Modeling shows value of NC’s stay-at-home rule

By on April 6, 2020

Early easing of restrictions could mean 500,000 more infections.

New modeling data released by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on April 6 indicate that extending social distancing beyond the state’s April 29 stay-at-home mandate will result in significantly fewer North Carolinians infected by Covid-19 and a better chance that the state’s hospital systems won’t become overwhelmed.

While the numbers are far from etched in stone, they suggested that extending the stay-at- home rules past the end of this month could potentially mean the difference between 250,000 and 750,000 North Carolinians being infected by the new virus.

The data was put together by a consortium of academic and private data scientists tapped by DHHS, including Dr. Aaron McKethan of Duke University School of Medicine and Dr. Kimberly Powers and Dr. Mark Holmes of the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Based on the new data, the availability of acute care beds throughout the state is expected to meet the needs of Covid-19 case volume in the next few weeks. And even as confirmed cases are expected to reach between 5,500 and 6,500 by April 15, the available capacity of acute care beds is expected to be sufficient at that time

What happens beyond that depends on several factors. The models explored two potential scenarios, one being if social distancing continued beyond April 29 and one that projected that those measures would be relaxed on that date.

In the first scenario, with social distancing practices being extended past April, the data estimated that roughly 250,000 North Carolinians would become infected by Covid-19 by the end of May, with the peak stress on available acute care capacity likely occurring in mid to late May. At that point, there would be a 25 percent chance that acute bed capacity in the state’s hospital systems would be insufficient to treat Covid-19 needs.

In contrast, the modeling data predicted that if social distancing measures were relaxed after April 29, North Carolina would possibly see three times the number of Covid-19 infections along with a 50 percent chance that hospital acute care and ICU bed capacity would be outstripped as soon as Memorial Day.

Asserting that the state is being guided by the “best science available,” DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen told reporters at the start of a noon telephone media briefing, “We know that modeling is not a crystal ball. We know Covid-19 is a new disease. It’s only been here for a few months and we’re still really learning about how this virus works, how it interacts with the health of our population, who is most susceptible and why…and all of this makes modeling really challenging.”

Dr. Holmes noted that the model data indicated that if the state relaxed social distancing policies after April, “We would see a substantially higher chance of resource gaps, roughly fifty percent with a probability of that climbing rather quickly after April 29.” In that case, he said, that resource gap would likely arrive somewhere between mid to late May.

“This tripling is the source of the major stress on the hospitals manifested in the increase in probability from 20 percent to 50 percent,” Dr. Holmes asserted. “This tripling is exactly why public health officials across the globe have made social distancing efforts to flatten the curve by delaying infection rates for as long as period as possible. This maximizes the chance that our system can handle the healthcare demands.”

Dr. McKethan said the group of modelers considered the two alternative policy scenarios to determine “how they might influence the path and magnitude and destruction of this Covid-19 hurricane threatening our state and the ability of the healthcare system to absorb potential increased demand for cover 19 patients.”

Unlike a hurricane, he asserted, “In an epidemic like Covid-19, we do have the ability to shape the hurricane’s trajectory and strength through various policies…We all really want to get back to work, and to get North Carolina moving again. We all want to get this pandemic behind us, and our charge in these last 10 or 15 days has been to put together some information that helps…our policy officials who have really difficult choices to make about public health, about the economy and so on.”

Dr. McKethan stressed that modeling adjustments and revisions would continue to be made based on new information over time.

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  • Ray

    No polls , no models , no projections have been close to right on anything for many years , not in politics, not in weather , not in climate change models , none of it has been remotely close to accurate ! Most definitely Take necessary precautions , limit travel and be as hygienic as possible, but citing and taking as gospel , polls / models and projections is a flimsy argument and should be taken with a grain of salt .

    “There are 3 types of lies …… lies , damned lies , & statistics “ Mark Twain

    Monday, Apr 6 @ 5:54 pm
  • Sheila K Smith

    Are any models available for the public from Dare County

    Monday, Apr 6 @ 7:13 pm
  • anotherobxman

    Modeling or no modeling, it ain’t over until its over. Dare County took action before the state of North Carolina decided to act. Dare county was correct. Hopefully, they will continue to keep their restrictions in place for some period of time after the state gives some “all clear” because as soon as people begin moving again the second wave will come.

    Tuesday, Apr 7 @ 9:30 am
  • B Miller

    Model for Dare County? border blockade of all the outsiders – you can’t trust the outside but take their money.

    Tuesday, Apr 7 @ 12:41 pm
  • homey

    Everyday, we hear anecdotal stories of people gaining illegal access to our area. I know of a factual event. They used an old driver’s license, suggesting a wanton disregard for rules and regulations. Their perception that privilege is extended solely to them is incomprehensible. This individual teaches elementary school children. I question the moral integrity of someone that instructs and guides small children. Their family sanctions this bad behavior, and see nothing wrong in their actions. What if we all engaged in similar acts of incivility? We are a relatively small community, and the outcome would be catastrophic. These rules are set in place to protect everyone, not just a selfishly motivated few.

    Wednesday, Apr 8 @ 8:41 am
  • Cam

    When this study was done a few days ago….the NATIONAL model for Corona deaths was somewhere between 150 and 250k deaths. NOW a few days later it is headlines at 60k.
    Beware of scientific guesses which is all this is. At the PRESENT projection this is equivalent to the annual deaths from the flu which causes no such disruption to our lives and livelihood and economy. I do believe that social distancing and other prophylactic measures are needed. But it is becoming increasingly evident that the time to end this draconian control over our lives is rapidly approaching.

    Thursday, Apr 9 @ 11:59 am
  • Matt

    16,679 deaths in the USA…it’s like 7 Pearl Harbors.

    Friday, Apr 10 @ 12:01 am