The rate of newly confirmed coronavirus infections is on a decline in the U.S., unless you remove the progress of the greater New York metropolitan area.
While northeastern leaders plan to keep their congested states mostly shuttered into May despite the devastating economic effects, the infection rates within their borders is gradually declining and subsequently drawing down the national average.
"This increase is not because of [increased] testing. It's a real increase," said public health researcher Dr. Zuo-Feng Zhang at the University of California at Los Angeles.
Deaths increased to a new single-day high in Iowa on Tuesday to 19. Kansas's Shawnee County, home to Topeka, KS, reported a doubling of new coronavirus cases last week on the same day business restrictions began to relax. Hospital space in Gallup, New Mexico, is in short supply due to COVID patients and the city is under a strict lockdown.
The coronavirus numbers in rural America belie the severity of the situation because they don't account for the corresponding capacity of local medical infrastructure or their starkly lower populations relative to places like New York.
Health officials in one regional of Nebraska say COVID-19 is a growing concern.
Despite just 55 positive cases as of Tuesday, May 5. Panhandle Public Health District director Kim Engel tells Time that the district has only 31 ventilators for a population of 87,000 across 15,000 square miles. Just one or two dozen new cases (which would represent a miraculous decline in New York) would be considered a critical spike in the area and could quickly overwhelm the local health system.
"We are not out of the woods, and we're afraid we are really just starting on that upward curve," Engel said.
In the northeast, the region including New York City, Long Island and northern New Jersey was so hard hit by the coronavirus so early on that much of the national data that exists is colored by the immense population in that area.
As of Wednesday morning, New York State reported more than 321,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 24,000 COVID-19 deaths. New Jersey reported another 130,600 cases and 8,200 COVID-19 deaths.
So anything less than an apocalyptic peak in a state like South Dakota (with a total population of about 885,000) is impossible to perceive in the national numbers unless you exclude totals in NY and NJ.
It should be no less concerning that outbreaks in middle-America food processing facilities in states like South Dakota and Iowa are prompting grocery stores to ration meat to avoid a shortage.
When the mostly locked-down greater NYC-area is included in national data, the five-day rolling average for new coronavirus cases in the U.S. has decreased from 9.3 people per 100,000 to 8.6 people per 100,000 over the past three weeks (since NY reported its 'plateau' of new cases).
When the greater NYC-area is excluded from those figures, the rate of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. jumped from 6.2 people per 100,000 to 7.5 over the past three weeks.
NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and NJ Governor Phil Murphy are implementing a gradual reopening process that they hope will curb the already-substantial economic losses while keeping new outbreaks at bay by monitoring fatalities and hospitalizations.
"How much is a human life worth?" Cuomo asked Tuesday, regarding economic incentive to reopen. "That's the real discussion that no one is admitting openly or freely. But we should."
Cuomo has vowed that his state would not abide a stilted reopening on account of a second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks, which many European and Asian countries have endured.
Addressing New York's upstate rural counties, Gov. Cuomo outlined a criteria of benchmarks from the Centers for Disease Control tied to infection rate and hospital space that must be checked off before parts of the state can reopen.
President Trump has publicly urged states to reopen, though his White House coronavirus task force has repeatedly warned governors against "skipping phases."
Photo: Getty Images