Governments at every level, from city councils to counties to the state and federal government, have implemented historic restrictions to combat the coronavirus. These policies relied primarily upon catastrophic predictions forecast by modeling from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which were revised down dramatically this past week.
The models for Texas, which are refreshed periodically, have previously predicted catastrophic outcomes due to a near-inadequate capacity of hospital beds with which to treat infected patients. With forecasts for an overstressed medical system, the projected death toll was estimated to reach an intolerable level.
That is, however, until this week.
With the model being continuously refreshed to account as new restrictions have been put in place, real data is collected, and more is learned about COVID-19, the outlook for Texas now looks significantly brighter.
As reported by The Texan, the model recently predicted that 17,221 of Texas’ nearly 30,000 hospital beds would be needed to respond to the virus. Now that number has been ratcheted down to only 3,682.
Similarly, the total number of predicted deaths in Texas was previously as high as 6,392. Now it’s predicted to be 2,025. As of the date of this article, coronavirus fatalities in Texas totaled 159.
Additionally, the predicted “peak” of the curve of cases has been moved. While the model formerly projected Texas would reach its highest point on May 6, it now posits that the peak will come significantly sooner, on April 19.
Why the significant changes?
One explanation could be that measures taken by the state to encourage social distancing have been successful. Although restrictions began across the state in the middle of March, it takes time for the model to reflect that, as data continues to come in. It is also clear that Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order temporarily halting non-essential medical procedures has also freed up hospital beds and medical resources to treat the virus.
The restrictions have not come without a cost, however, and the economic effects of the government response continue to be felt by millions of Texans who have seen their financial situations suffer as the economy has all but shut down in the last few weeks.
Nationwide, more than 10 million Americans have lost their jobs in just two weeks.
With the dramatic downward revisions come new questions, as elected officials in Texas from Abbott on down attempt to manage both the virus and the economic effects. Given the refreshed projections that predict virtually no overall strain from the coronavirus outbreak, how will the government similarly refresh its guidelines?
The current statewide “stay-at-home” recommendations are set to continue through April 30. But with the peak projected to be reached nearly two weeks before then, and many hospitals and emergency rooms reporting a decline in patient volume in March, should the government not loosen restrictions earlier than planned?
Some argue that healthy populations could return to work, with at-risk and sick Texans remaining at home, while everyone continues to follow CDC guidelines of social distancing and prolific hand-washing.
— Matt Rinaldi (@MattRinaldiTX) April 6, 2020
Texas Scorecard reached out to the offices of Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for comment. As of publishing, a response had not yet been received.