June 18 COVID Update: Continued Case Acceleration in the South and Southwest

The following summary and its attached report are the tenth 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 previous reports can be found in the following links: first report, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth.

Introduction

Using data current as of June 17, 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 business impacts, both domestically and internationally, that are emerging 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

Currently, 7.63% 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 12%. 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 5.2% for the US. Overall, the US appears to have peaked with new cases decreasing over the last few months with deaths following similar trends. However, the past few weeks have seen a slight increase in cases and a flattening of deaths in the US, which may signal a second wave ahead. There has also been a continual increase 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 regarding the outbreak situation. Many are improving – that is, these states have a negative new case acceleration such as IL, LA, and PA. 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 MI, NJ, and NY. Many states, however, are still in a linear growth stage of new cases with new case acceleration near zero but having a positive case velocity. States in this subgroup include KY, OH, and WA. A concerning trend to emerge is the number of states reverting to a place of exponential growth of the outbreak. These include CA, FL, and TX. This stage of exponential growth now has the highest number of states of the four stages. Additionally, all states grouped in this exponential growth stage are in either the south or west with LA and NM being the only exceptions. 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 is seeing a flattening of the number of new deaths, but the number of new cases has, in the past few days, began to increase. With the recent acceleration in testing, a small acceleration in cases is expected, but the testing acceleration does not necessarily explain the increase in positive cases as the testing distribution is uneven across the country. Particularly, southern states are struggling with significant case growth while many northern states continue to improve, and some are reaching initial containment. This case increase also does not necessarily precipitate a proportionate increase in deaths, but there is a lag between case results and death results and as new cases are increasing the death rate will be monitored. 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. In some cases, the current situation is worse now than it was ever before, which indicates this may be a “first wave” of sorts. 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

Businesses across the country and across many verticals continue to face a rollercoaster market with little indication of that easing soon. There is good news: this week, the US government released a report that American consumers increased their retail spending by 17.7% from April to May. This increase is beneficial after retail spending dropped by 8.3% and 14.7% in March and April, respectively. However, consumer spending in May was still down 6.1% from the year before. This plus the increase in employment in May is a positive trend. But, as with all rollercoasters, there are negatives present as well. With the news of new outbreaks across China coupled with new increases across the US, different industries continue to take hits. One vertical is petroleum, which fell for most of the week of June 8. Upstream and downstream operations together have taken hits for the length of the pandemic, with crude prices dropping recently after a slight recovery from the beginning of the pandemic. This also comes with news of major petroleum companies announcing upcoming layoffs, which may indicate a negative outlook for a long time to come.

The business outlook closely follows the situation of the pandemic in the US. The positives, however, are highly impacted by the situations across the country and the negatives are dependent on the pandemic as well. Domestically, the biggest centers of business in the US are beginning to slowly reopen. The Northeast Corridor Economic region is in a preliminary period of containment with each state having a decreasing amount of new cases every day, with their daily rate dropping below that of much less populous states. This is a problem, however, as more and more states regress and reach new daily case highs, often much more than places like New York City. This is shown on page 11 of the attached report in figure 11, where greater than 15 states are just now seeing daily case highs. Additionally, some are just days past their daily case highs, indicating that many of these states are in their first wave. This is dangerous for business as a large regression in many business centers, like TX and FL, may predicate the need for the return of full lockdowns, which would be extremely damaging to business. The importance of lockdowns and social distancing in this pandemic has never been more apparent than right now, as states that maintained lockdowns and social distancing rules earlier and for longer periods of time are currently experiencing better results than those that did not. This aggressive reopening has also contrasted with the experience and strategy of many other countries. In early May, when most states began their reopening plans, the case rate nationally was well over 3%, but most Asian and European countries waited until their case rate was below 1%. Even then, countries such as South Korea and Singapore experienced new clusters and waves of COVID and have implemented measures to contain those secondary outbreaks – sometimes reimplementing lockdowns.

These international experiences show that the situation in the US is predictable and new clusters and smaller outbreaks are inevitable. It is how these new situations are dealt with that will determine success for both US public society and business. Recently in Beijing, the capital of China, at least 106 new cases were identified stemming from a food market. This outbreak sent 29 communities within the capital back into lockdown with the government responding with a massive contact-tracing and testing effort to contain the outbreak. Additionally, more clusters have been popping up around Seoul, the capital of South Korea. A few weeks ago, a cluster was found stemming from a reopened nightclub in the capital. This past week, a schoolteacher was found positive and those at the school were tested and are awaiting their results. Other instances, like positive cases working at a delivery service or an infected day-care director, show the virus, despite these countries’ best efforts, is not fully contained and any amount of reopening comes with some amount of increased risk. Other countries that have been world leaders in combatting the coronavirus within their borders continue to see the pandemic’s effects. New Zealand, which last week completely removed all domestic restrictions on business and social life after over 20 days of no new cases and more than two weeks of no active cases, saw two new cases appear early this week. These cases are New Zealanders who had been traveling internationally and reentered the country in early June and had been under quarantine when they tested positive. While it appears that New Zealand has still avoided community transmission, there is still an ongoing threat within the country of the coronavirus. These countries have used a host of methods to control the outbreak, but the solution connecting them has been social distancing and small lockdowns in response to new local outbreaks, which may be necessary for the various communities in the US to implement to avoid greater viral transmission and avoid larger business lockdowns.

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

Boak, Josh, and Anne D’Innocenzio. “US Shoppers Returned with Vigor in May in Partial Rebound.” AP NEWS. Associated Press, June 16, 2020. https://apnews.com/93e8e62393993ae78cb0df88f95d3951

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Kim, Soo. “New Zealand Reports Fresh COVID-19 Cases Eight Days After Declaring Coronavirus Eliminated.” Newsweek, June 16, 2020. https://www.newsweek.com/new-zealand-covid-19-cases-eight-days-after-declaring-coronavirus-eliminated-1511096