The coronavirus may still be spreading at epidemic rates in 24 states, particularly in the South and Midwest, according to new research that highlights the risk of a second wave of infections in places that reopen too quickly or without sufficient precautions.
Researchers at Imperial College London created a model that incorporates cellphone data showing that people sharply reduced their movements after stay-at-home orders were broadly imposed in March. With restrictions now easing and mobility increasing with the approach of Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer, the researchers developed an estimate of viral spread as of May 17.
It is a snapshot of a transitional moment in the pandemic and captures the patchwork nature across the country of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Some states have had little viral spread or “crushed the curve” to a great degree and have some wiggle room to reopen their economies without generating a new epidemic-level surge in cases. Others are nowhere near containing the virus.
The model, which has not been peer reviewed, shows that in the majority of states, a second wave looms if people abandon efforts to mitigate the viral spread.
“There’s evidence that the U.S. is not under control, as an entire country,” said Samir Bhatt, a senior lecturer in geostatistics at Imperial College.
The model shows potentially ominous scenarios if people move around as they did previously and do so without taking precautions. In California and Florida, the death rate could spike to roughly 1,000 a day by July without efforts to mitigate the spread, according to the report.
Other models released in recent days captured a similarly mixed picture. The PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia used county-level forecasts that found much of the country was in decent shape for reopening, but worrisome areas remain, including Houston, Dallas, South Florida and Alabama.
On this Memorial Day weekend, some people will visit areas that may not have had much exposure to the virus, said David Rubin, director of PolicyLab.
“This is the first test of the system,” Rubin said. “Those areas that succeed this weekend are going to succeed because they’ve developed strong regulations on how they’re going to do this.”
The Imperial College researchers estimated the virus’s reproduction number, known as R0, or R naught. This is the average number of infections generated by each infected person in a vulnerable population. The researchers found the reproduction number has dropped below 1 in the District and 26 states. In those places, as of May 17, the epidemic was waning.
In 24 states, however, the model shows a reproduction number over 1. Texas tops the list, followed by Arizona, Illinois, Colorado, Ohio, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, Alabama, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida, Virginia, New Mexico, Missouri, Delaware, South Carolina, Massachusetts, North Carolina, California, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Maryland.
With the notable exceptions of New York, New Jersey and Michigan, the other seven of the ten most populous states are still all in epidemic status: CA, IL, MA, FL, OH, NC and PA. It's going to be a lethal Memorial Day weekend, and by mid-June it's going to be clear that reopening is going to come at a bloody cost.
America is bored of social distancing?
We're about to be bored to death of it.