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Covid-19 seems to be hitting Georgia harder than its neighboring states

Over the weekend I published a post comparing Georgia’s Covid-19 performance with North Carolina’s and wondering out loud why the differences are so dramatic.  Today I’ve cast a wider net and put together this table comparing Georgia with its neighboring states.

March 30 SE Covid Table

Clearly, Georgia — at least so far — is being harder hit than its five contiguous neighbors.  Only Tennessee has a slightly higher Covid-19 infection rate, and Georgia leads the region in both Covid-19 deaths and hospitalizations; even Florida, with twice Georgia’s population, trails Georgia in both those categories.

The question is why?  There are obviously a great many variables at work in this situation, but at this point there’s enough data in the pot to warrant a little head-scratching.  Even if these southern states are using different protocols to determine who gets tested, we’re left with the fact that Georgia is outpacing its neighbors so dramatically in deaths and hospitalizations.

I’ve got lines out to several contacts in the public health world and hope to gather some informed answers to these questions over the next day or so.

[A note about the data above: The population numbers are 2019 Census Bureau estimates.  The raw Covid-19 data came from each state’s respective public health website as of about mid-day today.  The infection and mortality rates were calculated by dividing the number of positives or the number of deaths by the population and multiplying the result by 100,000.]

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Another interesting chunk of Covid-19 data comes from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.  It’s now out with state-by-state projections of how the now infamous Coronavirus curve — or wave — is likely to move across each state and its healthcare system.  IHME has developed a computer model that stirs together data on available healthcare resources with testing and mortality rates to date.

The projections for Georgia are grim.  IHME’s model predicts that Georgia will hit its “peak resource use” on April 22, when it calculates that the state will be short 755 ICU beds and 1,075 ventilators.  It also projects our “deaths per day” will peak the following day, April 23, at 84, and that the state will suffer a total of 2,777 deaths by August 4, 2020.

These projections are generally in line with the performance numbers posted above.  North Carolina is projected to hit its peak resource demand on the same day, April 22, but will only be short 278 beds and 676 ventilators; its “deaths per day” are projected to peak at 56, and total deaths by August 4 are forecast at 1,721.

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Meanwhile, the Economic Innovation Group, whose work I’ve cited on a number of occasions, is out with a new report focusing on the challenges Covid-19 poses for the country’s most “distressed communities,” many of which are rural.  Indeed, the new EIG report echoes and puts meat on the bones of an argument I started making nearly two weeks ago — namely, that Covid-19 represented a “perfect storm” for rural Georgia.

EIG annually assigns “Distressed Community Index” scores to all 3,000-plus counties in the nation, as well as all cities with populations of 50,000 or more.  It does this using a formula based on seven socioeconomic factors; a few years back, it named Albany one of the 10 most distressed mid-sized cities in the country.

This new EIG report offers four key takeaways:

  1. The uninsured rate for residents of distressed counties is much higher than those living elsewhere.
  2. Residents of distressed counties are more likely to be elderly and susceptible to complications resulting from coronavirus infection.
  3. Life-threatening health disorders are more prevalent and more dangerous in distressed areas.
  4. Life expectancy is already significantly shorter in economically distressed places.

After fleshing out each of those points, EIG then turns its attention to the state of healthcare systems in distressed communities.  It reports that it had analyzed more than a decade’s worth of American Hospital Association (AHA) data and found that distressed communities had seen a 16 percent reduction in the number of hospital beds between 2006 and 2017.  This report doesn’t offer a state- or county-level breakdown, but rural Georgia has almost certainly suffered that level of loss of beds over the past decade or so.

 

 

 

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