There has been substantial breastbeating in the media about the situation in states that are, in their view, opening up too quickly. Let’s consider this by looking at a few graphs. All of the following were sampled from Worldometers.info. I have taken the liberty of drawing some trend lines on the graphs.
Admittedly, these trend lines are not “fair” in the sense that they don’t all start from the same date. I drew them to be consistent with what I see as the actual daily trends.
Some caveats. Although daily deaths due to COVID-19 are a better indicator than the number of cases of COVID-19 for use in evaluating how the campaign against the disease it proceeding it is, indeed, a lagging indicator. In other words the number of deaths today reflects the number of cases and methods of treatment of a week or a month ago.
Additionally, the number of deaths alone is not adequate to assess how we’re doing without also taking into account the health of the health care system as well. Doing that is beyond the scope of this post other than to mention that as long as there’s 10% or more excess capacity in ICU beds, ventilators, and so on not only are we doing okay but greater excess capacity does not necessarily provide additional benefit.
California is the most populous state in the Union and it was the first to “lock down”. Much of the media attention has been focused on California as the “next epicenter of contagion” and the like. Is the concern expressed reasonable? I don’t think so. The number of deaths per day due to COVID-19 in California has been declining for months. If the disease overwhelms California’s health care system, it can only be attributed to fecklessness on the part of state officials. They had plenty of time to prepare. They should have used it more wisely.
The State of Texas provides the greatest cause for concern among the states. It is the second largest state by population and the largest by geography in the continental United States. Although the number of deaths per day declined for a month the trend has been in the wrong direction for the last month. Clearly, Texas is doing something wrong, remedial action is required, and, since deaths are a lagging indicator, we won’t know for a while whether they’ve been successful or not.
Florida’s pattern is similar to that of Texas—the number of deaths declined for a month but has increased more recently. In one sense it’s less worrisome than Texas but what is worrisome in Florida is demographics. The median age in Texas is around 34.9 while the median age in Florida is around 42.
Arizona is another state in which the trend is in the wrong direction and, once again, its pattern is similar to that of Texas.
If there is one state which looks as though it had done the right things among my sample, it would be Georgia. The governor issued a statewide shelter-in-place directive on April 2 and relaxed it a week later. The directive was removed on April 24 which is reflected in the bump in the graph in May.
You didn’t expect to get away without my mentioning Illinois, did you? Is Illinois’s trajectory indicative of success or failure? I think it’s too early to tell. I am reminded of a satirical comment that’s at least two centuries old: the operation was a success but the patient died. We will know if Gov. Pritzker’s strategy was successful if Illinois’s economy recovers and if Chicago doesn’t lose a hundred thousand Chicagoans in the process. Stay tuned.
What is the shape of victory? Is it Illinois’s? Illinois’s results parallel New York’s. Is it Georgia’s? Those results parallel those of Illinois and New York with much lower amplitude in the early stages. Or is it California’s?
In preemptive response to the complaint that I am attacking a strawman, in the last several days I have read several complaints from major media outlets that the only measure of victory is zero fatalities, cf. this one at Bloomberg.