Latest Data Supports Continued Reversal of Shutdown

The red line shows the number of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients in Virginia hospitals. Graph credit: John Butcher

by James A. Bacon

We’re a week into Phase 1 of relaxing the COVID-19 lockdown, and there is no sign of an acceleration of the virus. To the contrary, the virus seems to be receding. It may be too soon to reach definitive conclusions — there is a one- to two-week lag between an infection, the display of symptoms, testing, and hospitalizations — but so far, all signs are positive.

The most reliable indicator is COVID-19 hospitalizations, and the daily number is trending down strongly, as can be seen in the graph (courtesy of John Butcher) shown above. Since May 15, the count of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients in Virginia hospitals has declined from 1,511 to 1,384. Meanwhile the number of new hospitalizations yesterday dropped to 36 — the lowest number in 25 days. The number of deaths remains significantly below previous peaks.

The one disconcerting note in the numbers comes from nursing homes. The number of nursing home patients confirmed to have COVID-19 has increased markedly over the past week — from 1,427 five days ago (the first day for which the numbers were reported) to 1,886 yesterday. Whether that reflects an increase in testing at long-term care facilities, an increase in the number of nursing homes sharing data, or an actual spread of the virus is impossible to determine from the published data on public dashboards.

(Of the 23 deaths reported yesterday, 14 were attributed to long-term care facilities — about 61%. When it comes to mortalities, the COVID-19 epidemic remains primarily a nursing home epidemic.)

Another data set suggesting that the epidemic is receding can be seen in the number of tests administered. The Northam administration had set a goal of administering 10,000 tests per day. The state lab and hospitals have the capacity to administer a few thousand tests; the rest of the tests come from private labs, primarily in response to tests ordered by physicians in response to patients showing possible COVID-19 symptoms. The number of tests administered daily runs in the 6,000 to 7,000 range — significantly below capacity.

Why aren’t there more tests? One possible explanation is monumental incompetence of Virginia’s public health authorities. One should never discount the possibility of incompetence. But there’s another possible explanation: Fewer people are getting tested because fewer people are displaying symptoms associated with COVID-19. It has been widely conjectured that longer days, warmer temperatures, and sunnier weather would dampen the spread of COVID-19 as it does the cold and flu. And that may be exactly what’s happening.

Remember, throughout the epidemic, 75% to 85% of COVID-19 tests were negative. Rarely did people get tests just for yuks. People were tested when they showed symptoms — dry coughing, aches and pains, etc. — consistent with the coronavirus. As it happens, most suspected COVID-19 cases turned out just to be a cold or flu. As happens every summer, flu and cold cases are receding, so fwer people are displaying flu-like systems, and fewer are getting testing. Because the COVID-positive results as a percentage of all tests has remained constant — between 14.0% and 15.0% every day over the past week — it appears that the incidence of COVID-19 is declining along with the incidence of cold and flu.

The good news is that summer should bring a respite in the COVID-19 epidemic. This should give Wise King Ralph the license to further loosen his death grip on the economy. The bad news is that the epidemic could surge again this fall as temperatures cool and days get shorter. But, hopefully, the next four months will buy us time to develop better medical treatments (if not vaccines) and bring down the mortality rate from the disease, and for places of employment and commerce to implement best practices to maintain hygienic standards and social distancing in public places.

The data provide ample justification for continuing to roll back the shutdown.

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23 responses to “Latest Data Supports Continued Reversal of Shutdown

  1. Not sure where the confidence is coming from.

    We really have almost no idea how relaxation of the restrictions will affect virus spread. We’re flying by the seat
    of our pants… what makes us believe that it won’t expand?

    “8 test positive in local health district outbreak; 23 affected so far

    Health departments in Stafford and Spotsylvania counties remain closed in the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak that involves 23 workers of the Rappahannock Area Health District.

    The district operates health departments in Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford and is responsible for monitoring the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Fredericksburg area. On Monday, the district reported that one of its nurses who had worked in local clinics the previous week had tested positive.

    The rate of infection has spread since then, and as of Friday, eight staff members had confirmed cases of COVID-19. Another 15 workers were quarantining because they had some level of exposure, according to the health district’s daily report. No patients had tested positive, as of Friday.

    • Our jailer speaks….

