The IHME website predicts that Covid-19 is now peaking or past peak in New York and a couple neighboring states. Also Washington, California and Hawaii. New hospitalizations in those states are expected to decline close to zero by early May. The rest of the US is 2 or 3 weeks behind that schedule. Most states are predicted to peak around May 1, then decline gradually into early June. That assumes social distancing continues through May.
Websites keep appearing with new ways to look at the pandemic. The Unacast site has a Social Distance Scorecard for every state and county, calculated from cell phone location data. The letter grade is based on total travel, non-essential travel, and “encounter density” (how often people are very close to each other). Since we are ahead of the curve here, I’ll cover how it rates a few NY counties, and how it matches with their actual Covid-19 data.
First up is Tompkins County NY, home to Ithaca, Cornell and TurtleSoft. Population about 100K. Encounter density was near the US average in February, but it dropped steeply Mar 13, when all the students went home. Since then we have been very good about testing and isolating. Many people wear masks now, and the sidewalks are mostly empty. 113 confirmed cases as of yesterday, 84 recovered, 4 in the hospital, 0 local deaths. It’s calm enough that 100 local health workers went by bus to NYC last week, to help out. I think we did it right.
Next is Tioga County NY, where TurtleSoft first began. Mostly rural, with one medium-size village and a few small ones. Right now it has 19 confirmed infections and 0 deaths, rising slowly. Its encounter density was low to begin with (25% of US average) and dropped from there.
In contrast is Steuben County NY, two to the west of here. Population similar to Tompkins, but 147 cases and 11 deaths so far. Unacast says they are distancing less well, especially for non-essential visits. Of all the rural upstate counties, it’s doing the worst.
Then there is downstate, which is having a very rough time. As of this writing, New York City has 106,763 cases and 7,349 deaths, with another 100K cases and 4K deaths in surrounding counties. It’s worse than most countries. In normal times, the encounter density is about 3000 times the US average in Manhattan, and 500x in Brooklyn/Queens/Bronx. Those numbers are way down now, but even in shutdown it’s still more crowded than the US average from pre-Covid times.
Low population density does not guarantee low infection rates, but it sure seems to help. That may be good news for the 3/4 of the US that expanded during the Automotive Era. Walkable cities with good public transport are fun to visit, but they’re also better at spreading respiratory disease. So far the more car-centric regions have lower infection and death rates. There’s something to be said for isolating inside a big yard, and traveling in a personal sealed metal box.
San Francisco is an exception to the density correlation: it has high density but low rates of Covid-19. Probably because its mayor shut everything down in early March. Seattle also did fairly well, despite their early start. They tested and tracked cases aggressively.
(Edit Apr 15: this link gives a different take on Covid-19 in rural areas).
Stay safe, folks.