Coronavirus hot spots erupt, researchers warn of second wave in South
Dallas, Houston, Southeast Florida's Gold Coast, the entire state of Alabama and several other places in the South that have been rapidly reopening their economies are in danger of a second wave of coronavirus infections over the next four weeks, according to a research team that uses cellphone data to track social mobility and forecast the trajectory of the pandemic.
The model, developed by PolicyLab at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and updated Wednesday with new data, suggests that most communities in the United States should be able to avoid a second spike in the near term if residents are careful to maintain social distancing even as businesses open up and restrictions are eased.
But the risk for resurgence is high in some parts of the country, especially in places already seeing fast-growing numbers of cases, including the counties of Crawford, Iowa; Colfax, Nebraska; and Texas, Oklahoma, and the city of Richmond, Virginia. Since May 3, Crawford County has seen its caseload increase by 750 percent, and Colfax County's has increased 1,390 percent, according to state data compiled by The Washington Post.
This is an anxious moment for the nation as people emerge from shutdowns and communities try to reinvigorate economic activity. Scientists and public health experts are monitoring rates of infections and hospitalizations, but it is difficult to forecast during this transitional period because models struggle to capture how people actually behave, including adherence to social distancing and hand-washing practices.
There are preliminary signs, however, that hot spots - new clusters of coronavirus spread - could soon flare across parts of the South and Midwest.
"As communities reopen, we're starting to detect evidence of resurgence in cases in places that have overreached a bit," said David Rubin, director of PolicyLab.
Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center said last week that the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area could see a spike in cases this summer, with a tripling of daily active cases of COVID-19, the disease the novel coronavirus causes, if there is a significant easing of mitigation efforts. And PolicyLab projects that in the next month, Harris County, which includes Houston, will go from a couple hundred cases a day to over 2,000.
The overall national picture remains ambiguous: The daily death toll from COVID-19 is dropping, but increased activity and travel in a population that remains susceptible to infection means the coronavirus has new opportunities to spread.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday he has "no doubt" there will be new waves of cases.
"The virus is not going to disappear," he said in an interview with The Washington Post. "It's a highly transmissible virus. At any given time, it's some place or another. As long as that's the case, there's a risk of resurgence."
He said the country has time now to prepare for new caseloads, which could mount considerably in the fall.
A presentation prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency - and reviewed by The Post - suggests new waves could be steep enough in some places to overwhelm ventilator capacity.
For instance, the data indicates that only 866 ventilators are in use in Georgia, which has pursued one of the most aggressive reopening plans. But the state's supply of 2,853 ventilators could be outstripped as soon as the end of the month by the projected number required for covid-19 patients, according to the federal modeling. States from Arizona to Colorado to Tennessee could face similar shortages, according to the projections.