Intermittent closures might be necessary to curb ICU admissions

NEWS RELEASE; Michael Miller, Public Information Officer

CINCINNATI, OH (May 2, 2020) – Ohio will be able to meet its demand for critical care from COVID-19 with minimal relaxation of its social-distancing policies, according to a new public health policy brief released this week by the University of Cincinnati.

But significant relaxation of social distancing policies could require the state to enact a new round of temporary closures after just six weeks, according to UC’s Geospatial Health Advising Group.

“There could be more resistance to going back to stricter social distancing approaches. That’s why it’s important to start telling people now what could happen,” said Diego Cuadros, assistant professor of geography in UC’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Critical care across much of rural Ohio will reach capacity far sooner if social-distancing is relaxed significantly, according to UC’s analysis (PDF attached). The researchers recommend increasing the capacity of critical care in these counties to address the crisis.

“This provides evidence confirmation that the decisions the state is making are the right ones with a phased reopening,” said Neil MacKinnon, co-author and dean of UC’s College of Pharmacy.

UC’s College of Pharmacy and its departments of math and geography conducted its analysis using data collected from March 1 -23 before Ohio implemented its stay-at-home order. During that period the virus was on pace to cause 13,000 hospitalizations, killing 1,080 people in Ohio by April 15 until the state enacted measures such as mandatory closures and other social-distancing practices.

Projection of COVID-19 cumulative deaths under different restirction relaxation scenarios (Provided)

UC’s analysis found that social distancing saved 687 lives and cut hospitalizations by more than 10,500 cases through April 15.

Now UC researchers project Ohio will see an estimated 4,816 new hospitalizations and 1,073 deaths by June 1 under current social-distancing policies.

UC researchers determined that social distancing has cut the growth rate of coronavirus infections in Ohio by about 35 percent. Relaxing these measures moderately (defined as policy changes that reduce this mitigation impact by 50%) will lead to an estimated 7,682 hospitalizations and 1,367 deaths. Relaxing the social-distancing policies significantly (defined as policy changes that reduce the mitigation impact by 70%) will lead to an estimated 10,846 hospitalizations and 1,629 deaths by June 1, researchers say.

Likewise, moderate reopening in Ohio will mean 67 of Ohio’s 88 counties will reach full ICU bed capacity by June 30. Significant reopening will lead to ICU bed capacity by June 13 and more than 7,000 ICU beds statewide would be needed by June 30.

If Ohio’s current interventions stay in place through June 30, 55 of the state’s 88 counties will have fewer than 10 deaths from COVID-19. Under moderate reopening, just 25 counties will have fewer than 10 deaths while 27 counties will have more than 50 deaths by June 30. With significant relaxation of social distancing, 84 of Ohio’s 88 counties will have more than 10 deaths by June 30. Likewise, 50 counties will have more than 50 deaths and 20 counties will have more than 200 deaths.

Like Ohio’s population, the state’s critical care services are distributed in varying densities. Rural counties will reach critical care capacity sooner than more populated counties. UC recommends addressing ICU capacity in some of these counties to provide an effective intermittent social-distancing approach across Ohio.

Click here to read the entire policy brief from U.C.