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Posts tagged ‘Brian Kemp’

TIGC tackles the big political question of 2022

This is the time of year when most journalists look back at the previous year and recap its major stories. Here at Trouble in God’s Country, I’ve decided to look to the future and take on the major question that will probably hang over Georgia politics for most of the rest of the year.

Specifically: Will Covid kill so many more Republicans than Democrats that it might actually influence the election results in November?

I know, I know. You’re thinking it’s impossible to know whether Covid victims voted red or blue. You’re probably also thinking the question is rude, insensitive and in poor taste. You may be right on both counts. But bear with me.

I took a first pass at this question back in September. At the time, I was looking at the laissez-faire approach Governor Brian Kemp was taking on Covid and linking that to the differing death and vaccination rates that were already taking shape between the state’s red and blue counties.

My thinking then was that the numbers were interesting but that the possibility that they might actually impact future election results was a little far-fetched.

Now, I think I can report that the possibility is a good bit less far-fetched.

First, one data point I used in that initial report probably understated the difference in the Covid death rates in red and blue Georgia. Back then — on September 10th — the Georgia Department of Public Health’s daily Covid report revealed that the Trump counties had suffered 10,545 deaths from the virus versus 9,468 for the Biden counties.

In that analysis, however, I ignored one column in the Georgia Department of Public Health’s daily reports: “Probable Deaths.” I did that in the interest of being cautious and conservative in the way I analyzed the data. I’ve since decided that was unnecessary and, frankly, wrong. Whatever the final cause of death is ruled to be, those “probable” Covid victims are still dead and, presumably, won’t be able to vote.

Add those “probables” to the tally and the body count in the GOP counties jumped, as of last September 10th, to 12,597 versus 10,361 for the 30 Democratic counties — a difference of 2,236. More interesting, I thought, but probably still not a big enough number to get worked up about.

So, what’s happened since then? Well, as of December 31st, the total Covid death toll in the Trump counties — for confirmed and probable deaths — was 17,119 versus 13,157 in the Biden counties, a difference of 3,962.

The bottom line arithmetic on this is that, for the 112 days between September 10th and the end of the year, the Republican counties, on average, lost an average of just over 40 people (virtually all of them voting age) to Covid versus just under 25 people in the Biden counties — a difference of 15.4 deaths per day.

Extrapolating from December 31st until the November 8th General Election would obviously be a risky exercise, but if — big if, I know — the current trend holds, the gap between the Republican and Democratic counties would swell to more than 8,700.

In a state where former President Trump got himself tape-recorded pleading with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” so he could reverse Biden’s Georgia victory, that’s probably a big enough number to merit a little attention.

And, yes, I know: I may be on shaky ground in suggesting that the geographic differences are a proxy for the political split. But at this point there’s enough data available that I’m comfortable doing just that: I’d wager the law of large numbers is kicking in and that, overall, the geographic and political splits are pretty close.

I’d bet that’s especially true once we factor in the vaccination differences. As of September 10th, the Democratic counties had already given two Covid shots to nearly 800,000 more of their residents than had the GOP counties. As of the end of the year, the vaccination advantage in the Biden counties had grown by another 60,000.

This picture comes into much sharper focus when you look at political universes that are overwhelmingly red or blue. Twenty-five largely rural or exurban counties gave Trump at least 80 percent of their 2020 vote; collectively they hit 83.6 percent for the incumbent president. As a point of comparison, urban DeKalb County gave Biden 84.1 percent of its vote.

This table summarizes the key data points.

With a much smaller population, the 25 Trump counties had nonetheless posted 1,129 more Covid deaths than DeKalb County at year’s end; indeed, the collective Covid death rate for those counties is substantially worse than Mississippi’s, which is currently the worst in the nation.

DeKalb, meanwhile, had fully vaccinated 52.6 percent of its population and gotten boosters in the arms of 19 percent. The 25 Trump counties lag badly in both categories.

Will these trends really ripple into Georgia’s political waters and influence the electoral tides this fall? We won’t know until the night of November 8th, but I think the numbers have gotten big enough that they’re worth watching.

And I’ll add this: If the former president has to come back to Georgia this winter in search of more supposedly missing votes, I’ll have a suggestion about where he should look. I’ll also offer one other piece of advice: bring shovels.

Georgia’s 40-year PCI rollercoaster ride

In the final 20 years of the last century, Georgia made remarkable economic progress on at least one front: the state’s per capita income (PCI) gained more than 10 percentage points against the national average and came within five points of that important benchmark. In the process, the state’s PCI rank among the 50 states and the District of Columbia climbed from a low of 41st to a high of 25th.

In the first two decades of this century, however, Georgia has surrendered nearly all those gains and fallen back into the nation’s bottom ranks for per capita income. Its 2020 rank was 37th. Only three states gained more ground against the national PCI average than Georgia between 1980 and 2000, and only four lost more ground between 2000 and 2020.

In the process, hundreds of thousands of Georgians were first lifted out of the bottom national quartile for per capita income but have since fallen back into it. As TIGC reported in its last post, Georgia finished 2020 with more of its citizens living in bottom-quartile PCI counties than any other state in the union, including states like Texas and Florida with significantly larger populations.

While that last post focused exclusively on new 2020 data released in November by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), this one takes a deeper look at a half-century’s worth of PCI data with an eye toward trying to answer a question we posed in the last post: Why is such a large portion of Georgians apparently stuck at the bottom of the nation’s income ladder?

The answer to that question remains elusive, but the lookback at the last 50 years reveals that Georgia has been on a PCI rollercoaster that is all but unique among the 50 states and D.C. Through the 1970s, Georgia’s PCI ranking was basically flat at between 38th and 40th place among the 50 states and D.C. But from 1983 through the end of the century, the state’s ranking climbed steadily, if unevenly, to a peak of 25th place in 1999 before plateauing at 26th place for the next three years. Since then, Georgia has dropped precipitously in the national PCI rankings. It bottomed out at 40th and 41st from 2008 through 2015 before rebounding to 37th by the end of 2020.

These are among the major findings and observations from an ongoing TIGC review of 50 years of personal income data produced by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

And while identifying the exact causes of the state’s rollercoaster ride will require further research, it’s difficult to ignore the overlap between the rise and fall of the state’s PCI fortunes with the transition in the state’s political leadership: all the gains occurred under Democratic governors and all the losses followed under Republicans.

The most dramatic progress came under Governor Joe Frank Harris, who served from 1983 through 1990. During that period, Georgia moved up in the PCI rankings from 37th to 30th. The progress continued under Governor Zell Miller, who succeeded Harris and served the next eight years. After plateauing at 30th or 31st for three years, the state resumed its climb and reached 26th place by the time Miller left office at the end of 1998. Under Governor Roy Barnes, the state’s last Democratic governor, the state’s PCI ranking peaked at 25th in 1999 and then plateaued at 26th for the final three years of his one term in office.

