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USA vs. COVID-19: Who’s Winning Now?

Mid-June Update: The Middle Rounds

How is the USA doing in the battle against COVID-19?  Just as in the prior update on May 19, we’ll use Worldometer data to let the pictures tell the story. The recently blogged series of myths regarding the accuracy of the data (Myths) raised several interpretation obstacles, so weigh the results accordingly. The myths will be referred to as needed, but not rehashed.

Case Count

The case count took off in March and peaked around April 1. Here is the daily number of new cases nationwide since then:

There is an apparent change in level in the positive (downward) direction around May 9, as the red line delineates. The daily average case count from April 1 to May 8 was 29,781, and from May 9 to June 15 it dropped to 22,559- which is a decrease of almost 25%. That should provoke two reactions:

  1. Yay! – We’re winning!
  2. Yikes – The USA is still averaging over 22,500 new cases per day.

State-level counts provide more insights as to how and where the virus is spreading. Below is a ranking of total cases by state since inception.

New York remains the clear leader in case count, with more cases than 31 other states combined. However, this picture only tells part of the story. We provided a similar chart a month ago, and the case count for New York dwarfed the others to the point that they will (hopefully!) never catch up. To get a complete picture of progress, we must also look at the trend over time.

New York clearly appears to be winning their battle; steady decrease in daily cases over the April 1-June 16 period. More good news: the pattern for case count runner-up New Jersey is virtually identical.

Unfortunately, all states are not winning. After gnashing of teeth trying to figure out the best way to illustrate the states with the most concerning spread, I came up with the following table and graph:

Here’s the reasoning:

Conclusion: California, Texas, Virginia, and Florida are seeing substantial increases in case volume, while states like New York and New Jersey have stemmed the tide and are seeing fewer and fewer new cases. That contention is backed up by the charts below.

These states are clearly on the rise. The Florida graph is similar and will be showcased in the Looking Ahead section. Worldometer doesn’t publish daily stats for Virginia, but it would almost certainly show the same pattern.

So what does it all mean?

Virus-Related Deaths

The preferred metric is once again the number of deaths versus mortality rate, in an effort to reduce data inaccuracy as much as possible (see Myth #2). Unfortunately, there are still data collection issues due to reporting inconsistencies on weekends. To mitigate this, we calculated a daily average for each week to smooth out the weekend data, shown below.

Read the above as “for the week beginning April 1, there was an average of 1,486 deaths per day.” Good news: There continues to be a downward trend over the last several weeks.

Which states are the deaths coming from? The breakdown is as follows:

The top eight states are the same as they were a month ago. New York and New Jersey still have the highest volumes and account for 38% of the total deaths. Note that 40 states combined do not have the death count of New York alone. The New York deaths per day chart below mirrors the overall, which is logical. The point: we definitely have statistical evidence that New York is past its peak.

Reporting for several other states still leaves a lot to be desired, though it’s safe to say that death count runner up New Jersey is significantly past its peak as well — more good news.

Looking Ahead- Is It the Right Time to Open Up?

Wow, what a question. Balancing the certainty of the economic Armageddon of staying shut down with the possibility of increased sickness and death is a no-win scenario. In our last blog we concentrated on the state of Florida to explore this issue, as the decision had just been made to be more aggressive in opening up. A rehash of some key numbers:

Here are the current stats for Florida as of June 16, roughly one month after the reopening:

Interpretation: There is definite statistical evidence that the case count is on the rise. To estimate how much requires assumptions. May 18th was reopening day, so we wouldn’t have expected a spike in cases on May 19th. Figure in a few buffer weeks for reopening, experiencing increased contact, allowing the time to show symptoms, and having the virus confirmed by testing. That takes us to June 1. The average new case count for May was 725 per day, while the count for June 1-16 was 1,497 per day… more than double. And in the past week the case count has averaged over 2,000 per day, so it hasn’t leveled off. We’re working with a small amount of data to date, but for arguments sake let’s say the decision to reopen has resulted in about 800 additional verified cases per day so far. (Huge asterisk since undiscovered asymptomatic cases wouldn’t be a part of that figure.)

Meanwhile, the death rate has not increased. That is logical; four weeks isn’t enough time to see a spike in this metric. It will be instructive to see if the increased case count results in a spike down the road. The magnitude of the spike is impossible to predict since the case count is still on such a sharp increase. To illustrate the degree of decision-making difficulty, let’s say the death count rises by 20 per day – not unreasonable.

You may recall from the previous blog that I chose Florida in part because of the article “Florida throws open its doors — and holds its breath.” A month later, we have only marginally more clarity. Would you trade an additional 800 cases and 20 deaths per day (if 20 turns out to be the real number – it could be 10 or 100) for 750,000 jobs and $3 billion in tourism revenue per day? The graphic annualizes those numbers for comparative purposes.

Have I ever mentioned I’m glad I’m not a politician?

Ralph Smith

Coming Soon: Free update to Orion’s Understanding the COVID-19 Data webinar.

Orion’s Data Analytics webinar series is on sale through June 30, 2020.
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