 9 states have a TPR that is in the right ballpark, and some states have a very long way to go. Today, I thought I would extend this analysis by looking at how states have done in the last month. That’s important to get a fairer measure of how states like New York and New Jersey are doing since they were doing very selective testing in March and April as testing capacity was ramping up and the viral shit was hitting the fan. The graph below is original analysis using data form the COVID Testing Project that compares where each state was a month ago, on April 13 (solid bars) to what the test positivity rate has been in the month since then (patterned bars). We expect to see the TPR going down as testing capacity rises and more people qualify to be tested. In many states, that is exactly what we see. Most of the hardest-hit states have basically cut their TPR by half, including California, Michigan, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, and New York. A second group of states are going in the right direction; TPR is falling but not as much: Nevada, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Connecticut, Massachussetts, and Rhode Island. What is surprising to me is the number of states where the TPR is going up, not down. That includes Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Virginia, Delaware, and my own state of Maryland. What gives? Some of these increases are truly remarkable. Minnesota and Nebraska tripled their TPR. Iowa, South Dakota and Delaware doubled theirs. These are all states where new cases are surging. They are also states that have either reopened or never shut down.
    Why this matters: If the percent of positive tests is still going up three months into an outbreak, either the testing capacity is still severely immature or the outbreak has gone exponential. States with TPR’s above 10% don’t have the testing capacity to reopen their economies safely and are not yet ready to implement contact tracing to quell sporadic transmission chains. In the last month, that applies to 21 states and all but 3 in the midwest, America’s new epicenter.
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