August 26, 2020
This article was written to provide an update to the original, which was published on August 14 in the Los Alamos Reporter. If you haven’t read that article, we highly recommend you go back and give it a read. Now we have 13 more days of data to add to the previous data set and given the impending expiration of the Governor’s latest orders, it seems prudent to give interested New Mexicans the most up-to-date information on the status of COVID-19 in our State. The data in this article, as in the original, are sourced from The COVID Tracking Project(https://covidtracking.com), sponsored by The Atlantic. Drilling down, the historical data for New Mexico can be found here: (https://covidtracking.com/data/state/new-mexico#historical).
If you read the original article, you will know that for New Mexico the main takeaways were: 1) the so called “spike” or “second wave” of the virus was not real because it was simply the result of a very real spike in daily new testing; 2) there was no corresponding “spike” or “second wave” of daily new hospitalizations or deaths; 3) the probability of a random New Mexican having died from COVID-19 by August 11, 2020 was approximately 2.1 in a million, and; 4) the numbers across the board were trending downward. The questions we want to address in this article are: 1) after 13 more days, do these conclusions still stand; 2) are the numbers still trending downward; 3) if so, by how much, and; 4) what else do the data tell us?
The great news is, the answers to these questions appear to be yes, yes, and see below.
What the New Data Tell Us
The Death Count
The historical data for New Mexico show that the daily number of deaths from COVID-19 peaked around mid-May with an average daily value of approximately 8 deaths statewide per day. Daily deaths continued to decline after that until early July when the average daily value bottomed out at approximately 3 deaths statewide per day. The daily average rose back up to around 5 by the end of July and lately has been trending back down. The overall average daily number of deaths since the first case was recorded in New Mexico is approximately 4.5. The overall trend through August 22 is basically flat, with a very slightly downward trend, as can be seen in the graph below.
Previously we talked about the number of deaths from COVID-19 in New Mexico for the purposes of comparison with the most recent two influenza seasons. Since those numbers are absolutes, it seems more useful now to talk about trends. Using the US Census total population data estimate for 2019 for New Mexico of 2,096,829, during the two-week period of peak average daily deaths, from May 3 through May 16, on any given day a random New Mexican had approximately 4.2 chances in a million of dying from COVID-19. For the most recent two-week period ending August 22, 2020 on any given day a random New Mexican had approximately 2.1 chances in a million of dying from the disease. Half the chances of the peak period. Breaking these numbers down further, by age group, consider the following chart and graph:
Clearly, older age groups have a much greater chance of dying from COVID-19 than younger age groups in New Mexico. In fact, in New Mexico, for all practical purposes, the chances of someone under the age of 25 are almost zero (since the data set is incomplete, we can’t say it is zero and we know that it isn’t). Those aged 25 to 64 years account for approximately 29 percent of deaths in New Mexico from COVID-19. Approximately 70 percent of deaths from COVID-19 are among those aged 65 and older. What this means is that on any given day during the most recent two-week period, if you are a New Mexican aged 65 or older, your chances of dying from COVID-19 were approximately 1.5 in a million. If you are aged 25 to 64, your chances were 0.6 in a million, or significantly less than one in a million. If you are under the age of 25, your chances were almost zero in a million. Not to diminish the value of every human life, but these are amazingly low odds.
There is also an abundance of evidence now strongly associating at least one or more comorbidity with dying from COVID-19 (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/evidence-table.html). What this means is that healthy young people are, for all intents and purposes, in no danger at all from COVID-19. Furthermore, healthy middle-aged adults are also in practically no danger from COVID-19. Finally, the highest risk people are those over 65 years of age who have one or more established pre-existing health conditions that have been strongly correlated with mortality from COVID-19. According to the CDC, these are: serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies; cancer; chronic kidney disease; COPD; obesity (BMI>30); sickle cell disease; solid organ transplantation, and; type 2 diabetes. So if you are healthy and over the age of 65, your chances of dying from COVID-19 on any given day during the last two weeks were less than 1.5 in a million.
New Cases and Testing
Moving on to daily new cases, we continue to see a sharp decline in new cases being detected on a daily basis. Since the peak on July 28 at 460 new cases, the average daily number of new cases for the most recent one-week period, ending August 25, 2020 is 122, with 73 being reported on August 25. This is an average rate of decline of 12 new cases per day. If this rate of decline continues, in approximately 11 days, sometime around September 5, New Mexico may no longer be recording any new cases.
From our previous analysis, we found a directly proportional relationship between daily new testing numbers and daily new case numbers. The graph below presents the data for daily new testing. As you can see, daily new testing has slightly declined from near the end of July through August 25 (with a 2-day spike in new tests near the end of the period).
The following graph shows the weekly average new cases per test (in percentages) since testing began in New Mexico.
The peaks on this graph are artifacts of the data set that resulted mostly in the beginning of the pandemic when data collection was still being organized and the initial challenges that go along with any major data collection effort is undertaken. As you can see, over time, as the data collection process became more streamlined, the line becomes more stable. The trendline, shown as a dotted line, provides a more accurate picture of reality. And the reality is, since the week of July 11 this average has either been flat or in decline. For the most recent week recorded, that average number of cases per test was 2.1 percent. What these two graphs mean when taken together is that daily new cases have been declining at a significantly higher rate than daily new testing; therefore, we cannot attribute all of the decline in new cases to reduced testing. In fact, it shows that very little of the decline in new cases can be attributed to reduced testing.
The following graph shows the daily hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in New Mexico since the first patient was admitted in April. Once the reporting procedures stabilized around the last week of June, the average daily number of new COVID-19 patients being hospitalized was approximately 17.4. This number trended up until the end of July, where it was averaging around 28.1 new admissions per day. Since then it has been trending down, with the average daily admissions for the most recent week at 8.1. If this trend continues on its current trajectory, hospitalizations may also reach zero in New Mexico within the next week to two weeks.
Our final graph of the data that includes new cases, deaths, and hospitalizations combined is shown here:
Although the lines for new hospitalizations and deaths are somewhat difficult to see, it is clear that all the trends are either flat or down.
Over the last three calendar years, fatalities from automobile-related accidents in New Mexico averaged 1.1 per day (https://gps.unm.edu/gps_assets/tru_data/Crash-Reports/Fatality-Reports/2019-fatalities.pdf). As a community, we have accepted the risks associated with driving on our roads and highways, knowing that every day, someone is going to die in a car accident. If that number were 2 people per day, or even three people per day, would we radically change the way live our lives? Would we reduce speed limits to half their current limits if that brought the number down and, if so, how much would it need to bring that number down before we would accept such a change? These are very difficult questions and everyone is sure to have a different opinion.
The current public health order is set to expire this month. The daily numbers are rapidly approaching zero. Given this information, the question before us is, how much longer do we need to keep the various restrictions in place, if at all? Given that there was no second wave or spike in cases in New Mexico to begin with, a very strong argument could be made for ending them right now; however, an extension of the restrictions still would not be justifiable beyond an additional two weeks. If, after an additional two weeks, the trends reverse, we could, of course, consider extending some of the public health orders further, but clearly, no public health orders are even now warranted by the data. What is certain is that if our leaders are truly allowing science and data to drive their decision-making, another full month of restrictions is completely unjustified.