I can think of at least one person who not only predicted it but counted on it, and his name isn’t Andrew Cuomo. “We’re actually down from where we were when we started reopening,” the governor of New York told the media this afternoon. “Which, as you remember, no one predicted.” The question at the time was whether the states could control the increase, but instead “we are right where we want to be”:
NEW: “Since we started reopening…the numbers have actually declined,” New York Gov. Cuomo says.
— ABC News (@ABC) July 6, 2020
“We’re actually down from where we were when we started reopening,” Cuomo said. “The question was, when you start reopening, activity will go up, number of cases will go up, can you control the increase? That was the question. We haven’t needed to control the increase, we’ve actually had a slight decline, and now we’re basically running flat. And that is great news. That is really great news.”
Cuomo said the adjustments that have been made to the phased reopening – such as postponing indoor dining at restaurants in New York City – are helping to keep the numbers low. …
The governor said no decision has been made regarding school reopening in the fall. “We obviously very much would like to,” he said.
That is indeed good news, but the phased reopening plan didn’t entirely originate with Cuomo or New York. The Trump administration developed that plan in April, hoping to get precisely the kind of result Cuomo touts here. The idea was to phase in reopening steps while testing, making adjustments when testing indicated higher risk and using targeted means to contain outbreaks.
Trump might well tout the exact same results as evidence that this plan works. He’s already unhappy about the reporting on numbers in other states. Late yesterday, Trump tweeted about the media missing the larger story on the “China Virus”:
New China Virus Cases up (because of massive testing), deaths are down, “low and steady”. The Fake News Media should report this and also, that new job numbers are setting records!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 5, 2020
Part of the success of New York, however, might be its earlier failures. The virus spread rapidly and broadly in the state, thanks to a series of dumb decisions by Cuomo and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. The spread might have expedited the beginnings of herd immunity, especially in the Big Apple, which might account for why there isn’t a dramatic increase in positive tests — which we should expect from higher testing capability.
On the other hand, the daily count of new cases dropped yesterday across the US as a whole, Johns Hopkins announced this morning, not just New York. That’s good news, but they warn that July 4 festivities might bring a new spike:
The United States dipped under 50,000 new coronavirus cases for the first time in four days, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, but experts fear Fourth of July celebrations will act like rocket fuel for the nation’s surging outbreak.
Leaders in Austin and Houston, Texas, warned Sunday of hospitals nearing capacity, and asked Republican Gov. Gregg Abbott to allow them to issue local lockdown orders. Florida meanwhile surpassed 200,000 statewide coronavirus cases and West Virginia saw its biggest two-day jump in cases yet.
Hospital admissions and ICU capacity are the key metrics in this pandemic, not new cases in general. There won’t be any way to avoid the transmission of the disease in the population, but the key is to keep its kinetic value low enough so that acute cases don’t overwhelm health-care capacity. That might be happening in Texas, but doesn’t appear to be happening elsewhere, as the new cases are trending much younger and with fewer co-morbidities. This was the point of the lockdowns, after all — not to stop transmission entirely, but just to get ahead of the health-care capacity curve.
Cuomo’s correct in noting that New York has managed its reopening to succeed at that objective. So have many other states, and even Texas and Florida appear to have more of a transmission spike than a true capacity crisis for now. Let’s keep the phased strategy in place — and maybe get the media to report this issue more accurately. If they had, no one would have been surprised at Cuomo’s announcement today.