      • 🙂
        if we had an accurate way to model the effect of EACH of the relaxed restrictions such that we would KNOW that the virus is actually not declining but expanding – at least we’d KNOW not to write things like:
        ” Latest Data Supports Continued Reversal of Shutdown” and instead write ” models show relaxing restrictions may well result in increased cases of covid19″.

        AND we could more intelligently decide what restrictions can stay relaxed and which ones we need to continue – like not having stadium sports, casinos, college dorms, etc.

        We just should TRY to be intelligent about the potentials. What some are doing right now is “nah nah nay – I don’t want to hear it”.

        Much (not all) of the science says that if we relax restriction, contagion may well expand, yet we seem almost in denial about it because we are so concerned about the economy – and yes we SHOULD be concerned but it don’t change the realities – the science is real.

        that’s just a false choice – and a dangerous one too – if covid19 starts to expand again, we’ll be presented with some even harder choices.

  2. Granularity is the new ideological battleground. Conservatives cite state wide or even national statistics while liberals drill down to just above the zip code level. Jim provides statistics for an 8+M person state while Larry describes two counties with just over a quarter million in population.

    At the national level an objective observer could be forgiven for believing that there are two states named Florida and two named Texas. So different is the reporting from the left and the right about the COVID19 status of those two (not four) early reopening states. The right touts reopening success while the left invariably finds localized “hot spots” in any state that is reopening.

    While the issue is still in doubt it appears that the momentum of truth has swung to the right. States like Texas have been reopening since May 1 and the left’s claim that “science” guaranteed the Lone Star State a fiasco aren’t coming to pass. So the left, in an attempt to justify its confusion of theory with proof , now looks for hot spots in a state like Texas which could geographically contain The Netherlands, Belgium, Slovenia, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Luxembourg and Hungary. When such a hot a hot spot is found the alarmists will wave it around like a bloody shirt insisting that “science” told us so.

    Meanwhile, the conservatives may very well be living on borrowed time. Scientific theory holds that UV light has been shown to destroy other coronaviruses so it will probably work on the novel coronavirus. At the risk of sending Donald Trump on a journey of discovery to find a way to swallow sunlight it should be noted that the hope for sunlight is that it will kill the virus while riding on respiratory droplets floating through the air. Long summer days with lots of people outdoors in the sunlight might well slow the virus versus dark winter days with people huddled indoors. Before conservatives throw their shoulders out of joint patting themselves on the back they should consider their position for the Fall and Winter if there is a resurgence. They could easily lose their momentum if they insist that the virus simply disappeared as fast as Newt Gingrich’s relevance in America. Rather, they should spend the summer presenting sensible proposals for use in the reasonably likely event of a resurgence later in the year.

    • YEP – I agree – there IS a “left” and a “right” viewpoint of COVID 19 but let’s go one step further and ask which of the two is a bit of a gamble and which is more of a safe-rather-than-sorry?

      also – ” Jim provides statistics for an 8+M person state while Larry describes two counties with just over a quarter million in population.”

      well… the Fredericksburg Area is a huge exurban commute area to NoVa and yes we still have people commuting to NoVa – a lot of “essential” personnel are still in cars headed north every morning. It’s about 1/2 of what it was but make no mistake – it’s thousands of people and chances are pretty good they’re bringing the virus down to Fredericksburg from NoVa.

      This illustrates the folly of Jim’s 10,000 foot perspective which is doubly worse because he’s looking at hospitalizations which run quite a bit behind actual infections and I think a terrible way to assess the future.

    • “While the issue is still in doubt it appears that the momentum of truth has swung to the right. States like Texas have been reopening since May 1 and the left’s claim …”

      Then why the urgency to make a vaccine?

    • For what it’s worth, I suggested in my post that longer days and more sunlight could be driving the lower COVID-19 infection rates in Virginia, and that fall could bring a resurgence.

      As for Larry, as usual he doesn’t even try to dispute my analysis of the Virginia data. He just changes the frame of reference from a state perspective to a local perspective — a favorite rhetorical ploy — without actually providing any analysis of his own.

      Also, in stating that I’m looking at hospitalizations, which run quite a bit behind actual infections, I issued that very caveat in the third sentence… which indicates to me that Larry did not read the post with any care before shooting from the hip. As usual.

