Models show 'extended plateau,' flattened curve in Erie County COVID-19 hospitalizations

“Basically we're flat"
Posted at 11:49 AM, Apr 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-30 18:20:22-04

“Basically we're flat. We're not following this exponential curves — those scary curves,” declared Dr. Peter Winklestein, clinical professor of pediatrics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and a physician with UBMD Pediatrics.

Social distancing is working according to new models released by the University at Buffalo Thursday.
The models indicate the positive impact social distancing is having on our community. But experts say we must remain vigilant to stop the spread of COVID-19.

One day after declaring Erie County was going in the wrong direction, with rising hospitalization numbers, County Executive Mark Poloncarz Tweeted Thursday morning that there is a "slight decrease in overall patients" based on April 28 date for hospitals in Erie County.

"April 28 data for Erie County hospitals shows a slight decrease in overall patients (253) compared to April 27 (258), a decrease of 8 patients in ICU (108) and increase in ICU airway assists by 7 patients from day before. Discharges exceeded Admissions by 1 patient," Tweeted Poloncarz.

Data presented Thursday by Peter Winklestein, UB healthcare informatics expert and Dr. Gale Burstein, commissioner, Erie County Health Department, describes hospitalizations in Erie County as having reached "an extended plateau."

“We basically dodge bullets here. we did not follow any of these exponential rises and we did not overwhelm, so far, did not overwhelm our health care system,” explained Winklestein. “And you can see they are not following these scary exponential rise curves, but are rather remaining relatively flat.”

Still, as of this past Tuesday there are 253 patients hospitalized with COVID in the county, a slight drop from the record high of 258 the day before. But the severity of the illness remains a big concern.

“The number of patients in the ICU is almost exactly half of the total number of patients and that’s one of the things we’ve been seeing for quite awhile,” remarked Winklestein. “Unfortunately many of the patients who are ill are quite ill and about half of the patients that are in the hospital with COVID-19 in any one time are in the intensive care unit and most of those are on ventilators."

The UB researcher says a flattened curve shows people have gotten the message about social distancing.

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Dr. Gale Burstein discusses new modesl during news briefing Thursday.

7 Eyewitness News asked health commissioner Burstein if Western New York are getting different messages.

“I think people are getting a mixed message?” Buckley asked. “We’re going to see blips and we're going to see flat days, where we are above that line,” replied Dr. Burstein.

The UB expert said the uptick in cases is unfortunate and is “not encouraging”.

He also indicated three important points to move forward.

“Our businesses have got to be safe for us. We have to be very safe in our behaviors and we need the resources for good testing and contact tracing,” Winklestein stated.

Winklestein said without social distancing there would have been a huge increase that could have overwhelmed the hospital system.

While these models are considered good news, the experts say it won't get better until a vaccine is created.

They warn you cannot let your guard down when you leave your home. Dr. Winklestein demonstrated how wearing a mask will be part of our new normal.

Peter Winklestein demonstrates wearing a mask to keep everyone safe.

“This is the kind of stuff we have to get use too,” Winklestein said. “Everyone should be wearing a mask all the time when they are around other people, there’s no two ways about it.”

Winklestein did offer praise to the county for following the rules. “They understood this was serious, they understood what they need to do and they stayed home,” Winklestein noted.

But when the rules are pulled back, and social distancing is reduced, Winklestein said there is expected to be a rise in cases again, emphasizes the need to continue partice “safe behaviors”.

“And we’re going to be sitting at this new normal for a long time,” Winklestein responded.

The models are being revised each week by a team at the UB’s Institute for Healthcare Informatics, the health department and local hospital system medical leadership.

The current models are based on the hypothetical idea that social distancing guidelines would remain in effect in Erie County through May 31. It shows a slight rise in hospitalizations after social distancing is lifted.

The graphs also show how the curve could have been different if social distancing guidelines had not been implemented. In this model, Erie County's need for hospital beds would have exceeded its capacity by mid-April. So far, hospitalizations have stayed well below capacity.

Poloncarz was not pleased with Wednesday's hospitalization totals.

"We are headed in the wrong direction the past few days. That’s not good,” Poloncarz remarked.

He said we must continue to follow safe social distancing in order to stop community spread. “The only way we can open up is to reduce hospital capacity. That means we need you to say home and be safe,” Poloncarz stated at Wednesday’s briefing.