As hospitals in New York City continue flooding with new COVID-19 cases, some regions of the U.S. are experiencing a slowdown in the pandemic. Social distancing, it turns out, actually works. Or at least, it helps researchers localize cases.
In a time when there are so many unknowns, knowing that social isolation drops transmission feels like a win. With no updates on whether Gov. Gavin Newsom’s orders will be lifted anytime soon, stay-at-home mandates are certainly helping Californians weather the COVID-19 storm.
Due to the fast-paced spread of the virus, Stanford researchers are relying on hospital data to track upticks in cases. Some of those researchers, such as PhD candidate Steve Yadlowsky—who specializes in analyzing healthcare data—are taking the lead on creating statistical models.
He says he remains conservatively optimistic when looking at the numbers in Santa Clara County and the Bay Area.
“If the number of hospitalizations stay constant or decrease, it’s a good sign that policies are working,” he tells San Jose Inside.
After Newsom’s announcement that Californians must stay inside except to venture out on essential business, Yadlowsky spearheaded the creation of a statistical model using COVID-19 data up until March 17. He ran models comparing two different scenarios: The real-world ramifications of shelter-in-place vs. no shelter-in-place. That way, researchers could compare what actually happened to what was projected could happen and use that data to understand whether this mandated call to action was in fact, effective.
So, what does the data show so far?
The statistical software isn’t a crystal ball, mind you, but it does offer some insight into the worst-case scenario: What if shelter-in-place had been delayed any longer?
The results are fascinating.
Although it’s too early to answer that question precisely, the data suggest that new hospitalizations will decrease in the coming weeks. On top of that, because Santa Clara County was ahead of the pack in ordering a shut-down, hospitals will be more than able to handle current demand and hopefully provide everyone with the care they need.
The math doesn’t lie.
Now we know that social isolation is the most effective way to decrease transmission. But the data isn’t coming in fast enough. Analytical models that rely on hospital data aren’t always updated in real time. The county’s website was updating with daily information on hospitalizations and deaths up until March 25. Then, it fell silent on the matter.
On Tuesday, the site was back to posting data about hospitalizations in response to public pressure for more transparency. The county also changed its dashboard, but the lag in information left a gap in data analysis for research teams like Yadlowsky.
In the time of COVID-19, however, one problem with tracking data on the pandemic is that much of the transmission of the virus is through people who don’t feel sick.
It can take a week or two for someone infected with COVID-19 to go from infected to needing to go to the hospital. This could lead to an increase in hospital admissions into next week. Meaning people infected around March 17 are only now seeking treatment.
As data continue to roll in, trends will form and we will know more about how shelter-in-place truly changed our lives.
The good news? If the numbers stay where they are, there’s promise that Santa Clara County has set the standard for overcoming the virus together.