Trump’s COVID Data Crunchers See Alarming Spread Along America’s Highways
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Doctors behind a COVID modeling study used by the President's coronavirus task force are now warning that virus hotspots will gradually converge and jump from county to county as people increase their trips for work and summer vacation .
According to doctors working on a study compiled by PolicyLab at the Philadelphia Children's Hospital, the virus moves on major highways and highways - such as I-10 in California, I-85 in the south, and I-95 on the East coast states continue to open their economies. With coronavirus cases increasing in the south and south-west of the country, this new finding has raised fears that new outbreaks could soon be shifted north to major metropolitan areas, reversing the progress made in flattening the curve.
"There is a convergence of metro areas that is now leading to these larger epicentres of transmission. Places that have been in trouble ... are the ones that are getting out of control," said Dr. David Rubin, director of PolicyLab. "For example, the southwest eruption is right on I-5. You can see the risk to the end. We're a week or two from Sacramento and San Francisco."
PolicyLab's results are the latest warning sign as the majority of states have now entered the second phase of their reopening plans and restaurants, religious communities, and some workplaces are open to businesses. Rubin's concern, as the data suggests, is that when individuals begin to relax their own social distance measures, they travel more within their communities and to other surrounding states, thereby spreading the disease.
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The new analysis comes as President Donald Trump and his re-election campaign continue to drive large-scale rallies across the country, including in cities with increasing cases such as Tulsa, Oklahoma and Phoenix, Arizona. The president insists on campaigning, although members of his own coronavirus task force raise the alarm about growth in cases where more testing isn't a dominant reason for the increase. In the past few weeks, the Task Force coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx told governors that she is concerned about the new outbreaks, especially in regions that had trouble smoothing the curve before the reopening. Birx also said she was concerned about protests that could increase in some cases, but there was no evidence that this fear had been confirmed.
During a conference call with governors on Monday, Vice President Mike Pence highlighted cases in North Carolina, California and Arizona as a problematic sign. "You have noticed a certain increase in cases that are not necessarily fully explained by an increase in tests," said Pence, according to a recording of the call from The Daily Beast. "We are again sending personnel [disease control and prevention centers] to these countries and sending additional staff."
PolicyLab modeling raises questions as to whether there will be major outbreaks in counties and regions in the country where coronavirus spikes have already declined, and whether the Trump administration will issue new guidelines to reintroduce some social distance restrictions. A senior official who is familiar with discussions of the new outbreaks said that senior members of the Coronavirus Task Force and disease control center experts have started discussing the parameters that would cause the federal government to reverse the reopening close.
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Doctors working on the data are already seeing patterns of the virus that move along the main roads not only in California but also on the east coast. Rubin pointed to North Carolina and South Carolina as worrying states, saying the virus was traveling along I-85 through Mecklenburg (a county highlighted as problematic on Monday), the counties of Durham and Randolph in North Carolina, and Greenville and Spartanburg in southern Carolina.
“We could see the DC subway area increasing from south to north. I'm watching Richmond, Virginia very closely, ”said Rubin. "As these places open up, we are now developing these transmission zones that are more than just these metro areas because we move more. Your risk will increase because how will you contain the travelers?"
Local and state officials in the hot-spot regions are trying to answer this question actively.
In California, Imperial and Riverside counties have seen hundreds of new cases every day over the past week, according to local health officials. Imperial, whose hospitals reached capacity last week, currently has the highest infection rate per capita in the state. The county has a population of approximately 180,000 and nearly 2,000 new cases since June 3. Hospitals must now refer patients for treatment hundreds of kilometers away. Imperial County ranks second in the country for cities with the highest number of cases per capita, according to the New York Times data set.
Outbreaks in the north are also increasing in the California counties Kern, King and Fresno. PolicyLab data shows that these communities will see a significant increase in cases over the next three weeks. Rubin wanted there to be a real chance that Sacramento and San Francisco would also be affected.
"Some places have more disease transmissions than others, and when people travel, the risk of diseases spreading from high-transmission areas to low-transmission areas increases," said a California Department of Health spokesman. "One of the key factors in the risk of disease is whether people outside of their home have close contact with others."
In the southeastern region of the country, officials in South Carolina and North Carolina work overtime to stem outbreaks along the I-85 corridor.
In South Carolina, Greenville County has reported more than 1,200 cases in the past two weeks. This emerges from publicly published government data - more than half of the county's total cases. State officials have said they don't think the increase is due to the state expanding its testing capacity. PolicyLab's most recent forecasts for Greenville County show that 80 cases per day were reported by July 4. However, the county has reported more than 100 cases per day in recent days. Lexington and Richland, neighboring counties in the state, have also seen a massive increase in cases of corona viruses.
Last week, one of the best epidemiologists in South Carolina, Dr. Linda Bell, she is more concerned about the corona virus in the state than ever before.
"In the past two weeks, we've seen some of our highest daily cases since the pandemic started," said a spokesman for the state emergency team. "Public health officials are concerned about the recent upward trends in South Carolina, and we cannot stress enough how important it is for each of us to wear a mask, avoid group meetings, and keep half a meter between us."
In North Carolina, the percentage of positive tests has increased in recent weeks, as has hospitalization.
“You hear a lot about a second wave. I think in North Carolina we were in a big wave all the time. We never ended the first wave before it opened, ”said Kimberly Powers, epidemiologist and professor at the UNC's Gillings School of Global Public Health. “Tests have increased lately, but people are still getting sick and going to the hospital. For me, this means that it is not just about intensified tests. "
Rubin said he was concerned that the virus would continue to spread from the Carolinas to the DC subway region via Virginia, particularly the Richmond region, which is currently experiencing a downward trend in cases and hospitalization. Despite the recent good news, Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond City Health District, is still cautious as he talks about the future of the community.
“The first phase of illness in Richmond was about travelers and people on the move. I think I-95 was a clear transmission path, ”said Avula. "Will this continue? I'm not sure yet. We trained for three months how to effectively create social distance. It's strange how quickly we lose that. We hoped that people would still do it remotely when opening it. But they are not. I think we have about 118,000 deaths and it seems like some people are just deaf for it. Did people forget the crazy extent? "
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