Is the Downward Trajectory at Risk?

Source data downloaded from 6/7/2020 at 12pm

The 1-week trailing average of mortality from COVID-19 has plunged firmly below 1,000 per day this week. It had briefly dipped below that marker last week, but only because the week before had been a long weekend, including Memorial Day holiday. Followers of this column will be aware that the weekend reporting of COVID-19 deaths is spotty, leading to a Saturday-Sunday plunge in the numbers. The pattern in evident in the USA Daily Mortality chart above. For this reason, we use the 1-week trailing average, which levels out the weekend dip, and the mid-week spike. We also correlate the numbers each month with “Excess Deaths”, a statistic generated by the CDC that gives us an insight to the relative accuracy of the reported numbers. Ultimately, we have found that the measure used in the graph above is a good indication of the relative death toll, and its progression, rather than an absolute and accurate measure (which may never be known with high accuracy, for reasons we have discussed before, and will devote more focus in a forthcoming column.)

This fall is proceeding at the pace expected; if the curve continues this stochastic path, we could look toward the weekly moving average falling below 500 in the next two weeks, and so forth.  What threatens this outcome is two separate developments: the relaxing of Shelter at Home orders, and other orders restricting movement and commerce, and the burgeoning protest movement.

Relaxing the Restrictions

We have been in strong support of the relaxation of Shelter at Home orders and the limitation of daily activities and commerce. Early experience is indicating an uptick in infection rates in many of the states relaxing limits, but not yet in alarming terms. Each month we publish the chart from indicating the Rt value in all 50 states. The “early openers” such as Georgia and Florida, have both shown an uptick in infection rates, in most cases – Florida much milder than Georgia, although both are calculated to have an Rt rate above 1.0,  above which infection rate will lead to growth rather than diminishment of the disease. On the other hand, another early opening state, Texas, showed an excursion above 1 shortly after the relaxation ended, but that rate has now fallen below the magic number of 1. All of these changes so far have been marginal, and do not lead us to be concerned.

On the other hand, the social unrest across the country today may significantly alter the dynamic of the pandemic. We have seen photos of protests where protesters have scrupulously observed social distancing, wearing masks, and avoiding person-to-person physical contact. On the other hand, when the crowds reach very large numbers of highly energized people, it becomes impossible to maintain those practices, and may lead to superspreading events.

Philadelphia Protest, June 6, 2020 (Screengrab from NBC News)

Time alone will tell what the outcome will be: we will be keeping track of the statistics over the next few weeks to see if the dynamics change.

Comparing the US COVID-19 Results to Western Europe

Source data downloaded from 6/7/2020 at 12pm

Each week we compare COVID-19 mortality data from the US to the five largest European countries, as together they represent roughly the same level of population (US is about 2% more populous). We do this because there is so much misinformation about how poorly the US is managing the pandemic, whereas we are doing not much better, but certainly not worse than Europe. As in Europe, some US states are doing significantly better than the country as a whole, but the US aggregates are comparable, and in some categories, significantly better than those aggregates in Europe as a whole. The pandemic started in the US about two weeks later than in Europe, so the numbers lag by at least that period; we are only recently past the peak in mortality, while much of Europe is well past the peak. The IHME Predicted Mortality shown in the comparison is now over a week old, and we will seek to update it by the next post. The very large variation in “To Date Mortality” per million of population bears some investigation, ranging as it ranges between a low of 105 (Germany) and 596 (UK). While the US reports it’s rate to be 339, New York City has a current rate of 1,566 deaths per million of population. A very sobering number, and one that requires in-depth scrutiny: we will be delve deeper in a future posting.