Post #694: Re-opening, as it has been done so far, has had no impact.

Posted on May 16, 2020


Quick test 1:  National trends show no impact.

Let me start with the most obvious:  The US population is split almost exactly 50/50 between states that removed restrictions “early” ,and those that did not.  (Where, for the “early” states, I am using the NY Times classification as of about 10 days ago.)  Most of the initial “re-opening” steps happened in the first week of May, with some before that, and some after that.

If there had been some huge impact of that, we’d begin to see it in the national data. And that just ain’t so. If you detect any upsurge in new cases post May 1, you have a sharper eye than I do.

Source:  New York Times.

Quick test 2:  Comparison of early-opening versus other states shows no impact.

Source:  Analysis of coronavirus case counts as maintained by the New York Times.

This is a an update of my prior analysis.  You can see Post #685 for methods.  In a nutshell, I accepted the NY Times division of the states, as of 5/8/2020.

Bottom line:  No difference in trend, prior to re-opening.   No difference in trend, after re-opening. 

In fact, there’s been so little impact, that at this point, only two states have NOT re-opened at least part of their economies that had been shuttered by the virus.

Thus rendering this simple analysis more-or-less useless in another week or so.  And rendering debate of re-opening versus not largely moot.

Possibly, it’s just too soon to tell.  But if you want, you can dig down to the earliest re-openers.  Take Georgia, for example.  They were alternately praised and vilified for opening early.  And their daily new case counts continue to decline.  If there was some large impact from early re-opening, it’s not evident in the data.

Source:  New York Times.

But don’t forget that there’s a reason for this.


The US on May 16, 2020 is not the same as the US on March 1, 2020.  We’ve been warned.  We’ve approaching 100,000 deaths.  We are — slowly — getting smarter about mask use, indoor public spaces, distancing, and all the rest of it.

And so, you cannot argue that undoing some of the measures taken initially will necessarily restart the pandemic.  It’s a good guess that total cases will be higher than they would have been, absent changes.  But you can’t take an estimate of the impact that imposing those measures did at the start of the pandemic, and infer that undoing that now will have a proportionate effect.  The plain fact is, nobody knows what the impact will be.  You just have to wait and see.

And so far, I’m seeing no impact whatsoever.

But there’s a good reason for that.

Wisconsin excepted (Post #692), this has mostly been done in sensible phases, for areas that (to some degree) showed no out-of-control growth in infections, with guidelines on distancing and use of masks.

Let me just give a few examples to show how gradual and phased this is.

We can start from the fact that virtually all states continue to recommend that high-risk populations shelter in place.  So, sure, they are letting (some) businesses open (to some degree).  But they continue to recommend that the elderly and medically frail stay at home to the extent possible.

Second, almost all states have begun by opening up parks, golf course, outdoor dining, and other open-air venues.  This not only matches what the epidemiology says, it acknowledges the problem of aerosol transmission (Post #693) in a way that the US CDC still cannot bring itself to do.

Third, only one state (Montana) is allowing schools to re-open, and that’s on a local-option basis.  Some parts of Montana have seen virtually zero cases of COVID-19, so that seems fairly reasonable.

Then, you can find the details on re-openings summarize, state-by-state, at this CNN URL or at this this CNBC URL.  But for now, let me just give a few examples of how slow and measured these re-openings are.

Republican Governor Sununu of New Hampshire will allow restaurants to re-open starting 5/18/2020, but only for outdoor dining.  Indoor dining remains closed.  Republican Governor Ricketts of Nebraska let stay-at-home orders expire on 5/4/2020, but still requires bars and theaters to remain closed, regardless. Democratic Governor Bullock of Montana began re-opening by removing restrictions on churches on 4/22/2020, and phased in the opening of other places, ending with the 5/4/2020 re-opening of restaurants. Local school systems have the option of re-opening.  But  theaters, gyms and other places of assembly (other than churches) must remain closed.

Several states have opened regions piece-meal, allowing only some counties within a state to begin re-opening closed businesses.  These include (off the top of my head) Florida, Kansas, New York, Pennsylvania, and now, Virginia and Maryland.  (In the latter two, the DC metro area remains under restrictions as the remainder of the state phased in re-opening.)  In all cases, they partitioned the state based on the conditions in those counties.

So, Wisconsin excepted, it’s not as if the early-openers were crazy.  There has, by and large, been a measured movement to re-open businesses and other organizations that were closed during the first phase of the pandemic in the US.

And let’s not forget that people (or, at least, some people) are neither stupid nor sheep. Just because (e.g.) gyms are open does not mean that (e.g.) elderly people are going to return to the gym any time soon.  Likewise for a whole host of other goods and services.  For my part, I can’t see myself sitting inside a restaurant until I’ve been vaccinated.  To me, it’s just not worth the risk.

But what about Northern Virginia?

Well, that’s a tough call.  We are very definitely part of the DC metro area.  So what happens here will depend, at least in part, on what’s happening in DC and in the Maryland suburbs.

I only track Fairfax County in detail.  And as of today, we neither have it under control, nor is it out of control.  We seem to get a steady 250-ish new cases every day.  And have done so for the past two weeks.  None of our hospitals is short on persona protective equipment (because no hospitals in Virginia are).  And, while I can’t find data on capacity and ventilators, based on cumulative hospitalizations so far, my guess is that we probably are not pressing on local hospital capacity limits at this point.

My best guess?  I think it could go either way, at this point.  I understand the cautiousness of local governments that are not ready to lift restrictions.  And I understand the impatience of those who want to see restrictions lifted.

I can say that come of our current restrictions appear dysfunctional, given what we now know.  The evidence strongly suggests that outdoor venues are much safer than indoor.  Fairfax should at least re-open parks, while continuing to ban (e.g.) organized sports.  I think outdoor seating at restaurants is a similarly low-risk activity, as long as people maintain their distance, and should be allow to re-commence.  And for my part, I’d go for re-opening all retail goods sales, coupled with a mandatory mask ordinance.

At some point, when the facts change, you change your mind.  When you see so many different places slowly re-open, with so little harm evident, if you are rational, you have to take note of that and act accordingly.

So, yeah, if I had to make the call, I’d say it s time to start loosening things up.  In the same sort of slow and measured fashion we’ve seen elsewhere.  Starting with outdoor venues.