      • well it’s entitled “Latest Data Supports Continued Reversal of Shutdown”

        and you don’t actually have up-to-date data associated with the “reversal” – what you show is hospitalization data which is NOT reflective of the current infection rate – .

        the headline: ” Latest Data Supports Continued Reversal of Shutdown” what data? Certainly not the NoVa or Fredericksburg Data with Nova being 25% of the state population-wise.

        The big thing here is that a significant majority of people do not agree with your headline… it’s about 20% of you guys.

        And to a certain extent, no matter what the govt says – a lot of people are NOT going to go to a sit-down restaurant or movie theater or stadium sports… any large grouping of people.

        • I’m just curious, Larry, can you read? Or does your pet gerbil read the post to you? Here’s what I wrote:

          “It may be too soon to reach definitive conclusions — there is a one- to two-week lag between an infection, the display of symptoms, testing, and hospitalizations — but so far, all signs are positive.”

          • Well no, I DID read it but found it to be inconsistent between the cutline and the narrative that followed… actually unfactual

            let’s get the full context:

            ” Latest Data Supports Continued Reversal of Shutdown

            We’re a week into Phase 1 of relaxing the COVID-19 lockdown, and there is no sign of an acceleration of the virus. To the contrary, the virus seems to be receding. It may be too soon to reach definitive conclusions — there is a one- to two-week lag between an infection, the display of symptoms, testing, and hospitalizations — but so far, all signs are positive.

            The most reliable indicator is COVID-19 hospitalizations, and the daily number is trending down strongly”

            that’s just not true. You can have increases in COVID 19 right now – and we actually do in some places, because hospitalizations are NOT a “reliable” indicator of the CURRENT status but you’re basing your claim that all is well on that…

            If you relied on hospitalizations, to determine if “opening up” was successful or not – you’d not even know if contagion had spread until two weeks after!

            Even a gerbil can see that!

            I just found it a bit misleading and inconsistent with the facts on the ground but it is what the “open up now” folks want to hear and maybe that’s how I should have responded originally.

          • Nancy_Naive

            Hey that was harsh

  3. James speaks of sun, temperature, and humidity as seasonal factors that might slow the spread of the virus. I have heard about all of these from other sources. I have not heard anyone speculate on the effect of the wind on the spread of the virus. It seems logical that a windy day would disperse virus droplets to an extent that breathing in a sufficient number of virus particles to be dangerous would be significantly lessened. Has anyone seen any studies where wind was a factor? It seems as if this would be good to know information for those making decisions regarding outdoors activities.

    • There have been some studies, but I think most were related to dust-borne microbes. With aerosolized viruses, it depends on the size and whether they were viable or inactivated by UV light or drying. (COVID-19 is 0.08 to 0.14 μm [μm is a micron = to 1000 nanometers (nm); .08 microns is 80 nm, .14 =140nm.] A lot of the studies seem to be on transmission between farms where there are concentrated sources of particles with viruses, or in hospitals. This one says the SARS virus was most active between 48 and 75 degrees F. “Conclusions: Greater fluctuations of air temperature and higher airborne particles concentration in winter and spring, as well as poor occupational hygiene conditions are significant promoters of SARS outbreak.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15355703

      This one said, “The influence of meteorological factors on the transmission and spread of COVID-19 is of interest. This study sought to examine the associations of daily average temperature (AT) and relative humidity (ARH) with the daily counts of COVID-19 cases in 30 Chinese provinces (in Hubei from December 1, 2019 to February 11, 2020. Every 1 °C increase in the AT led to a decrease in the daily confirmed cases by 36% to 57% when ARH was in the range from 67% to 85.5%. Every 1% increase in ARH led to a decrease in the daily confirmed cases by 11% to 22% when AT was in the range from 5.04 °C to 8.2 °C [41-47F]. However, these associations were not consistent throughout Mainland China. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32335405/

      Virginia Beach average humidity in April is 62.8%; August is 75.2%. so hotter weather should mean a decrease in cases, especially at the beaches!

      If you want to look into this more, try a search on bioaerosolized virus particles and wind.

  4. The “open up now” folks which includes Trump are basically spitballing.

    And they’re searching across the internet to find folks with scientific credentials who may support their spitballing.

