June 11 COVID Update: Case Acceleration Continues Across the South

The following summary and its attached report are the eighth in 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 first report can be found here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, the fifth here, the sixth here, the seventh here, and the eighth here.

Introduction

Using data current as of June 10, updated results for testing, cases, and deaths, and categorizations of the country and each state’s current circumstances are determined. 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 how other regions, both domestically and internationally, that are emerging from quarantines and lockdowns 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

Currently, 6.57% of the entire US population has been tested. The distribution of these tests is also very unevenly distributed – states around the US, and especially in the Northeast, are leading the country with testing rates above 8%. 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 5.4% for the US. Overall, the US appears to have peaked with new cases flattening over the last month with deaths following similar trends. However, the past few weeks have seen a slight increase in both cases and deaths in the US, which may signal a second wave ahead. There has also been a surge in testing over the past month, which may point to the case acceleration for some states.

The acceleration or deceleration of cases is used to classify where each state is with regard to the outbreak situation. Many are improving – that is, these states have a negative new case acceleration such as LA, MI, and IL. Most states are in this improvement stage. A few states have reached a preliminary “contained” stage, where acceleration is near zero with a low velocity for cases. The states in this subgroup include NY, NJ, and MA. Many states, however, are still in a linear growth stage of new cases with new case acceleration near 0 but having a positive case velocity. States in this subgroup include CA, GA, and MO. A concerning trend to emerge is the number of states reverting to a place of the exponential growth of the outbreak. These include AZ, FL, and TX, and other states, mainly in the southern region of the US, are also grouped in this exponential growth stage. 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 continues to see a decreasing number of new cases and new deaths.  With the recent acceleration in testing, a small acceleration in cases is expected proportionate to testing but this does not necessarily precipitate a proportionate increase in deaths.  However, the drop in daily new cases is slowing and flattening as parts of the country struggle with controlling the outbreak.  Particularly, southern states are struggling with significant case growth while many northern states continue to improve, and some are reaching initial containment.  Indications from new case velocities and accelerations point to longer recovery periods than those of rapid acceleration experienced in March and April.  The duration of these recovery periods will be monitored as more and more regions emerge from the worst of the outbreak.  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.

Several states have had remarkable success in flattening their initial growth-rate curves of per-capita cases and deaths and will be continually reported on moving forward.  However, many states remain in a growth stage of the outbreak, many of which are heavily populated states with aggressive reopening measures.  Recently, trends in the data suggest early signs of a second wave in AK, FL, and TN with others appearing to trend the same way.  Additionally, other states are reverting to a stage of exponential growth, and those include AZ, SC, and TX. Monitoring these trends will be important as all states have reopened their economies to varying degrees with increasing consumer activity outside of the home.

Assessing the Business Impact

The business environment in the US right now is fraught with uncertainty, both present, and future. Presently, the possibility for a second wave carries much uncertainty for businesses in the throes of a global pandemic, social unrest, and rapidly changing business environments across verticals across the country. Major business centers of the country are trending positively, such as the Northeast Corridor Region, while others are beginning negative trends, such as FL and TX. Florida has recently greatly accelerated its testing regimen, but this has followed a trend of rapid acceleration in cases, not caused an acceleration in cases. Florida continues to reach new daily case maximums which were last achieved in early April, a sign of a potential second wave. Texas is similar. Testing has gradually increased over the course of the pandemic but is presently flatlined while cases continue to accelerate. Unlike Florida, Texas has been setting new daily case maximums for over a week meaning that Texas is just now reaching new heights of the pandemic. Both states, and others like them, have been aggressive with their reopening campaigns to revive businesses within their borders. A lot of these increases and new maximums reached across the country are no longer only centered in high population, high-density areas. According to the Washington Post, “the highest percentages of new cases are coming from places with much smaller populations.” With the prevalence of the virus still high in major cities, these trends threaten business and reopening efforts throughout the country.

Therefore, second waves of cases across the country are not out of the realm of possibility soon. In addition to the worrying outlook for states across the country, some are quickly trending towards scenarios that may reignite the same worries – both inside and outside of business. According to Texas Monthly, the hospitalization rate for the outbreak has increased, threatening the health care system with overloads again. Texas may be an outlier as it reopened sooner and more aggressively than some states, but more and more states are opening up to similar levels as Texas which may indicate these other states will regress like Texas in the near future.

Focusing on the possibility for a second wave emphasizes the need for all citizens to continue the behaviors learned over the course of the pandemic and lockdown to prevent these waves as best as possible. The data in the report shows a correlation with social distancing measures and positive outcomes with regards to the outbreak. With reopening efforts, maintaining a balance of preventative measures while restarting the economy is imperative. In Michigan, some counties (such as those isolated in the Upper Peninsula) are seeing few cases while others (such as those in Western Michigan) are still at high risk for infection spread. This is a critical point in Michigan, where the lockdown is lifted and business is getting restarted, which shows that individual prevention measures must continue to ensure the safety of their state. “People think this is the point where we can go back to normal. This is now the critical point where we need to really reach in deep and make sure we continue these behaviors,” says Abrams Wagner, an epidemiologist from the University of Michigan, says in MLive. Finding that balance for safe operation for business will help businesses maximize potential revenue with depressed consumer spending while helping prevent a second wave which might lead to prolonged lockdowns and more closures.

