Now a month into the school shutdown, daily life has grinded to a halt. But indicators are finally revealing that a return to normal life may be right around the corner. New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts have announced plans to reopen the economy in the coming months. Town officials have announced that local cases of the novel coronavirus will reach its zenith on April 20. Governor Charlie Baker has stated that the aggressive social distancing policies are proving to be effective in the fight against COVID-19. With growing evidence that this first wave is coming to an end, we may still have to brace for a second wave.
As of April 16, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts stands at 32,181 according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH). 382 of which are in Berkshire county, 1,985 in Hampden county, and 248 in Hampshire county. Middlesex county contains the most confirmed COVID-19 cases at 7,206. Coronavirus-related deaths in Massachusetts tally 1,245 in total. On April 11, 93 residents and 43 staff members at the JGS Lifecare Converse St. campus had contracted COVID-19, resulting in the deaths of 21 residents as announced in a letter last Friday by the facility. The MDPH has begun issuing direct per-town COVID-19 data along with statewide, county-by-county case counts. Per the report released by MDPH report Wednesday, Longmeadow has 128 cases and a rate of about 800 cases per 100,000 people, significantly higher than most other communities. As of today, 44 veterans have died at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and another 100, residents and staff alike, tested positive for the coronavirus, ABC News reports. In Boston, 11 residents of the Chelsea Jewish Life Care have also died from the virus according to The Times of Israel. There are 2,159,267 COVID-19 confirmed cases and 145,563 deaths globally according to the John Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. The United States has the most confirmed coronavirus cases of any other country at 671,425 cases and 31,071 deaths. Governor Baker still urges residents to stay indoors, if possible, and continue the practice of social distancing in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
To counteract the spread of COVID-19, authorities are looking to quickly repurpose existing facilities to house infected or quarantined people. In Longmeadow, Bay Path University’s Theinent Hall will be opened to first responders who have been exposed to coronavirus and cannot go home to quarantine in partnership with the town of Longmeadow. Governor Baker toured Joint Base, Cape Cod one of the many field hospitals opening up to address the rising number of coronavirus patients in the Massachusetts Bay Area, another two field hospitals are set to open in the following weeks as announced by Governor Baker in a press briefing on April 14th. After the tour, Baker held a coronavirus update stating, “We’re working on putting up what I think will be one of the largest contact tracing programs anywhere in the country. Because in the end, testing and tracing are a big part of how we actually push back over time against COVID-19. We’re either the third or fourth largest tester in the country. As of Thursday, we have conducted around 120,000 tests including 5,319 that were conducted Thursday and we are now conducting testing at 28 sites statewide.”
The largest threat COVID-19 poses to the community lies within local nursing homes and senior centers. The majority of the community’s outbreaks of COVID-19 and COVID-19-related deaths has come from nursing homes. Seniors above ~60 and those with pre-existing health (especially respiratory) conditions are at high risk when contracting COVID-19 and thus are recommended to stay inside as much as possible and limit direct contact for the time being. Because of this risk, senior and care facilities are expected to take the brunt of the damage caused by COVID-19. Medical staff, caretakers, and other personnel may contract COVID-19 and spread it to patients more vulnerable to the virus.
The future predictions and modeling for COVID-19 have so far been the primary sources of data for the tracking of coronavirus in the present and, especially, in the future. But so far, some of the models presented seem to be giving wrong predictions entirely. The University of Sydney Center for Translational Science released a study today that found that over 70% of U.S. states had death rates inconsistent with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predictions. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation then updated its model and predicted that the death toll would be around 70,000 in total by August. This is in complete contrast with the prominent University of Washington’s coronavirus study, cited by the White House, that predicted 100,000-240,000 deaths under the same conditions. The UW study was the most thorough and prominent coronavirus study upon its release, analyzed heavily by Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. A group of statisticians from the University of Sydney Northwestern University and University of Texas have collaborated to launch an investigation in the predictive performance of the COVID-19 model developed by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, causing substantial doubt on whether the model proposed by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation was even appropriate to perform COVID-19 resource allocation at all. The model, which provides predictions via a state-by-state basis across the country, has been used widely by the media and even cited directly by the White House on March 31st. Professor Sally Cripps, University of Sydney statistician director of the Center for Translational Data Science, said that the discrepancy between predicted deaths and the actual death rate in the United States has serious ramifications for future U.S. planning and provision of ventilators, PPE, and the staffing of medical professionals specialized to respond to the pandemic. Professor Martin Tanner of Northwestern University says, “I am concerned that if [this] model has had difficulty in predicting the next day, how will the predictions fair over the long term?”
While the recent data and prediction seem bad, there is a bright side. Israeli national news agency, Arutz Sheva, reported today that according to an analysis of international graphs and comparisons spearheaded by Major General Professor Isaac Ben Israel, chairman of the Israeli Space Agency and the National Council for Research and Development, it is concluded that there is a possibility that we are in the final stages of the COVID-19 epidemic. Isaac Ben Israel suggested that when you measure the rate of additional patients to existing patients the trends can be clearly identified and adjusted in all countries. If at the beginning, the rate of hospitalization was increasing at a rapid rate, this reality has changed radically every day since. It is in these hopes that there may be a stall or even the complete nonexistence of the dreaded second wave of COVID-19.
This second wave has been an enormous cause for concern across medical experts around the world. “I think it has been said that the White House Task Force, at least, and Fauci specifically as well as Dr. Burkes, that there is an anticipated second wave,” says Dr. Scott Atlas, Senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. This second wave is expected to occur when the first wave of the virus has been successfully halted, and thus the economy and businesses reopen. But this reopening also introduces asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 back into the public, infecting others and subsequently sparking a second epidemic. If it is true we are in the final stages of the coronavirus epidemic or have reached the point where the virus is no longer spreading/stagnating such as that in South Korea or in China, then it is expected that businesses will be reopened and restrictions will be removed. The worry is, once businesses reopen and people return to their daily lives before the pandemic, then the few who may be asymptomatic with the virus may spark a second wave of COVID-19 perhaps even deadlier than the original wave. Thus restrictions would have to be reinstated and the healthcare system expanded once again, most likely causing a tremendous public blowback. Even so, the second wave would most likely arrive during the summer. There is hope that the warm weather and climate attributed during the summer months will stall COVID-19 should a second wave arrive. In an article by The Washington Post, coronaviruses in general are enveloped in a coat of fat and protein that tends to lose its shape at high temperatures in a process similar to melting which effectively disables the virus. If you analyze the confirmed cases per 1,000,000 people, COVID-19 cases are much higher in countries with cold climates than it is in countries with a warm climate. A group of researchers in the University of Hong Kong studied the virus in a lab and found that it was stable in cool temperatures of roughly 40°F but when stored in temperatures of 72°F the virus began deteriorating. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted a similar study on COVID-19’s performance in warm temperatures. It stated that 90% of COVID-19 transmissions until March 22 occurred in regions with temperatures between 37.4°F and 62.6°F. The study, conducted by Dr. Qasim Bukhari and Yusuf Jameel, concluded that the total number of cases in countries with a mean temperature greater than 64.4°F was less than 6% compared to their counterparts.
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise there is mounting data that shows that it is on its way into decline. In countries such as South Korea or China there is evidence that containment, social distancing, and expansive medical strategies can cause coronavirus growth to stagnate. Scientists from around the world are continuing to dig deeper into the specifics and makeup of this virus, a process that can only accelerate from now on.