On April 1st, we hosted a conference call wherein we discussed the emerging coronavirus pandemic. Since that call, we have tended towards splitting our comments on the coronavirus in 3 sections: the investment markets, the real-world economy, and the public health crisis. Our May article focused on the markets. The June article is focused on the real-world economy. But we’ve barely spent any time looking at the public health crisis itself. (Note: this conference call and these monthly articles are all available on our website – www.westminster-consulting.com/media.)
Our reticence towards discussing the public health crisis is understandable. First, we’re not expert virologists or epidemiologists. Second, the information which has come through the past few months had been raw and difficult to interpret. Even the experts were having difficulty predicting outcomes with any accuracy! We watched IHME COVID 19 total death projections bounce between 60,000 to 145,000 in a period of weeks. Any projection which can change by a factor of 200% shouldn’t inspire tremendous confidence.
On the plus side, we are getting more and better information all the time so there should start to be some convergence as data becomes more accurate. For example, coronavirus testing has exponentially expanded in the US - at a pace of 3.5 million, more than doubled in a month. As testing expands, the medical establishment is better able to identify the proportion asymptomatic cases, the true case fatality rates, and how widespread the disease is in any given community. Armed with knowledge alone – we can start to monitor which states and cities are managing the health crisis and which ones are falling behind.
To this end, let me recommend a few sources of information which exist to help Americans monitor the health crisis and (ideally) encourage safe and proactive behavior to prevent a second wave of infection from halting lives short and putting the country back on lockdown. The simplest dataset is the website rt.live. For virologists, R(t) is the measure of how fast a virus is growing in a community. If R(t) is less than 1, then the chain of viral infections gets progressively smaller and ultimately disappears; if R(t) is greater than 1, then the chain of viral infections starts spreading in an out-of-control manner. The website rt.live calculates the rate of transmission for each of the 50 states in the US based upon the number of new cases detected and amount of testing per state.
If you want more information, you can also get additional metrics from the website covidactnow.org. This website is more comprehensive. It will show you the estimates on the rate of transmission at both state and county levels, along with other measures to determine the relative danger in the community like number of available ICU units (in case another wave of COVID breaks out).
There are some slight differences in the methodologies used by these two sites. For example, rt.live uses 7-day weighted averages while covidactnow.org uses 14-day averages. Moreover, all the data is based on statistical inference; nobody has achieved a thorough examination of every man, woman, and child in the US. In general, however, you can compare both sites and make a reasonable inference of how the US is managing the coronavirus at the moment. A cursory look at both sites right now tells an identical story: the states hit first and hardest (New York, New Jersey) seem to recovering from the crisis while the virus is spreading in southern states (South Carolina, Arizona, Alabama) instead.