Paying due attention to the “why” of strategy

https://mailchi.mp/41540f595c92/the-weekly-gist-february-12-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

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We spend a lot of our time helping health system executives craft and communicate enterprise-level strategy: entering new markets or businesses, developing new services, responding to competitive threats, exploring partnership opportunities. Strategy is about the “what” and “when”—what moves are we going to make, and when is the right time to make them? Answering those questions requires an understanding of industry and market forces, organizational capabilities, and consumer needs. But there’s another important component that often goes missing in the rush to get to the “how” of strategy execution: the “why”.

Yet understanding why we’re pursuing one path and not another is critical for aligning stakeholders: physicians, operators, and (importantly) the board. Joan Didion famously wrote that “we tell ourselves stories in order to live”, and we’d agree; the “why” is about storytelling. What’s the strategic narrative, or story, that frames our intended actions? Making sure that everyone involved—including our patients and consumers—has a clear understanding of why we’re opening a new facility, or launching a new service, or entering into a new partnership, is a key to success.

It’s about sharing the vision of our desired role as a system, and the part we see ourselves playing in improving healthcare. We’re sometimes criticized for spending so much time on “framing” and drawing “pretty graphics”, but we’ve come to believe that the ability to succinctly and compellingly describe the “why” of strategy is as important as coming up with the vision in the first place. And then, of course, delivering on the “why”—a job made easier if all involved are clear on just what it is.

Pandemic propels health systems to mull insurer acquisitions, partnerships

4 Reasons Strategic Partnerships are Important for Business - Glympse

Nearly a year after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S., some of the nation’s largest health systems made a case for the need to accelerate toward value-based arrangements and potentially acquiring or partnering with health plans to become an integrated system.

Amid new records for deaths and cases from the novel coronavirus, executives gathered virtually for J.P. Morgan’s 39th annual healthcare conference, which typically draws prominent healthcare leaders to San Francisco at the start of each year.

The pandemic has been a heavily discussed topic during the digital gathering. One theme has been health systems either acknowledging they are on the hunt for health insurer acquisitions and partnerships or advocating for such arrangements as result of the challenges.

Anu Singh, managing director and the leader of the mergers, acquisitions and partnerships practice at consultancy Kaufman Hall, said it’s a natural migration for health systems, though it does come with some risk.

“If you want to move into the realm of being a population health manager, and take greater responsibility for your patient bases, you’re going to have to be thinking about maintaining their health,” Singh said. “And that’s typically something that, at least traditionally and historically, has been driven a little bit more by the health plan.”

For Utah’s Intermountain Healthcare, the lessons of the pandemic are clear: The industry needs to move away from a system that rewards volume. Intermountain is a fully integrated system that manages both providers and an insurance unit.

“It is becoming increasingly apparent that systems that are well integrated, especially systems that understand how to take risks, have prospered in the face of the terrible burden, caring for people in the midst of the first pandemic in 100 years,” Intermountain CEO Marc Harrison said Monday.

From his vantage point, Harrison said it has been interesting to watch the consternation around telehealth visits.

“Lots of folks who are really still caught in the volume-based system are actively switching patients back from tele- or distance to in-person visits so they can maximize revenue,” he said. “I understand that. But that’s a really great example of poorly aligned incentives.”

Intermountain has managed to stay in the black as many other systems have struggled financially as a result of the pandemic driving down patient volumes. It reported net income of $167 million through the first nine months of 2020, compared with $919 million the year prior.

Another integrated system, Baylor Scott and White Health, the largest nonprofit system in Texas, said such diversification has helped buoy its finances as hospital and clinic operations bottomed out in the spring due to the virus.

Baylor Scott and White illustrated this point by showing how operating income for its clinical segment took a nosedive in the spring while operating income for its health plan remained relatively steady.

The theme of integrated health systems also seemed to be on the minds of investors. CommonSpirit Health executives were asked during their presentation if buying or creating a health plan was on their radar as the system has a sizable footprint of 140 hospitals across the country.

“I think this is a interesting question, one that of course we’ve discussed many times strategically,” CFO Daniel Morissette said, noting the system does have a number of regional plans. “At this time, we have no plan of having a national CommonSpirit branded plan.” However, Morissette said the system would consider a partnership opportunity.