Barnes lost his 2002 reelection bid to Sonny Perdue, who took office in January 2003 as the state’s first Republican governor in modern times and went on to handily win reelection in 2006. By the time he left office in 2010, Georgia’s national PCI ranking had plunged 15 spots to 41st, tying an all-time low for the last half-century.

Under Nathan Deal, Perdue’s successor and the state’s second GOP governor in more than a century, the state’s national PCI ranking floated along at 41st and 40th for the first five years of Deal’s two terms before rebounding slightly to 38th by the time he left office. Now two years into the term of the state’s third Republican leader in modern times, Governor Brian Kemp, the state stands 37th in the nation’s PCI ranking — the same ranking it had when Governor Harris took office.

Whether the various governors deserved all the credit or blame for the ups and downs in the PCI rankings is a matter for debate, but it seems a fair question. Were there changes in economic development, education or other policies and practices that drove the rankings and, more importantly, the personal fortunes of Georgians impacted by the 40-year seesaw effect? Or was it all just a huge coincidence?

As part of this analysis, I have used the BEA data to rank all the counties in the country by per capita income, sort them into national quartiles, and then pull the 159 Georgia counties out of the national list. As a result, I can determine how many Georgia counties — and Georgians — lived in each quartile in any given year. So far, I’ve done this part of the analysis for each year preceding a gubernatorial transition.

At the end of 1982, just before Harris took office, some 21.8 percent of the state’s 5.65 million residents — about 1.23 million people — lived in 91 counties in the bottom quartile of the nation’s PCI rankings. By the time Barnes left office in 20 years later, those numbers were down dramatically: less than 10 percent of the state’s 8.51 million citizens — fewer than 830,000 people — lived in 53 counties in that bottom national quartile.

When Perdue left office in 2010, the percentage of Georgians living in bottom quartile counties had exploded to more than 30.3 percent of the state’s estimated population of 9.7 million people — some 2.9 million people in 104 counties. At the end of 2020, the picture was no better: more than 3.05 million Georgians were living in 104 bottom quartile counties — the most of any state in the country, as TIGC reported in its last post.

To be clear, Georgia’s PCI has continued to rise throughout this period, but for the past 18 years it has lost ground against the national average. When Barnes left office at the end of 2002, the state’s average PCI of $30,133 was 94.6 percent of the national average of $31,859. When Perdue left office eight years later, the state’s average PCI stood at $34,830, but that was only 85.6 percent of the national average for 2002: $40,690.

The two graphs below should help tell this story. The first one illustrates the rise and fall of Georgia’s per capita income as a percentage of the national average. The straight blue line across the upper part of the graph represents the national average across the 40-year timescale. The orange line below it illustrates the rise and fall of Georgia’s per capita income as a percentage of that national average.

This second graph shows how Georgia’s actual per capita income tracks against the national average over the past 40 years. The gap narrowed, sometimes unevenly, through the 1980s and ’90s before beginning to widen at the turn of the century.

This is the second of at least three posts I’m developing based on the BEA’s latest economic data. In the next one, I’ll return to my usual focus on the state’s urban-rural divide, including trends in the different regions of the state.

(c) Copyright Trouble in God’s Country 2021

TIGC takes a fresh look at the political arithmetic of Covid-19 and poses a rude question

With less than 14 months to go before Georgia’s 2022 statewide elections, TIGC has decided it’s time to tackle the obvious political question that other observers and commentators are too polite and high-minded to address, namely: Are Republicans killing their own voters?

This is admittedly tough to prove. But it’s difficult — nay, impossible — to compare the state’s Covid-19 performance with recent election results and not at least wonder. As of this past Friday, the 129 counties that sided with Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election had significantly higher Covid-19 case rates and death rates — and much lower vaccination rates — than the 30 counties that went for Joe Biden.

Some raw numbers: Covid-19 data published Friday, September 10th, by the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) tells us that the Trump counties had suffered 1,077 more deaths than the Biden counties while vaccinating nearly 800,000 fewer people. Perhaps even worse for the Trump counties, their combined 14-day case rate — a measure of current rather than long-term trends — is a solid 41 percent higher than the rate in the Biden counties.

Of course, these numbers alone don’t prove anything. The virus is, as far as we know, politically agnostic, and neither death certificates nor vaccination records list political party preference. Further, it’s probably mathematically possible that an actual body count (an audit, perhaps, that compares death certificates with primary voting histories) would tell a different story. But a look at various bits and pieces of anecdotal data makes it difficult to conclude that Democrats are suffering a bigger Covid-19 hit.

Take, for instance, Brantley County. Located in deep southeast Georgia, Brantley gave Trump his biggest Georgia margin — 90.9 percent of the vote — but, as of Friday’s DPH report, it had the fourth-worst vaccination rate in the state at 20.8 percent. This could be purely coincidental, but your humble scribe here at TIGC is skeptical of that. Of the 51 Covid-19 deaths Brantley had reported by this past Friday, 43 were white, and all but three were 50 or older.

It is, of course, possible to find counternarratives in county-specific data. As an example, dirt-poor and heavily-black Hancock County, which gave Biden one of his biggest margins (72.1 percent) also had the state’s worst Covid-19 death rate as of Friday. That said, Hancock Countians seem to be taking the hint: 42.2 percent had been fully vaccinated as of last Friday, according to DPH data, one of the state’s highest rates, especially among rural counties.

Indeed, any attempt to find county-level correlations between Trump-Biden vote splits and, say, case or death rates is doomed to failure — thanks to a host of other variables that come into play, including race, poverty and educational levels, probably among others.

But at a macro level, fairly clear patterns begin to emerge, as this table shows.

Against the backdrop of those kinds of numbers, you’d think Georgia’s GOP leaders would be doing more to promote vaccinations and other Covid-19 mitigation measures, including masking. While Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, has gotten vaccinated and publicly encouraged others to do so, it seems fair to say his support for anti-Covid policies has been less than full-throated. He has overridden attempts by local governments to impose masking mandates and other mitigation measures, and he’s up on Twitter today with (so far) three tweets attacking President Biden’s plan to require all businesses with more than 100 employees to ensure they’re vaccinated or at least tested weekly for the virus.

Kemp’s lack of enthusiasm on the anti-Covid front may have trickled down and infected the state’s bureaucracy. DPH has made a good bit of Covid material available to the media on its website and produced at least one television ad earlier this year, but it’s not clear how much play that ad got — or how effective it was. It does seem fair to suggest that the state-level effort left a vacuum that at least some local governments and health departments have felt compelled to try to fill.

