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Updated COVID-19 model predicts when your state could reopen

April 28, 2020
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New projections by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) show some states could safely reopen as early as May 4. (AdobeStock)
This story was updated on April 28, 2020, at 8pm. 

When will your state reopen from its COVID-19 shutdown?

Some states could reopen safely on May 4. Others might wait until late June.

Projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), updated on April 27, indicate that it may be safe to start the reopening process as early as May 11-13 for some states, but as late as July for others.

That’s far too long to wait for some Southern states. On Monday, April 20, the governor of South Carolina issued an executive order allowing retail shops across the state to open that afternoon. In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp announced the reopening of gyms, salons, and tattoo parlors on Friday, with restaurants and movie theaters to open the following Monday, April 27.

According to the IHME projections, though, those two states are among the least prepared to reopen. There’s no indication that either state has the testing capability or contact tracing infrastructure to sustain a “containment” phase of the pandemic. The IHME projections, revised on April 27, suggest that South Carolina wait until June 14, while advising Georgia to wait until June 28.

Meanwhile, Louisiana announced on April 27 that the state’s stay-at-home order would be extended to May 15. It had been expected to expire on April 30. Utah announced an easing of restrictions beginning on Friday, May 1, and South Dakota issued a “Back to Normal” plan—even though its governor had never actually issued a stay-at-home order.

Curve is flattening, not falling quickly

The IHME model increased total expected US mortality in the COVID-19 pandemic’s first wave to 74,073 on April 27—an increase of nearly 7,000 from the previous week’s estimate. According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, 56,259 COVID-19 deaths have already been recorded in the United States—more Americans than were killed in the Vietnam War.

“At least part of this increase is due to many states experiencing flatter and thus longer epidemic peaks,” Institute officials wrote. “Further, updated data indicate that daily COVID-19 deaths are not falling very quickly after the peak, leading to longer tails for many states’ epidemic curves. In combination—less abrupt peaks and slower declines in daily COVID-19 deaths following the peak—many places in the US could have higher cumulative deaths from the novel coronavirus.”

An influential forecast

The latest projections are an outgrowth of IHME’s continued work to forecast the scope of the coronavirus epidemic in every state and in several other countries. They come as the group’s work, which has been influential from the White House to statehouses, is attracting criticism from some disease experts.

It’s helpful to keep in mind that the IHME projections are just that—projections. They’re based on the best available data at a certain point in time. The model evolves as scientists learn more each day about the virus, its infection and mortality rates, and how the actions of institutions and individuals affect outcomes.

The projections themselves may influence leaders to make policy decisions, and individuals to make choices, that alter the actual outcome.

“All models are just models,” Dr. Anthony Fauci has said. “When you get new data, you change them.”

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Data shifts and changes

“We are now entering the phase of the epidemic when government officials are considering when certain types of distancing policies may be eased,” IHME officials said in a news release on Friday, April 17. “With today’s release, we provide initial estimates that can serve as an input to such considerations in the US.”

In a media briefing, IHME director Dr. Chris Murray cautioned that the potential “opening dates” represent a first take and are likely to change as more information comes in from individual states. Among the key variables are whether deaths are likely to drop sharply once they peak, or whether—as seems to be occurring in New York—they will plateau and decrease slowly.

Another main factor will be how soon states can quickly diagnose and isolate newly infected people and everyone they have come in contact with. States that bolster their health departments and expand testing capacity might be able to start opening up sooner, Murray said.

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‘Opening’ isn’t a return to normalcy

The dates represent the modelers’ best estimate of when the daily new infection rate in each state will drop below one per 1 million people.

The reopening estimates assume that when social distancing policies will be eased, they happen in conjunction with public health containment strategies—including widespread testing, contact tracing, and isolation of new cases. They also assume that mass gatherings like concerts and professional sports will not be allowed through at least early summer.

Safe reopening dates, by state, as of April 27

StateSafe opening date
(with containment)
Apex of
COVID-19 cases
(April 27 projection)
Total deaths
by June 1
(April 27 projection)
Notes
AlabamaMay 22April 27327
AlaskaN/AApril 2818No deaths since April 14. State eased restrictions on April 24.
ArizonaJuly 6May 1793Death projection +300 over last week.
ArkansasJune 28May 7173Death projection +40 over last week.
CaliforniaMay 20April 192,017Death projection +300 over last week.
ColoradoJune 1April 191,049Death projection +400 over last week.
ConnecticutJune 17April 203,340Death projection +350 over last week.
DelawareMay 20April 22162Death projection+30 since last week.
District of ColumbiaMay 27April 22255Death projection +40 since last week.
FloridaJune 21April 191,914Death projection +400 since last week.
GeorgiaJune 28April 212,480Death projection +500 since last week. Georgia relaxed rules on April 24.
HawaiiMay 11April 2724Death projection -2 since last week.
IdahoMay 19April 1067Death projection +6 since last week.
IllinoisMay 21April 212,316Death projection +200 since last week.
IndianaMay 22April 221,025Death projection +100 since last week.
IowaJuly 1May 4349Death projection -100 since last week.
KansasJune 29May 3366Death projection +90 since last week.
KentuckyJune 22April 29597Death projection +130 since last week.
LouisianaMay 26April 132,066Death projection +350 since last week.
MaineMay 19April 2368Death projection +15 since last week.
MarylandMay 27April 191,209Opening date moved forward 1 week, death projection +100 since last week.
MassachusettsJune 21April 223,898Death projection +1,600 since last week, opening date delayed 3 weeks.
MichiganMay 21April 183,785Death projection +400 since last week.
MinnesotaJune 8April 30728Death projection doubled since last week.
MississippiMay 31April 29380Stable; death projection -20 since last week.
MissouriJune 19April 22638Death projection nearly doubled since last week.
MontanaMay 18April 2927Death projection doubled in past week.
NebraskaJuly 7May 13381
NevadaMay 23April 7259Stable since last week.
New HampshireMay 17April 2172Stable since last week.
New JerseyMay 28April 147,051Stable since last week.
New MexicoJune 5April 29210Death projection doubled in past week.
New YorkMay 28April 824,088Huge losses, but projections stable in the past week.
North CarolinaMay 13April 17375
North DakotaJuly 20May 15259Latest reopening date in the nation.
OhioMay 15April 19835
OklahomaN/AApril 20N/AEarly easing in OK prevents model from projecting total mortality.
OregonMay 30April 12125Stable since last week.
PennsylvaniaMay 28April 162,318Stable since last week.
Rhode IslandJune 22April 29594
South CarolinaJune 14April 29351Death projection +100 since last week.
South DakotaJuly 5May 1345Death projection fell by half since last week.
TennesseeMay 24April 4247Projections stable since last week.
TexasJune 15April 291,447Death projection +300 since last week.
UtahJuly 6May 12422Death projection doubled since last week.
VermontMay 18April 1354
VirginiaMay 27April 20634Death projection fell by nearly 100 in the past week.
WashingtonMay 31April 5860Death projection slowly creeping up. Curve flattened, falling slowly.
West VirginiaMay 10April 1838One of the lowest mortality rates in the nation.
WisconsinMay 22April 11331
WyomingJune 1May 464
The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Bruce Barcott's Bio Image

Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

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