Lessons From Ten Months Of The Coronavirus Pandemic

Posted: Jan 13, 2021 1:12 PM
Lessons From Ten Months Of The Coronavirus Pandemic

Source: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Another month has passed since the first significant numbers of COVID-19 cases were detected in the United States. There is both good and bad news to report at this juncture. The good news is the regional wave of cases in the Northern Plains, Upper Midwest, and Mountain States appears has continued to recede. The bad news is that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has taken off in high-population California while it has returned to both the Northeastern states that experienced the first regional wave of infections in the United States and also to Southern states that had experience their initial surges during the summer of 2020.

The following trifecta of charts tracking the daily progression of COVID-19 in the United States tells the overall story of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. The leftmost chart visualizes the nation's cumulative totals of positive and negative test results from 10 March 2020 through 12 January 2021, with the positive cases broken down to indicate the relative share of Americans who have tested positive, who have been admitted or have been discharged from hospitals, or whose deaths have been attributed to COVID-19. The middle chart tracks the nation's daily test positivity rate, or rather, the percentage of positive test results within the total level of testing. The rightmost chart presents the rolling 7-day averages for the numbers of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S., which is where you can see the various regional waves of newly reported cases, where the third is showing very rapid growth from the high population states of California and New York.

The first wave indicated in the third chart was especially concentrated in the northeastern region of the U.S. and the second wave mainly affected Sunbelt states across the southern and western part of the continental U.S. The third wave has seen COVID-19 infections spread primarily in the northern plains, the upper midwest, and in mountain states, but has been closely followed by the return of growing numbers of infections in northeastern states and in the Sunbelt region, and now includes California's surge in infections.

The Progression of COVID-19 at the State and Territory Level

The latest update to the skyline tower chart presents the progression of positive COVID-19 cases in the U.S. by state or territory, ranked according to the reported percentage of cases within the state or territory's population. The individual charts depict the number of positive cases, the number of recovered patients or those discharged from hospitals, the number of hospitalized patients and the number of deaths. Each of these charts is presented in the same scale with respect to the size of its population over the period from 10 March 2020 through 8 December 2020, making it easy to visually compare one jurisdiction's experience with others.

Among individual states, North Dakota and South Dakota still lead in the measure of the percentage of population who has tested positive for COVID-19. The good news for these states however is that the rate of new infections is slowing. That change can be seen in the slower pace at which the bases of their individual tower charts are expanding in the skyline chart.

Other states showing a similar pattern of slowing during the past month include Wisconsin, Nebraska, Wyoming, Illinois, Montana, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Michigan, and the territories of Guam.

The bad news is the increased number of states that are currently seeing the bases of their tower charts flare outward in the skyline chart compared to a month ago, indicating the rapid spread of new coronavirus infections within their borders. States like Tennessee, Utah, Rhode Island, and Arizona have notably moved up in the skyline charts overall ranking, where many states the Northeast and Southern regions of the U.S. are also experiencing high rates of new infections.

But the biggest story to be told at the state level is the increased spread of coronavirus infections in California. Although the state ranks in the middle for the percentage of its population having become infected with SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infections, its very large population means that it has generated more new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths than any other state during the past month. [Click here for our analysis identifying the events that caused the surge of new COVID infections in California and Arizona].

New York vs...

For this edition, rather than comparing New York's continuing coronavirus experience with several states, we're just going to compare it with one other: Florida. Here's the chart showing both state's rolling 7-day averages for confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths from 17 March 2020 through 12 January 2021.

Right off the bat, we can see that both states have had very similar experiences with COVID-19. That's especially in terms of confirmed infections, where both states experienced an early surge in cases that were similar in magnitude, but at different times. Since late September 2020 however, both states rate of new infections has been remarkably similar.

That outcome is all the more remarkable because both states have followed very different strategies for coping with the coronavirus pandemic. New York's state government has favored strict lockdowns and imposing restrictions on the activities in which its residents may engage, at great economic harm to the affected establishments. By contrast, Florida's state government has taken an anti-lockdown approach, with Florida's residents able to engage in a wide array of activities without significant restrictions.

The data indicates that the New York state government's harsh lockdown mentality has failed to provide any meaningful benefit in the form of reduced coronavirus infections for the state's residents, despite its great costs, when directly compared to a state with a moderately larger population that deliberately made different choices to avoid deliberately causing economic harm to its residents.

Going back to the chart comparing New York and Florida's relative incidence of coronvirus deaths, we find that New York had a far worse experience than Florida, especially in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. That difference is directly attributable to a disastrous policy decision implemented by Governor Cuomo and his administration after they panicked in dealing with the state's initial surge of infections.

Today, New York and Florida are seeing similar death rates per 100,000, though with New York experiencing slightly worse outcomes than Florida has in the past month. The similarity in the recent data trends is attributable to New York's state government having stopped doing the some of the most stupid things it was doing early in the pandemic.

Previously on Political Calculations

We've regularly tracked the progression of the coronavirus pandemic within the United States since data for it began being tracked on 10 March 2020. Here are the previous entries in our series featuring the skyline tower charts we developed to visualize its rates of spread within the individual states and territories of the U.S., presented in reverse chronological order.