As an example, Gwinnett County earlier this year launched a campaign built around “listening to moms” to encourage Covid-19 mitigation measures, including vaccinations, and has reportedly spent more than a half-million dollars on the campaign. It may be getting a decent return on that investment. While Gwinnett went through a Covid “hot spot” phase several months ago and has one of the state’s higher overall case rates, its Covid death rate is one of the lowest in the state and its vaccination rate, at 48.5 percent, ranked 6th best in the state as of last Friday. Its also the largest of the Metro Atlanta counties that was solidly Republican a decade ago but has shifted from red to blue since then: it went nearly 60-40 for Biden in the 2020 election.

TIGC won’t attempt to use these numbers to extrapolate over the next 14 months and estimate an impact on the 2022 elections, but it’s difficult to imagine that any of the state’s Republican politicians or operatives would find much good news — or comfort — in them. If the current 1,077-death difference between the Trump and Biden counties just happens to parallel the difference in voters lost by each party to Covid so far, that alone probably won’t spell the difference in next year’s elections.

But then you have to figure out how to factor in the difference in vaccination rates and recent Delta variant case rates — and layer that onto that the fundamental health differences between the state’s overwhelmingly rural Republican areas and its largely Democratic urban climes, including, specifically, higher rates of lethal comorbidities such as obesity and diabetes. Will those conditions, in combination with Covid-19, compound the premature death rates that are already higher in predominantly Republican rural Georgia?

Governor Kemp’s management of the state’s Covid plague may not quite rise to the level of criminal negligence or manslaughter. But it might yet turn out to be political suicide.

(Couple of notes on my methodology in this piece. In crunching the presidential votes, I’ve ignored Libertarian votes, as I usually do. In analyzing various pieces of DPH data, I’ve found that different units of the department use different population estimates to calculate the various case, death and vaccination rates. The vaccination rates published by DPH are pegged to 2018 population estimates, according to its own “Data Descriptions” published with the daily reports. It’s not clear to me what population estimates DPH uses to calculate daily case and death rates; the numbers don’t quite match any of the annual estimates I can find. In the interest of consistency, I have used 2020 population estimates pulled directly from the Department’s OASIS database (I haven’t had time to get into the actual county-level census counts yet). My use of the 2020 estimates produces slightly different case, death and vaccination rates than those shown on the various DPH reports. Also, many thanks to several Facebook friends who helped me crowdsource information about state and local Covid communications programs, especially old friend Terry L. Wells.)

New medical study confirms what TIGC has been saying for a year now. You’re welcome.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM) earlier this week published a new statistical study which basically found that American states led by Democratic governors have fared better through the worst of the pandemic than those governed by Republicans.

Opined the authors: “Gubernatorial party affiliation may drive policy decisions that impact COVID-19 infections and deaths across the U.S. Future policy decisions should be guided by public health considerations rather than political ideology.”

Gee, you think?

Actually, I’m glad to see this kind of big academic study. As eye-glazing as it can be in places, it reinforces a lot of the observations I’ve made here at Trouble in God’s Country since Covid-19 rolled in a year ago. Early on, I started noticing differences between between Georgia, where Republican Governor Brian Kemp was famously loathe to impose restrictions because of the pandemic, and North Carolina, where Democratic Governor Roy Cooper acted pretty quickly and decisively to begin closing down his state.

The two states have a lot in common, including demographics, economics, educational levels, and population size. Pretty much from the get-go, North Carolina was performing more Covid-19 tests and reporting more confirmed cases but fewer deaths.

Based on the latest data available from the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker, North Carolina has since significantly out-performed Georgia. As of Thursday, March 11, Georgia, with a population of 10.6 million, had more than a million confirmed and probable cases and 18,117 Covid-19 deaths; North Carolina, whose population is only slightly smaller at 10.4 million, has recorded 879,825 such cases and 11,622 deaths.

A week or so after that first Georgia-North Carolina comparison last March, I posted a new piece that broadened the focus and compared a half-dozen Old South states led by proudly conservative Republicans (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee) to three deep blue West Coast states led by liberal Democratic governors (California, Oregon and Washington).

The two regions had very comparable populations — 51.4 million for the three West Coast states versus 51.9 million for the six Old South states. But the regions’ governors were taking very different approaches in fighting the virus. The governors on the West Coast, which bore the brunt of the virus’s initial attack, took early, dramatic actions to shut down their states and limit the virus’s spread, while the Old South’s GOP governors were openly resisting most public health-driven actions.

At the time of that initial report — not even a month into the pandemic — the West Coast had suffered 543 deaths versus 500 for the Old South, but the Old South was already piling up more cases: more than 24,000 versus just over 18,500 for the West Coast.

I pulled fresh numbers from the CDC’s Covid-19 Data Tracking website on Friday, and the Old South’s performance now looks much worse in comparison to the West Coast (where, again, the virus initially turned Seattle into the public health equivalent of Chernobyl and has continued to savage the California coast) than it did last April. The Old South states have racked up 25,000 more deaths than the West Coast and a million more confirmed and probable cases, as this table details:

The AJPM study found that the Republican-led states had lower case and death rates for the first several months of the pandemic, but that those trend lines crossed — on June 3, 2020, for case rates and a month later, on July 4, for death rates.

That’s generally in line with another TIGC observation. I tracked county-level case and death rates on an almost daily basis for the first several months of the pandemic by the political party each county sided with in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election. Early on, the virus did most of its damage in urban areas that were heavily populated and largely Democratic, such as Metro Atlanta; the virus was indeed slow to show up in sparsely-populated rural areas of Georgia that largely sided with Governor Kemp and other Republicans.

But it did get there — and, just as the authors of the AJPM study found, the trend lines eventually crossed. By my calculations, the death rate in counties that went for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams had been higher — that is, worse — from the opening days of the pandemic through most of August; they crossed on August 25, 2020. The case rate trend lines were a little slower to intersect, but finally crossed on September 9.

11-3-covid-data-table.jpg (328×125)

I took another look at this phenomenon following last year’s presidential election and found the same pattern, as this table to the right shows. By election day, President Donald J. Trump’s Georgia counties had significantly worse case rates, death rates and 14-day case rates than his then-Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.

The authors of the AJPM study were careful to avoid asserting causality in the statistical relationship between the governors’ party affiliation and their states’ Covid-19 results. And, indeed, there are a variety of factors other than politics that probably contribute to different outcomes. In an early piece speculating that rural Georgia might eventually be harder hit than the state’s urban areas, I cited the facts that rural Georgians were generally in poorer health than their city cousins and had access to much frailer health care delivery systems. At that point, the political differences were just beginning to come into focus.