On the other hand, Midwest-based Advocate Aurora Health said it is actively on the hunt for a potential insurer deal as part of its long-term strategy.

“We do believe that having health plan capability, not necessarily having our own, but partnering for health plan capability, is going to be critical to our success, and we are taking steps to do that,” CEO Jim Skogsbergh said during the virtual conference.

Kaufman Hall said in its latest report that it expects more payer-provider partnerships as a result of the pandemic. “Limitations on fee-for-service payment structures exposed by the pandemic may increase the number of payer-provider partnerships around new payment and care delivery models,” according to the report.

Singh of Kaufman Hall said it’s not surprising that some may lean more toward a partnership due to the risks of starting a new venture, especially an insurance unit that can have “catastrophic loss”. Systems with less experience of moving toward implementing value-based initiatives may be more vulnerable to such risk.

It’s why he thinks partnerships may be a good fit, at least at first. Payers and providers can work together to improve the health of certain populations and then share in the cost savings.

Hackensack, RWJBarnabas and Horizon strategically partner to own Medicare Advantage insurer

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/hackensack-rwjbarnabas-and-horizon-own-new-medicare-advantage-plan-braven-health

New Jersey | Capital, Population, Map, History, & Facts | Britannica

Braven Health teams two of the largest provider systems in New Jersey with one of the largest insurers in the state.

Hackensack Meridian Health and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey have teamed up as equal provider and payer owners of the newly-created Medicare Advantage business, Braven Health. 

RJWBarnabas Health in New Jersey, is about to come onboard as a 10% minority owner, subject to state approvals.

“A lot of organizations have a provider and payer partnership,” said Patrick Young, president of Population Health at Hackensack. “The payer is still the payer and the provider is still the provider. This transcends that.”

While Medicare accounts for a large portion of hospital revenue – about 40% – providers do not reap the rewards that Medicare Advantage plans do.

“We don’t do well financially for care to a Medicare member because the rates are low,” said Young, who formerly worked for Aetna. “The Medicare population is the fastest growing, but there’s no advantage to being the provider. The only organizations making money are the insurers.”

Hackensack felt that getting into the insurance space specifically around Medicare was strategic for growth. 

“Medicare is the fastest growing population,” Young said, adding, “It’s the fastest growing population we lose money on.” 

Hackensack went looking for a payer partner in the complicated and highly regulated insurance market. The health system sent requests for proposals, looking not only for experience in the market, but for an organization whose value-based goals aligned with its own. 

“We have value-based arrangements with all the major payers,” Young said.

It chose Horizon as its strategic partner.

Braven Health teams two of the largest provider systems in New Jersey with one of the largest insurers in the state.

Starting January 1, Braven Health’s Medicare Advantage plans will be available in eight counties: Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Passaic and Union.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Insurers and pharmacies have long been elbowing into the healthcare space.

UnitedHealth Group has been buying physician practices and is reportedly one of the nation’s largest employers of doctors. CVS Health, owner of Aetna, launched Health Hubs within its pharmacies. Walmart recently announced an expansion of its health clinics.

The move by Hackensack could be seen as another battle in the arms race to regain competitive ground. But it also recognizes the need for providers to work collaboratively with payers to get claims and other data needed to improve outcomes and lower cost in the move to value-based care.

Joint ventures are the next logical progression of payment models, moving away from fee-for-service and toward value, shared risk and accountability arrangements. 

The integration model of provider and payer isn’t new.

The Geisinger Health System, Highmark Health in Pennsylvania and Kaiser Permanente in California are three of the largest and best-known integrated systems.

Horizon competitors such as Aetna, Cigna and Oscar and other Blue plans such as Highmark are in provider/payer partnerships. 

One of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems, Ascension, and health payer Centene are also among the joint ventures offering Medicare Advantage plans. In 2018, there were about 28 joint venture plans in the United States, with at least nine of these offering MA plans, according to DRG.

BRAVEN HEALTH

Braven Health plans use Horizon BCBSNJ’s existing Medicare Advantage managed care networks, meaning that every doctor and hospital that participates in these networks will also be in-network for comparable Braven Health plans. 

This gives Braven Health Medicare Advantage members access to more than 51,000 providers and 82 network hospitals in the Hackensack and RWJBarnabas systems in New Jersey. 

