There was another blockbuster positive development in the trajectory of COVID-19 on Tuesday. Like other good news stories over the past two weeks, this one sadly received little attention:
Italy is increasingly confident that it has flattened its curve. As The Wall Street Journal reported, the Italian government has started studying how and when to relax its national lockdown, with its current analysis suggesting that a very gradual and carefully controlled relaxing of measures could begin after Easter for certain economic sectors and continue through May for others.
The data support the Italian government’s instincts.
As you can see from the following chart, the trendline in the daily increase in cases is actually downward.
Italy flattened its curve between March 21 and 26. Since then, the curve has been bending downward, indicating the trajectory of the virus is decelerating. This should be confirmed in the data over the next few days.
Italy and California Have Adopted Similar Responses
There are critical parallels between the progression of COVID-19 in Italy and California. In both locations, the virus first appeared in late January.
For the next several weeks, both Italy and California adopted escalating and decentralized public health measures. Italy then shifted to a nationwide stay-at-home order on March 9. California followed suit with a statewide stay-at-home order on March 19.
There are, therefore, good reasons to believe that California’s trajectory will mirror Italy’s, trailing roughly by 10 days.
What Should Happen in California If It Continues to Follow Italy?
First, the daily acceleration in the virus should have peaked roughly on March 29 in California. Given the variability in reporting confirmed cases in California, we should assume a range of March 27 to April 1. This should become clear in the data by Wednesday evening.
Second, the curve in California should flatten between March 31 and April 5. Our daily confirmed cases should peak during this window, as well. Again, given the variability in reporting confirmed cases in California, we should assume a range of March 29 to April 7.
Lastly, the statewide stay-at-home order has the potential not just to flatten the curve, but to bend it. We could see daily confirmed cases and hospitalizations actually decrease. We should look for this signal to become visible in the data between April 6 and 11.
California will not necessarily achieve the same outcomes as Italy. We cannot assess comparative compliance with public health measures in both locations. We also do not know whether California’s younger population and lower smoking rates will reduce hospitalizations and fatalities.
But at the macro-level, it seems quite likely that we will follow a very similar trajectory (as I previously modeled in my March 27 column) given that our public policy choices to contain the pandemic have closely mirrored those made in Italy.
This means that we should begin to see encouraging signals in our data this week (as I previously predicted in my March 25 column). If we do, we need to follow Italy once again and begin the process of planning our transition to a new normal, as I have repeatedly encouraged our state to do.
— Brian Goebel served as a senior official in the Treasury and Homeland Security departments following 9/11. Since 2005, he has founded successful consulting and analytics firms serving governments around the globe; launched 2040 Matters, a nonpartisan public policy blog dedicated to restoring the American Dream for younger Americans; and was elected to the Montecito Water District Board of Directors in 2018. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.