But, statistical limitations aside, it now seems silly to ignore the obvious political relationships and implications. It’s often said that the 50 states function as laboratories for American democracy. For a year now, that’s clearly been the case where America’s response to Covid-19 is concerned. But it’s a shame we all wound up being used as human guinea pigs.

(c) Copyright Trouble in God’s Country 2021

Long-time friend and long-ago colleague Terry L. Wells contributed to this article. He first spotted and posted to Facebook an article about the AJPM study, without which I probably would have missed the whole thing.

Forget the “two Georgias,” welcome to Massassippi

I can’t remember whether he wrote it or said it, but years ago the legendary Atlanta Constitution editor Bill Shipp opined that if you lifted Metro Atlanta out of Georgia, what was left would be worse off than Mississippi. I remember it because I’m from Mississippi and my first reaction was: Really? There might be an area that was dumber and poorer than my home state?

That was long enough ago that it was difficult to round up and analyze the data you’d need to prove Shipp’s point one way or the other. Now, though, all you need is an internet connection, a spreadsheet and a little time, and recently I found myself plowing through a fresh batch of education data and decided to put the Shipp thesis to the test.

And guess what? On at least one count, he was — and is — right: Mississippi has a slightly higher percentage of college graduates than the 147 Georgia counties that lie outside Trouble in God’s Country’s 12-county Metro Atlanta region.

In Mississippi, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), 21.8 percent of adults 25 and older hold college degrees. For Georgia’s 147 non-Metro Atlanta counties, the figure is 21.3 percent. If those 147 counties constituted a state unto themselvces, it would rank next-to-last nationally for this metric. West Virginia stands dead last with 20.3 percent of its adult population holding college degrees.

All of which begs the question: If Georgia’s 147 non-Metro Atlanta counties are, collectively, so close to the bottom of the college education pile, where would the Great State of Metro Atlanta stand?

Pretty dang close to the top, it turns out. For TIGC’s 12-county region, the share of adults holding college degrees is 41.1 percent, and that would put it No. 3 nationally — behind the District of Columbia (57.6 percent) and Massachusetts (42.9 percent). Colorado would be No. 4 at 40.1 percent, and no other state tops 40 percent.

It wasn’t always this way. The 1970 Census found that there were fewer than a quarter-million college graduates living in the entire state of Georgia — and a slight majority of those lived in the 147 counties outside TIGC’s Metro Atlanta region.

According to the latest ACS estimates, which cover the period 2014 through 2018, the state is now home to more than two million college graduates. Metro Atlanta, with 47.2 percent of the state’s adult population, claimed 63.2 percent of those college graduates — 1.32 million. The other 147 counties are home to 52.8 percent of the adult population but only 36.7 of the college graduates. TIGC’s 56-county South Georgia region still has more high school dropouts than college graduates, according to the ACS data.

It’s now been more than 40 years since the state’s political and civic leaders began fretting about “the two Georgias.” Today, I’d submit moved well beyond that split and are looking at a mash-up of the states of Mississippi and Massachusetts — the Schizophrenic State of Massassippi. That kind of tortured combination may be difficult to comprehend, but it could be our future — and the educational divide is just the beginning. It already extends demonstrably to economics, population health, politics and a range of cultural issues.

To understand the impact of the educational differences on economic performance, we need look no further than the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis’s data on county-level gross domestic product (GDP). According to that data, Metro Atlanta produced 62.43 percent of the state’s GDP in 2018 and generated more than 76 percent of its economic growth over the previous five years. Today, fully three-fourths of Georgia’s GDP is produced north of the gnat line.

As bad as the educational divide is, it’ll probably get worse before it gets better — if it ever does. One disturbing trend previously unearthed here at TIGC is a stunning drop-off in enrollment at University System of Georgia (USG) institutions from the 147 non-Metro Atlanta counties. Based on an analysis of a decade’s worth of USG fall enrollment data, the non-Metro Atlanta counties were sending more new freshmen to USG institutions up through 2009.

But that changed in 2010, as the Great Recession began to take its toll: fall enrollment from the 147 non-Metro Atlanta counties fell off a cliff and started a five-year slide, as the graph here shows. Metro Atlanta took a one-year hit in 2011, then began a slow and mostly steady recovery year and got back to its high water mark in 2018. The other 147 counties finally enjoyed a little recovery in 2015 but then plateaued and have been flat since then.

The contrast gets to be even starker if you look only at the state’s two flagship institutions of higher education, the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech. In 2018, as the graphs at the left show, Metro Atlanta overwhelmingly dominated enrollment at both universities. Some 71 Georgia counties didn’t send a single new freshman to Georgia Tech that year; at UGA, the same was true of 22 counties.

Georgia’s current crop of politicians are, of course, concerned with the divide and its implications. Governor Brian Kemp launched a “rural strike team” in 2019, and he and the General Assembly this year may begin putting some money into rural broadband. Earlier this month Kemp announced a public-private initiative that would plow more than $200 million into providing hardwired internet service to 80,000 locations in 18 mostly Middle Georgia counties. Whether that bet will pay off remains to be seen, of course — especially without improvements in more fundamental local education needs.

They had better hope they do. Otherwise we may have to bring Shipp, the old Constitution editor who regularly used an old manual typewriter like a sledgehammer, out of retirement to start warning that we’re closing in on West Virginia.

(c) Trouble in God’s Country 2021

Will 2020 be rural Georgia’s last stand?

This year’s presidential election — and tomorrow’s election-day voting — is shaping up as another rematch in the long-running political war between urban and rural Georgia. The big question is whether rural Georgia can hold off Metro Atlanta’s rising urban and suburban tide one more time.

While demographics are clearly working against the state’s rural regions, they have managed to hang on at least until now; in 2018, rural voters turned out in bigger droves than their urban counterparts and dragged Brian Kemp across the finish line and into the governor’s office.

There’s little evidence in this year’s political tea leaves to suggest that rural Georgia’s task has gotten any easier. One of the biggest clues has been President Trump’s own campaign strategy. The fact that he’s been here twice in the past two weeks makes it clear that Georgia is indeed in play (as do virtually all the recent state polls), but it’s the way he’s campaigned here that’s the dead give-away.

Instead of making a public play for the suburban women whose votes he publicly covets, he’s gone instead to Macon and Rome, regional communities that anchor surrounding rural areas that gave him overwhelming majorities in 2016. Clearly, Trump’s strategic objective is to juice his rural base and maximize its turnout, not to try to reclaim suburbs that may be slipping away.

