State Likely to See an Increase in COVID Deaths ‘Soon,’ Expert Says

Photo from the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Rocky Mountain Lab

With cases and hospitalizations on the rise, Maryland can expect to see a gradual increase in COVID-19 deaths in the next several days, according to an expert in infectious disease.

“I would say within the next week you should see a rise in deaths,” said Dr. Cyrus Shahpar, director of the Prevent Epidemics Team at the Resolve to Save Lives, a global health initiative. “Just because that’s the natural order of things.”

Maryland has beefed up its testing for the novel coronavirus sharply in recent weeks, which partially explains the recent increase in cases.

But hospitalizations are also up. As of Wednesday morning there were 571 beds occupied by COVID-19 patients in the state. That’s well off the peak – 1,707 on May 6 – but up sharply from the low, 385 beds on July 10.

“There will be more deaths,” he said. “There’s no situation where there’s more cases and less deaths.”

Dr. Cyrus Shahpar

The Director of the Epidemic Intelligence Unit and Chief Science Officer at Vital Strategies, Shahpar — who did his residency in emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital — reviewed Maryland’s numbers at the request of Maryland Matters.

“I would characterize Maryland as having a rising case incidence since the first week of July, a rise in hospitalizations since the second week of July, and we know deaths tend to come three to four weeks after exposure,” he said.

“So Maryland is due for a rise in deaths. … The rise will be kind of muted but there will be a rise in the next week or two.”

According to Johns Hopkins University researchers, Maryland’s daily positivity rate is now 5.8%, just above the recommended rate of 5%. Thirty-three states are above 5%, though Maryland is faring far better than the outliers like Florida (19%), Arizona (21%) and Mississippi (23%), where the crisis is acute.

The state Department of Health’s website shows that Maryland’s positivity rate has been steadily just below 5% for more than a month, with a current rate of 4.77%. A spokesman for Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said the administration is “working with Hopkins on the discrepancy.”

According to covidactnow.org, Maryland’s infection rate is 1.19, which roughly means that every five COVID-positive people are infecting six others. In addition, there are now 14.6 cases for every 100,000 residents, up from 6.1 on July 1.

“Active cases are rapidly increasing,” the site warns.

Hogan has said young people are driving the increase, and he has urged people of all ages to heed the advice of public health professionals — wearing masks, limiting indoor activity with other people, washing hands frequently and staying home if you feel ill.

The governor has resisted calls to close bars, which are operating under limited capacity and social distancing restrictions.

Governors and mayors around the country are attempting to strike a balance between slowing the spread of the virus and keeping the economy open.

Shahpar said the trend is toward more targeted, “data-driven” government action.

“They’ve got to be smarter,” he said. “You’ve got to move from blanket measures which effect everybody, like ‘stay at home,’ to targeted measures, tackling the riskiest areas, the things that are responsible for transmission [and] the demographic groups that might be effected the most, and using what we call precision response.”

Shahpar said bars are inherently problematic, because people will inevitably consume alcohol, take their masks off, and talk loud to be heard over the music and noise.

“I used to live in Baltimore,” he said. “If I went to Canton Square or Federal Hill, the places where people congregate, I don’t think I would go there at midnight and see a bunch of people wearing masks six feet apart.”

“If you’re finding that bars are a significant contributor to transmission in a given area, and you’re finding that that’s happening even though you’re trying to let counties message that you need to do it a certain way, you need to go to a stricter policy,” Shahpar said.

Hogan on Wednesday announced new public health measures including requirements, beginning 5 p.m. Friday, that Marylanders wear masks indoors.

[email protected]

Maryland Matters has a page dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 in Maryland, including daily updates on cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the state.  And check out our COVID-19 resource page for information on how to get or give help during the pandemic.

 

Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.