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A quick dive into local Covid-19 data underlying AJC report on Georgia’s worst-in-nation performance

This morning’s AJC led with a blockbuster story based on an apparently confidential White House report that gave Georgia the dubious honor of generating the biggest increase in new Covid-19 cases in the nation last week.

According to the AJC, the White House report said Georgia produced about 216 new cases for every 100,000 people for the week that ended this past Friday, August 14th. The paper quoted the report as saying that figure was “about double” the national average.

What the story didn’t include (probably because it wasn’t detailed in the White House report) was any kind of breakdown on how the bug is affecting different parts of the state.

Not to worry. Trouble in God’s Country is here to help.

First, a quick caveat. As I’ve noted before, my arithmetic produces slightly different results than those found in the Georgia Department of Public Health’s daily Covid-19 updates. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that I usually work only with in-state numbers, those attributable to specific counties, and omit cases DPH classifies as out-of-state or unknown.

The bigger reason, though, is that we’re using slightly different population numbers to calculate the case rates, which is a little weird. I pull my county population numbers from DPH’s public OASIS database, and I know those numbers are taken directly from the Census Bureau. I don’t know exactly where DPH’s Covid-related population data comes from, but it’s slightly different from the ones I’ve got.

Still, the numbers are, as the old saying goes, close enough for both government work and semi-retired, part-time bloggers.

In this case, my arithmetic puts the state’s case rate for the week of August 7 through August 14 at 205.2 per 100,000 people (versus the 216 figure cited in the AJC article). The total number of new in-state cases added during that period was 21,791.

Working with those numbers, we can begin to offer some observations about how different types and areas of the state are behaving now that we’re nearly six months into the pandemic.

Indeed, the factoid included in the AJC story that Georgia’s state-level increase of a little over 200 cases per 100,000 people is about double the national average is helpful: it gives us a point of reference for judging county-level and regional Covid-19 behavior not just within the state, but against the nation. It’s not a pretty picture.

Some 146 of Georgia’s 159 counties posted case rates of more than 100 — roughly the national average, based on the AJC’s reporting — for the August 7-August 14 period. But there’s a wide span within that group.

For that week, Appling County, located in deep southeast Georgia and home to fewer than 20,000 people, posted the most horrific numbers: a one-week case rate of 728.8. But it was hardly alone in that region. Indeed, one of the things the Covid-19 data suggests is that the bug acts and moves on what appears to be a regional basis.

This map below highlights 37 Georgia counties that posted case rates of at least 300 per 100,000 people from August 7 through August 14. As usual, the darker the color, the higher the increase in case rates.

Twenty-four of those counties make up an inter-connected chain of counties that now runs well over 200 miles from Lincoln County on the north end south to Clinch County on the Florida line.

Most of the rest of the counties posting exceptionally high case-rate increases — three times the national average — are scattered loosely around the state, although there do appear to be multi-county clusters in the southwest corner of the state and in northwest Georgia.

Clearly, rural areas of the state that were spared major infection rates in the early stages of the pandemic are now under siege.

Also apparent from this map (and the data) is that Metro Atlanta and the southwest Georgia cluster surrounding Albany and Dougherty County, both of which were savaged early in the pandemic, are so far avoiding the worst levels of increases now afflicting rural areas across east-central and southeast Georgia.

The table below lists all the counties that suffered case rate increases of at least 300 per 100,000 people from August 7 through August 14. The sort is by the case-rate increase, from highest to lowest.

Fifteen of these counties posted one-week case rate increases of 400 or more — in other words, roughly four times the national average, based on the AJC reporting.

I’ll try to loop back and flesh out a more complete regional analysis in the next couple of days.

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