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One Chart Shows Which States Are in Trouble with COVID-19

We finally have some good news. But the bad news isn't over.
April 21, 2020
One Chart Shows Which States Are in Trouble with COVID-19

1. State by State

Last month I shared a couple of graphs put together by a friend who’s a data scientist that did a nice job of pointing out where the virus was heading.

Last night he sent me another graphic, which helps us visualize some interesting trends buried in recent data.

Have a look:

Let’s talk about what we’e looking at here.

On our Y-axis we have the basic reproduction number (R0). That’s the average additional number of infections caused by each infected individual.

Getting your R0 under 1.0 is the entire point of infectious disease management. If you’re above 1.0, the virus is spreading. If you’re under 1.0, your infected population is shrinking.

All of the suppression and mitigation measures are designed to do one thing: Push the R0 down as hard, and fast, as possible.

On our X-axis we have active cases as a percentage of total population. This is self-explanatory.

If you want to drill all the way down to the bottom line, it’s this:

  • If you’re in the bottom-left quadrant, you’re doing well.
  • If you’re in the top right-quadrant, you’re in serious trouble.

So keep that in mind as you look at the chart and you can see which states are headed in the right direction, and which are headed the wrong way.

The good news:

  • New York is headed in the right direction, after paying a terrible butcher’s bill.
  • Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Maine are also looking (relatively) good.
  • Georgia and Tennessee are improved.

And here’s the stuff that worries me:

  • We should be ringing alarm bells in Ohio, North Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska. These numbers look very not good.
  • Minnesota, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and Indiana are all in the process of ramping up.

In short, while there is reason to think that we have passed the worst of the danger (for now) in much of the Northeast, there are lots of places where people are only at the start of their trial.

2. At-Risk Youth

Last week my friends at the New Atlantis gave us the single best explanation as to why the novel coronavirus is different from the flu.

Now they have an excellent explainer on what sort of risks COVID-19 presents to young people:

CDC report from two weeks ago showed that, where data was available, one in five people aged 20 to 44 with Covid-19 required hospitalization. Hospitalization is typically recommended for symptoms such as difficulty breathing or rapid breathing, low oxygen levels in the blood, or pneumonia. . . .

According to CDC data, of American coronavirus patients aged 20 to 44, four percent were admitted to intensive care. Patients are typically admitted to an ICU for critical symptoms, which a report from China’s CDC describes as “respiratory failure, septic shock, and/or multiple organ dysfunction/failure.” . . .

The fatality rate for known Covid-19 patients aged 20 to 44 in the U.S. is 0.2 percent. This rate is ten times higher than the fatality rate for the last flu season, which the CDC estimates was 0.02 percent for people aged 18 to 49. (Note that there is considerable uncertainty in both of these fatality rates.)

The death rate for younger Americans diagnosed with Covid-19 works out to odds of one in 500. For comparison, an American’s odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident over the course of a year are one in 8,000, and of dying in a firearm assault are one in 22,000.

There’s a lot more in here and I hope you’ll read the whole thing.

But I want to say a word about probability and risk.

You may remember the great scene in No Country for Old Men where Anton Chigurh walks into the gas station, flips a coin, and tells the clerk to “Call it.”

The guy keeps asking to know what the stakes are, because you don’t truly understand the odds unless you understand the stakes. You have to know what you stand to win. Or lose.

For instance, if I told you that if you drove above 65 mph on a certain stretch of roadway, you had a 1-in-500 chance of being pulled over and given a $100 dollar ticket, you probably wouldn’t stress too much about going 70.

But if I told you that the plane you were about to board had a 1-in-500 chance crashing, would you get on?

By the way: You really should subscribe to the New Atlantis. It’s the best $24 you’ll spend on any annual subscription to any journal. Do it right now. You’ll thank me.

3. Joey Votto

My God, I miss baseball.

Last April, on a gorgeously sunny, relatively cool afternoon at Dodger Stadium, in Los Angeles, the Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto popped out to first base. Ahead in the count, he’d lunged at the ball, sending it high into foul territory, before it landed in the mitt of the first baseman. Infield flies are the lamest thing a batter can do apart from striking out, but the crowd went wild—or rather, the baseball commentators and Twitter masses did. (“This has to be a sign of the zombie apocalypse.” “The world is ending.”) Because, over the course of his 13-year Major League career, in 6,827 trips to the plate, Votto had never popped out to first. Think of a veteran opera singer who never hit a wrong note onstage, or an actor who never flubbed a line. Equally astounding, Votto had flied out to the infield—right, left, or center—only seven times since 2010, while any other Major Leaguer with the same number of trips to the plate would have done so 137 times. . . .

Since high school in Toronto, where he grew up the son of a sommelier mother and chef father, Votto has been a student of Ted Williams. He still takes Williams’s treatise, The Science of Hitting, on the road with him, and in an American Masters documentary about the man, Votto was the lone active player featured, shown holding the book lovingly and extolling its greatness.

When Votto tries to capture his own genius, though he’d never use that word, he speaks of having a “plan.” “Coming up with a simple answer to a complicated event—that’s my goal at every at-bat,” he said. “To have simple ideas and repeat them over and over. I’ve got my swing built, I’ve got the plan laid out, and now let’s be natural.”

That description may sound as boilerplate as the advice in a CEO’s memoir, or like the makings of a Buddhist koan (my favorite Joey-ism in the latter category: “The swing should be built around you, not you built around the swing”). But in practice, it means figuring out what kind of pitch—fastball, curveball, slider—is coming next, based on what pitches came before, and who’s throwing. It means avoiding balls out of the strike zone and also avoiding balls in the strike zone that he really can’t connect with. It means a million other small things. Teams these days will move three players to the right side of the infield to handicap left-handed hitters like Votto. In 2017, the Chicago Cubs not only shifted the infield but used a four-man outfield to try to stop him. Votto recalculated, not by going to the left, but with a hard shot so tightly tracing the right-field line that it eluded the extra manpower stacked on that side of the field. “Joey Votto right now is ungodly,” Joe Maddon, then the Cubs’ manager, marveled after the game.

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.