The lack of domestic travel restrictions in the U.S. suggests that new coronavirus surges will crop up across the nation in the coming weeks.
This weekend, New York State reported the most known coronavirus cases anywhere in the world. The eastern U.S. state is now home to more known cases than any single country, but hopes are still high that the U.S. will reopen its economy in 3 weeks at the start of May.
It’s hard to believe that America will be able to start lifting lockdown measures when you consider how long countries in Europe have been shut down. Is this just another injection of false hope?
Europe offers some insight as to how things could progress. The data out so far shows countries that went into lockdown soon after reporting coronavirus deaths have fared better. Germany, whose death rate has been far lower than most, went into lockdown 9 days after a third death was reported. It took Spain 10 days, Italy 14 days and the UK 15.
On March 14, New York City reported its first coronavirus-related death. The city went into lockdown 8 days later, but travel in and out of the city was still unregulated. The difference between the lockdowns in Europe and those in New York City is vast. Lockdown measures in Europe were far stricter, with borders closed and police-enforced restrictions in place.
The disparity is evident when you look at cellphone location data. Many people fled New York City following the lockdown, likely bringing coronavirus with them. Location data provided by Tectonix in partnership with Xmode Socia shows thousands of New Yorkers fleeing the city in the days following the lockdown announcement.
Unsurprisingly, the data shows many of the cell phones concentrated in areas like Georgia, Florida and Texas— all of which have seen an uptick in new cases. Those outbreaks probably aren’t caused by those who fled NYC after March 22, but rather people who left the city much sooner. The coronavirus spread caused by New Yorkers leaving after lockdown is still to come.
That’s because there’s a considerable lag between the time someone becomes infected and the time they present with symptoms. That lag is even greater if you’re looking at the time of infection to the time of reporting because many registered cases come from hospital admissions.
According to data from the UK, the time between a coronavirus infection and a hospital stay is a minimum of 12 days. For some, it takes 14 days to show symptoms and a further 4 to develop into a serious condition.
That suggests that those who fled NYC the week of March 22 may be included in case numbers reported across the country, but the two or three other people they likely infected on the way could begin showing symptoms this weekend. It wasn’t until March 28 that the CDC asked New York residents to stop traveling domestically, so the impact of fleeing New Yorkers won’t be visible for another few weeks.
What’s more, many of the places New Yorkers ran to haven’t been following social distancing advice. Florida and Texas in particular have seen normal travel patterns in many counties, suggesting social distancing guidelines have been widely ignored.
New York’s encouraging data reveals hospital admissions are on a downslope— but the worst probably isn’t over for the rest of the country. In fact, outbreaks that resemble New York’s could be on the horizon.
Talk of reopening on May 1 feels overly optimistic— Spain and Italy, which have been in lockdown almost twice as long as New York, are only just starting to discuss how to lift restrictions.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of CCN.com.
This article was edited by Samburaj Das.
Last modified: May 8, 2020 12:06 PM UTC