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Near-term COVID outlook improves after illness transmission slows in July

The start of summer brought with it a renewed surge in coronavirus cases, with daily new case counts climbing to a mid-July peak that was twice as bad as the initial spring wave. However, the latest national data shows a slight deceleration in cases over the past week. But is this just a temporary reprieve — or perhaps the result of reporting issues

Kinsa’s data suggests that many states have in fact turned the corner and have likely already seen the worst of this wave. Specifically, our data shows that the rate of febrile illness transmission — typically a 3-week leading indicator of COVID-19 cases — slowed substantially over the past month in many parts of the country.

In California, for example, Kinsa data showed that the rate of community illness transmission (Rt) began accelerating in early June and remained elevated for weeks, which translated into a  surge in COVID-19 cases in late-June and July. At its peak, California was reporting an average of 10,000 new cases per day. But after the July 4th weekend Kinsa data shows that the rate of illness spread began dropping rapidly, and has remained below one for the past two weeks, indicating that illness spread is now better controlled. And indeed that deceleration in community transmission started translating into lower case reports over the past ten days, with new cases now averaging roughly 7,000 per day. Our data suggests that California can expect new cases to plateau or continue declining over the next couple of weeks. 

Many other states have followed a similar trajectory, with the rate of illness transmission slowing significantly in recent weeks. We’ve observed this trend in many of the states with the most severe outbreaks, such as Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. But the improved outlook also applies to several states that had smaller outbreaks, such as Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania. This slowdown comes after many states paused or reversed their re-opening plans and implemented mask mandates. 

The weeks ahead present a crucial period. The decisions states make about whether and how to reopen schools could be a major factor in the trajectory of the virus. Not all states are on this positive trendline (on our watchlist: Michigan, Massachusetts, Illinois), and a premature return to large gatherings, including in-classroom education, could present serious setbacks.