Italy’s success likely foreshadows California’s
There was another blockbuster positive development in the trajectory of COVID-19 today. Like other good news stories over the past two weeks, this one sadly received little attention:
Italy is increasingly confident that it has flattened its curve. As the Wall Street Journal reported today, the Italian government has started studying how and when to relax its national lockdown, with its current analysis suggesting that a very gradual and carefully controlled relaxing of measures could begin after Easter for certain economic sectors and continue through May for others.
The data support the Italian government’s instincts. As you can see from the chart below, the trendline in the daily increase in cases is actually downward. Italy flattened its curve between March 21st and March 26th. Since then, the curve has been bending downward, indicating the trajectory of the virus is decelerating. This should be confirmed in the data over the next few days. [UPDATE APRIL 6, 2020: Even more important than the decreasing number of new daily cases, the number of daily fatalities has been decreasing in Italy as well.]
Italy and California have adopted similar responses to the pandemic.
There are critical parallels between the progression of COVID-19 in Italy and California. In both locations, the virus first appeared in late January. For the next several weeks, both Italy and California adopted escalating and decentralized public health measures. Italy then shifted to a nationwide stay at home order on March 9th. California followed suit with a statewide stay at home order on March 19th. There are, therefore, good reasons to believe that California’s trajectory will mirror Italy’s, trailing roughly by 10 days.
What should happen in California if it continues to follow Italy?
First, the daily acceleration in the virus should have peaked roughly between March 27th to April 1st.
Second, the curve in California should flatten between March 31st and April 5th.
Lastly, the statewide stay at home order has the potential not just to flatten the curve, but to bend it. We could see daily new hospitalizations actually decrease (and fatalities as well, although that will happen later). We should look for this signal to become visible in the reported data between April 6th and April 11th.
California will not necessarily achieve the same outcomes as Italy. We cannot assess comparative compliance with public health measures in both locations. We also do not know whether California’s younger population and lower smoking rates will reduce hospitalizations and fatalities. But at the macro-level, it seems quite likely that we will follow a very similar trajectory (as I have previously modeled) given that our public policy choices to contain the pandemic have closely mirrored those made in Italy. This means that we should begin to see encouraging signals in our data this week (as I have previously predicted). If we do, we need to follow Italy once again and begin the process of planning our transition to a new normal, as I have repeatedly encouraged our State to do.
Updated April 6th.