August 14 COVID Update: Continued Improvement Across the US

The following summary and its attached report are the eighteenth in the ongoing series by the W. Capra Data Science team on the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on the industries we service over time.  The previous reports can be found in the following links: April 14, April 23, April 30, May 6, May 13, May 20, May 28, June 4, June 11, June 18, June 26, July 2, July 9, July 16, July 23, July 31, and August 7.

Introduction

Using data current as of August 13, this report compiles updated results for testing, cases, and deaths, and categorizations of each state’s current circumstances. Furthermore, a broader view of county-level data is available, which looks at the top 100 counties in the country by cases and deaths.  This summary will highlight some of the findings and conclusions for the past week. Additionally, the summary will examine business impacts, both domestically and internationally, that can inform the US of its possible outcomes and timescales, considering the trends seen today.

A note before we begin: This outbreak and the data surrounding it changes daily. This report was created when looking at the outbreak as a data problem that might benefit from data-driven solutions and insights. It is not intended to be a substitute for medical or safety advice, nor is it a recommendation on outbreak response currently in place in various locations around the country. Individual assessment of local laws and current official government and health guidance should be reviewed before making any decisions.

Analysis

19.76% of the entire US population has been tested. This number only represents the total number of tests administered, so the actual testing rate is lower as some individuals have been tested more than once. The distribution of these tests is also unevenly distributed – states around the US, and especially in the Northeast, are leading the country with testing rates.  Case rates around the country also vary widely, with a few states reaching greater than a 15% case rate. Death rates, or the rate of positive cases that result in morbidity, is currently 3% for the US. The US appeared to have peaked with new cases and deaths sometime in April followed by a period of decline in both statistics. However, the past few weeks had seen a significant increase in cases, and deaths had begun to increase in the US.  The number of new cases in the US had passed the previous peak in new cases from April, and the overall case curve appears to have peaked again for the US.  The death curve had been increasing for weeks but appears to have begun flattening over the past week.  The flattening of the case and death curves and will be updated as the weeks progress.  There had also been a continual increase in testing over the past month, which may point to the case acceleration for some states; however, testing has decreased slightly over the past few weeks.  It was hypothesized that the decrease in testing may be attributed to high testing states like FL closing some testing sites in response to Hurricane Isaias, but the testing decreases have continued.  

The acceleration or deceleration of cases is used to classify where each state is regarding the outbreak situation.  The situation looked dire for many states in June and early July but has seen some improvement in the past few weeks.  For the past few weeks, many states have shown that they are moving away from experiencing a rapid spread of the virus and have flattened their growth curves.  At the beginning of reopening, only a few states were in the worst of four classifications – Exponential Growth – which is a positive new case velocity with a positive new case acceleration.  In recent weeks, nearly the entirety of the South and the West was in the exponential growth stage with many in the Midwest experiencing similar situations.  In the last two weeks, most of the states have moved to the Linear growth stage – positive new case velocity but near-zero case acceleration.  Overall, there are now only 7 total states in the exponential stage, down from 8 last week.  Linear growth now accounts for 25 states, the highest count of the classifications.  Overall, that means that 32 states are not improving their outbreak situations – a worrying trend – but that number is down from 40 states last week which is a positive trend.  The other two classifications, Improving and Contained, have both grown in the past week, accounting for 12 and 6 states, respectively.  The Northeast was the only region where these two stages were despite being the original hotspot of the virus, but states across the country including hotspots like FL and LA have entered the improvement stage as well. To read an unabridged version of the results, please see the attached report for a complete view of specific states and counties.

Conclusions

The United States’ death curve appears to have flattened, and the acceleration rate of new cases has been decreasing.  Monitoring the case rate will continue over the coming weeks to see if the case rate continues to decline. At the beginning of this new period of case increases, southern states were struggling with significant case growth while many northern states continued to improve, reaching a point where every state across the US besides those in the Northeast were seeing negative trends.  Most states in the past two weeks have begun to decrease their number of cases. AZ has been decreasing its new cases and has continued that trend, reaching the improvement stage.  Many other states, including hotspots CA and TX, have also begun to improve, with some hard-hit states like FL and LA reaching the improvement stage in the past week as well.  Lockdowns being lifted and a decreasing adherence to health guidelines has contributed to the struggles of containing the virus, causing some states to remain in a stage of growth for the outbreak.  There had been an increase in deaths over the past weeks, which follows the lag from increasing cases, but deaths have begun to flatten as well.  Indications from new case velocities and accelerations point to longer recovery periods than those of rapid acceleration experienced in March and April.  This trend is in line with what other countries across the world experienced with COVID-19. Overall, the effects of reduced mobility from lockdowns and social distancing measures continue to be strongly correlated with the deceleration of new cases.

