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Study: ‘No limit to how bad things could get’ in some areas during next COVID spike

By Nicholas Gerbis
Published: Friday, November 4, 2022 - 4:32pm
Updated: Saturday, November 5, 2022 - 9:05am
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A statistical analysis of the spread of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the journal PNAS suggests the virus can cause extremely large outbreaks for which local jurisdictions remain unprepared.

“The more I read about the United States preparedness for the next pandemic, the more worried I become. We are not prepared, and there will be more pandemics,” said lead author Joel Cohen, professor of populations at the Rockefeller University in New York City.

The authors urge policymakers to develop plans to share resources.

Cohen said, just as people use car insurance and seatbelts to guard against rare calamities, jurisdictions need to prepare now to help each other when the worst happens.

“We are joy-riding into a future for which we are not prepared. No seatbelt. It worries me a lot,” he said.

To study the growth of biological systems, from corn to cancer cells, experts typically turn to Taylor’s Law, which relates the average of a population to the scatter of its individual data points.

But based on data from April 2020 through June 2021, experts found COVID-19 cases and deaths could, in rare cases, follow the Pareto principle, best known in economics as describing how a small group receives a large slice of the pie.

That’s great for money, but devastating for a disease.

“This Pareto distribution only pertains to the counties with the top 1% of numbers of cases or numbers of deaths. They get a huge fraction of the cases,” said Cohen.

In Arizona and elsewhere, the pandemic forced several cities and counties to share resources and shuttle patients back and forth. Even so, rural counties were often overwhelmed.

Coronavirus Science