DETROIT – The call to “flatten the curve” has become a rallying cry during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, and one of those curves predicts a dire week is ahead in Michigan.
Experts predict Michigan will hit its peak in daily deaths from COVID-19 on April 9. But what’s really behind that prediction? Dr. Frank McGeorge is working to explain what goes into those models.
Disease models are tools designed to help politicians, health officials and hospital workers make decisions. They’re not an exact science, but done well, they can help predict where and when critical resources will be needed most.
“The next week is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said. “It’s going to be our 9/11 moment. It’s going to be the hardest moment for many Americans in their entire lives."
The projections point to peaks in Detroit, New York and New Orleans within a matter of days.
The model at Healthdata.org that is often referenced by the task force experts is being created by a team of statisticians, computer scientists and epidemiologists at the University of Washington.
It takes many factors into account, including how many people are at risk, how many are infected and how many have died or recovered.
Another critical factor is how easily people can spread the virus to each other. That’s been a difficult number to estimate, with scientists initially underestimating how often people without symptoms were spreading the virus.
The model also requires an estimated fatality rate -- a number that has been dramatically different depending on the country. That rate can change depending on the availability of medical care and resources such as ventilators.
The lack of widespread testing in the U.S., particularly of people without symptoms, has made modeling here more of a guessing game that it might have been otherwise.
Even if the models are correct and Detroit is approaching its peak, we still have to go down the other side of the curve, and the model assumes the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order and other social distancing measures will remain in place.
In real life, curves are often not so perfectly drawn. Cases can rise and fall from day to day, and if we relax any of the aggressive social distancing measures, we might see another peak in the future.