Analysis: States that reopened earlier haven't seen higher rates of infection

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States that have reopened their economies appear to be faring no worse in terms of coronavirus cases than those that have not, a new data analysis by the Washington Examiner shows.

All 50 states have either reopened at least parts of their economies or are in the process of doing so.

In some states that have reopened very recently, it may be too soon to tell the effect on cases since the incubation period for the virus is widely believed to be two weeks. States that reopened their economies two weeks ago or earlier have seen, on average, a day-to-day decline in new cases of -0.4%, based on data from the University of Maryland. In states that have not yet opened their economies or opened them more recently than two weeks, the trend of new cases is almost unchanged at 0.1%.

This suggests that there are many different factors, some of which cannot yet be examined, affecting the rate of coronavirus cases.

“The measures you’re looking at are crude,” said Dr. Marissa Levine, a former state health commissioner in Virginia.

Levine noted that the number of tests that states conduct often fluctuates from one day to the next.

For example, the data shows no new tests conducted in Utah on Tuesday and none in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, or Vermont on Wednesday, making it impossible to determine how many new cases those states had on those particular days.

Levine, who is now the director at the Center for Leadership in Public Health Practice at the University of South Florida, also noted that the data can’t account for different population demographics among states, nor can they account for different rates of mobility.

That may be reflected in the considerably different trends for the two states that reopened the earliest, Georgia and South Carolina. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp began reopening his state on April 24 and faced a great deal of criticism for doing so. Since reopening, the daily coronavirus case rate in the Peach State has declined, on average, -0.9%. In South Carolina, which began reopening four days earlier, has seen an average daily increase of 1.2%.

Another obstacle to teasing out what is happening in the data is that states have opened their economies in different ways. Some governors have permitted only select businesses to open. Others have gone much further by allowing establishments where large numbers of people can congregate in a relatively small area, such as restaurants, bars, and retail businesses, to reopen, albeit with limited capacity restrictions.

The Washington Examiner further broke down the data among states that have reopened their economies in at least the last two weeks by separating those that have allowed restaurants and/or retail locations to open from those that have not. States that have reopened their economies but have not permitted restaurants and retail outlets have fared better, with the trend of daily coronavirus cases declining at an average rate of -1%. States that have permitted those establishments to open have seen a smaller decline of -0.4%.

“The good news would be that if states are reopening and we’re not seeing any big increases in coronavirus cases, perhaps that means that people are continuing to do what they need to do to stay safe,” said Levine. “It may be telling us that people are being smart about the reopening, that they’re practicing social distancing and using face coverings when appropriate.”

Some states are still resisting reopening. On Monday, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont pushed back the reopening of barbershops and salons from May 20 to early June.

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