The spread of the coronavirus continues to accelerate. While it was taking about three to four weeks for the virus to spread to a million new people over the summer months, it took only 16 days for the case count to grow from eight million new infections on Oct. 11 to nine million on Oct. 27. It then took only 10 days for that figure to reach 10 million on Nov. 6.
Assuming the rate of exponential spread holds steady, our model indicates the cumulative number of infections will approach 12 million over the next two weeks as the sheer number of infected persons grows and as people increasingly congregate inside as colder weather moves in.
The United States is now averaging 107,100 new cases and 960 deaths that are attributed to the COVID-19 disease each day. Furthermore, there are 55,800 people currently hospitalized for COVID-19, with conditions ranging from respiratory distress to kidney, heart or cognitive distress. This is clearly going to continue to stress the domestic health care system.
Setting a new policy
The incoming Biden administration announced its coronavirus response task force on Monday, but there are still about 10 weeks before Biden is set to take office and will be able to implement his plan. Also on Monday, news broke that a coronavirus vaccine candidate developed by Pfizer and German biotech company BioNTech “was more than 90 percent effective” in an ongoing trial, The Washington Post reported.
Even with that progress, though, it remains to be seen if social distancing will become the accepted way of life before a vaccine is available. So how do we convince a significant part of our society of the consequences of not wearing a mask or attending super-spreader events such as the hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists who congregated in Sturgis, South Dakota, in August? Or the countless others who will want to be with their families on Thanksgiving?
Given the increased spread of the virus over the last two months, it would be hard to argue that a policy allowing mask wearing to remain a personal choice is not effective. But we need to consider the potential backlash and increased resentment there would be around a national policy, as well as expected arguments for local standards and control.
This is what we’re seeing in states like New Jersey and New York that suffered so terribly in March and April, and are now taking steps to isolate breakouts community by community and business by business. We need to keep in mind, though, that this is a national pandemic and each of us has a responsibility not to spread the disease to our neighbors. At what point did personal decision-making for smoking or not wearing a seat belt become too dangerous?
The first figure below shows the spread of 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 virus’s spread across all 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 states, 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 24,200 cases per day as of Nov. 7. Infections in all other states are rising at an average rate of 80,500 newly reported cases per day.
Deaths attributed to the coronavirus are averaging 200 per day in the six major metropolitan states, and 740 deaths per day in all other states.
Average weekly growth rate of infections
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.
Note that because of the inconsistency of reporting by the various states, and the haphazard, all-too-human 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 months, each of those states is reporting increasing numbers of cases since Labor Day, which suggests a second wave of COVID-19.
Only three states are reporting lower levels of the infection since Labor Day. Idaho, which averaged 26 cases per day at the end of April is now averaging 1,100 cases daily.