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Posts from the ‘Covid-19’ Category

Tiny Taliaferro County leads the state in fighting the virus

Taliaferro County hardly ever ranks anywhere close to the top of any list of Georgia’s 159 counties. A small, poverty-stricken patch of dirt that straddles I-20 a couple of counties east of Augusta, it’s home to about 1,600 people and not much else.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) puts its economy in 144th place in its latest Job Tax Credit Rankings. In its health rankings for Georgia counties, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation lists Taliaferro 123rd for health outcomes and 137th for health factors.

For the moment, though, Taliaferro County is arguably outperforming all 158 other Georgia counties in one important category: holding Covid-19 at bay.

As of today’s Covid-19 report from the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), it’s the only county in the state that still hasn’t suffered a death at the hands of the virus, which has claimed more than 6,000 lives statewide. Taliaferro also has the third-best confirmed case rate in the state.

This is, frankly, something of a very pleasant surprise. The AJC’s Jim Galloway meandered out to Taliaferro County six months ago and did a nice piece on a nervy, bleeding-edge decision by the local school superintendent, Allen Fort, to shut down all the county’s schools and send his students home for what he said would be a long haul.

At the time, the bug was just getting started. As Galloway noted in his column, fewer than 75 cases had been reported in Fulton, DeKalb and Cobb counties — combined. Neither Georgia state government nor the White House had offered any clear guidance, let alone told folks to hunker down and shelter in place.

Fort told Galloway he took his cue from a couple of major economic decisions. The NCAA had announced the day before that it was cancelling its 2020 Final Four, which was to have been held about 100 miles west in Atlanta, and that morning, Augusta National, 50 or so miles to the east, postponed the 2020 Master’s Tournament.

If the virus was dangerous enough to prompt the NCAA and the Master’s to step back from hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, Fort thought, maybe his little school system ought to take it seriously too.

Still, it was far from clear that Fort’s strategy would work. The county is one of the poorest in the state and almost bereft of healthcare services. Its first, last and only line of defense against the virus was a small community health clinic that operated only a few days a week.

Further, while Taliaferro is located pretty much dead center in the middle of nowhere, it nonetheless straddles I-20 and therefore might have been a sitting duck for the virus. In his column, Galloway wrote that he had wished the clinic staff well, but he seemed worried. ” … it’s not likely to be a fair fight,” he wrote.

Maybe not, but so far Taliaferro is holding its own.

In addition to the fact that it hasn’t given up any deaths, the county has so far had only 22 of the nearly 300,000 in-state Covid-19 cases recorded so far.

With a population of a little over 1,600, its case rate today was 1,348 per 100,000 people. That was the third lowest case rate in the state, behind only Long County (1,260 cases per 100,000) and Glascock (1,289). The state case rate today was 2,749 cases per 100,000 people, more than double Taliaferro’s.

It’s also worth noting that Taliaferro is doing better than all five of its contiguous neighbors — Wilkes, Oglethorpe, Greene, Hancock and Warren counties. Combined, those five counties had reported 1,651 confirmed cases and had a combined case rate of 2,878 per 100,000 as of today’s report. They had also suffered a collective total of 87 deaths.

The Covid-19 pandemic is, of course, far from over, and Taliaferro County’s fortunes could easily change. If the infection does find its way into the little county, it could wreak havoc before anybody realized it was there.

Hopefully that won’t happen, and, for the moment at least, it seems worth taking a minute to recognize a gutsy decision that almost certainly saved some lives.

With Covid-19, size matters: Death rate in 99 smallest counties is double that of four largest

In my last couple of TIGC posts, I’ve reported that Covid-19 case and death rates are now higher in counties that sided with Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, over his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams in Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election.

That resulted in a handful of unkind comments from readers who apparently felt it was impolite to apply such a political lens to Covid-19 data, so I decided to take an entirely apolitical swing at the numbers.

If anything, the results are even more striking. Where coping with Covid-19 is concerned, size does seem to matter: the bigger the better.

For this analysis, I’ve divided the state’s 159 counties into six population groupings — more than a half-million people (four counties); between 200,000 and 500,000 (seven counties); between 100,000 and 200,000 (14); between 60,000 and 100,000 (14); between 30,000 and 60,000 (21), and less than 30,000 (99). Then I pulled today’s county-specific Covid-19 data from the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) website and sorted it into the appropriate buckets.

The truth is, I’ve probably put an unnecessarily fine point on the population groupings. There’s not a great deal of difference in the results for the three largest groups of counties — in other words, counties with populations of 100,000 or more.

