Coronavirus: 22 counties predicted to be hotspots avoid major spike feared by experts, as states lift lockdowns

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'While the data is still early, we are seeing an increase in case count growth rate'

World | The Independent

The majority of 22 rural areas predicted to become coronavirus hotspots as states began lifting coronavirus lockdowns have so far avoided a major spike in confirmed cases or deaths.

Infection rates were expected to skyrocket over a six to 13-day period in smaller areas of Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas, based on artificial intelligence analysis of social media posts.

All of the states had either partially lifted or no coronavirus lockdown measures in place, with a focus on Georgia as the first state to plan a wide-spread reopening of gyms, tattoo parlours, hair and nail salons and other businesses.

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The warning about previously unknown hotspots was announced on the day Georgia eased the measures imposed to stop the spread of coronavirus outbreaks.

In the nine days since the predictions were modelled on 22 April, none of the counties have seen an increase of double or more in confirmed cases, with an average growth rate among all counties of 34.41 per cent.

Analysis by The Independent of John Hopkins University’s latest coronavirus data from 22 April to 30 April found three counties with a death rate that increased by double or more, including Greenville, South Carolina going from 13 to 37 deaths, Lucas, Ohio going from 44 to 117 deaths, and Hidalgo, Texas from three to six.

Apart from those three outliers, death rates grew between zero per cent in Clarke County, Georgia up to 70 per cent in St. Joseph County, Indiana.

Growth in confirmed cases grew between a low of 6.66 per cent in Vigo, Indiana to a high of 86.44 per cent in Tippecanoe, Indiana among the 22 small cities and rural counties identified by technology company Dataminr.

The company’s predictive modelling, based on artificial intelligence that scours platforms such as Twitter, Reddit and public data sources, is used by the World Health Organisation, the United Nations, and the New York Office of Emergency Management.

The company issued an alert on 30 December based on a surge in social media posts related to a potential novel disease, making it one of the earliest organisations to warn of the emerging pandemic.

The firm identified areas based on public posts referencing firsthand accounts of symptoms, relatives infected and testing supply shortages up until 21 April.

The 22 communities hadn’t yet experienced exponential growth in coronavirus cases but had seen exponential growth in public social media clusters, “suggesting an impending case spike” that appeared to follow the same patterns as previously identified in US states.

Dataminr’s model predicts an increase in social media posts six to 13 days before infections increase, in-line with warnings from the CDC that says Covid-19 symptoms appear two to 14 days after exposure.

“While the data is still early, we are seeing an increase in case count growth rate in counties located in seven of the eight states included in the study — Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas,” a Dataminr spokesperson told The Independent.

“In the three states considered to be pursuing the most aggressive re-opening measures — Georgia; South Carolina and Florida — the increase in case count growth rate in small metropolitan and rural hotspots included in the study has been most significant.”

According to the analysis of John Hopkins University data from 22 April to 30 April:

  • In Georgia, Chatham County saw confirmed cases rise from 193 to 226, or an increase of 17 per cent. The number of deaths increased from seven to nine, or 28.5 per cent. In Clarke County, confirmed cases increased from 118 to 150 (27 per cent) and deaths were unchanged at 13.
  • In South Carolina, Greenville County increased cases from 536 cases to 722 (34.7 per cent) and deaths from 13 to 37 (184.6 per cent.) Charlestown County cases increased from 406 to 444 (9.35 per cent) and deaths went from 5 to 7 (40 per cent). Horry County cases went from 190 to 215 (13.15 per cent) and deaths went from 12 to 15 (25 per cent).
  • In Florida, Polk County cases increased from 361 to 483 (33.79 per cent) and death increase from 15 to 23 (53.33 per cent). Manatee County cases increased from 445 to 580 (30.33 per cent) while deaths went from 34 to 55. Escambia County saw cases increase from 418 to 506 (22 per cent) and deaths go from 10 to 11 (10 per cent). Volusia saw cases increase from 375 to 452 (20.53 per cent) and deaths increase 13 to 21 (61.53 per cent)

Other counties included in the predictions that have yet to see a major spike in case or death totals include Hamilton, Jefferson and Lubbock in Texas, Jackson, Michigan, Montgomery and Summit in Ohio, and Monroe, Indiana.

  • Coronavirus: 22 counties predicted to be hotspots avoid major spike feared by experts, as states lift lockdowns photo

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