As a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan, Braven Health’s members choosing a PPO plan will also have access to the BCBS national Medicare Advantage PPO network. 

Braven is a separate legal entity with its own board. It also has a Practitioner Council, made up of physicians representing various specialties, that will provide recommendations to the Braven Health CEO and board of directors on ways to improve the plan from the practitioner’s perspective.

It’s still early in the open enrollment process, but so far Braven Health CEO Luisa Y. Charbonneau said she is encouraged by the response to the plans. Braven creates a closer, collaborative relationship for better health, based in part on the exchange of data, according to Charbonneau.

“You can make the best decisions when there is transparent data between all parties, as well as have innovation,” Charbonneau said. “I think we see across the United States, where physicians, providers and the insurer are all aligned to be patient-centered, that’s where we’re going to see the best outcomes and financial outcomes.”

THE LARGER TREND

Close to 40% of Medicare members now choose a Medicare Advantage plan over traditional Medicare, as the plans run by private insurers offer additional benefits and some, including Braven Health, are offering zero premiums in specific 2021 plans.

The market is only expected to grow as baby boomers age into retirement.

Warren Buffett: An appreciation

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/warren-buffett-an-appreciation?cid=other-eml-alt-mip-mck&hlkid=500c2a923cdd4ff19d66acac00e2a9fa&hctky=9502524&hdpid=e758f2ed-7de7-4263-9faa-7daf7b3bdaa7

Celebrating Warren Buffett on his 90th birthday | McKinsey

As Warren Buffett turns 90, the story of one of America’s most influential and wealthy business leaders is a study in the logic and discipline of understanding future value.

Patience, caution, and consistency. In volatile times such as these, it may be difficult for executives to keep those attributes in mind when making decisions. But there are immense advantages to doing so. For proof, just look at the steady genius of now-nonagenarian Warren Buffett. The legendary investor and Berkshire Hathaway founder and CEO has earned millions of dollars for investors over several decades (exhibit). But very few of Buffett’s investment decisions have been reactionary; instead, his choices and communications have been—and remain—grounded in logic and value.

Buffett learned his craft from “the father of value investing,” Columbia University professor and British economist Benjamin Graham. Perhaps as a result, Buffett typically doesn’t invest in opportunities in which he can’t reasonably estimate future value—there are no social-media companies, for instance, or cryptocurrency ventures in his portfolio. Instead, he banks on businesses that have steady cash flows and will generate high returns and low risk. And he lets those businesses stick to their knitting. Ever since Buffett bought See’s Candy Shops in 1972, for instance, the company has generated an ROI of more than 160 percent per year —and not because of significant changes to operations, target customer base, or product mix. The company didn’t stop doing what it did well just so it could grow faster. Instead, it sends excess cash flows back to the parent company for reinvestment—which points to a lesson for many listed companies: it’s OK to grow in line with your product markets if you aren’t confident that you can redeploy the cash flows you’re generating any better than your investor can.

As Peter Kunhardt, director of the HBO documentary Becoming Warren Buffett, said in a 2017 interview, Buffett understands that “you don’t have to trade things all the time; you can sit on things, too. You don’t have to make many decisions in life to make a lot of money.” And Buffett’s theory (roughly paraphrased) that the quality of a company’s senior leadership can signal whether the business would be a good investment or not has been proved time and time again. “See how [managers] treat themselves versus how they treat the shareholders .…The poor managers also turn out to be the ones that really don’t think that much about the shareholders. The two often go hand in hand,” Buffett explains.

Every few years or so, critics will poke holes in Buffett’s approach to investing. It’s outdated, they say, not proactive enough in a world in which digital business and economic uncertainty reign. For instance, during the 2008 credit crisis, pundits suggested that his portfolio moves were mistimed, he held on to some assets for far too long, and he released others too early, not getting enough in return. And it’s true that Buffett has made some mistakes; his decision making is not infallible. His approach to technology investments works for him, but that doesn’t mean other investors shouldn’t seize opportunities to back digital tools, platforms, and start-ups—particularly now that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated global companies’ digital transformations.

Still, many of Buffett’s theories continue to win the day. A good number of the so-called inadvisable deals he pursued in the wake of the 2008 downturn ended paying off in the longer term. And press reports suggest that Berkshire Hathaway’s profits are rebounding in the midst of the current economic downturn prompted by the global pandemic.

