Coronavirus In Ohio: Disease Modeling Expert Says 'Epidemic Is Not Under Control'

Jun 26, 2020

For two consecutive days in a row, Ohio saw the largest spikes in confirmed coronavirus cases since April, with 892 newly reported cases Thursday and 987 cases Friday.

The numbers, which DeWine called "chilling," come one month into the re-opening of most of Ohio's economy.

Dr. Eben Kenah, associate professor of biostatistics at The Ohio State University, worked on the hospitalization models that the state used in the early stages of the pandemic. However, he said that effort slowed down at the end of April.

"The decisions about opening have not been particularly model-driven," he says. "They've certainly not been driven by any models that I've been involved with."

Kenah says other modeling efforts around the state focused more around reopening the state's economy. Infectious diseases experts did predict that cases would rise again after the stay-at-home order ended.

“The most surprising thing about is actually how long it took to occur," Kenah says. "When we reopened in May, we were actually at the highest level of cases that we had seen."

But instead of going up, the numbers declined for a few weeks, which surprised Kenah.

“Seeing this spike, it’s sad, but it’s also sort of a vindication of what our original expectations were,” he says.

That means Ohioans may have to go back to flattening the curve. Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday that more restrictions may be needed in areas where flare-ups occur.

“But if we have better testing and better contact tracing, we may be able to do that with far fewer economic restrictions,” Kenah says.

The R-factor (or R0) is a shorthand for how many people that someone with the coronavirus infects on average. At its peak in Ohio, the R-factor stood at 2.4. The state wrestled it below 1, but after social distancing measures were relaxed, it increased again to 1.5, doubling over the last 10 days.

“It tells you that the epidemic is not under control,” Kenah says. “It’s as simple as that.”

He adds the rate of infection is one of the most important things predicting society’s handling of the pandemic.

“If each infectious person is producing two other infectious people, we’re going to get a large increase in the number of cases," he says. "With the same certainty that a stone falls to the ground if you drop it. It’s just a mathematical certainty.”