The number of newly reported coronavirus infections in the United States breached 100,000 on a single day in the past week, a milestone that came as the seven-day average of infections moved above 86,000 per day.
Our model indicates that the cumulative number of infections will approach 10.5 million over the next two weeks.
That brings the cumulative number of coronavirus cases to 9.6 million since the first was reported in January, according to the Worldometer database. All of that reaffirms our core economic forecast of growth slowing in the current quarter and through the first three months of 2021 to near the long-run rate of 2%.
In its latest weekly summary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the percentage of the population testing positive “increased from 6.6% during Week 42 to 7.1% during Week 43,” with the increase affecting all age groups and all regions.
Assuming that the rate of spread holds steady, our model indicates that the cumulative number of infections will approach 10.5 million over the next two weeks as recent superspreader events and family gatherings take their toll.
The 237,000 people whose deaths are attributable to the novel coronavirus, according to Worldometers, will only grow. Deaths are increasing at an average of 850 per day – or more than 6,000 per week.
There are more than 3 million people currently infected as the virus attacks the Midwest and forms a second wave along the coasts. And the number of current hospitalizations is forming a third peak at 47,000 patients, according to the COVID Tracking Project. This is placing increased stress on hospital workers as intensive care units reach capacity in rural areas and cities alike.
The new Congress and administration are likely to face more of the same if policies and the public’s attentiveness to social distancing practices hold constant over the next two and a half months.
This story can be told in five charts:
Short-circuiting the pandemic
Early on, the coronavirus was mostly limited to major metropolitan areas in six states. On March 2, there were 100 cases; by March 27, there were 100,000. At the time, some experts had been calling for a shutdown of normal life, followed by a series of partial economic reopenings. If a reopening failed – for example, at an elementary school — it would be quickly followed by another shutdown and then another partial reopening once the source of the spread was identified.
A mathematician at MIT has outlined the case for a different approach to containing the virus.
A mathematician at MIT, Scott Sheffield, in September outlined the math behind such a strategy “for a society that has resolved to keep future infections low in anticipation of a vaccine.”
Given the value of social and economic activity, he wrote, society can choose to vary “the amount of potentially infection-spreading activity over time, within a certain feasible range.”. Sheffield argued that so-called consistent policies – or those that keep the rate of spread at a sustainable level – have the worst outcomes in terms of maximizing activity, while those that alternate between high and low activity provide the best outcome.
In a companion article in the Washington Post, Sheffield and his co-authors termed this as a circuit-breaker strategy, in which a society shuts down for a specific period of time, say two weeks, during which no activity takes place. The economy is then allowed to reopen to a phase that is much as we have today — but with all members following social distancing practices – with the caveat that it will shut down again in two weeks. That gives society the time to get ready for the next shutdown by cramming all essential activity into that short space of time, they wrote.
The authors stressed, however, that in the mathematical models, “one of the least efficient ways to fight the disease is to reduce activity solely among subpopulations that already have low prevalence.” That is, if “a circuit-breaker policy exempts too many of the people at highest risk” — such as service workers — the policy would be self-defeating.
The authors concluded: “It would be wonderful if giving up public activities was unnecessary — if masks, contact tracing and common-sense distancing were enough. But they’re not. Curtailing social and business activity is still essential: The point is to make the sacrifices as efficient as possible. The amount of sacrifice required to keep the disease under control is greatly reduced when it is coordinated and concentrated. The current approach — uneven, indefinite sacrifice that wanes over time — is clearly not working.”
This is a national pandemic, and the virus is creeping back. It left New York in March and spread through the I-95 corridor to Florida. Now, it is spreading through the Midwest and rural areas, and returning to major metropolitan areas. Without a unified national response, the economy will continue to lose ground and the social costs of disease and unemployment will continue to mount.
The first figure below shows the spread of the infections among the six states with major metropolitan areas (Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois and California) where the initial outbreak peaked in April.
The recent increase in cases in those states is attributed to increased social interaction as people let down their guard while enjoying family gatherings and attending colleges, schools and other institutions.
The second chart shows the spread of the virus across all the other states, where infections peaked across the South and Southwest in the weeks after the July 4 weekend. That spread has since moved into the Midwest and across the northern tier, with new cases in those states surpassing their summer peak.
Infections in the six states with major metropolitan centers are rising again at an average rate of 18,100 per day as of Nov. 2. Infections in all other states are rising at an average rate of 65,100 per day.
Average weekly growth
In the following table, we show the state-by-state weekly growth rate of infections since Sept. 12, which was the low point for infections in the days after the Labor Day weekend and the start of indoor activity.
Note that because of the inconsistency of reporting by states, and the haphazard spread of the virus, we are looking at the average rate of infection in the several weeks since the onset of cooler weather.
The blue highlights indicate the six states with major metropolitan areas that were initially affected by the virus (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Illinois and California). After much progress over the summer, each of those states is reporting increasing numbers of cases since Labor Day, which suggests the potential of a second wave of infection.
Only three states are reporting lower levels of the infection since Labor Day.
For more information on how the coronavirus is affecting midsize businesses, please visit the RSM Coronavirus Resource Center.