At age 90, Buffett is still waging campaigns—for instance, speaking out against eliminating the estate tax and against the release of quarterly earnings guidance. Of the latter, he has said that it promotes an unhealthy focus on short-term profits at the expense of long-term performance.

“Clear communication of a company’s strategic goals—along with metrics that can be evaluated over time—will always be critical to shareholders. But this information … should be provided on a timeline deemed appropriate for the needs of each specific company and its investors, whether annual or otherwise,” he and Jamie Dimon wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

Yes, volatile times call for quick responses and fast action. But as Warren Buffett has shown, there are also significant advantages to keeping the long term in mind, as well. Specifically, there is value in consistency, caution, and patience and in simply trusting the math—in good times and bad.

 

 

Industry Voices—6 ways the pandemic will remake health systems

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals/industry-voices-6-ways-pandemic-will-remake-health-systems?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTURoaU9HTTRZMkV3TlRReSIsInQiOiJwcCtIb3VSd1ppXC9XT21XZCtoVUd4ekVqSytvK1wvNXgyQk9tMVwvYXcyNkFHXC9BRko2c1NQRHdXK1Z5UXVGbVpsTG5TYml5Z1FlTVJuZERqSEtEcFhrd0hpV1Y2Y0sxZFNBMXJDRkVnU1hmbHpQT0pXckwzRVZ4SUVWMGZsQlpzVkcifQ%3D%3D&mrkid=959610

Industry Voices—6 ways the pandemic will remake health systems ...

Provider executives already know America’s hospitals and health systems are seeing rapidly deteriorating finances as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. They’re just not yet sure of the extent of the damage.

By the end of June, COVID-19 will have delivered an estimated $200 billion blow to these institutions with the bulk of losses stemming from cancelled elective and nonelective surgeries, according to the American Hospital Association

A recent Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA)/Guidehouse COVID-19 survey suggests these patient volumes will be slow to return, with half of provider executive respondents anticipating it will take through the end of the year or longer to return to pre-COVID levels. Moreover, one-in-three provider executives expect to close the year with revenues at 15 percent or more below pre-pandemic levels. One-in-five of them believe those decreases will soar to 30 percent or beyond. 

Available cash is also in short supply. A Guidehouse analysis of 350 hospitals nationwide found that cash on hand is projected to drop by 50 days on average by the end of the year — a 26% plunge — assuming that hospitals must repay accelerated and/or advanced Medicare payments.

While the government is providing much needed aid, just 11% of the COVID survey respondents expect emergency funding to cover their COVID-related costs.

The figures illustrate how the virus has hurled American medicine into unparalleled volatility. No one knows how long patients will continue to avoid getting elective care, or how state restrictions and climbing unemployment will affect their decision making once they have the option.

All of which leaves one thing for certain: Healthcare’s delivery, operations, and competitive dynamics are poised to undergo a fundamental and likely sustained transformation. 

Here are six changes coming sooner rather than later.

 

1. Payer-provider complexity on the rise; patients will struggle.

The pandemic has been a painful reminder that margins are driven by elective services. While insurers show strong earnings — with some offering rebates due to lower reimbursements — the same cannot be said for patients. As businesses struggle, insured patients will labor under higher deductibles, leaving them reluctant to embrace elective procedures. Such reluctance will be further exacerbated by the resurgence of case prevalence, government responses, reopening rollbacks, and inconsistencies in how the newly uninsured receive coverage.

Furthermore, the upholding of the hospital price transparency ruling will add additional scrutiny and significance for how services are priced and where providers are able to make positive margins. The end result: The payer-provider relationship is about to get even more complicated. 

 

2. Best-in-class technology will be a necessity, not a luxury. 

COVID has been a boon for telehealth and digital health usage and investments. Two-thirds of survey respondents anticipate using telehealth five times more than they did pre-pandemic. Yet, only one-third believe their organizations are fully equipped to handle the hike.

If healthcare is to meet the shift from in-person appointments to video, it will require rapid investment in things like speech recognition software, patient information pop-up screens, increased automation, and infrastructure to smooth workflows.

Historically, digital technology was viewed as a disruption that increased costs but didn’t always make life easier for providers. Now, caregiver technologies are focused on just that.

