June 26 COVID Update: New Case Highs across the US

The following summary and its attached report are the eleventh 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: April 14, April 23, April 30, May 6, May 13, May 20, May 28, June 4, June 11, and June 18

Introduction

Using data current as of June 25, updated results for testing, cases, and deaths, and categorizations of 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, 8.74% 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 15%. 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 4.9% 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 have seen a significant 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. Despite the increase in testing, the acceleration of cases has outpaced that of new tests, so the increase in testing does not appear to fully explain the rise in cases.

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 CO, IL, 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. A few 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 LA, OH, and WA. A concerning trend to emerge is the number of states reverting to a place of exponential growth for 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 being the only exception. 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 now seen an extended increase for over a week. 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 a growing number of states including AK, ID, and MO. A worrying trend in case growth for states appears in the “Daily Cases (normalized to state maximum)” visualization on page 11 of the attached report. Many of the states previously reported experiencing a sort of “second wave” are reaching new highs in new daily cases which completely dwarf previous peaks. This is true for the three most populous states in the US: CA, FL, and TX. The current situation is worse now than it was ever before, which indicates this may be a “first wave” of sorts, and has the US approaching its mid-April peak once again. Without lockdowns or widespread adherence to current medical best practice advice, this trend is anticipated to continue. 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

Business across the United States is facing many challenges, on a broad range of verticals and scales. Nationally, traditionally strong verticals suffer from continuing trends stemming from the pandemic, its following lockdowns, and the resulting consumer doubt. One example is the petroleum industry, which continues to see negative effects from residual doubt in consumers and their changing behaviors. In a recent June report on the Short-Term Energy Outlook for the US Energy Information Administration, demand for fuel for the second quarter of 2020 will average around 83.8 million barrels per day, nearly 16.6 million barrels per day lower than the second quarter of 2019. Additionally, the price of a barrel dipped below $20 per barrel in April and is not expected to rise to above $40 per barrel until 2021. Production and price of oil are not the only difficulties facing petroleum. In a recent survey from NACS, American consumers are reluctant to return to normal, pre-pandemic fuel habits. 56% of respondents said that before the pandemic, they were fueling up at least once a week, with only 11% of respondents saying they were fueling up once a month or less. Now, 25% of respondents fill up once a week and 45% fill up once a month or less. Others, however, are beginning to see some light as the country begins to reopen. Last week, a government report stated that retail traffic was up nearly 18% from April to May. New narratives on the state of retail continue to show improvement with each passing week, with different companies innovating or reimagining their strategies to usher in a post-pandemic industry. One major chain, T.J. Maxx of parent company TJX, is finding its path forward by looking back. New methods for reaching consumers, such as the growing E-commerce sector, are not part of the forward strategy for the discount brand. Focusing on its in-store offerings and driving consumers back to the shelves instead of further reducing margins on already discounted clothes by packaging and shipping through E-commerce, T.J. Maxx has revived much of its sales lost to the pandemic. Other retailers are leaning on their existing infrastructure to rebuild and renew their customer base. Fleet Feet, a small, independent-owned franchised running shoe retailer, already had a fully realized and nimble E-commerce site ready when the pandemic predicated these sites would have to shut down. With its current system, the company was able to pivot from in-store sales to curbside pickup and delivery of orders more quickly than many retailers. Additionally, because of the lockdown, Fleet Feet’s online sales more the quadrupled. Both retailers – Fleet Feet and T.J. Maxx – understood their offerings and businesses and targeted solutions for both their clientele and company scale which led to positive outcomes. Emulating this type of innovation will be the key to furthering economic recovery in the US across verticals.

