The Iconoclast
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The Iconoclast

When Can We Hit Reboot? Pt. 4

Weekly Status Report in Bending Covid-19 Curves

by Patrick H. Ruane and Ravi Pamnani, Apr 28, 2020

This is an ongoing series as two scientists (well, one scientist and one engineer aka, a practical scientist) try to make sense of the Covid-19 pandemic trajectory and try to project its course through various data visualizations. Check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

We are not taking this seriously enough.

Clearly, social distancing, sheltering in place, and quarantining can work. We see it in a wide range of countries (enough countries to account for any possibilities of data manipulation, undersampling, undertesting, overtesting, etc., that some social policy skeptics might point to).

But we see in Figure 1 below that it is not yet working in other countries (e.g., USA, Canada, Sweden below). This is quite tragic. These three countries were all on an inflection point “downward”, demonstrating improved control and deceleration of new cases. But this past week, this trend reversed and new cases have accelerated again. Images of beaches reopening in the US amid the heat wave fueled the frustration of these authors.

Figure 1. Covid-19 Prevalence vs. New Cases Per Week in Selected Countries

The worst performers in Figure 2 highlight some of these issues: countries with large, unwieldy populations, or more importantly, leadership that took too much time to respond (or still haven’t adequately responded).

Sweden in particular has been in the news as having taken a different approach, due in part to a constitutional reason that they can’t order a quarantine / shelter-in-place. They claim their approach is working. The data is not so certain.

Figure 2. Covid-19 Prevalence vs. New Cases Per Week in the Worst-Performing Countries

The countries in Figure 3 are continuing to maintain infection rates to manageable, non-exponential growth levels and are likely on track to “normalcy”. What can we learn from them?

Figure 3. Covid-19 Prevalence vs. New Cases Per Week (Best Countries)

Following close behind, most of Europe is achieving better control of their infection rates this week per Figure 4.

Figure 4. Covid-19 Prevalence vs. New Cases Per Week (Best Countries — Europe)

As described above, Sweden is one of the notable exceptions, along with Russia and Turkey in Figure 5 below.

Figure 5. Covid-19 Prevalence vs. New Cases Per Week (Europe — Still Facing Exponential-ish Growth)

Turning to the US, we have a few states that have taken leadership positions in controlling their infection rates per Figure 6. Given the tragedy in NY, the curve is a welcome sight and hopefully the trend will continue. Florida seems to be shallowing out which is a concern (and the warm weather leading people to go out more will not help).

Figure 6. Covid-19 Prevalence vs. New Cases Per Week (US — Best States)

More states though are all over the place. Some seemed like they were on the right track (e.g., CA, NJ) but fell off the track this past week. Other states might be making the turn soon (e.g., MD, CT, PA) while others still are meandering through exponential growth (e.g., IL, MA, GA, TX).

Figure 7. Covid-19 Prevalence vs. New Cases Per Week (US States-All Over The Place)

Pulling out TX and comparing to one of the better performing European countries in Figure 8, we can see more clearly how it is doing. The data points each represent one week, so clearly the growth is slowing, but it’s still growing. The dip seen last week was promising, but just like CA and the US in general, the curve flipped again with another inflection, and the infection continues to spread.

While states like CA continue to shelter in place (SF Bay Area just issued a new order to extend), others like TX are planning a limited reopening, with retail stores, restaurants, malls, movie theaters, medical and dental offices, and libraries and museums reopening with some limited capacity. Just at the time when their new cases continue to grow. The effect of this should be apparent in 1-2 weeks, so we’ll be monitoring the impact of these decisions closely.

Figure 8. Covid-19 Prevalence vs. New Cases Per Week (Texas vs. Austria)

This is part of an ongoing series of data visualizations of the Covid-19 pandemic. Part 5 was published on May 4, 2020.

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