As the popuation groupings get smaller, though, significant differences do emerge. Taking the worst beating, collectively, are the 99 counties with populations of fewer than 30,000 people. That group of counties had the highest Covid-19 case rates and far and away the highest Covid-19 death rates, as this table shows.

The big takeaway from this is that the 99 smallest counties have a combined Covid-19 death rate that is more than double that of the four largest counties — 102 deaths per 100,000 people in the under-30,000 counties versus 47.6 deaths per 100,000 in the four largest counties.

Indeed, as the population grouping gets smaller, the death rate gets higher — and the same generally holds true for case rates as well.

I should probably emphasize that this analysis is based on a single day’s data — today’s — and that there can be some day-to-day fluctuations. I haven’t had time to string together a long-term day-over-day analysis, but I’ve done enough spot-checking of recent data to say that today’s data isn’t a fluke or an anomaly, it’s part of a trend.

More later.

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.

Covid-19 now hitting rural Georgia harder than urban areas; east-central counties seeing biggest case-rate increases

Over the weekend, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, told CNN the Covid-19 plague’s assault on rural areas is now on a par with its toll on more densely-populated urban areas.

That’s certainly true here in Georgia. In fact, case rates are currently growing faster in rural counties than in major metropolitan centers, and rural areas by and large now have higher case rates.

To put this in perspective, Georgia is now one of 21 states accorded the dubious honor of being a Covid-19 “red zone” by Dr. Birx’s White House task force. That group recently began assigning that designation to states that meet one of two criteria — first, that the number of cases per 100,000 people rises by 100 or more over a seven-day period, or, second, that the “positivity rate” is higher than 10 percent.

Georgia makes the cut on both counts. Its cases and case rates have been rising relentlessly pretty much since the pandemic started, and its positivity rate has been floating above 10 percent for several weeks. Tuesday’s report (August 4th) from the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) puts the cumulative positivity rate at 11 percent and the rate for the batch of tests reported yesterday at 12.7 percent.

As of Tuesday’s report, 141 of the state’s 159 counties qualified as red zones in their own right, as the map to the left is intended to show. Each of the shaded counties posted increases of at least 100 cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days; the darker the shade, the bigger the increase. (The blank spots on the map represent the 18 counties that held their case rate increases under the 100-per-100,000-people threshold over the past seven days.)

One key story for Trouble in God’s Country is that Covid-19 is continuing to move tsunami-like across rural east-central Georgia. TIGC first reported in early July that the bug seemed to have finished savaging southwest Georgia and appeared to be moving, Sherman-like, eastward to the sea. The latest results make it clear that march is still underway.

While 141 of Georgia’s 159 counties posted increases of at least 100 per 100,000 people between July 28 and August 4, only 29 of those counties hit what might be considered stratospheric increases of 300 new cases per 100,000 in that same period.

As map below shows, 15 of those 29 counties are part of a connected chain covering much of east-central Georgia, an area that largely seeemed to escape the bug in its earlier phases. It runs more than 150 miles from Richmond County at its northern end to Atkinson County at the southernmost point.

And the case rates in most of the counties in that chain now dwarf those in Metro Atlanta. Such counties as Jeff Davis, Jefferson, Wayne, Toombs and Johnson, among others, have case rates of well over 2,000 per 100,000 people. The county with the highest case rate in Metro Atlanta, Gwinnett, has a current case rate of 1,874.18. (On the map, the number shown beneath each county’s name is the number of cases per 100,000 people that each county’s case rate increased between July 28 and August 4.)

Indeed, generally speaking, the smaller a county’s population, the bigger its recent increase in Covid-19 cases. As the table below shows, the 118 counties with populations of less than 50,000 people posted bigger increases in case rates than any of the other groups of counties with larger populations.

Interestingly, it was the groups of mid-sized groups of counties — 16 counties with populations between 50,000 and 100,000 — that posted the smallest increases (although those increases still qualified them for “red zone” status). There is no doubt a variety of reasons for this, but a couple of possibilities suggest themselves. One is that the group includes counties — like Dougherty and Floyd, among others — that suffered most of their damage in the early days of the pandemic, and their recent increases are relatively smaller. A second may be that many of these counties — Barrow, Walton, Jackson, Coweta and others — are in various stages of evolving from rural to exurban or suburban counties and have reached a stage where they can attract and sustain stronger healthcare delivery systems.