At a national level, Kinsa’s measure of illness transmission (Rt) is near 1, suggesting that COVID-19 case growth will remain relatively stable over the next few weeks. The current baseline of 40,000 new infections per day represents a dangerously high status quo as we head into the fall, when many experts fear that the start of the school year and colder weather will fuel case growth. Without concerted efforts to drive down illness transmission, we don’t foresee a significant improvement in the pandemic’s trajectory in the coming weeks.
We do see encouraging signs in some areas of the country. In the Chicago area, for example, Kinsa’s Rt metric has dropped considerably in the past three weeks, suggesting a likely decline in COVID-19 cases there in the near-term. We have observed a similar reduction in Oregon and the Bay Area in recent weeks — perhaps due in part to widespread wildfires that have driven residents indoors.
Unfortunately, we are also seeing some areas of concern. In particular, Rt has been elevated for several weeks in Arkansas. School reopenings may be a contributing factor to higher illness spread — indeed, some schools have already had to close again after new cases surfaced. This elevated Rt trend suggests that the state’s cases may rise in the near-term.
We are also seeing more localized flare-ups in transmission elsewhere in the country. While we can’t confirm a causal relationship, many of these areas have recently experienced events or policy changes that may have created a pathway for increased transmission.
In Davidson County, Tennessee (Nashville area), Rt has increased sharply in the last two weeks. The uptick in Rt may be partially driven by behavior changes after the recent expiration of the State of Emergency, as well as the resumption of in-person classes at universities including Vanderbilt. If Rt remains elevated, we expect that daily case counts will rise.
In Texas, Rt has been very high in Ector County (Odessa area) since mid-August, suggesting cases will increase in the coming weeks. Policy measures such as bar closures have met with significant local resistance and bar owners across the state are protesting restrictions.
Finally, in Virginia Beach, Rt has been high for the past two weeks. If it remains elevated, we expect COVID-19 cases to increase in the coming weeks.