North Carolina COVID-19 Modeling Shows Social Distancing Necessary to Slow the Spread and Preserve Hospital Capacity to Save Lives

Last Updated on April 6, 2020 2:11 pm

RALEIGH: A collection of North Carolina experts today released a composite modeling forecast looking at how COVID-19 could affect North Carolina in the coming months. The models, constructed by experts from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, RTI International, and others reinforced the need for limiting personal contact to slow the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that health care is there for people who need it. 

“We have life-changing decisions before us and North Carolina is fortunate to have world-class experts who can help our state as we continue battling the coronavirus,” said Governor Roy Cooper. “Modeling is one tool that helps us prepare for this fight and it shows we will save lives if we stay home and keep our social distance right now.”

 “The modeling affirms that the actions we take now will determine how this virus will impact North Carolina in the weeks and months to come,” said NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen, MD. “We need to continue to do everything in our power so that fewer people get sick at the same time, while also surging the capacity of our health care system so those that do need hospital care will have it. Please stay home now to save lives.”

Read the modeling team's full brief.

Today’s composite model found that social distancing policies with effectiveness similar to those currently in place in North Carolina will help lower the likelihood of the healthcare system becoming overloaded with a spike of many COVID-19 patients all at the same time. However, ending all social distancing at the end of April leads to a “greater than 50 percent probability that acute care and ICU bed capacity will be outstripped… as soon as Memorial Day.”

According to the model, hospital surge to create more available bed space could provide some help, but not enough to help hospitals meet demand if all social distancing efforts were ended.  

If all social distancing were to stop at the end of April, the model estimates that roughly 750,000 North Carolinians could be infected by June 1. On the other hand, if some form of effective social distancing remains in place after April, that number is lowered by half a million to an estimated 250,000 people. That’s because social distancing lowers the number of people that one person will infect.

The group of experts are continuing to run models using information from other states and countries and intends to release further data as it becomes available. 

North Carolina health experts involved with this modeling forecast are listed below: 

  • Bradley Adams, MS. Managing Actuary, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC
  • Rachael Billock, MSPH, PhD Candidate. Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Alex Breskin, PhD. Senior Epidemiologist, NoviSci, Inc.
  • Alan Brookhart, PhD. Chief Scientist, NoviSci, Inc., Professor, Duke School of Medicine
  • Hilary Campbell, PharmD, JD. Research Associate, Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy
  • Scott Heiser, MPH. Senior Manager, Health Care and Medical Expense Strategy, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC
  • Mark Holmes, PhD. Professor, Health Policy & Mgmt., Director, Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Service Research
  • Sara Levintow, PhD, MSPH. Epidemiologist, NoviSci, Inc., Department of Epidemiology, Gillings School of Global Public Health, UNC
  • Pia D. M. MacDonald, PhD, MPH, CPH. Senior Epidemiologist, RTI International
  • Aaron McKethan, PhD. CEO, NoviSci, Inc., Adjunct Professor, Duke School of Medicine, Senior Policy Fellow, Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy
  • Kimberly Powers, PhD. Associate Professor, Epidemiology, Gillings Global School of Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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