Without stronger social distancing, first ‘curves’ made with local data suggest overwhelming of Syracuse hospitals

Local News

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — For as long as COVID-19 has been spreading across America, leaders at all level of government have been preaching “flatten the curve.”

For the first time, a team of faculty at Upstate Medical University combined local data with assumptions about how coronavirus has spread elsewhere to develop a series of local “curves” or projections showing different possible outcomes for Syracuse.

The models use a 660,000 person population for Syracuse and assumes the virus arrived locally in late January or early February.

The differences of each curve are triggered by varying levels of social distancing, which impact when the apex of cases hits relative to the local hospital capacity.

Among the team of faculty members that developed the projections was Dr. Kathryn Anderson, who explained her research to NewsChannel 9’s Andrew Donovan.

She says, “Nobody can predict the future and what these models aim to do is give some different scenarios of what the future can look like and how to intervene.”

The Blue Line

The blue line represents the “worst case scenario” for the Syracuse area, which would be the result of zero social distancing and 90% of the population infected. In this case, Dr. Anderson explains “every infectious individual infects 2.7 other people and we see a devastating epidemic that our community is not prepared for.”

Because people in Onondaga County are practicing some social distancing, the “worst case” has likely already been avoided.

The Grey Line

With the “worst case scenario” avoided, the other cases aren’t much better.

The grey line projects an outcome using 25% social distancing, which puts the peak on May 24, with 77% of the population infected.

The Red Line

The red line is most closely aligned with where Onondaga County is currently, according to Dr. Anderson. It projects the future with 38% social distancing, putting the peak at June 17 with 64% of the population infected.

Social distancing is being measured through GPS data from people’s cell phones, provided by Unacast. The phones shows how much and how often people across the country are moving in their communities compared to before the pandemic.

That data shows Dr. Anderson that people in Onondaga County are moving around 40% less.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon says this current scenario would still result in the overwhelming of local hospitals and require Manley Fieldhouse to be converted to a surge site field hospital.

Dr. Anderson says, “Even in the red peak, our hospitals would be overwhelmed. We need to restrict our movements even more, practice even more social distancing, and move towards and even beyond yellow line.”

The Yellow Line

The yellow line, with a 50% reduction in movement, is the best case scenario pictured on the graph. It suggests a surge on August 15, but Dr. Anderson says that would still overwhelm hospitals and ICUs in July.

Anderson says, “It’s clear that Onondaga County residents are making some efforts to restrict their movements, but we need to do more and we need to do it now. Our actions now will influence what our future looks like in months to come with this virus.”

Even Better Scenario

While it’s not shown on her projection, Dr. Anderson suggests Onondaga County’s “best chance” is social distancing at 70% from normal.

Anderson explains what 70% looks like in real life: “We’re all still going to grocery store and pharmacy. I think it means we question every single trip today or ask ‘could I have batched it together and make a trip every two weeks?’ It means questioning every movement we make.

She reminds people that the “curves” simulate a forecast, based on data and assumptions made based on how coronavirus spreads in China, Italy and other parts of the United States.

The projections are not definite outcomes and are subject to change based on an improvement in the frequency of testing, the speed of test results and any medications that may be developed to help fight coronavirus.


More from NewsChannel 9:

For more local news, follow Andrew Donovan on Twitter @AndrewDonovan.

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