The new necessities of the digital world will require investments that are patient-centered and improve access and ease of use, all the while giving providers the platform to better engage, manage, and deliver quality care.

After all, the competition at the door already holds a distinct technological advantage.

 

3. The tech giants are coming.

Some of America’s biggest companies are indicating they believe they can offer more convenient, more affordable care than traditional payers and providers. 

Begin with Amazon, which has launched clinics for its Seattle employees, created the PillPack online pharmacy, and is entering the insurance market with Haven Healthcare, a partnership that includes Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase. Walmart, which already operates pharmacies and retail clinics, is now opening Walmart Health Centers, and just recently announced it is getting into the Medicare Advantage business.

Meanwhile, Walgreens has announced it is partnering with VillageMD to provide primary care within its stores.

The intent of these organizations clear: Large employees see real business opportunities, which represents new competition to the traditional provider models.

It isn’t just the magnitude of these companies that poses a threat. They also have much more experience in providing integrated, digitally advanced services. 

 

4. Work locations changes mean construction cost reductions. 

If there’s one thing COVID has taught American industry – and healthcare in particular – it’s the importance of being nimble.

Many back-office corporate functions have moved to a virtual environment as a result of the pandemic, leaving executives wondering whether they need as much real estate. According to the survey, just one-in-five executives expect to return to the same onsite work arrangements they had before the pandemic. 

Not surprisingly, capital expenditures, including new and existing construction, leads the list of targets for cost reductions.

Such savings will be critical now that investment income can no longer be relied upon to sustain organizations — or even buy a little time. Though previous disruptions spawned only marginal change, the unprecedented nature of COVID will lead to some uncomfortable decisions, including the need for a quicker return on investments. 

 

5. Consolidation is coming.

Consolidation can be interpreted as a negative concept, particularly as healthcare is mostly delivered at a local level. But the pandemic has only magnified the differences between the “resilients” and the “non-resilients.” 

All will be focused on rebuilding patient volume, reducing expenses, and addressing new payment models within a tumultuous economy. Yet with near-term cash pressures and liquidity concerns varying by system, the winners and losers will quickly emerge. Those with at least a 6% to 8% operating margin to innovate with delivery and reimagine healthcare post-COVID will be the strongest. Those who face an eroding financial position and market share will struggle to stay independent..

 

6. Policy will get more thoughtful and data-driven.

The initial coronavirus outbreak and ensuing responses by both the private and public sectors created negative economic repercussions in an accelerated timeframe. A major component of that response was the mandated suspension of elective procedures.

While essential, the impact on states’ economies, people’s health, and the employment market have been severe. For example, many states are currently facing inverse financial pressures with the combination of reductions in tax revenue and the expansion of Medicaid due to increases in unemployment. What’s more, providers will be subject to the ongoing reckonings of outbreak volatility, underscoring the importance of agile policy that engages stakeholders at all levels.

As states have implemented reopening plans, public leaders agree that alternative responses must be developed. Policymakers are in search of more thoughtful, data-driven approaches, which will likely require coordination with health system leaders to develop flexible preparation plans that facilitate scalable responses. The coordination will be difficult, yet necessary to implement resource and operational responses that keeps healthcare open and functioning while managing various levels of COVID outbreaks, as well as future pandemics.

Healthcare has largely been insulated from previous economic disruptions, with capital spending more acutely affected than operations. But the COVID-19 pandemic will very likely be different. Through the pandemic, providers are facing a long-term decrease in commercial payment, coupled with a need to boost caregiver- and consumer-facing engagement, all during a significant economic downturn.

While situations may differ by market, it’s clear that the pre-pandemic status quo won’t work for most hospitals or health systems.

 

 

 

Graph of the Day: Daily Confirmed Covid-19 Cases (Rolling 3-day average)

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases, rolling 3-day average - Our World ...

Envisioning the future of health system strategy

https://mailchi.mp/0fa09872586c/the-weekly-gist-july-31-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

We’ve spent the past five months working with our health system members to develop a perspective on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on strategy, discussing what’s changed and what hasn’t, and where leaders should focus moving forward. The above graphic provides an overview of that perspective.

