In hindsight, knowing just what we knew then, we could have predicted by the end of January that the COVID-19 epidemic was going to plow into this election year like a drunk driving a truck into a storefront.
By then we knew the virus was spreading fast; by Jan. 21 it had hit the West Coast. It should have been obvious that this was going to have a huge impact on politics in the months ahead. But nationally, politicos were preoccupied with the Senate impeachment vote, which was taken Feb. 5. In Georgia, the focus was on the Senate race, which crystallized when U.S. Rep. Doug Collins entered the race against U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler on Jan. 29.
It can be hard (ask a drummer) to merge different timelines into one cohesive sequence, especially when, as was the case in that stage of the pandemic, the specific markers are still sketchy.
Since the end of qualifying on March 6, however, all the political races have been set, and thanks to the daily projects by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, we have a grim timeline to superimpose on the political calendar: covid19.healthdata.org/projections.
So, for example, we can see from the timelines for Georgia that the total number of COVID-19 deaths in the state was 32 on March 24, the date when the presidential primary was originally set. On May 19, when the presidential primary will be held concurrent with the primaries for state offices, the total number of COVID-19 deaths is projected by the IHME to be 2,707. Voters are likely to be in a much different mood than they would have been last week.
The IHME projections uses data from a variety of sources, as well as information on the preventive measures being taken, to create timelines for each state tracking deaths, deaths by day and availability of hospital beds, intensive care beds and ventilators. These timelines change regularly as new information streams in, but so far they appear to be tracking trends as accurately as you could expect.
The good news is that the Monday morning projections for Georgia have improved from those published over the weekend. The predicted peak number of deaths by day — which is projected to come on April 24 — has dropped from more than 90 to 84. The total number of COVID-19 deaths for the entire year has dropped from more than 3,200 to 2,777.
The bad news is that Monday’s projection didn’t include the nine deaths reported by Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany. As the Georgia Recorder reported Monday, much of rural Georgia is still a blind spot, which could affect the accuracy of the projections.
The timelines for hospital resources in Georgia don’t look nearly as dire as those for New York, which already has a critical shortage of ventilators, hospital beds and ICU beds. But we are projected to run short of ventilators and ICU beds this week, and for a critical period between April 17 and April 27, Georgia is expected to be short of hospital beds. These projections don’t take into account where in Georgia those beds and ventilators are. There could be severe shortages in some parts of the state, while elsewhere the resources could be adequate.
Despite its being considered to be a bigger problem, Florida is not projected to run out of hospital beds, although it will run out of ICU beds and ventilators by mid-April.
These are not pessimistic projections, by the way. The total number of COVID-19 deaths through Aug. 4 is projected to be 82,141, less than what President Trump said over the weekend would show that “we will together have done a very good job.” That’s assuming, however, that Americans can maintain the discipline that is showing the first hopeful signs of bringing down the death curve.
By the time Democrats begin their convention on July 13, the IMHE projects only one death per day for the entire nation, and none when the Republicans meet on Aug. 24. Whether the curve begins to rise again in the fall, as many experts fear it will, is the biggest question looming over the elections in November.
Tom Baxter is a veteran Georgia journalist who writes for The Saporta Report.