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UC researcher projects surge of COVID-19 cases in urban Ohio over next month

A University of Cincinnati geography study confirms social distancing cuts infections worldwide

Coronavirus infections are expected to surge in urban parts of Ohio in the next month, according to projections by the University of Cincinnati's Health Geography and Disease Modeling Laboratory.

UC researchers released new projections through May 10 that show counties including and adjacent to large airports will see a surge in COVID-19 infections.

Diego Cuadros, assistant professor of geography in UC’s College of Arts and Sciences, released a new map of infection risk for Ohio’s 88 counties that shows the wide disparity between urban and rural areas. People living in many rural counties, particularly in southern Ohio, face as much as four times less risk of infection as those in larger cities and their suburbs.

“It’s not a single national epidemic. We’re seeing outbreaks,” Cuadros said.

Even so, the UC projections suggest that about half of Ohio’s 88 counties will see 200 or more infections by May 10. And a dozen counties in Ohio will see more than 1,000 cases each by May 10, according to UC projections.

“Usually when you do modeling you want to be very conservative,” Cuadros said.

Furthermore, social distancing measures enacted around the world have, indeed, significantly reduce the rate of growth of coronavirus, according to the UC analysis.

The analysis found that testing, closures, stay-at-home orders and other social-distancing measures cut the expected growth rate of the epidemic in places like Italy, Iceland and South Korea, Cuadros said.

“It shows that intervention is working. Social distancing is working,” he said.

“This virus is spreading so fast that just a few days make a big difference in numbers,” Cuadros said. “That’s why it’s been so difficult to contain the virus. It spreads superfast.”

It shows that intervention is working. Social distancing is working.

Diego Cuadros, UC Health Geography and Disease Modeling Lab

Three maps of Ohio show current rates of infection for COVID-19 and projected infections by April 20 and May 10. Urban counties and counties bordering them will see higher rates of infection than rural areas, according to projections.

UC researchers are projecting a surge in COVID-19 cases in urban parts of Ohio over the next month. Graphic/UC Health Geography and Disease Modeling Lab

Cuadros examined the expected rate of infection compared to the actual rate of infection with intervention measures. Countries have responded to the crisis in varying ways and with varying degrees of success to “flatten the curve” with measures designed to reduce the rate of infection.

South Korea announced its first case of coronavirus on Jan. 20, the same day a 35-year-old Washington State man was diagnosed in the United States after returning from an overseas visit to family. That patient presented mild symptoms, coughing and fever, before developing pneumonia but ultimately recovering, according to The New England Journal of Medicine.

Around the world, the rate of growth has differed wildly. UC’s analysis found that intervention methods curbed the growth rate by 17% in Belgium, 19% in France, 26% in Iceland, 48% in Italy, 56% in Malaysia and 71% in South Korea.

Cuadros and his research partners have also been working 12-hour days compiling new data and running projections for Ohio through the same predictive models they used to examine the state’s fatal opioid epidemic.

“We don’t have months. Small changes can produce big impacts. So that’s why we need to share this information quickly,” he said.

A map of Ohio shows the risk of infection is higher in counties that have metropolitan airports or have major highways.

A map of Ohio shows the risk of infection of COVID-19 for Ohio's 88 counties. Graphic/UC Health Geography and Disease Modeling Lab

Cuadros is working with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the UC Department of Mathematics and the UC College of Pharmacy.

“As part of this study, Dr. Cuadros has taken the methodology we used to map the spread of the opioid crisis in Ohio and applied it to COVID-19,” UC College of Pharmacy Dean Neil MacKinnon said.

“We also are linking the spread of the outbreak to the availability of health care resources such as hospital and ICU beds,” MacKinnon said. “We believe this research will provide practical and timely information for Dr. Amy Acton and her team at the Ohio Department of Health.”

Flattening the Curve

UC's Health Geography and Disease Modeling Lab examined the anticipated growth rates of coronavirus compared to the actual rates after intervention measures. Some countries were able to reduce the rate of infection far more than other countries:

Country                    Reduction in Growth Rate

  • Austria                -45% (Locked down March 16)
  • Belgium               -17% (Locked down March 18)
  • Estonia                -77% (Locked down March 27)
  • Finland                -24% (Locked down March 25)
  • France                 -19% (Locked down March 17)
  • Iceland                -50% (Banned public events March 24)
  • Italy                      -48% (Locked down March 11)
  • Japan                    -22% (Banned public events Feb. 26)
  • Malaysia                -56% (Locked down March 16)
  • South Africa           -85% (Locked down March 26)
  • South Korea           -71% (Banned public events Feb. 27)
  • United Kingdom    -43% (Locked down March 24)

Source: UC Health Geography and Disease Modeling Lab

Diego Cuadros sits at a bench at a park.

UC assistant professor Diego Cuadros runs UC's Health Geography and Disease Modeling Lab. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative + Brand

Ohio and other states are seeing mounting pressure to rebuild the economy in the wake of the pandemic. But Cuadros said the statistics show that the intervention measures are working to mitigate the crisis.

“People are very concerned about the economy. It’s important to demonstrate what strategies work, particularly for other countries that are still early in the pandemic,” Cuadros said.

Cuadros said he was grateful for the help of his research partners at UC.

“At UC, it’s very easy to work with researchers outside your department. Interdisciplinary research is big here. So it just takes a few phone calls and everyone is willing to work together,” he said. “It’s why we can do this kind of work. It gives us a huge advantage in conducting research.”

Featured image at top: Campus cafes and classrooms alike are empty this month as UC responds to the COVID-19 crisis. Photo/Matt Green/MasseyGreenAVP for UC

A sign outside the World restaurant in England reads: The World is temporarily closed.

UC researchers found that social-distancing measures enacted around the world have cut the growth rate of COVID-19 infections by as much as 71%. Photo/Edwin Hooper/Unsplash

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