Beyond Trump’s own campaign tactics, the most attention-getting data point I’ve found is that the 29 counties that voted for Democrat Stacey Abrams in 2018 have cast 345,304 more absentee and in-person early votes than voters in the 130 largely rural counties that sided with Kemp. I mined that figure from the excellent georgiavotes.com website, which pulls data from the Georgia Secretary of State’s website and organizes it for easy public consumption.

It’s difficult (for me, at least) to read those numbers in any way except that the Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, has probably built up a pretty good advantage in the early vote and will begin tomorrow morning with a fair Georgia lead over Trump. The question for Trump’s rural Georgia supporters is whether they can replicate the 2018 turnout advantage and overcome what looks like an early Biden wave.

In 2018, the 130 largely rural counties that went for Kemp produced higher turnouts than the Abrams counties in both the early vote and the total vote. In the early vote, the Kemp counties produced 34.3 percent of their eligible vote versus 31.7 percent for the Abrams counties; by the time all the votes were tallied, the Kemp counties’ turnout was 62.1 percent versus 60.6 for the Abrams counties. That difference was arguably decisive.

So far this year, the Democrats appear to be doing a good bit better: the early vote turnout in the 29 Abrams counties (driven no doubt by Covid-19 concerns as well as heightened interest in the presidential race) is 51.8 percent versus 52.4 percent in the Kemp counties — a mere half-point difference.

Even with the improved numbers, Biden and the Democrats face some notable soft spots. One problem that seems to be repeating itself is the turnout performance difference between Metro Atlanta’s white north side and black south side.

For example, in the 2018 governor’s race, heavily white and overwhelmingly Republican Forsyth County, on Metro Atlanta’s northern edge, turned out 64.9 percent of its registered voters and gave Kemp 70.6 percent of those votes; the south side’s Clayton County, heavily black and Abrams’s strongest county, delivered only 54.4 percent of its available vote.

This year, the divide is even bigger so far: 67.6 percent of Forsyth’s registered voters have cast their ballots versus only 43.6 percent Clayton County’s. Other heavily-black, Democratic counties also seem to be under-performing in the early vote: Bibb County at 46 percent; Dougherty, 33.5 percent, and Richmond, 43.8 percent, among others.

A final question is whether the state will continue the red-to-blue shift that has been taking place over the past several election cycles, and all these challenges are, of course, intertwined. Democrats lost Georgia by five points in the 2016 presidential race and by less than two in the governor’s race in 2018. If they can gain that much ground again this year, Biden will carry Georgia and win its 16 electoral votes. Pumping up those turnout percentages in Bibb, Dougherty and Richmond, et al, is probably key to that.

(c) Trouble in God’s Country 2020

Covid-19 case rates now slightly higher in GOP counties

We reported last week that the collective Covid-19 death rates in the largely rural and sparsely populated Georgia counties that sided with Republican Brian Kemp in the 2018 governor’s race had surpassed that of the mostly urban and densely populated counties that went for his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams.

TIGC also reported last week that the case rate trend lines were converging. We can now report that those lines have indeed crossed and that the 130 mostly rural counties that voted for Kemp and narrowly nudged him into the governor’s office now have slightly higher Covid-19 case rates than the 29 counties that went for Abrams.

Based on TIGC calculations using data pulled from the Georgia Department of Public Health’s daily Covid-19 status updates, the case rate lines appear to have crossed on September 9th, as the chart below shows. They had run at nearly identical rates for several days before that and have been steadily separating ever since.

This chart shows recent trends in confirmed Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people in the 130 counties that voted for Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, versus the 29 that sided with his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, in the 2018 governor’s race.

The case rate trend lines have been separating slowly but steadily since they crossed about a week ago. The table below shows the case rates — the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people — as the numbers tightened up around September 6th, crossed on the 9th, and then continued to separate through the 17th.

Those trends can of course change. All it would take is the emergence of a new Covid-19 hotspot in one of the state’s larger urban — and typically Democratic — counties.

For the moment, though, the current data would appear to put to rest early thinking that Covid-19 would do more damage in heavily populated urban areas. While it clearly struck first in such areas — including, of course, Metro Atlanta — it has since found its way into rural areas. Indeed, the interesection of the case and death rate trendlines coincides generally with the virus’s Sherman-like march to the sea across the state’s rural east-central and southeastern counties.

Covid-19 death rate in Kemp counties now tops that in Abrams counties; case rate trend lines also converging

Here’s a little breaking news on the coronavirus front: The Covid-19 death rate is now higher, collectively, in the Georgia counties that voted for Governor Brian Kemp in 2018 than in those that went for his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams. What’s more, the difference in the rate of confirmed cases is narrowing dramatically.

This is a little bit of a surprise. Early on, the virus hit densely-populated urban Democratic precincts much harder than remote, sparsely-populated Republican communities, and there was a good bit of credible speculation that the gap between the two might never fully close.

The New York Times took a deep dive into national data in late May and posited that while case and death rates were rising in conservative areas, it wasn’t “on a scale that would close the gap in the virus’s impact on red and blue counties.”

That’s no longer true in Georgia. The Covid-19 death rate in the 130 mostly rural counties carried by Kemp in 2018 squeaked past that of the 29 largely urban counties that went for Abrams on August 25th.

The Kemp and Abrams death rate trend lines converged through the middle part of August. They were nearly identical by August 24th — 47.52 deaths per 100,000 people in the Abrams counties versus 47.43 in the Kemp counties. The next day, the lines crossed — 48.37 deaths per 100,000 people in the Abrams counties versus 48.52 in the Kemp counties — and they’ve been separating, fairly rapidly, ever since, as the graph above shows.

The Abrams counties have so far suffered more overall deaths than the Kemp counties: 3,095 out of population of 5.67 million versus 2,833 out of a population of 4.95 million. But even that may be changing. Since the Kemp and Abrams death rate trendlines crossed on August 25th, there have been 785 Covid-19 deaths in Georgia. Of those, 353 occurred in the Abrams counties while 432 took place in Kemp country.

While the Abrams counties are still reporting higher rates of confirmed Covid-19 cases than the Kemp counties, those trend lines are also converging. On August 25th — the day the death rate trend lines crossed — the 29 Abrams counties had a combined confirmed case rate of 2316.7 cases per 100,000 while the combined case rate for the 130 Kemp counties was 2178.6, a difference of 6.3 percent. By September 8th, the difference was down to 1.9 percent — 2529.9 cases per 100,000 people for the Abrams counties versus 2483.2 for the Kemp counties.

Put another way, during that August 25-September 8 period, the Abrams counties reported a total of 12,089 new confirmed Covid-19 cases while the Kemp counties reported 15,069 new cases.

