The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put out a U.S. state map Friday that shows that, for the week ending June 6, community-level COVID-19 activity was low in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The national hospitalization indicator numbers and the national death numbers were high but also heading in the right direction.
The United States looked as if it could be well on its way toward pushing the virus that causes COVID-19 into oblivion.
But now public health officials in four states, and especially Arizona, are warning that new case counts are spiking, and hospitals are running out of intensive care unit (ICU) beds. They say that patients are filling 82% of hospital ICU beds, up from 60% in early April.
Financial professionals with an interest in outbreak-related morbidity and mortality, and getting brick-and-mortar offices back open, may be wondering why the official CDC map of Arizona’s COVID-19 status is a deep, healthy green, while the headlines seem to be flashing bright red.
- A link to Arizona’s COVID-19 data collection is available here.
- A link to Maricopa County’s COVID-19 data collection is available here.
- A link to Pima County’s COVID-19 data collection is available here.
- A link to Johns Hopkins’ Coronavirus Resource Center is available here.
- A link to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVIDView report series is available here.
- An earlier article about the COVID-19 pandemic numbers is available here.
Here are seven possible explanations (aside from politics, and the machinations of Conspiracy Gremlins lurking in a giant windowless building somewhere) for the confusion.
1. Some places are doing a lot better than others right now.
Aggressive social distancing rules have helped pull the number of new cases in some former hot zones, like Massachusetts and New York, down to much lower levels, and that makes the national numbers look much better.
Many states in the South and the West, in contrast, are reporting increases in new case counts.
That could be partly due to officials’ decisions to loosen or end infection-control quarantines, partly due to individuals’ decisions to get out and mingle, and partly due to the gradual, inexorable spread of the virus from where it first entered the United States to other places.
2. Some places have ramped up testing faster than others.
States that are doing a better job of handling COVID-19 may look as if they are doing worse because they’re testing more residents and discovering more mild cases.
3. Some information sources are fresher than others.
The latest weekly CDC report, for example, includes data up through June 6, but officials note that some states takes longer than others to send in data, and processing some types of incoming data takes longer than others.
If an outbreak flares up in just two or three days, the “latest weekly figures” could have nothing to do with the current situation on the ground.
4. Everyone reports the COVID-19 numbers in a different format.
Even within Arizona, for example, the county where Phoenix is located, Maricopa County, uses a completely different format from the county where Tucson is located, Pima County.
5. Different legs of the same statistical elephant mean different things.
One of the most commonly cited statistics is the number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19.
That statistic is highly sensitive to how easily people can get COVID-19 tests. In Arizona, for example, the state began making tests readily available in early May. The number of new confirmed cases reported each day in Maricopa County doubled.
Hospitalization numbers may give observers a better sense of how many people are really sick with COVID-19, and not simply suffering from an unusually bad cold.
But, in Maricopa County, officials note that there’s a 10-day reporting lag for hospitalized patients’ COVID-19 tests.
The number of hospitalized patients could also be affected by the number of beds available. If too few beds are available, doctors could start telling very sick patients to stay home.
6. The typical incubation period for the virus that causes COVID-19 is about 10 days, and can be as long as three weeks.
One reason that public health officials have pushed for such tough lockdown rules is that trying to control COVID-19 is like trying to steer a giant cruise ship that takes 10 days to respond to the turn of the tiller.