We think about the future across three time periods:

The “near future”, which will largely be dominated by concerns about reopening and recovering clinical operations and financial stability;

The “next future”, which we view as a period of strategic realignment during which we’ll see a “land grab” for advantage among payers, providers, and disruptors;

And the “far future”, in which the fundamental structure of the industry—how healthcare is organized, delivered, and paid for—will see more dramatic changes based on the evolution of economic and policy drivers.

Over time, “market uncertainty” caused by the uncertain course of the disease itself, along with societal and political shifts, will give way to “industry uncertainty”, under which a new competitive landscape will begin to develop.

Across those time horizons, health system strategy should focus on agile and decisive actions to respond to the environment—ensuring a safe and reliable return to normal clinical operations, taking best advantage of the opportunity to play new roles in the delivery of care (e.g., virtual and home-based services), and over time, building a full-scale, consumer-centric care ecosystem.

That’s a lot of rhetoric, but the hard work lies beneath—requiring systems to execute on several key fronts, from ensuring efficient, “systematized” operations, to building sustainable payment and pricing approaches, to adopting a relentless focus on services that earn and maintain consumer loyalty over time. We’ll have more to share on all of these ideas across the coming months, as our work with members continues. What’s clear now is that we’re not going back to the old way of doing things—we’re heading toward a “brave new world” of healthcare delivery.

 

 

 

 

Coronavirus threat rises across U.S.: ‘We just have to assume the monster is everywhere’

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/coronavirus-threat-rises-across-us-we-just-have-to-assume-the-monster-is-everywhere/2020/08/01/cdb505e0-d1d8-11ea-8c55-61e7fa5e82ab_story.html?utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most

The coronavirus is spreading at dangerous levels across much of the United States, and public health experts are demanding a dramatic reset in the national response, one that recognizes that the crisis is intensifying and that current piecemeal strategies aren’t working.

This is a new phase of the pandemic, one no longer built around local or regional clusters and hot spots. It comes at an unnerving moment in which the economy suffered its worst collapse since the Great Depression, schools are rapidly canceling plans for in-person instruction and Congress has failed to pass a new emergency relief package. President Trump continues to promote fringe science, the daily death toll keeps climbing and the human cost of the virus in America has just passed 150,000 lives.

“Unlike many countries in the world, the United States is not currently on course to get control of this epidemic. It’s time to reset,” declared a report released this week by Johns Hopkins University.

Another report from the Association of American Medical Colleges offered a similarly blunt message: “If the nation does not change its course — and soon — deaths in the United States could be well into the multiple hundreds of thousands.”

The country is exhausted, but the virus is not. It has shown a consistent pattern: It spreads opportunistically wherever people let down their guard and return to more familiar patterns of mobility and socializing. When communities tighten up, by closing bars or requiring masks in public, transmission drops.

That has happened in some Sun Belt states, including Arizona, Florida and Texas, which are still dealing with a surge of hospitalizations and deaths but are finally turning around the rate of new infections.

There are signs, however, that the virus is spreading freely in much of the country. Experts are focused on upticks in the percentage of positive coronavirus tests in the upper South and Midwest. It is a sign that the virus could soon surge anew in the heartland. Infectious-disease experts also see warning signs in East Coast cities hammered in the spring.

“There are fewer and fewer places where anybody can assume the virus is not there,” Gov. Mike DeWine (R) of Ohio said Wednesday. “It’s in our most rural counties. It’s in our smallest communities. And we just have to assume the monster is everywhere. It’s everywhere.”

Dire data

An internal Trump administration briefing document prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and obtained Friday by The Washington Post counted 453,659 new infections in the past week.

Alaska is in trouble. And Hawaii, Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma. Those are the five states, as of Friday, with the highest percentage increase in the seven-day average of new cases, according to a Post analysis of nationwide health data.

“The dominoes are falling now,” said David Rubin, director of the PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which has produced a model showing where the virus is likely to spread over the next four weeks.

His team sees ominous trends in big cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Louisville, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Washington, with Boston and New York not far behind. And Rubin warns that the expected influx of students into college towns at the end of this month will be another epidemiological shock.

“I suspect we’re going to see big outbreaks in college towns,” he said.

Young people are less likely to have a severe outcome from the coronavirus, but they are adept at propelling the virus through the broader population, including among people at elevated risk. Numbers of coronavirus-related hospitalizations in the United States went from 36,158 on July 1 to 52,767 on July 31, according to The Post’s data. FEMA reports a sharp increase in the number of patients on ventilators.

