I paraphrase the lyrics from the musical “Wonderful Town” to focus on why in the past few days, there has been a number of news stories predicting coronavirus clusters will occur in the Midwest.
While there have been upward trends in a number of COVID-19 infection parameters in Kentucky and Tennessee, there has been no similar trends in Ohio. Therefore, I was most interested in trying to understand why people are anticipating a series of outbreaks in Ohio.
Reuters reports that Dr. Deborah Birx suggested the COVID-19 outbreak was moving into Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska “because of vacations and other reasons of travel,” in an interview on Fox News. Further support for an outbreak in Ohio supposedly came when the health department reported the state had seen its “highest single day increase in infections” since the pandemic started in January. Governor Mike DeWine told a news conference this was “certainly not good news.”
But what is the basis for the concern? This is an important question since many of the metrics used to predict outbreaks in cities like New Orleans, Miami, Phoenix and Houston are not present in Ohio, Kansas and Nebraska.
When one looks at new infections and deaths in Ohio, especially over the past 21 days, there really is no disturbing trend. Cases, deaths and hospitalizations have not been increasing, and the “highest single day increase in infections” was a one-day event. Ohio did have 1, 533 new diagnosed cases yesterday, but that was less than 200 cases above the 21-day average for the state. Hospitalizations were within the 21-day trendline and only deaths appeared to increase beyond trend.
Compare these numbers to Tennessee and Missouri, where there were 3,088 and 1,484 new cases new cases and clearly a problem. In contrast, look at the other states Dr. Birx raised concerns about; Kansas (942 new cases) and Nebraska (only 344 new cases). There are just not trends to the data in these states. While Illinois was not mentioned it continues uncontrolled (1,941 new cases). Rounding out the “Easterner’s view of the Midwest”, Michigan and Wisconsin, where the infection is stable and controlled, saw only approximately 800 new cases each.
In summary, there is no consistent pattern of outbreaks in the midwestern states. I do think it is important to monitor infection numbers to potentially identify the formation of new COVID-19 clusters. However, naming states as areas of concern should come with hardened statistics justifying the designation. Without that, government officials quickly lose their credibility. Invoking vacation travel as an excuse for issuing state “warnings” at a time when people are holed up worrying about their jobs just does not cut it.