These trends can, of course, shift. The recent death and case rate trends appear to have been driven largely by the virus’s Sherman-like march across east-central and southeast Georgia, which is heavily rural and went overwhelmingly for Kemp. All it would take to alter — indeed, reverse — these patterns would be a major outbreak in one or more of the major urban counties.

Still, the current data and trends would appear to put to rest the early thinking that the virus would be satisfied with feasting on Democrats in densely-populated urban areas. It took it a while, but it finally found its way to virtually every corner of the state’s rural areas, which have older, less healthy populations and frailer healthcare delivery systems. Those Republican hunting grounds now appear to be just as fruitful for Covid-19 as the big Democratic cities.

Even a nonpartisan plague gets politicized in 21st century America

It was, of course, inevitable that the Covid-19 pandemic would quickly be viewed through a political lens.  I’m as guilty as anybody.  Pretty early on, I was complaining on Facebook about President Trump’s bungling of the nation’s response to the plague, and here on Trouble in God’s Country I took note of the different strategies pursued by Republican governors here in the bright red old south versus their liberal Democratic counterparts the far west.

On Monday, The New York Times published a report that took the first big look (at least that I’ve seen) at whether the ugly little virus was wreaking more havoc on Democrats or Republicans.  Under the headline “The Coronavirus is Deadliest Where Democrats Live,” the Times reported:

“Democrats are far more likely to live in counties where the virus has ravaged the community, while Republicans are more likely to live in counties that have been relatively unscathed by the illness, though they are paying an economic price. Counties won by President Trump in 2016 have reported just 27 percent of the virus infections and 21 percent of the deaths — even though 45 percent of Americans live in these communities, a New York Times analysis has found.”

I’d been thinking about doing the same sort of piece about Georgia, but was concerned that any such analysis would be flawed by a variety of factors, including limited data and questions about the extent of testing in certain parts of the state, especially rural areas.  I still have those concerns, but if the great gray lady can hold forth on this topic, so can Trouble in God’s Country.

The Times sorted national Covid-19 data by counties that voted for Trump in 2016 versus those that went for Democrat Hillary Clinton.  I used county-level data from Georgia’s 2018 governor’s race and mashed it up with Covid-19 cases and deaths reported by the Georgia Department of Public Health as of early Tuesday morning, May 26.

Georgia’s Democratic counties — the 29 that voted for Stacey Abrams in 2018 — have so far borne the brunt of the virus’s attack, but the picture here isn’t as lopsided as the national breakdown reported by the Times.

The Abrams/Democratic counties are home to 53.2 percent of the state’s population and have so far suffered 55.8 percent of the infections and 57.4 percent of the Covid-19 deaths.  The Abrams counties were for the most part heavily and densely populated urban counties, including the largest counties in Metro Atlanta, along with major out-state counties and a handful of smaller rural counties.

The 129 counties carried by the ultimate winner in that 2018 race, Republican Brian Kemp, claim 46.8 percent of the state’s population and so far have posted 44.2 percent of the Covid-19 cases and 42.6 percent of the deaths.  Governor Kemp’s counties were largely rural counties (as the map here shows). 2018 Unshaded Map

The Times also reports that: “In the country as a whole, outbreaks in conservative rural counties are rising, but not on a scale that would close the gap in the virus’s impact on red and blue counties.”

I’m skeptical that holds here in Georgia.  While Abrams’s Democratic counties have logged more cases and deaths than Kemp’s Republican counties, their overall case rates and Covid-19 death rates aren’t that different.  In Abrams’s counties, 387.8 people per 100,000 have contracted the virus and 18.3 per 100,000 have died; in Kemp’s counties, 346.3 people per 100,000 have tested positive while 15.5 per 100,000 have died.

In addition to having relatively comparable case and death rates, my analysis of an admittedly limited body of DPH data suggests that case rates in rural Georgia are ticking up at least a little faster than in urban areas.  From May 16 through May 26, case rates in the Kemp counties rose 17.6 percent versus 14.5 percent in the Abrams counties.

Two other factors contribute to my suspicion that the gap between the Kemp and Abrams counties might continue to close.  One is that it’s still not clear that sufficient testing is being done in rural counties.  The other is that there’s a growing body of polling and other data to suggest that Republicans, perhaps especially those in rural areas, are taking the virus less seriously than their Democratic counterparts and not doing as good a job of following masking and social-distancing recommendations (here’s one good story on this phenomenon).

Bottom line, while more densely-populated Democratic counties may have represented low-hanging fruit for Covid-19, it’s far from clear that it hasn’t been able to find its way to Georgia’s sparsely-populated rural counties.  If testing becomes more pervasive in rural Georgia and its residents are indeed taking a casual attitude toward the virus, the gap between the Democratic and Republican counties will almost certainly close up.

My hunch is that we’ll eventually realize that the virus itself is the only truly nonpartisan actor in this ongoing tragedy.

___________

Following are lists of the counties carried by Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams in the 2018 Georgia governor’s race, along with data on the number of positive Covid-19 cases and deaths as of the morning of May 26, 2020.  To conduct this analysis and show the totals and case rates by the two groups of counties, I had to recalculate the county-specific case rates and then calculate the totals and rates for each group.  For some reason, the case rate results I got were a little different from those published by DPH.  As the denominator, I used the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 population estimates.  The equation for calculating the case rates is straightforward: (Positive Cases/2019 Population Estimates) X 100,000.  In the interest of transparency, I’m showing both the DPH Case Rates (as published on its website) and the TIGC Case Rate Calculation.

Kemp Counties:

