Instagram co-founder who built a coronavirus tracker says it’s showing concerning spread levels

Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom told CNBC on Monday the coronavirus tracking website he helped build is showing concerning levels of spread in many states across the U.S. 

Epidemiologists use something called an R0, or R naught, as a way to measure how a virus is spreading. For example, an R naught of 1 means the average person who is infected with the virus will be expected to spread it to one other person; a higher R naught means the virus will spread exponentially.

Systrom said his site, rt.live, reports the estimated the rate of transmission, or Rt, in each state. The Rt metric, derived from R naught, seeks to measure the transmission rate in a specific population and a specific moment in time.



Appearing on “Squawk Box,” Systrom said that 34 states in the U.S. have an estimated rate of coronavirus transmission above 1.0, defined on rt.live as an indication the virus will spread quickly. A value less 1.0 suggests the spread will stop.

“So you have an incredible rebound,” said Systrom. “People like to say we’re not in a second wave. I don’t know what a second wave [is] if that’s not a second wave.”

Researchers generally consider that the U.S. remains in the first wave of the Covid-19 epidemic. To be defined as a second wave, the virus would need to retreat and reappear, or a new variant would have to emerge, Columbia University’s Ian Lipkin told CNBC earlier this month. He added that neither has happened.

Nevada has the highest estimated rate of transmission of 1.64, according to rt.live on Monday morning. Montana and Florida have estimated transmission rates of 1.41 and 1.4, respectively. The areas with the estimated lowest rates are Connecticut and Washington D.C., each at 0.77. Massachusetts is the next lowest at 0.81.

‘Check lots of sites. Triangulate for yourself’

Nearly two years ago, Systrom left Facebook, which acquired Instagram for $1 billion in 2012. Unlike Instagram, he said that rt.live is meant to be a public resource to the American public during the pandemic, giving people an up-to-date window into how the virus is spreading in their state.

However, he emphasized the Rt, the rate of transmission, is “one metric of many” that people should use.  Rt.live gets its data from the Covid Tracking Project, Systrom said. He recommended that people also rely on state health department data. “Check lots of sites. Triangulate for yourself because these are all models,” he added. 

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, told CNBC that rt.live is valuable because it’s “giving you an indication of what the new cases are telling you.” 

“It’s very hard to just interpret from new cases being reported on a daily basis what that means with respect to whether or not the epidemic is expanding and how quickly it’s expanding,” Gottlieb said on “Squawk Box,” appearing with Systrom. 

Florida saw a record-breaking 9,636 new infections on Saturday, with another 8,577 on Sunday. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Sunday blamed interactions among young people. Miami-Dade and Broward counties are closing their beaches for the July 4 weekend.

Total U.S. cases topped 2.55 million, according to data from Johns Hopkins University on Monday, with deaths approaching 126,000. Total global cases approached 10.2 million, with over 500,000 deaths.

Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a member of the boards of Pfizer, genetic-testing start-up Tempus and biotech company Illumina.


Originally published on CNBC

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