Many states are rapidly decelerating their new daily cases, giving relief to the hardest-hit states in the South and West US.  With the deceleration in cases, however, testing has also decelerated which may explain some of the decreases in new case discovery. Additionally, despite the huge increase in peak cases when compared to the first peak in cases from April, it does not appear that deaths will peak anywhere near the previous percentage.  The number of deaths is near 50 percent of the peak in April, while cases have more than doubled, with the death rate near two percent over the recent wave compared to seven percent in April.  While many states are beginning to improve, some states continue to struggle.  HI has become a hotspot with its magnitude above that from April with no signs of slowing.  Monitoring these trends will be important as all states have reopened their economies to varying degrees with increasing consumer activity outside of the home.

The Business Environment

The state of the US economy continues to fluctuate with both positive and negative trends permeating the news.  On August 13, the newest weekly jobs report in America was released, dropping below one million new claims for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.  The 960,000 new claims represented the second straight weekly drop and below the 1.2 million expected claims.  While the decline in jobless claims is a good sign that some job recovery is happening, it does not help the already 28 million plus who are still claiming some form of jobless benefits with a total of over 56 million seeking unemployment at some point over the last five months.  The jobless claims, while a negative overall trend for the economy long-term, were mitigated in part by congressional action to provide one-time payments to the country along with increased unemployment benefits for those out of work.  However, those benefits have now expired as of two weeks ago, and Congress has since adjourned for the regular summer recess without passing more aid.  This means that, until Congress returns on September 8th  and agrees to a new aid package (which will most likely be after the return date), there will be less money spent on business as those unemployed will have less dollars to spend on both necessary and discretionary costs.  The state of workers in the US is not the only indicator for the state of the economy.  The US stock market this past week has begun to push previous record highs established before the pandemic, with the S&P 500 at one point this week topping its all-time closing record.  Economies around the globe have shown improvement, especially recently, but few are anywhere near their previous state.  This growth is also not distributed evenly among companies, as major industries like airlines and cruise-lines remain down by double-digit percentages while the biggest technology companies see larger profits than ever before. 

Looking to the future, other circumstances also have a potential influence over the state of the economy.  This past week, schools across the country began reopening with varying amounts of precautions for the pandemic.  Some schools, including many of the largest districts in the country have announced that they will be starting school in a fully virtual environment for the upcoming school year.  Some have instead opened their doors to in-person education.  With the schools opening, over 2,400 students and staff have been or are suspected of having COVID-19, causing many of the school districts that have opened to backtrack and move away from full-time schooling.  The uncertainty surrounding school and childcare may have negative impacts for businesses as workers have to contend with the added pressure of caring for children in addition to work, either from home or in the workplace.  Additionally, the threat of increased lockdowns, like that in CA, also threatens the status of business.  Other regions are experiencing negative trends with cases and may need to undergo additional lockdowns to get the spread under control, which may precipitate a negative business environment.

For further discussion of data modeling or anticipated COVID-19 business impacts, contact the W. Capra Data Science team:

Nate at nrao@wcapra.com

Stu at sgreenlee@wcapra.com

Sources

Data from The New York Times, based on reports from state and local health agencies. (2020, April 6). Retrieved April 3, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html

The COVID Tracking Project. (2020, April 6). Retrieved April 3, 2020, from https://covidtracking.com/

COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, Google, https://www.google.com/covid19/mobility/

Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Counties in the United States, U.S. Census Bureau, https://www.census.gov/data/datasets/time-series/demo/popest/2010s-counties-total.html#par_textimage_739801612

Choe, Stan, Alex Veiga, and Christopher Rugaber. “Three Reasons Stocks Are Soaring despite the Coronavirus’ Economic Toll.” chicagotribune.com. Chicago Tribune, August 13, 2020. https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-cb-coronavirus-stock-market-reaction-20200813-s7dl5xoyk5fydcb5ma6i3iyozy-story.html

Flaherty, Anne. “Thousands of Students, Staff Sent Home Nationwide as COVID Snarls School Reopenings.” ABC News. ABC News Network, August 14, 2020. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/thousands-students-staff-home-nationwide-covid-gnarls-school/story?id=72352489

Jones, Charisse. “Unemployment Claims Slip below 1M for First Time since March but Job Losses Remain High as Congress Wrangles over More Aid.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, August 13, 2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/08/13/unemployment-claims-tkm-seek-jobless-benefits-economy-sputters-amid-coronavirus/3356772001/

Long, Sophie. “Coronavirus: Can California’s Economy Survive the Latest Surge?” BBC News. BBC, August 11, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-53604621