White House’s Own Data Crunchers: Southern Counties About to Get Hit Hard
The coronavirus task force has been using data from PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to chart the disease. And the new projections aren’t great.
A new analysis being reviewed by the White House shows southern states that moved too quickly to relax social distancing guidelines face significant risk for a resurgence of the coronavirus over the next several weeks. In several cases, counties will see hundreds of additional cases by June 17.
The study, which was put together by PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, is part of a data set being reviewed by top coronavirus task force officials and people working with the team, The Daily Beast reported earlier this month. A previous model by the PolicyLab predicted that if officials moved too quickly and too aggressively to reopen in mid-May, individual counties could witness hundreds, if not a thousand-plus, more coronavirus cases reported each day by August 1.
The new model shows that in southern counties, particularly in Texas, Florida, Alabama, and Virginia, the risk for resurgence is high over the next four weeks. These states have moved to reopen, at least partially, since the team published its last model in April.
The data set now takes into consideration current levels of social distancing rather than projections about what would happen when local communities reopened. It also includes data for more than 200 additional counties across the country. The findings indicate that the risk for large second waves of outbreaks remains low if communities continue to implement cautious, incremental plans to reopening that limit crowding and travel to non-essential businesses. Doctors working on the study said that without vigilance in masking, hygiene, and disinfection, certain southern counties will remain high risk.
The new data, which has been presented to members of the White House’s coronavirus task force, is likely to validate fears by doctors and scientists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease official in the administration, that opening states too soon could have disastrous health consequences. The news comes as the Trump White House continues to promote the idea of local communities opening up for business, and as the president seeks to shuffle his coronavirus task force in a way that would allow members to focus on reopening the economy. On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Florida, where he grabbed lunch at a burger joint where few patrons were wearing masks or practicing social distancing, according to photos of the event.
While the study does not measure the death toll, it does paint a worrisome picture for southern counties over the next month. It raises questions about how local officials will handle a second wave and whether they have enough supplies to handle a spike in daily coronavirus cases.
“The key now is understanding the resurgence risk as social distancing begins to change. The picture our models are painting for Texas and Florida provide ample evidence to others who would choose to move too quickly,” the doctors working on the study wrote in an analysis associated with Wednesday’s update. “We see these concerns even as we adjust for additional testing capacity that might have inflated our forecasts.”
Florida was one of the first states to reopen. Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed some beaches in the state to reopen in the middle of April even as other areas throughout the state were continuing to see an increasing number of coronavirus cases and related deaths. Since then, he allowed gyms, salons, and theme parks to open. Now, the governor is taking more drastic reopening measures, allowing Miami-Dade and Broward counties to reopen retails shops and salons.
As these communities reopen, individuals residing in Miami-Dade County will see the daily coronavirus case count spike from 232 to 785 over the next four weeks and from 68 to 211 in Broward County, according to the study's projections.
Dallas County in Texas will see a similar spike, as will Mobile and Montgomery counties in Alabama, the study says. In Dallas, the daily case count is projected to jump from 233 to 715 by June 17. In Montgomery it’s projected to go from 35 to 216. And in Mobile County the case count is projected to spike by more than 300 cases from 31 to 366 in the next month.
While states in the southern part of the country may suffer a second wave in the next few weeks, counties in the northeast, including hotspot states like New York and New Jersey, will see a decline in the daily number of coronavirus cases. Doctors working on the study attribute that decline to implementing slow, safe reopening measures. In both New York and New Jersey, state officials have moved to reopen parks, outdoor activity facilities, and some construction sites but have avoided allowing mass gatherings. Both states will soon begin to allow more nonessential businesses to reopen, including some doctors offices and retail stores.
In Essex County, New Jersey, for example, a county with one of the highest coronavirus case counts and death tolls in the nation, the case count will drop from 54 to 10 by June 17. And in Queens County, New York, where doctors have in the last few months been inundated with coronavirus patients, the case count will drop from 243 to 74 in the next four weeks, according to the study.