August 21 COVID Update: US-Wide Improvement Continues, Deaths Flatten

The following summary and its attached report are the nineteenth 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, August 7, and August 14.

Introduction

Using data current as of August 20, 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

21.28% 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.  Expanding testing nationally is important as more testing results in more information about the impact and dangers of COVID.  More tests mean the sampling bias of the death rate is lowered, which is skewed by symptomatic patients.  Case rates around the country also vary widely, with a few states reaching greater than a 15% case rate over a two-week rolling period. Looking at the most recent two weeks allows for a more accurate view of how states are doing now, compared to over the course of the pandemic.  Case Fatality rates, or the rate of positive cases that result in morbidity, are now being reported with a two-week lag on the moving average of new cases.  The lag-adjusted Case Fatality rate is currently 1.8% for the US. This case-fatality rate is for all discovered cases and does not include an estimate for cases undiscovered, so the true fatality rate is likely lower. The US appeared to have peaked with new cases and deaths sometime in April followed by a period of decline in both statistics. However, in late May and early June, cases began increasing rapidly again across the country, with the number of daily new cases in the US passing the previous peak in new cases from April.  Now, the case curve has begun to decrease again as more states regain control of the virus.  The death curve, after the typical lag period, began increasing as well – albeit at a slower rate than the initial peak and the second wave of cases – but appears to have begun flattening over the past few weeks.  The decrease in the case curve and the flattening of the death curve will be updated as the weeks progress.  There had also been a continual increase in testing throughout the pandemic until mid-July; however, testing has decreased slightly since.  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.  Decreasing the amount of testing has a negative effect as test growth will approach true population rates.

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.  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 June and July, 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 month, most of the states have moved to the Linear growth stage – positive new case velocity but near-zero case acceleration – and many of those have continued into the Improvement stage.  Overall, there are now only 8 total states in the exponential stage, up from 7 last week.  Linear growth now accounts for 16 states, down from 25 last week.  Overall, that means that 24 states are not improving their outbreak situations, but that number is down from 32 states last week which is a positive trend.  The other two classifications, Improving and Contained, have both grown in the past week, accounting for 20 and 6 states, respectively. This means that the Improving stage now has the most states, a very positive trend. 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 have 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 in late June and July, which follows the lag from increasing cases, but deaths have flattened 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 business environment in the US remains precarious.  This week’s unemployment claims went up from 930,000 new claims last week to over 1.1 million new claims.  Many were hoping for a second straight week of under 1 million new claims – which would have indicated some continued job recovery from the worst of the pandemic.  However, the increase in new claims does have a silver lining.  There was a decrease in continued unemployment claims, where people who have filed unemployment claims for at least two weeks in a row.  The new continued unemployment claims stand at 14.8 million, which is still very high historically compared to pre-pandemic numbers but is at its lowest point since the month of April.  In a recent meeting of the Federal Reserve, the committee said that the “further substantial improvement of the labor market would depend on a broad and sustained reopening of businesses.  In turn, such a reopening would depend in large part on the efficacy of health measures taken to limit the spread of the virus.”  That is, to improve the job market, businesses must fully reopen; to fully reopen, the virus must be under control.  As seen in this report, the situation of the pandemic is improving across a wide swath of the US, which is a good sign for the jobs market and the economy.  This comes with the continued delay of renewed unemployment benefits from Congress and the new funds from the President’s executive order.

In addition to recent job developments, new studies have been released detailing new consumer habits and overall economic shifts.  Consumer behavior has shifted across all aspects of life.  New growth and adoption in e-commerce, growing emphasis on health, and declines in consumption due to the subsequent recession all play a major part in peoples’ lives.  Major shifts across a host of verticals, with major declines in shopping and travel, shifts in industries like media and the workplace emphasizing at-home consumption versus in-person, and major increases for verticals like homelife and health.  The shift to at-home consumption has permeated every industry and will remain a mainstay throughout the pandemic and potentially well beyond the height of the pandemic.  Second, the broad and rapid changes consumers have undergone today will not necessarily be the norm moving forward, both during and after the pandemic.  Some behaviors may stay, some may revert back, and some may evolve further.  The new consumer experience, with its emphasis on the digital experience, will be a major focus of consumer behavior.  E-commerce deliveries jumped the same amount estimated over the course of a decade in two months and remote work participation increased twentyfold in three months.  Additionally, consumer values change and have changed nearly as fast as consumer behaviors.  Different groups of people domestically and internationally respond to the pandemic differently on both short-term and long-term timelines, with issues and activities like in-person interaction or sustainability changing over the course of the pandemic.  Some deeply embedded values like consumerism and sustainability may change during the pandemic, but how the public responds once restrictions eased and the economy is no longer in recession will be telling.  Third, how and where companies engage with their clients will need to be considered.  Consumers will need to adjust quickly to consumer behavior and how consumers get their information.  Mixing up the marketing and media will reach consumers where they are now compared to where they were before.  Consumer purchasing is expected to continue to decrease, as basket composition and dollar spend declines, so matching offerings to the changing consumer desire is important.  Lastly, where and how consumers purchase, such as the mass exodus to digital stores, will need to be monitored and met to maintain the health of a business, big or small.

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

Fabius, Victor, Sajal Kohli, Sofia Veranen, and Bjorn Timelin. “Meet the next-Normal Consumer.” McKinsey & Company, August 21, 2020. https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Business%20Functions/Marketing%20and%20Sales/Our%20Insights/Meet%20the%20next%20normal%20consumer/meet-the-next-normal-consumer.pdf

“Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee.” Federal Reserve, August 29, 2020. https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/files/fomcminutes20200729.pdf

Tappe, Anneken. “American Initial Jobless Claims Rocket above 1 Million Again.” CNN. Cable News Network, August 20, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/20/economy/unemployment-benefits-coronavirus/index.html