After a two-week period of fewer cases of the coronavirus, Americans are moving gingerly toward a resumption of normal social and professional activity. The next few weeks will be instructive as to the logic of reopening the economy, new infections and rising deaths.
This week, newly reported cases of the Covid-19 infection moved above 30,000 per day as the virus moved into the agricultural belt. Deaths attributed to the virus also moved higher again, reaching above 60,000 on April 29.
Our model of the rate of infection has been pointing to a slowdown in its spread. We can only attribute this to the adoption of social distancing practices by the public and the closing of businesses and life as we knew it. After all, with no vaccine available and with insufficient testing, the only way not to spread the virus is for Americans not to come in contact with each other.
Given recent data and the expiration of social distancing requirements in several states, there is insufficient evidence to project more than a few days in advance, much less project a turning point for the U.S. model. This has been the case for most of the health crisis, with the rate of change growing rapidly while social distancing grew in acceptance, and then retreating as social distancing took effect.
While Americans deserve credit for enduring the past seven weeks, too many people have died and too many health care providers, first responders and grocery store workers remain at risk. Because there is no prior immunity to the disease, the number of people who risk their lives for the rest of us each day will multiply with each reopening of a restaurant or massage parlor.
The number of people who risk their lives for the rest of us each day will multiply with each reopening.
Finally, assertions regarding the quality of the government’s response need to be viewed in comparison to other countries.
In earlier reports we’ve mentioned South Korea, which had developed a response program in the wake of the SARS epidemic and was able to quickly trace the source of the coronavirus outbreak to a large gathering. The government notified, tested and isolated the exposed population, and was able to slow what could have been an out-of-control spread of the virus through social distancing and testing.
As the figures below indicate, the exponential spread of the virus in South Korea lasted about seven weeks before reaching an inflection point with the spread moving to a linear growth pattern before slowing. In the past week, there have been single-digit daily reported cases.
Compare that to the U.S. experience – shown in the next figure — where we are still experiencing increases in new cases each day and do not have sufficient evidence suggesting an inflection point in the spread.
There is data to support keeping social interaction to a bare minimum. Reopening the economy on a whim is rolling the dice with people’s lives. Just ask the doctors and nurses who are staggering as the virus spreads from community hospital to community hospital.
For more information on how the coronavirus is affecting midsize businesses, please visit the RSM Coronavirus Resource Center.