Daily COVID-19 Briefing: Wednesday

Top news, reports and insights for today:

  1. Daily headline summaries for Tuesday-Wednesday:
  • A report issued Monday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says more than 25,000 residents died and 60,000 were infected as coronavirus swept through U.S. nursing homes. More than 34,000 staff have been infected with more than 400 deaths. About 20% of nursing homes have not yet reported case counts (Washington Post)
  • N95 and other respirator masks have been found to be far superior to surgical or cloth masks in reducing risk for medical workers according to new analysis of 172 studies funded by the WHO. CDC guidance says surgical masks offer enough protection unless engaged in procedures (New York Times)
  1. U.S. Transmission intensity declines in the northeast and mid-west, accelerates in the south and west
    The theme again is whack-a-mole as the hotspots in the midwestern and northeastern regions have slowed in the last week, while transmission intensity has picked up in the west and south. Look at the graphs below of growth factors for cases and deaths. This gives a ratio of new cases/deaths last week compared to the week before. Numbers greater than 1 show increasing intensity while numbers below 1 shows the rate of new cases/deaths is slowing. The top figure shows cases. Maine is the only state that is “hot” right now in the northeast, although Maryland has also seen cases and deaths rise. Maryland in fact reported just under 6,500 new cases last week, again topping the nation at 15.3 new daily cases per 100,000 population. Despite this, Governor Hogan announced the state will enter Phase 2 of recovery allowing non-essential businesses to reopen. Cases were increasing only in Nebraska and Missouri in the midwest, while deaths increased markedly in Kansas (+93%) and Wisconsin (+80%) week over week. The important pattern here is the rise in cases and deaths in the south, where 7 of 12 states saw new cases jump, and 6 of 12 saw deaths rise. Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas all reported at least 30% increase in new cases compared to the week before. Deaths doubled in North Carolina and jumped 78% in Kentucky. While the western states have seen less intense transmission in recent weeks, that trend now appears to be reversing. Arizona saw new cases double last week and deaths rise 30%. Sizable increases were also seen in California, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Numbers were too small in Alaska, Hawaii and Montana to generate stable growth factors, but all those states saw infections rise.
    The bottom line: It is possible we are starting to see increases in cases and deaths in states that reopened in late April and early May. The increase in transmission intensity in the south is troubling, especially since summer heat and humidity are now consistent there. Arizona and the Pacific Northwest are worrisome indicators of increasing transmission intensity in the West, a region that seemed to have been closest to peaking in recent weeks.
  1. Many states where people are getting back out are the ones with rising cases
    An article in the Washington Post caught my attention today. Take a look at the three maps I grabbed from the website showing percent of time residents for each county are spending at home (based on cell phone data) for three time periods. Map A shows March 1, before widespread lockdown. Map B shows just how even, consistent and impressive the full lockdown actually was. Map C shows that the return to life outside the home has been more uneven than either previous timepoint. People continue to remain largely in their homes in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Washington DC, And most of the I-95 corridor from Delaware to Boston. However, there has been a dramatic reduction in the percent of time spent at home in the week ending May 24 in many counties that are seeing cases and deaths surge. This includes North and South Dakota, Alabama Mississippi and Louisiana, Arizona and New Mexico, West Texas, Maine, South Carolina and sections of southern Georgia. Have these states reopened too soon or too quickly?

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