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. The 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. As 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.
- 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.