    As far as I have heard, the “wind” can be bad or good depending… for instance, in a stadium – hardly anyone thinks wind will make it “better”.

    wind on a beach? maybe… who knows… have we ever done any real studies on it?

    Hot weather? Ever heard of places like Brazil and Nicaragua or Mexico? Again, Trump throws it out and his supporters which are pretty near one and the same with the “open up now” folks… grab it and keep repeating it until someone like Jim treats it like it has credence – no scientific support for it – nope…just someone who said it.

    Here’s the deal. The “open up now” folks think the damage to the economy is so severe and damaging that anything , whether it’s the truth or not – is a justifiable argument.

    It’s like a war (a culture version) where the truth no longer really matters- it’s just who wins. The truth is really irrelevant because if the economy is permanently damaged, and we can prevent that – that’s what matters. Correct?

  5. Two weeks of STEADY DECLINE, but as long as they are prepared to rush into a locale, test, trace, and quarantine, Podunk, Virginia will be safe.
    VaBeach? Not so much. It is the city most likely to see an upsurge come June 5th or so.
    Richmond? Not likely to be a problem. Who wants to stop there?

  6. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/planning-scenarios.html

    The latest CDC data at that link, which you will never see on CNN, CBS, NBC, MSNBC. For Larry’s sake I will break down the math. The chances of dying from this IF YOU GET SICK ENOUGH TO HAVE SYMPTOMS, by age:

    Under 50, five in 10,000 will die. (Could be up to 1 in 1,000).
    50-65, two per 1,000 will die. (Could be up to 6 in 1,000)
    65+, 13 in 1,000 will die. (Could be 32 in 1,000.)
    Overall, 4 in 1,000 will die, a CFR of 0.4%.

    That’s for SYMPTOMATIC cases, under CDC’s “most likely” scenario (last column below.) Some CDC scenarios have half of all infections showing no symptoms. This is in line with a recent widespread study out of Spain, involving like 30,000 chosen at random. As I’ve been saying, worse than flu, far less dangerous than numerous other infections. For that we’ve killed the economy and destroyed so much else….

    • re: ” That’s for SYMPTOMATIC cases. Some scenarios have half of all infections showing no symptoms. As I’ve been saying, worse than flu, far less dangerous than numerous other infections. For that we’ve killed the economy and destroyed so much else….”

      Then pretty much all the scientists are wrong?

      so we’re going to open up the stadiums again because “only one in a gazillion” will get it and it far less deadly that lots of other disease?

      Given the CDC’s new lapdog status – I’m not sure I’d believe much of what they are saying… they’re pretty much getting told what to say these days.

      so.. the rest of the world is wrong – it’s a massive conspiracy?

      • Yep, many of the scientists and most of the media got it wrong most of the time, and you all of the time. I love how now you distrust the CDC since it follow the data and not the Nancy Pelosi talking points. Plenty of experts worldwide have issued similar estimates. Your problem is you only believe the scientists chosen by the MSM.

        • It’s a bad bet to think that MOST of the scientists are wrong.. just my opinion but I do understand you guys… you gotta stick together on this – even if as an individual you’d not go to a casino on a bet… you KNOW BETTER no matter what the “open up now” folks are blathering – you just won’t admit it!

          Any agency that Trump disagrees with is having it’s purpose corrupted.

          the CDC used to be a respected and trustworthy organization but it’s been co-opted – some folks are still trying to hang on but it’s pretty clear they are not the independent voice they were.

          Bottom line – no one source is worth totally relying on. Look across the spectrum – look around the world – listen to the hundreds of scientists …

          if you think most all the scientists are wrong – then why worry about 6 feet and masks and all that other stuff they are recommending? Just believe the “open up now” folks.

    • How many commenters are here? 13, maybe?

  7. The simple reality here is that quite a bit of the economy is NOT going to open back up like it was.

    Restaurants are going to have their revenues cut in half. Professional and Collegiate sports are dead for now. Cruise ships? Casinos? amusement parks? Nascar races? …

    Polls show that a significant majority of people are not about to do any of these things no matter who says we “open”….

    But the partisans want to make it a partisan issue like everything else and we just can’t seem to help it.

    NOW – I’m hearing that if you wear a mask – you’re a LIBERAL and “real” people who want to open up are not going to wear them.

    Is that you Steve? no mask?

  8. Who wants to live forever?

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