Friday COVID-19 Briefing

Top news, reports and insights for today:

  1. Daily headline summaries for Friday:
  • U.S. Coronavirus hotspots are improving after a very tough summer (Axios, see Figure A)
  • Germany, Spain record highest daily coronavirus infection rate since April as cases surge across Europe (CNBC)
  • Updated CDC guidance for schools suggests “common-sense” strategies for dealing with outbreaks among students, including partial closures (Bloomberg)
  • Trump administration declares teachers “essential workers” amid push to reopen schools. While the ruling is “advisory” it means teachers are now considered “critical infrastructure” like doctors and police. One implication is that infected teachers can now return to the classroom as long as they are asymptomatic (Axios)
  • Top doc “Uncle Tony” Fauci says there is not much utility in taking temperatures to fight coronavirus because they are unreliable. He suggests questioning people about their overall symptoms instead (The Hill)
  • School outbreaks break out at University of North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Purdue, Cherokee County Ga, and others wreck President Trump’s plan to return to normal (Politico)
  • Masks in the bathroom? Study in physics journal says using and flushing urinals in restrooms can generate an “alarming upward flow” of virus-laden particles (USA Today)
Figure A: Screen grab from, August 20, 2020
  1. U.S. daily cases have peaked, declines seen in the South and West
     I am happy to report that daily COVID-19 cases now appear to be on a steady trajectory of decline (See Figure B). Last week, 313,629 new cases were reported, a rise of 6% in the cumulative total. That’s a substantial drop from the 411,000 weekly cases seen on August 3. So, let’s look at the state situation to see where the fall is occurring. Clever disease detectives (as always) want to see two things. First, where are weekly cases rising and falling across states? We look at growth factors for that (Figure C). That tells us about relative change in new cases. For absolute change, we also need to see new cases per 100,000 people per day (Figure D).
     First, the growth factors: the good news here (and it is quite good) is that new cases are falling (relative to the previous week) in 12 of 13 states in the South. The odd-man-out there is Texas, where an astonishing 48,900 new cases were reported, a 6% rise. New weekly cases fell by 25% or more in Alabama (-26%), Arkansas (-37%), Florida (-32%), Louisiana (-34%), and South Carolina (-26%). Cases are also falling in 10 of 13 states in the West. Wyoming is an exception where 313 new cases were reported last week, a 76% spike. Arizona (-23%), California (-18%), Colorado (-21%), Idaho (-23%), and New Mexico (-21%) reported substantial drops. So where are the next hot spots going to be? Cases are rising in the Midwest in Iowa (+16%), Illinois (+16%), Kansas (+16%), and South Dakota (+16%). Concerning increasing trends are also noted in 4 Northeastern states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine and Vermont).
     Turning to new case rates (Figure D), our eyes are drawn in different directions. While cases are dropping relatively, we continue to see new daily cases per 100,000 of 20 or more in 5 Southern states (Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas). It will take time for things to move closer to the bench-mark target of 5 or fewer new cases per 100,000. Currently, Colorado is the only state in the West, Midwest or South meeting that target. Texas and Kansas are the most troubling states right now as they are trending poorly in both graphs (high new case rates and rising weekly cases).
     The bottom line: The decline in new cases is a welcome development. The hot-spot states in the South are finally falling, but new cases remain troublingly high. I am concerned the epidemic may be moving back toward the Northeast and Midwest in the next few weeks.
Figure B
Figure C
Figure D
  1. U.S. passes 160,000 deaths, daily death toll stable at 1000+
     Yesterday, another 1,122 deaths were recorded in this country from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. On Tuesday, the total was 1,205 Americans, a figure that put the total number of U.S. citizens who have died at over 160,000 for the first time. Despite the sagging of daily cases, the number of deaths per day remains fairly stable at just over 1,000 (Figure E).
     The national picture is stable, but as disease detectives, we ask the next question: where are deaths rising and where are they falling? The good news is that weekly deaths are falling or stable in 10 states in the South (Figure F). Contrary to that trend, weekly deaths spiked in Kentucky (+69%) and Tennessee (+38%). Texas reported an alarming 1,504 deaths last week to lead the nation, a slight rise of 9% compared to the previous week. Sadly, new cases continue to surge in that state as well. In the Northeast, deaths declined in general but jumped by 9% in New York. The region of greatest concern this week is the Midwest which is looking increasingly like the next hot zone. Weekly deaths rose 20% or more in Michigan (+88%), Minnesota (+22%), Missouri (104%), Ohio (+27%), Oklahoma (+58%) and Wisconsin (+23%). Out West, declines in weekly deaths in California (-6%) and Arizona (-21%) were off-set by substantial jumps in Idaho (+68%), Utah (+22%) and Washington (+22%).
     What it means: The decline in daily cases has not yet translated to falling deaths. The overall picture suggests that deaths may have peaked in most Southern states just as the numbers are again surging in the Midwest. It’s more whack-a-mole.
Figure E
Figure F
  1. Quirky corner: Texas skydiving team uses their bodies to paint a picture of the coronavirus in this video
     Check out the video from The Macon Telegraph about a team of 40 skydivers from Dallas who managed to build a true-color replica of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the sky. The team included two videographers who wore gloves and face shields and managed to capture the scene.
Screen capture from:
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