Tell Your Numbers to Shut Up

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True and we have so little of this!

I’m not going to claim to be an expert on modeling virus patterns. Then again, many of those who said they were experts put out predictions that weren’t very good and had to keep changing because they hadn’t figured out the right pattern yet. As we are now into the second year of this thing, we do have a history to look back on. That is not to say that historic patterns are perfect at predicting the future because they aren’t. What we can do is look back and try to see where we are now vs where we were and maybe calm down a bit about the super scary Delta.

I’ve looked back at the four week period running from June 21 through July 18 of last year and then compared that to our most recent four week period running from June 20 through July 17th. I’m not using the exact dates because the counts are influenced by the day of the week so I’m using fixed weeks for the comparison.

While the summer wave peaked a little later than the 18th, this four week period represents the bulk of the increase in cases we saw across the south and southwest.

Just looking at total cases and not adjusting for population, the top ten states during this time last year were California, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina and Louisiana. Going a little further down, you pick up Mississippi at 13, Missouri at 15, Nevada at 16, Oklahoma at 17, Virginia at 18 and Arkansas at 23. Yes, there is an unavoidable correlation with population and California is likely to be in the top ten list of any four week period you pick but the point is that the bulk of cases during this time last year were in the south and southwest.

If we look back at the last four weeks, the top ten is Florida, Texas, Missouri, California, Arizona, Louisiana, Arkansas, New York, Georgia and Nevada. Alabama comes in at 12, North Carolina at 16, Oklahoma at 17, Tennessee at 21, Virginia at 22, South Carolina at 24 and Mississippi at 27. You do get a lot of overlap but Missouri and Arkansas move way up while South Carolina and Mississippi move down.

Now, lets just look at the actual number of cases:

North Carolina505249091-82.0
South Carolina449055538-87.7

Missouri is the only state on the list showing an increase. The decrease in Arkansas is small but all the rest except Nevada are down 50% or more from where they were this time last year. Even if the summer wave got started a little later and even if Delta is more of a problem, there is a long way to go before we match last year. Should we really be at the same level of panic that we were at this time last year?

So where do we go from here? There is no guarantee that past history predicts future performance but let’s look at what happened over the next two months in these states.

North Carolina505244322540914
South Carolina449053983925952

Its a bit of mixed bag. Over the next four weeks, we had a few places that continued to peak, a few that were steady and a few that saw cases drop. By the time we got into mid August to mid September, cases were falling everywhere except Missouri and Oklahoma. If that trend continues, it would be bad news for Missouri.

But what also happened is that we started to see the fall wave get going in other places. By that last time period, Illinois ranked 5th and Michigan was in the top 10 and we had big increases in the Dakotas and Iowa. The drops in places like California, Florida and Texas was big enough that is more than offset the increases and the totals for the country dropped and hit the low for the fall/winter during the week ending September 12th.

Hawaii and Wyoming join Missouri as the only states where cases are higher this year than they were during the same time last year. Hawaii had a late summer wave last year so we’ll see what happens. But the actual numbers for both states are so small that they don’t really influence the national totals.

Is it possible that things could take off and pass numbers from last year? Sure, anything is possible. It would take the type of increases we haven’t seen before but it can’t be ruled out. It doesn’t seem likely given that this was about the peak of cases last year and we started to see things drop off in the next weeks and months.

As I said, I’m no expert on viruses. It certainly seems like this one is going to be with us for a bit. But if each wave gets smaller and smaller, that is a good thing. For now, it is still true to say that the summer wave of this year doesn’t compare to the summer wave of last year. I hope that holds true for the fall but we really have to wait and see.

I don’t really think anyone can say with a lot of confidence what is going to happen. It is worth taking all predictions with several large grains of salt. In the end, the data will tell the story.

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