County Positive Cases Deaths DPH Case Rate 2019 Population Estimates TIGC Case Rate Calculation
Appling 134 13 721.9 18,386 728.8
Atkinson 31 2 372.2 8,165 379.7
Bacon 77 2 675.2 11,164 689.7
Baker 33 2 1059.1 3,038 1086.2
Banks 73 0 365.3 19,234 379.5
Barrow 292 11 338.0 83,240 350.8
Bartow 443 36 399.9 107,738 411.2
Ben Hill 61 1 366.5 16,700 365.3
Berrien 37 0 192.0 19,397 190.8
Bleckley 38 0 296.0 12,873 295.2
Brantley 51 2 265.6 19,109 266.9
Brooks 67 9 426.0 15,457 433.5
Bryan 70 5 178.9 39,627 176.6
Bulloch 52 2 65.4 79,608 65.3
Burke 123 4 550.5 22,383 549.5
Butts 211 21 838.2 24,936 846.2
Camden 55 1 102.0 54,666 100.6
Candler 13 0 120.0 10,803 120.3
Carroll 472 24 392.9 119,992 393.4
Catoosa 105 0 152.7 67,580 155.4
Charlton 29 1 218.9 13,392 216.5
Chattahoochee 25 0 232.6 10,907 229.2
Chattooga 24 2 96.9 24,789 96.8
Cherokee 831 29 311.7 258,773 321.1
Clinch 56 1 841.4 6,618 846.2
Coffee 250 13 580.8 43,273 577.7
Colquitt 349 14 768.8 45,600 765.4
Columbia 224 6 141.2 156,714 142.9
Cook 46 2 263.8 17,270 266.4
Coweta 376 8 247.4 148,509 253.2
Crawford 26 0 212.6 12,404 209.6
Crisp 223 7 1000.5 22,372 996.8
Dade 27 1 167.1 16,116 167.5
Dawson 103 1 381.2 26,108 394.5
Decatur 153 4 581.3 26,404 579.5
Dodge 48 2 235.5 20,605 233.0
Dooly 172 12 1283.6 13,390 1284.5
Early 235 29 2316.2 10,190 2306.2
Echols 62 0 1562.1 4,006 1547.7
Effingham 63 1 98.4 64,296 98.0
Elbert 71 0 374.8 19,194 369.9
Emanuel 27 2 119.1 22,646 119.2
Evans 5 0 46.8 10,654 46.9
Fannin 40 1 152.0 26,188 152.7
Fayette 221 13 188.0 114,421 193.1
Floyd 228 14 228.2 98,498 231.5
Forsyth 480 12 190.1 244,252 196.5
Franklin 39 1 167.2 23,349 167.0
Gilmer 137 0 436.1 31,369 436.7
Glascock 1 0 33.1 2,971 33.7
Glynn 87 1 101.1 85,292 102.0
Gordon 138 15 237.7 57,963 238.1
Grady 93 4 379.0 24,633 377.5
Greene 64 7 341.9 18,324 349.3
Habersham 502 19 1096.1 45,328 1107.5
Hall 2327 41 1127.7 204,441 1138.2
Haralson 36 2 117.2 29,792 120.8
Harris 83 4 239.1 35,236 235.6
Hart 26 0 99.6 26,205 99.2
Heard 28 2 226.4 11,923 234.8
Houston 349 16 222.2 157,863 221.1
Irwin 24 1 254.4 9,416 254.9
Jackson 148 4 198.1 72,977 202.8
Jasper 31 1 218.3 14,219 218.0
Jeff Davis 34 1 224.5 15,115 224.9
Jenkins 18 1 209.9 8,676 207.5
Johnson 81 2 838.4 9,643 840.0
Jones 34 0 118.9 28,735 118.3
Lamar 53 1 273.9 19,077 277.8
Lanier 14 2 135.3 10,423 134.3
Laurens 104 1 219.9 47,546 218.7
Lee 354 22 1181.1 29,992 1180.3
Lincoln 15 0 184.6 7,921 189.4
Long 12 1 60.3 19,559 61.4
Lowndes 250 4 212.1 117,406 212.9
Lumpkin 91 1 269.2 33,610 270.8
Madison 39 1 129.2 29,880 130.5
Marion 49 2 590.9 8,359 586.2
McDuffie 63 5 291.7 21,312 295.6
McIntosh 12 0 82.4 14,378 83.5
Meriwether 78 2 371.1 21,167 368.5
Miller 38 0 659.3 5,718 664.6
Mitchell 399 32 1809.0 21,863 1825.0
Monroe 118 8 425.6 27,578 427.9
Montgomery 10 0 108.4 9,172 109.0
Morgan 37 0 193.3 19,276 191.9
Murray 78 1 193.7 40,096 194.5
Oconee 105 5 251.6 40,280 260.7
Oglethorpe 58 5 380.6 15,259 380.1
Paulding 291 11 168.7 168,667 172.5
Peach 70 3 255.7 27,546 254.1
Pickens 43 3 128.2 32,591 131.9
Pierce 90 3 460.5 19,465 462.4
Pike 50 2 265.1 18,962 263.7
Polk 97 0 223.1 42,613 227.6
Pulaski 39 2 358.0 11,137 350.2
Putnam 88 8 402.1 22,119 397.8
Quitman 11 1 479.5 2,299 478.5
Rabun 15 1 88.3 17,137 87.5
Schley 16 1 303.3 5,257 304.4
Screven 28 2 201.4 13,966 200.5
Seminole 43 2 528.3 8,090 531.5
Spalding 259 17 374.8 66,703 388.3
Stephens 123 2 467.2 25,925 474.4
Tattnall 15 0 59.0 25,286 59.3
Taylor 21 2 263.9 8,020 261.8
Telfair 33 1 210.9 15,860 208.1
Thomas 313 31 704.5 44,451 704.1
Tift 228 15 558.4 40,644 561.0
Toombs 50 4 185.3 26,830 186.4
Towns 22 1 182.8 12,037 182.8
Treutlen 8 0 117.2 6,901 115.9
Troup 260 9 369.2 69,922 371.8
Turner 105 12 1300.2 7,985 1315.0
Twiggs 14 0 173.1 8,120 172.4
Union 39 1 153.9 24,511 159.1
Upson 275 33 1046.5 26,320 1044.8
Walker 96 0 137.9 69,761 137.6
Walton 196 10 204.6 94,593 207.2
Ware 218 14 608.0 35,734 610.1
Washington 73 1 359.6 20,374 358.3
Wayne 17 0 56.7 29,927 56.8
Webster 11 1 431.4 2,607 421.9
Wheeler 9 0 113.8 7,855 114.6
White 94 3 296.0 30,798 305.2
Whitfield 283 7 270.4 104,628 270.5
Wilcox 98 13 1114.9 8,635 1134.9
Wilkes 32 1 319.6 9,777 327.3
Wilkinson 65 4 728.8 8,954 725.9
Worth 210 19 1042.6 20,247 1037.2
         17,137 765     4,948,281 346.3

Abrams Counties:

