Many people are questioning the seriousness of the resurgence in COVID-19 cases in the USA in June. They look at the death count per day in the USA as a whole and see it continuing to go down into July. Why is the media blowing this out of proportion? Why are the scientists so worried when death counts are continuing to fall? According to the President and most governors, the new cases are all due to superior USA testing. Unfortunately, this is not true in Texas and most of the other states in the USA. If the virus reproduction rate was stable and not growing exponentially, the percentage of tests returning positive (shown as 7-day rolling average in the graph below) would go down or remain roughly constant. However, it has clearly risen over the month of June from near 6% to near 14% (17.6% as of 7/6).
This means that the virus is growing again in Texas after it reopened on May 1st. Before Texas met all the gating criteria for Phase 2, it opened further on May 18th. That and Memorial Day Weekend crowds not masking or social distancing let the virus run rampant in June. The figure below shows the number of daily confirmed cases (blue diamonds against the left axis) soaring from near 1,000 at the end of May to above 8,000 today.
Daily net hospitalization (admissions minus discharges), normally near zero throughout most of April and May soared to 517 on 7/6 (7-day rolling averages are shown in the graph below). This has caused many hospitals throughout Texas to become overstressed, especially those in Houston. Texas does not publish ICU or ventilator data so it is not possible to fully track the progression of patients through the hospital system. But cases are already turning into deaths 2-3 weeks after the beginning of the surge. In the figure above, death counts per day (brown squares against right axis) that had been tracking downward throughout May and into June started turning up in mid-June. The good news is that Texas’ case fatality rate (CFR) that had always been relatively low due to the low median age of its population (34.8yrs) has improved as wider testing has turned up milder and asymptomatic cases in mostly younger adults. CFR that had been above 3% in early May is now tracking slightly below 1% (note that the right axis is 1% of the left axis). Hospitals and doctors know how to treat COVID patients better now with improved therapeutics and procedures. However, if the hospitals do get overloaded this optimistic scenario may not play out well.
The governor has finally rolled back some reopening steps and mandated the use of face masks but he needs to roll the reopening back further until the state’s testing, contact tracing, and selective isolation procedures can catch up with the resurgence in infections and not overstress the hospitals.