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Ranking Georgia counties’ response to Covid-19: A first stab

Recently I wrote a short post about the fact that poor little Taliaferro County was the only county in the state that still hadn’t reported a Covid-19 death, a fact that almost certainly owes, at least in part, to a decision last spring by the local school superintendent to shut down his schools and send all the students home.

After that, I started playing with the idea of putting together some sort of ranking of Georgia counties to provide a feel for how the various counties — and indeed the different regions — are doing in managing the virus. With about nine months of data in the bank, there’s more than enough to begin to work with, and this will be the first in an occasional report on how the 159 counties and various areas of the state are doing.

At this point, the Georgia Department of Public Health is providing daily reports on confirmed case rates, death rates, and 14-day case rates. I may continue to fiddle with this system, but for today’s inaugural report I’ve totaled up all three ratings for each county and then ranked them based on those totals. The lower the overall ratings total, the better.

Here’s a look at the 10 best-performing counties as of Saturday, October 24, 2040:

Top Ten Covid-19 Rankings Based on Data Published by Georgia Department of Public Health on October 24, 2040.

Long County, a fast-growing rural county in southeast Georgia, currently leads the pack, thanks to a case rate that is significantly better than any other county — plus the No. 3 ranking in the death rate category and respectable numbers in the 14-day case rate as well. Taliaferro County currently has the second-best overall numbers; it still hasn’t suffered a Covid-19 death (and is No. 1 in that category) and has the fourth-best overall case rate.

While the top seven counties in this list are small rural counties, the eighth-, ninth-, and tenth-ranked counties are all part of TIGC’s 12-county Metro Atlanta region (and have remarkably similar numbers across the board).

The different rates tell us different things about how counties and regions are doing, and mapping the data can help bring the overall picture into focus.

This map — built on the totals of the case rates, death rates and 14-day case rates as of October 24 — shows pretty clearly that, with a few exceptions, the middle and southern parts of the state are still bearing the brunt of the virus’s attack. A swath of counties in east-central Georgia — running from the Florida line north to the Augusta area — was the last to come under siege from the virus and is currently still showing the biggest concentration of high case rates, death rates and 14-day case rates.

The 14-day case rates tell us where the virus is currently at its hottest and where it’s likely to strike next, and there is a little good news here: Only a little over a third of all Georgia counties reported a 14-day case rate of 200 per 100,000 people as of October 24, which would put them in the CDC’s red zone classification.

But those counties did tend to be clustered into identifiable areas or regions, as the map at the left illustrates. The counties with the worst 14-day case rates were Dodge and Telfair, adjoining neighbors in south central Georgia (their 14-day case rates were 647.5 and 588.1, respectively). They sit on the western edge of a cluster of a little over a dozen counties in south-central Georgia that are still experiencing high rates of new cases.

The other part of the state with the large cluster of red zone counties is the northwest corner, where about 15 counties reported 14-day case rates of 200 per 100,000 people or more on Saturday. This group of counties includes important regional cities of Rome (Floyd County) and Dalton (Whitfield County). One obvious danger here is that these hot spots will expand into Metro Atlanta’s exurbs and suburbs, which lately have maintained fairly stable numbers.

Finally, to close out today’s inaugural report, here are the Bottom Ten counties based on the formula I described above: the sum of the case rates, death rates and 14-day case rates.

Bottom Ten Covid-19 Rankings Based on Data Published by Georgia Department of Public Health on October 24, 2040.

All 10 of these counties are rural counties in TIGC’s Middle or South Georgia regions, and most of these numbers should not come as a surprise. The one that does jump out is Chattahoochee County, which had the worst October 24 case rate (nearly twice as bad as the next-to-worst county, Stewart, its contiguous neighbor to the south) but the second-best death rate in the state. The obvious question is how that can be the case.

I haven’t had an opportunity to research this, but I’m going to go out on a limb here: Chattahoochee County is home to Fort Benning, and I’d wager the close quarters of a military base proved to be a natural breeding ground for the virus, but that its damage was mitigated by the relative youth and good health of the soldiers as well as their access to military health care.

I’ll probably try to do this about once a week. I’m still tinkering with the ranking system and would welcome any suggestions on how to improve it.

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