A screen shot of "Mapping Covid-19 in Your Community." The counties in color are those being tracked by the project; the shades reflect cases per 100,000 population. (Source: PolicyLab, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia)
A screen shot of "Mapping Covid-19 in Your Community." The counties in color are those being tracked by the project; the shades reflect cases per 100,000 population. (Source: PolicyLab, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia)

Covid-19 projections by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's PolicyLab indicate that Lancaster County can safely reopen its economy, provided it does so cautiously and incrementally,  the lab's director told OneUnitedLancaster.

"I would not be running into a crowded bar right now," Dr. David Rubin said. Nevertheless, he said, "I think there's a path to reopening in places like Lancaster."

The PolicyLab has been tracking data county-by-county at "Mapping COVID-19 in Your Community." It projects new cases using a model that incorporates demographics, weather and social distancing.

This week, PolicyLab added 120 counties to the website, including Lancaster, for a total of 389.

The projections show Covid-19 cases continuing to decline in Lancaster County, assuming residents maintain current levels of social distancing. The metric used to measure social distancing is the percent change in visits to non-essential sites, as tracked by Unacast using anonymized cell phone data.

These graphs show projections for new Covid-19 cases in Lancaster County (left) and projections (right) for "R0," the average number of additional new cases each case generates through contagion. (Source: "Mapping Covid-19 in Your Community," PolicyLab, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia)
These graphs show projections for new Covid-19 cases in Lancaster County (left) and projections (right) for "R0," the average number of additional new cases each case generates through contagion. (Source: "Mapping Covid-19 in Your Community," PolicyLab, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia)

Additionally, PolicyLab has run projections that reflect a modest relaxation of social distancing. They indicate that even if people start going out more, the virus can be kept under control, as long as they continue to take the precautions public health officials are advising, Rubin said.

"We can continue to 'crush the curve' with individual distancing, masking and hygiene as we reopen," he said.

Rubin said the data shows population density plays a large role in Covid-19 transmission, with less dense areas being less at risk. Warmer weather appears to slow transmission somewhat.

Nursing homes present a high risk, even in more rural areas. Regular, comprehensive testing of staff and residents would be a "huge benefit," Rubin said.

The reopening question has sharply divided Lancaster County's public officials along partisan lines. Republican U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker began saying in April that the county could begin reopening. He and other county Republican officeholders gave businesses the green light to reopen last Friday if they wished to and were prepared to follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

The Unacast scorecard for Lancaster County as of May 17, 2020. Despite the county's low grade, it has the possibility of reopening safely if residents are prudent, according to a researcher at the PolicyLab, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
The Unacast scorecard for Lancaster County as of May 17, 2020. Despite the county's low grade, it has the possibility of reopening safely if residents are prudent, according to a researcher at the PolicyLab, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

County Commissioner Craig Lehman and Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace, both Democrats, have called for respecting Gov. Tom Wolf's stay-at-home order, which courts have upheld, and waiting until the county's testing and contact tracing program is up and running.

Once it is, Lehman said he would support a petition to move the county to the state's "yellow" phase.

Rubin said people should think of reopening as an incremental process, and one that can be dialed back as necessary.

"It's not an on-off switch," he said. "It's a dimmer switch."

Tim Stuhldreher

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