Kentucky compares favorably to other border states, study shows

Kentucky compares favorably to its major bordering states in the first public estimates of the impact of the coronavirus on the U.S. health-care system and the number of deaths expected from the covid-19 disease caused by the virus.

However, some estimates for Kentucky have wider possible ranges than for the other states, illustrating the shortage of data that public-health experts say is needed for policymakers to make decisions.

The estimates were published Thursday by Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. He used numbers of confirmed covid-19 deaths through March 24, and state-by-state data on hospital capacity and use. He said he used covid-19 data “from select locations to develop a statistical model forecasting deaths and hospital utilization against capacity by state for the U.S. over the next four months.”

Murray estimated 585 people in Kentucky will die from covid-19, or 0.013 percent of the state’s estimated 2019 population. That is lower than any of the states that have major borders with Kentucky. Indiana’s percentage is the highest, 0.036%, representing a forecast of 2,440 deaths.

The death forecasts for other major adjoining states are: Illinois, 2,454 (0.019%); Ohio, 2,733 (0.023%); Tennessee, 1,551 (0.022%) and West Virginia, 460 (0.025%).

Deaths in a pandemic typically follow a bell-shaped curve. Murray estimated the peak of the curve for each state and the likeliest number of deaths on that day. Of the six states, Kentucky has the latest forecast peak date, April 29, when 11 people are projected to die. Indiana is forecast to have the earliest peak among the six, 110 deaths on April 14.

Health experts talk of the need to “flatten the curve” to keep the number of cases from overwhelming the health-care system, and Kentucky appears to be doing that. Murray estimated that the state will have enough hospital beds for covid-19 patients, but his forecast is less certain when it comes to the number of intensive-care-unit beds.

His report estimates that most of the major border states will be short of ICU beds at the peak, but Kentucky probably will have enough: 448 when only 160 are likely to be needed. However, the report says the number needed could be as low as zero or as high as 2,909.

The wide possible range could stem from the relatively low number of cases and deaths reported in Kentucky through March 24.

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