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?
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.
Curve is flattening, not falling quickly
The IHME model increased total 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.
“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.”
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.
‘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
|State||Safe opening date
(April 27 projection)
by June 1
(April 27 projection)
|Alabama||May 22||April 27||327|
|Alaska||N/A||April 28||18||No deaths since April 14. State eased restrictions on April 24.|
|Arizona||July 6||May 1||793||Death projection +300 over last week.|
|Arkansas||June 28||May 7||173||Death projection +40 over last week.|
|California||May 20||April 19||2,017||Death projection +300 over last week.|
|Colorado||June 1||April 19||1,049||Death projection +400 over last week.|
|Connecticut||June 17||April 20||3,340||Death projection +350 over last week.|
|Delaware||May 20||April 22||162||Death projection+30 since last week.|
|District of Columbia||May 27||April 22||255||Death projection +40 since last week.|
|Florida||June 21||April 19||1,914||Death projection +400 since last week.|
|Georgia||June 28||April 21||2,480||Death projection +500 since last week. Georgia relaxed rules on April 24.|
|Hawaii||May 11||April 27||24||Death projection -2 since last week.|
|Idaho||May 19||April 10||67||Death projection +6 since last week.|
|Illinois||May 21||April 21||2,316||Death projection +200 since last week.|
|Indiana||May 22||April 22||1,025||Death projection +100 since last week.|
|Iowa||July 1||May 4||349||Death projection -100 since last week.|
|Kansas||June 29||May 3||366||Death projection +90 since last week.|
|Kentucky||June 22||April 29||597||Death projection +130 since last week.|
|Louisiana||May 26||April 13||2,066||Death projection +350 since last week.|
|Maine||May 19||April 23||68||Death projection +15 since last week.|
|Maryland||May 27||April 19||1,209||Opening date moved forward 1 week, death projection +100 since last week.|
|Massachusetts||June 21||April 22||3,898||Death projection +1,600 since last week, opening date delayed 3 weeks.|
|Michigan||May 21||April 18||3,785||Death projection +400 since last week.|
|Minnesota||June 8||April 30||728||Death projection doubled since last week.|
|Mississippi||May 31||April 29||380||Stable; death projection -20 since last week.|
|Missouri||June 19||April 22||638||Death projection nearly doubled since last week.|
|Montana||May 18||April 29||27||Death projection doubled in past week.|
|Nebraska||July 7||May 13||381|
|Nevada||May 23||April 7||259||Stable since last week.|
|New Hampshire||May 17||April 21||72||Stable since last week.|
|New Jersey||May 28||April 14||7,051||Stable since last week.|
|New Mexico||June 5||April 29||210||Death projection doubled in past week.|
|New York||May 28||April 8||24,088||Huge losses, but projections stable in the past week.|
|North Carolina||May 13||April 17||375|
|North Dakota||July 20||May 15||259||Latest reopening date in the nation.|
|Ohio||May 15||April 19||835|
|Oklahoma||N/A||April 20||N/A||Early easing in OK prevents model from projecting total mortality.|
|Oregon||May 30||April 12||125||Stable since last week.|
|Pennsylvania||May 28||April 16||2,318||Stable since last week.|
|Rhode Island||June 22||April 29||594|
|South Carolina||June 14||April 29||351||Death projection +100 since last week.|
|South Dakota||July 5||May 13||45||Death projection fell by half since last week.|
|Tennessee||May 24||April 4||247||Projections stable since last week.|
|Texas||June 15||April 29||1,447||Death projection +300 since last week.|
|Utah||July 6||May 12||422||Death projection doubled since last week.|
|Vermont||May 18||April 13||54|
|Virginia||May 27||April 20||634||Death projection fell by nearly 100 in the past week.|
|Washington||May 31||April 5||860||Death projection slowly creeping up. Curve flattened, falling slowly.|
|West Virginia||May 10||April 18||38||One of the lowest mortality rates in the nation.|
|Wisconsin||May 22||April 11||331|
|Wyoming||June 1||May 4||64|