RALEIGH – There is a chorus of caution inundating the country as reopening states spark fears of a second wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths. Dr. Anthony Fauci is the leading voice against too swift a reopening, openly worrying that it will result in more outbreaks and advising lockdown measures remain.
Now the fear of reopening is being reflected in new models from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) as modelers adjust inputs for the decrease in social distancing and increase in confirmed cases. The input changes result in much more negative in predictions for the spread and deadly impact of the Wuhan Virus.
In fact, the updated models project North Carolina to suffer one of the biggest spikes in the country.
These are the projections fueling fears of a second wave as we clamor to open up. You can see from the first chart that North Carolinians have already reclaimed a good portion of their mobility. Our mobility has been incrementally increasing throughout the Stay-at-Home order as the real impact from the Wuhan virus in our communities becomes more clear.
After all, model projections were the basis for convincing Governor Roy Cooper and many North Carolinians that we needed to shutdown, lest we overwhelm hospitals. While they now credit those measures with avoiding the feared healthcare catastrophe — a counterfactual fallacy — the reality was orders of magnitude less severe than projected by models.
Yes, there have been more than 600 tragic losses associated with COVID-19 in our state, but there were much more dire predictions about six weeks ago. Back in late March, these IHME models were projecting 56 deaths a day in North Carolina from COVID-19 in mid to late April.
What actually happened? It was closer to 18 deaths a day during that week, and barely rising above that. In other words, the projection was three times too high.
This is why, when second wave fears wash over officials citing new dire models, the people may be inclined to consider the projections with an extra grain of salt. Reality has been underwhelming when compared to those early projections, especially since it has become painfully clear for so many people how overwhelming the costs of continuing lockdown policies are.
Moreover, another grain of salt may be warranted when one learns that the range of possible results in these model updates, the ‘margin of error’ so to speak, is SEVEN TIMES larger than the previous models.
This means that the model projects on July 11 there could be as many as 185 deaths. Or just five. Somewhere in there. Trust us.
The model predicts around 65 deaths a day at peak in late June. Using our projection versus experience calculator from the April period mentioned earlier, maybe we should expect less than a third of that?
Obviously there are medians to draw that would place daily deaths somewhere in between (around 55), but it’s worth noting that a significant portion of these projections predict daily deaths below our current rate. Which would mean things are getting better, not worse, with reopening, no?
Regardless, these new models will serve as justification for Governor Roy Cooper to drag his feet in releasing North Carolinians from the lockdown. The chorus of caution against the second wave will get louder, and calls for longer restrictions will get louder from certain corners. If there was any hope of putting the crisis of fear in our rear view mirror by summer time, that hope looks to be dissipating quickly.