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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.