The rapid return of the virus has negated much of the progress the original lockdowns had achieved and again threaten businesses with potential closures. As states across the country continue to rollback the lockdowns from late March and April, the aggressive return of the outbreak is to be expected as the transmission rate of the virus had not reached the recommended levels for widespread reopening. This threatens business from both a customer and employee perspective and will require businesses to step up care of both their property and people to find success soon. Caring for customers coming into the store with increased safety and cleaning measures will be important steps to curating a successful business environment, be it in petroleum, retail, or anywhere customers are present for extended periods of time. Additionally, maintaining these measures will be key long into the containment period of the virus to boost both employee and consumer confidence in patronizing these businesses. Without these safety measures, the success of reopening for businesses like T.J. Maxx may be threatened moving forward if consumer confidence is lost or shutdowns are restarted.

The increasing prevalence of the virus in the US is a worrying trend and it does not appear to be going away anytime soon. A new high of daily new cases over the course of the whole pandemic was just achieved this week with more states taking measures to loosen restrictions. The response in the US has contrasted greatly from that in other highly developed countries, mainly those in Europe. Many of the worst-hit countries across Europe experienced similar explosions of the virus in March and April like the US. However, country-wide lockdowns coupled with a robust social safety net has greatly reduced the amount of spread in these countries as their citizens remained at home for months. The results of these policies can be seen in the international new case trends, with the UK, Spain, and Italy all trending down with new cases well under one thousand per day. Obviously, this strategy has not been the same in the US. With differing strategies about lockdowns, social safety nets, and reopening, many of the places hit worst at the beginning of the pandemic are in much better positions than those that experienced the outbreak later. Despite the success, the strategies internationally are not perfect. This past week, Germany experienced a huge increase in cases day-over-day as one thousand new cases from a meatpacking plant in the west of the country were detected. This outbreak and several smaller across the country resulted in quarantine for those infected and lockdowns for the neighborhoods and towns seeing viral spread. Regardless of business effects, quarantines and lockdowns are returning to curb the pandemic while a vaccine is not present. In China last week, new cases in the capital Beijing were rapidly rising after a period of seemingly no local transmission leading to renewed business closures and lockdowns. Those lockdowns have not lifted as containing the spread has become priority number one. So far, the US has been one of the few major countries to reopen during a period of rapid spreading of the virus, so predicting future outcomes for both people and businesses will be difficult as the US pioneers this unique strategy moving forward.

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

“Survey Reveals 45% of U.S. Drivers Fill Up Once a Month.” convenience.org. NACS Daily, June 24, 2020. https://www.convenience.org/Media/Daily/2020/Jun/24/5-Survey-45-US-Drivers-Fill-Up-Once-Month_Fuels?utm_content=NACS+Daily+062420%3A+newsarticle5+%28Survey+Reveals+45%25+of+U.S.+Drivers+Fill+Up+Once+a%29

“Short-Term Energy Outlook.” EIA. US Energy Information Administration, June 9, 2020. https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/steo/report/

Kapner, Suzanne, and Sarah Nassauer. “Coronavirus Changed Everything. Except T.J. Maxx.” Fox Business. Fox Business, June 22, 2020. https://www.foxbusiness.com/retail/coronavirus-changed-everything-except-t-j-maxx

Danziger, Pamela N. “Community Retail Is Why Fleet Feet Won Big During Coronavirus Shutdowns And Will After.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, June 20, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/pamdanziger/2020/06/21/community-retail-is-why-fleet-feet-won-big-during-coronavirus-shutdowns-and-will-after/

Noryskiewicz, Anna. “Coronavirus Outbreak at German Meat Packing Plant Drives Virus Reproduction Rate Back Up.” CBS News. CBS Interactive, June 22, 2020. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-in-germany-meat-packing-plant-covid-19-outbreak-cases-r-reproduction-rate-up-today-2020-06-22/

Raghav, Krish. “In Beijing It Looked like Coronavirus Was Gone. Now We’re Living with a Second Wave | Krish Raghav.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, June 21, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/21/beijing-coronavirus-second-wave-virus-china

“New Cases of COVID-19 In World Countries.” Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, June 25, 2020. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/new-cases