September 17 COVID Update: Many States Struggle with New Outbreaks

The following summary and its attached report are the twenty-first 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, August 14, August 21, and September 3.

Introduction

Using data current as of September 16th, this report compiles updated results for testing, cases, and deaths, and categorizations of each state’s current circumstances. This summary will highlight some of the findings and conclusions for the past two weeks. 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

27.09% 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. The case rates in states like North Dakota – which has a very high positivity rate but declining testing rate – shows the potential of sampling bias as a much higher percentage of tests are positive which indicates testing going to symptomatic persons while access has been reduced for those who are potentially asymptomatic. 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 has remained at 2% for the US since the last report. 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 been decreasing 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 flattened and begun declining.  The decrease in both the case curve and 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.  Now, testing has decreased slightly over the past few weeks.

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 two weeks, much of the South and West have remained in the Improvement stage, but the Midwest and Great Plains to the Mid-Atlantic has again mostly reverted to either Exponential growth or Linear Growth. Overall, there are now 10 total states in the exponential stage, down from 15 in the last report.  Linear growth now accounts for 21 states, up from 10 in the last report.  Overall, that means that 31 states are not improving their outbreak situations, a number increasing from 25 states in the previous report which is a worrying trend.  The other two classifications, Improving and Contained, account for 14 and 5 states, respectively. This means that the Improving stage, which had the most states in the previous two reports, is no longer the prevailing trend and that most states are reverting to negative trends with the pandemic. The Northeast remains the only region where these the Contained stage of outbreak acceleration exists despite being the original hotspot of the virus, but states across the country including hotspots like FL and LA have entered the improvement stage. To read an unabridged version of the results, please see the attached report for a complete view of specific states.

Conclusions

The United States’ new cases and deaths curves continue to decrease, but that decrease is beginning to slow.  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 reports had begun to decrease their number of cases, but a slight majority have now returned to a stage of spread.  This is happening mainly across the central US – from MT to OK to VA.   Many other states, including hotspots CA and TX, have continued to improve. 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 or return to a stage of growth of 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 had become a new hotspot with its magnitude above that from April, but new travel restrictions have helped drop the number of cases.  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 has many factors and is affecting each state to varying degrees.  As of July, the net job losses since February were worse than in the Great Recession for 39 states, with the 11 others seeing extreme job loss as well.  The nation lost 12.9 million payroll jobs, and August only saw 1.4 million jobs added with .24 million of those being temporary government positions.  This has resulted in continued elevated unemployment claims, indicating that people are still losing their jobs with recovery moving at a slow pace.  If surges of cases continue to emerge around the country, conditions for recovery will be lacking.  This is seen in states with large outbreaks or rely disproportionately on travel or tourism, as these states have witnessed the largest employment drops and slowest recovery. Some states have completely recovered in terms of employment in a few industries, but these states and industries are exceptions to the rule.  Additionally, the vast majority of jobs lost are in low paying industries, where the employees are often more heavily impacted as they may have less in savings and would lose their healthcare as they are less likely to be able to afford continuing coverage when the employer-provided option is gone.  Other consequences of the pandemic will play out over time, having a drawn-out effect on the population and economy.  The loss of learning and time for students globally will have a lasting economic impact on students and nations alike.  Globally, students will experience a 3% lower income over their lifetimes, which translates to an average of 1.5% lower annual GDP.  These losses are expected to fall more on disadvantaged students as the barriers to learning are greater – with fewer materials and lack of teaching resources.

The global impact of COVID has had other effects on the worldwide economy than just the long-term consequences of lost learning.  The US GDP is expected to rebound by the second quarter of 2021 according to Morgan Stanley, but this will be a result of debt spending from the government, not private sector growth.  Other regions and countries are expecting further downturns, with planned layoffs in the UK reaching almost another 500,000 jobs by the end of September.  This is aligned with other recent reports that the global economic retraction in 2020 may be less than initially expected but still much higher than any in recent history.  The decline of 4.5%, compared to an estimate 6% given in June, is better than expected but something difficult to plan for and not a good outcome by any means.  This may also lead to a weaker rebound as public and consumer spending may retract which would have the greatest short- and long-term impact on the global economy.  These outlooks for the economy – large retraction, slow growth, global effect – will affect planning for businesses large and small as the country begins to move out of the worst effects of the pandemic and into recovery.

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/

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Ettlinger, Michael, and Jordan Hensley. “COVID-19 Economic Crisis: By State.” UNH, September 10, 2020. https://carsey.unh.edu/COVID-19-Economic-Impact-By-State

Staples, Mark. “COVID-19: Implications for Business.” McKinsey & Company. McKinsey & Company, September 10, 2020. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/risk/our-insights/covid-19-implications-for-business

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Walker, Andrew. “Coronavirus: Hit to Global Economy ‘Will Be Less than Expected’ in 2020.” BBC News. BBC, September 16, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-54176157