The crisis has highlighted the deep disparities in health outcomes among racial and ethnic groups, and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week showed that hospitalization rates due to the coronavirus are roughly five times higher among Black, Hispanic and Native Americans than Whites.

Thirty-seven states and Puerto Rico will probably see rising daily death tolls during the next two weeks compared with the previous two weeks, according to the latest ensemble forecast from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst that combines more than 30 coronavirus models.

There are glimmers of progress. The FEMA report showed 237 U.S. counties with at least two weeks of steady declines in numbers of new coronavirus cases.

But there are more than 3,100 counties in America.

“This is not a natural disaster that happens to one or two or three communities and then you rebuild,” said Beth Cameron, vice president for global biological policy and programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative and a former White House National Security Council staffer focused on pandemics. “This is a spreading disaster that moves from one place to another, and until it’s suppressed and until we ultimately have a safe and effective and distributed vaccine, every community is at risk.”

A national strategy, whether advanced by the federal government or by the states working in tandem, will more effectively control viral spread than the current patchwork of state and local policies, according to a study from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published Thursday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The coordination is necessary because one state’s policies affect other states. Sometimes, that influence is at a distance, because states that are geographically far apart can have cultural and social ties, as is the case with the “peer states” of New York and Florida, the report found.

“The cost of our uncoordinated national response to covid-19, it’s dramatic,” said MIT economist Sinan Aral, senior author of the paper.

Some experts argue for a full six-to-eight-week national shutdown, something even more sweeping than what was instituted in the spring. There appears to be no political support for such a move.

Neil Bradley, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said fresh federal intervention is necessary in this second wave of closures. Enhanced federal unemployment benefits expired at the end of July, with no agreement on a new stimulus package in sight.

“Congress, on a bipartisan basis, was trying to create a bridge to help individuals and businesses navigate the period of a shutdown,” Bradley said. “Absent an extension of that bridge, in light of a second shutdown, that bridge becomes a pier. And then that’s a real problem.”

With the economy in shambles, hospitals filling up and the public frustrated, anxious and angry, the challenge for national leadership is finding a plausible sea-to-sea strategy that can win widespread support and simultaneously limit sickness and death from the virus.

Many Americans may simply feel discouraged and overtaxed, unable to maintain precautions such as social distancing and mask-wearing. Others remain resistant, for cultural or ideological reasons, to public health guidance and buy into conspiracy theories and pseudoscience.

DeWine is struggling to get Ohio citizens to take seriously the need to wear masks. A sheriff in rural western Ohio told the governor Wednesday that people didn’t think the virus was a big problem. DeWine informed the sheriff that the numbers in his county were higher per capita than in Toledo.

“The way I’ve explained to people, if we want to have Friday night football in the fall, if we want our kids back in school, what we do in the next two weeks will determine if that happens,” DeWine said.

The crucial metric

The coronavirus has always been several steps ahead of the U.S. government, the scientific community, the news media and the general public. By the time a community notices a surge in patients to hospital emergency rooms, the virus has seeded itself widely.

The virus officially known as SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted by people who are infectious but not symptomatic. The incubation period is typically about six days, according to the CDC. When symptoms flare, they can be ambiguous. A person may not seek a test right away. Then, the test results may not come back for days, a week, even longer.

That delay makes contact tracing nearly futile. It also means government data on virus transmission is invariably out of date to some degree — it’s a snapshot of what was happening a week or two weeks before. And different jurisdictions use different metrics to track the virus, further fogging the picture.

The top doctors on the White House coronavirus task force, Deborah Birx and Anthony S. Fauci, are newly focused on the early warning signs of a virus outbreak. This week, they warned that the kind of runaway outbreaks seen in the Sun Belt could potentially happen elsewhere. Among the states of greatest concern: Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

Fauci and Birx have pointed to a critical metric: the percentage of positive test results. When that figure starts to tick upward, it is a sign of increasing community spread of the virus.

“That is kind of the predictor that if you don’t do something — namely, do something different — if you’re opening up at a certain pace, slow down, maybe even backtrack a little,” Fauci said in an interview Wednesday.