County Positive Cases Deaths DPH Case Rate 2019 Population Estimates TIGC Case Rate Calculation
Baldwin 330 25 742.8 44,890 735.1
Bibb 435 24 285.9 153,159 284.0
Calhoun 128 5 2026.3 6,189 2068.2
Chatham 448 21 153.3 289,430 154.8
Clarke 232 13 178.8 128,331 180.8
Clay 35 2 1225.9 2,834 1235.0
Clayton 1132 43 371.3 292,256 387.3
Cobb 2795 146 353.5 760,141 367.7
DeKalb 3305 104 416.7 759,297 435.3
Dougherty 1730 140 1924.3 87,956 1966.9
Douglas 504 22 331.8 146,343 344.4
Fulton 4080 199 371.2 1,063,937 383.5
Gwinnett 3198 121 329.3 936,250 341.6
Hancock 191 22 2331.3 8,457 2258.5
Henry 641 19 267.2 234,561 273.3
Jefferson 29 1 189.4 15,362 188.8
Liberty 67 0 108.2 61,435 109.1
Macon 95 6 731.4 12,947 733.8
Muscogee 564 17 294.3 195,769 288.1
Newton 311 10 276.8 111,744 278.3
Randolph 174 19 2576.3 6,778 2567.1
Richmond 534 19 264.0 202,518 263.7
Rockdale 267 9 281.2 90,896 293.7
Stewart 44 0 717.9 6,621 664.6
Sumter 449 41 1527.3 29,524 1520.8
Talbot 35 1 568.4 6,195 565.0
Taliaferro 1 0 61.3 1,537 65.1
Terrell 211 26 2492.0 8,531 2473.3
Warren 18 0 345.5 5,254 342.6
       21,983           1,055     5,669,142 387.8

 

 

 

 

TIGC Covid-19 March 28 Round-Up

Random Questions and Observations on Covid-19:

  • Why are the results from Georgia and North Carolina so different?  The two states have nearly identical populations — 10.6 million for Georgia versus 10.5 million for North Carolina, according to 2019 Census Bureau estimates — but have very different Covid-19 results so far.  I’ve been watching this for a while, thinking the numbers might even out.  They haven’t.  As of today’s morning report from both states’ public health agencies, North Carolina has tested more than 50 percent more people than Georgia but found less than half as many “positives” as Georgia, and with only a fraction of the hospitalizations and deaths, as this table shows. Ga NC ComparisonThe question is why.  There are obviously a lot of variables at play, but the two states probably have a lot more in common than not.  Based on news reports I’ve read, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, seems to have acted earlier than his Georgia counterpart, Republican Brian Kemp — but not that much earlier.  We’re probably going to have to wait for the smoke to clear to develop a truly useful analysis of this, but these differences are worth keeping an eye on.  It’d be interesting to see the AJC and the Charlotte Observer collaborate on a tick-tock plotting state and maybe major local actions across a timeline.
  • Like Sherman, Covid-19 continues its march through Georgia.  As of today’s late-morning report from the Georgia Department of Public Health, Covid-19 has now been found in 108 of Georgia’s 159 counties.  March 28 Counties with Confirmed CasesAs this map shows, the areas that have so far avoided reporting positive tests are almost entirely rural, including a swath of sparsely populated counties through east-central and southeast Georgia and another group of counties in west Georgia that somehow haven’t yet been pulled into the orbit of the Albany hot spot.  While the bulk of the positive tests and deaths are in Metro Atlanta, the rate of infection and Covid-19 deaths is much higher in South Georgia, as the table below shows.  Indeed, if you focus on Dougherty County and its six contiguous counties, the Covid-19 infection rate and death rate are, respectively, 6.7 times and 20 times that of TIGC’s Metro Atlanta region.MARCH 28 Regional Summary
  • Using smartphones to gauge mobility in the face of Covid-19.  One of the more interesting chunks of data to surface in the Covid-19 pandemic has come from a company called Unacast.  Unacast uses location tracking data from smartphones to track how far users travel each day and aggregates that data to see what that can tell us about whether people are following the guidance of their state and local leaders and limiting their local travel.  The data seems to lag by a few days and it’s still early, but it’s still interesting.  As of today’s report, four of the five best-behaving counties in Georgia are in Metro Atlanta — Forsyth, Dawson, Cherokee and Fulton counties.  The other top-five county was Clay County, which ranked second and had slashed its “average distance traveled” by 39 percent.  Clay County sits hard on the Alabama line in southwest Georgia, on the edge of the Albany blast zone, but has yet to report a single positive Covid-19 test.  You have to wonder if everybody in that county hasn’t gone inside and shut all their doors and windows.  You can find the Unacast data here.  Scroll down until you find the U.S. map, then click on Georgia and, when that map comes up, click on your county and wait for the data to come up.  It’s a little slow and clunky, but still useful.
  • Covid-19’s economic toll may be tougher on rural Georgia than Metro Atlanta.  The great recession hit Metro Atlantans harder than their rural Georgians.  That reality showed up first in IRS data and in total personal income data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and later in a BEA report on county-level gross domestic product.  As Covid-19 began to spread, I found myself thinking it might be tougher on rural Georgia.  If the Great Recession hit Metro Atlanta harder, it recovered faster and has since widened its economic, education and health gap with rural Georgia; rural Georgia has generally lost population and seen its local economies contract, which, I figured, left it in a weakened position to deal with a global pandemic.  Now comes Politico with a really good piece fleshing out my general concerns.  It’s worth reading.
  • While the Covid-19 data is still developing day-by-day, there are already some interesting oddities and riddles that are worth noting and wondering about:
    • College towns.  One early theory was that college towns would be hard hit, given their population of young people who still think they’re invincible.  Well, yes and no.  Clarke County, home of the University of Georgia, had 35 cases as of mid-day Saturday, just over half of the 67 reported by Carroll County, home of West Georgia College.  Those weren’t all that surprising.  The bigger riddles were Baldwin County (home of Georgia College and State University) with only two cases and Bulloch County (Georgia Southern) with a big goose-egg so far.  I haven’t found data on the number of tests given in each county, but both Baldwin and Bulloch are large enough that you’d have to think they’d conducted a fair number of tests.
    • Bartow County.  Other than Albany, Bartow County, just of I-75 north of Metro Atlanta, has emerged as the state’s second-hottest hot spot.  As of Saturday, Bartow County, with a population of about 106,000, had reported 116 cases, the sixth-most in the state, and its infection rate was second only to Dougherty County.  I am, I believe, reliably informed that the outbreak traced back to a large community gathering in Cartersville, but I haven’t found any published reporting on it and am going to hold off on the details for the time being.
    • Taliaferro County.  This tiny, impoverished county of about 1,700 people might be considered a prime target for Covid-19.  It’s located about a hundred miles east of Atlanta on I-20 and a far piece from any major healthcare facilities.  As it’s worked out so far, it’s one of only two counties on that route between Atlanta and Augusta that still hasn’t reported a positive Covid-19 test (neighboring Warren County is the other).  One likely reason is a paucity of testing in the county, but another could be an early decision by the local school superintendent, Allen Fort.  As Jim Galloway reported nearly two weeks ago, Fort didn’t wait for guidance from Governor Kemp or anybody else; he acted on his own and sent all his students home.  In doing so, he may have flattened the curve in his little county.

Stay tuned.  I’ll follow up with more early next week.