The potential fallout from a second wave remains a major focal point across the country. The most recent survey of economists by the National Association of Business Economists and CNN Business maintains that 80% of economists surveyed are pessimistic about the US economic outlook while a further 87% of economists surveyed believe that a second wave of the virus is the biggest danger to the American economy remaining in 2020. This is despite the most recent jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics – stating that 2.5 million jobs were added in May. The outlook is not all doom, however. Some economists foresee a recovery here in 2020. According to Forbes, employment and auto sales rebounds are typical descriptors of US economic health and point to a recovery in the third quarter of 2020 and beyond. With the recovery of these industries such as automobiles, cascading positive trends with energy and oil, tech, and others could follow closely behind. Additionally, many of the largest states have been some of the latest to begin reopening efforts, so when those states return the economic impact will increase across the country. Reopening businesses and bringing back employees will simultaneously boost spending by consumers and reduce the worrying employment statistics seen through the pandemic. This idea of fast recovery is further evidenced by recent returns on the US stock market, with the S&P 500 recently achieving positive returns for 2020 after recovering from pandemic related losses and the NASDAQ closing at record highs in the past few days. With outlooks for both future recession and recovery for the US, the longer-term global outlook according to the IMF is neither a second wave away from a major collapse nor one good month away from returning to pre-pandemic levels. A drawn-out period of economic stagnation, potentially a decade or more with depressed interest rates and low returns is most likely. These findings are in line with historical experience with pandemics and other destructive events like wars with some differences.

Looking globally and historically is good for both long-term and short-term outlooks though, allowing conclusions and best practices to be determined before the US reaches similar circumstances with the virus. Second waves and clusters are unavoidable and as a result lockdowns and restrictions may have to return. Testing and tracing remain effective tools to combatting outbreaks, but no one solution will exclusively help life return to normal – a combination of public and personal health decisions makes everyone safer. These activities, or lack thereof, show the difference in the situation in a few locations globally. Sweden, which never enacted lockdowns and closings, is currently experiencing a death rate above that of the US and four times that of neighboring countries that enacted lockdowns and other preventative measures. Sweden’s economic activity looks like that of some states that have reopened. However, Sweden has seen a reduced economic outlook like other European countries, suggesting that maintaining an open economy did little for both the population as well as the economy. Additionally, other factors, like public health confidence and general population health, may have helped depress the severity of the disease which could affect those in the US more than those in Sweden. South Korea’s experiences may also provide some insight. South Korea ended its strict social distancing in May allowing for some daily activities to resume. As a result, the infection rate increased slightly, but not to a point that the authorities could not handle tracking. South Korea is not on track to return to major quarantines and only localized lockdowns, such as the one resulting from an outbreak due to nightclubbers in the capital, Seoul, will be enacted for the time being. This is positive for the US, as it appears businesses, with the right public health guidelines, may have an unimpeded reopening. The goal would be to follow New Zealand, which this week completely reopened all domestic businesses fully as the country has no active cases with the last positive case reported 17 days ago. No limitations on business, schools, gatherings, or domestic travel remain. The New Zealand border remains closed, however. New Zealand’s first case was confirmed on February 28 and lockdown was imposed on March 23. These controls were implemented nationally however and when the country had around 100 cases total, a completely different situation the US finds itself in. But the current situation in New Zealand is where the US can set as the goal and hopefully achieve fully opened businesses soon.

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

Barrett, Malachi. “Is a Second Wave of Coronavirus Inevitable? Michigan Nears ‘Critical Point’ to Suppress Another Outbreak.” MLive, June 9, 2020. https://www.mlive.com/public-interest/2020/06/is-a-second-wave-of-coronavirus-inevitable-michigan-nears-critical-point-to-suppress-another-outbreak.html.

Solomon, Dan. “Is Texas Headed Toward a Second Wave of COVID-19 Infections?” Texas Monthly, June 9, 2020. https://www.texasmonthly.com/politics/is-texas-headed-toward-a-second-wave-of-covid-19-infections/.

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Rowley, Anthony. “Forget about a Dramatic Covid-19 Economic Collapse – or Rapid Recovery.” South China Morning Post, June 7, 2020. https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3087739/there-will-be-no-dramatic-covid-19-economic-collapse-or-rapid.

Ontiveros, Eva. “Coronavirus ‘Second Wave’: What Lessons Can We Learn from Asia?” BBC News. BBC, June 7, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-52807255.

Hyun-ju, Ock. “S. Korea Grapples with COVID-19 Outbreaks in Greater Seoul.” The Korea Herald, June 7, 2020. http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20200607000053.

Westcott, Ben. “With No Active Covid-19 Cases, New Zealand Is Lifting Almost All Its Coronavirus Restrictions.” CNN. Cable News Network, June 8, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/new-zealand-coronavirus-level-one-intl-hnk/index.html.

Radcliffe, Shawn. “Why Sweden’s COVID-19 Strategy Can’t Work in the U.S.” healthline.com. Healthline, June 4, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/heres-what-happened-in-sweden-and-you-cant-compare-it-to-u-s.