Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) doesn’t seem to have a sense of urgency about implementing a similar order in her state.
“Y’all, we are not Louisiana, we are not New York state, we are not California,” she said on Thursday, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. “Right now is not the time to order people to shelter in place.”
In terms of raw case totals, that’s true. Data from Johns Hopkins University compiled through Thursday show that Alabama’s case total is in the hundreds, compared with thousands of cases in Louisiana and California and tens of thousands in New York.
But again, the concern that shelter-in-place orders are meant to address is the spread of the virus. And on that metric, things in Alabama don’t compare quite as well.
On the graph below, lines that increase more rapidly (have a steeper slope) have seen faster spreads since the 10th recorded case in that state. It’s hard to tell, but Alabama’s line is rising faster than California’s.
Over the past seven days, the number of confirmed cases in California has increased by an average of 22 percent each day. The number of cases in Louisiana has grown by an average of 29 percent. In New York, the rate has averaged 33 percent — slightly higher than the 32 percent average increase in Alabama.
In other words, the virus has been spreading nearly as fast in Alabama as in New York over the past week. The number of cases in New York from March 19 through Thursday grew by more than 32,000, a 606 percent increase. In Alabama, 439 new cases were added in that period, but that was a spike of 563 percent.
Remember that New York is also more populous than Alabama. This has been a subtext to a lot of the debate over how to limit the spread of the virus, an assumption that less densely populated places have something of a defense against it. If we control for population, though, we see that Alabama is adding new cases relative to its population faster than New York did. Not as fast as Louisiana, but quickly.
As you probably noticed, Alabama is adding confirmed cases far more quickly than California. What might not stand out on that graph is that, relative to population, Alabama’s confirmed case totals are actually higher than California’s.
About 10.5 people have been confirmed to have the virus for every 100,000 Alabama residents. About 9.9 out of every 100,000 Californians have.
We tend to consider the spread of the virus relative not to when it emerged in a region but when it became a focus of the country broadly. Alabama has fewer confirmed cases in part because it didn’t have any confirmed cases until later than other states.
It may also be in part because it has conducted fewer tests relative to its population. As of the end of the day Wednesday, Alabama ranked 40th in terms of the number of tests it had conducted per 100,000 residents.
New York and Louisiana have scaled up testing quickly. California has conducted far more tests than other states, but comparably few relative to its population. It’s still outpacing Alabama, though. (The graph below is adapted from an analysis of all 50 states that published Thursday.)
The coronavirus cases in California are centered in the San Francisco Bay area. Much of the rest of the state has relatively few cases, even as a function of population. In more-compact Alabama, the number of cases as a function of population is higher in the more northern and eastern counties.
Some areas in the state, like Tuscaloosa, already have stay-at-home orders, a function of local leadership. Ivey’s dismissal of a broader need to limit social interactions may, in part, be a function of where such orders are already in place.
Comparing the state more generally to California, though, misrepresents the scale and growth rate of the virus in Alabama.
Update: Ivey is now ordering nonessential businesses to close as of 5 p.m. Saturday.