Measuring the Impact of COVID-19: State Re-Openings and Associated Case Rate Movement

Justin Tischler

Many states across the country have started the process of gradually re-opening portions of their economies for the first time since state-specific restrictions began taking effect.  As people in these communities re-engage with local businesses, with each other, and with their workplace colleagues, we will soon be able to see whether social distancing in combination with other measures like masks and enhanced cleaning protocols are effective  deterrents to renewed growth in the spread of coronavirus.

As one of the earliest states to relax restrictions, Georgia has drawn the attention of the nation as everyone tries to get a read on what type of movement other states should expect in their case rates.  As the answer to that question has implications for the clients that we serve and support, we decided to study the data for ourselves.

Changes in New Case Counts

For this study, Intalytics calculated the growth in new cases in five select states (GA, IA, MI, NE, and TX) for each 7-day period starting in early April and ending May 2nd.  We then normalized these new cases to each state’s population, using a combination of daily case rate data from the New York Times and population data from Synergos Technologies.  The chart below shows this metric over time for the select states analyzed.

Please note that this data is limited to confirmed (positive) cases only. Increased testing is likely to increase case rates, just as a lack of testing is likely to suppress case rates. Testing rates differ over time and from state to state.

Georgia, which had been experiencing a decline in the number of new cases added each week, started to experience a rebound in the week after restrictions were eased (though with case growth rates per capita still less than the national average).  Public health officials warn that it is too early to tell whether this will be a sustained effect, but it is one we will continue to monitor closely.

Iowa and Nebraska are both experiencing sizable growth rates in new cases.  These increases can be attributed in part to the concentration of beef, pork, and chicken processing plants in each state, and the associated emergence of these plants as hot spots for coronavirus spread.  Iowa has also notably lacked a comprehensive statewide mitigation approach, and both states are already beginning to ease up on some of the restrictions that were put in place.

Michigan has extended its shelter-in-place order through May 15th.  The state has seen declines in its new case growth per capita over the past month, and now tracks closely with the national average.

Texas has been fortunate to have a fairly low new case per capita rate in recent weeks.  On May 1st, the first phase of reopening began in the state.

Looking Forward

It is an understatement to say that shelter-in-place restrictions have had a significant impact on the operations of retailers, restaurants, and other businesses (movie theaters, gym/fitness centers, etc.) reliant on a customer-facing physical presence.  Most of these operators are faced with a difficult decision – “To what extent do we weather the current storm and attempt to return to some semblance of normal activity, or move to completely reinvent our business model overnight?”.  Relief from the federal government, landlords, and creditors has allowed many businesses to delay that decision, if only for a few months.

All of these questions bring us back to Georgia, and why its actions have generated so much interest.  If the growth in new coronavirus cases post-reopening – both in Georgia and in other states that embrace a similar approach – does not skyrocket, one would posit that consumers will be more apt to return to their pre-pandemic behaviors. Perhaps consumer activity picks up again in a more measured, albeit delayed, fashion later in Q3 or early Q4 after a dismal Q2 – potentially in an even more accelerated manner with a vaccine or effective antiviral treatment in place.

While it is simply too early to know what impacts a disjoined national approach to re-openings holds, we will continue to monitor local and regional developments on behalf of our clients.  To learn more about the analytical approaches that we are employing to support operators during these unprecedented times, please contact us for an in-depth discussion.

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