Without a vaccine, the primary tools for combating the spread of the virus remain the common-sense “non-pharmaceutical interventions,” including mask-wearing, hand-washing, staying out of bars and other confined spaces, maintaining social distancing of at least six feet and avoiding crowds, Fauci said.

“Seemingly simple maneuvers have been very effective in preventing or even turning around the kind of surges we’ve seen,” he said.

Thirty-three U.S. states have positivity rates above 5 percent. The World Health Organization has cited that percentage as a crucial benchmark for governments deciding whether to reopen their economy. Above 5 percent, stay closed. Below, open with caution.

Of states with positivity rates below 5 percent, nine have seen those rates rise during the last two weeks.

“You may not fully realize that when you think things are okay, you actually are seeing a subtle, insidious increase that is usually reflected in the percent of your tests that are positive,” Fauci said.

The shutdown blues

Some governors immediately took the White House warnings to heart. On Monday, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said at a news conference that he had met with Birx the previous day and was told he was getting the same warning Texas and Florida received “weeks before the worst of the worst happened.”

To prevent that outcome in his state, Beshear said, he was closing bars for two weeks and cutting seating in restaurants.

But as Beshear pleaded that “we all need to be singing from the same sheet of music,” discord and confusion prevailed.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) said Thursday she wasn’t convinced a mask mandate is effective: “No one knows particularly the best strategy.”

Earlier in the week, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) demurred on masks and bar closures even as he stood next to Birx and spoke to reporters.

“That’s not a plan for us now,” he said. He added emphatically, “We are not going to close the economy back down.”

The virus is spreading throughout his state, and not just in the big cities. Vacationers took the virus home from the honky-tonks of Nashville and blues clubs of Memphis to where they live in more rural areas, said John Graves, a professor at Vanderbilt University studying the pandemic.

“The geographical footprint of the virus has reached all corners of the state at this point,” Graves said.

In Missouri, Gov. Michael L. Parson (R) was dismissive of New York’s imposition of a quarantine on residents from his state as a sign of a worsening pandemic. “I’m not going to put much stock in what New York says — they’re a disaster,” he said at a news conference Monday.

Missouri has no mask mandate, leaving it to local officials to act — often in the face of hostility and threats. In the town of Branson, angry opponents testified Tuesday that there was no reason for a mask order when deaths in the county have been few and far between.

“It hasn’t hit us here yet, that’s what I’m scared of,” Branson Alderman Bill Skains said before voting with a majority in favor of the mandate. “It is coming, and it’s coming like a freight train.”

Democratic mayors in Missouri’s two biggest cities, Kansas City and St. Louis, said that with so many people needing jobs, they are reluctant to follow Birx’s recommendation to close bars.

“The whole-blanket approach to shut everybody down feels a little harsh for the people who are doing it right,” said Jacob Long, spokesman for St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson. “We’re trying to take care of some bad actors first.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey also got a warning from Birx. On Wednesday, he said all bar drinking must move outside.

“We don’t want to be heading in the direction of everybody else,” said Kristen Ehresmann, director of the infectious-disease epidemiology division at the Minnesota Department of Health. She acknowledged that some options “are really pretty draconian.”

The problem is that less-painful measures have proven insufficient.

“The disease transmission we’re seeing is more than what would have been expected if people were following the guidance as it is laid out. It’s a reflection of the fact that they’re not,” she said.

‘A tremendous disappointment’

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) tried to implement broad statewide measures early in the pandemic, only to have his “Safer at Home” order struck down by the state’s Supreme Court.

With cases in his state rising anew, he tried again Thursday, declaring a public health emergency and issuing a statewide mask mandate.

“While our local health departments have been doing a heck of a job responding to this pandemic in our communities, the fact of the matter is, this virus doesn’t care about any town, city or county boundary, and we need a statewide approach to get Wisconsin back on track,” Evers said.

Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin’s chief medical officer, said he is dismayed by the failures of the national pandemic response.

“I really thought we had a chance to keep this suppressed,” Westergaard said. “The model is a good one: testing, tracing, isolation, supportive quarantine. Those things work. We saw this coming. We knew we had to build robust, flexible systems to do this in all of our communities. It feels like a tremendous disappointment that we weren’t able to build a system in time that could handle this.”

There is one benefit to the way the virus has spread so broadly, he noted: “We no longer have to keep track of people traveling to a hot spot if hot spots are everywhere.”