Where the metaphor really shines, though, is in a more literal sense. We analyzed county-level data through Monday to determine when each county hit its recorded high in the seven-day average of new coronavirus cases. More than a fifth of the country’s population now lives in a county where the high was reached on Monday. If it’s a tide threatening the body politic, it’s at our knees.
Part of the reason that a fifth of the country’s population is in hot-spot counties is that so many counties hit a new high on Monday. Eighteen percent of counties recorded their highest seven-day average that day, part of the 38 percent of counties that recorded highs this month. Broken out by Census divisions, here’s when each county recorded its high in new cases.
That graph does run the risk of obscuring the impact of the recent surge by substituting geography for population. But the picture when considering population isn’t much better. You can see that the highs reached in the Northeast — in particular, New York City — occurred mostly in April. The counties seeing peaks this month include ones with large populations.
On Monday, 71.5 million people lived in counties with new highs in recorded new cases.
That geographic distribution, shifting from the Northeast to the South and West, can be seen on the map below. New York City stands out for the peak in new cases it hit in mid-April. (Circles are scaled to the seven-day average in new cases at the peak or high.) It’s the color distribution, though, that shows how the pandemic’s regional intensity has shifted.
(That yellow dot in the Northeast is Westchester County, N.Y., site of an early outbreak.)
We can look at that another way, showing counties that saw new highs or peaks in each month in an animation.
If you were curious why Brewster County, Tex., was highlighted on the map above, it was in order to both give a sense of scale for the circles on the map and to allow the next comparison: a look at how the recorded highs in each county compare to population. The circles below show the high in the seven-day average as a function of every 100,000 residents in the county. Here, Brewster’s circle is larger.
The biggest circle, though, marks Trousdale County, Tenn. When it hit its peak in early May, it was recording 1,943 new cases for every 100,000 residents each day. Its population is less than 10,000; the peak was 186 cases per day. The peak stemmed from a prison located in the county.
What stands out on the map above is the increased density of cases in the southern Mississippi River region and the one overlapping with Iowa. Most of those peaks were reached in May and June.
In other words, we can look at the emergence of the pandemic as covering three phases: The massive, deadly outbreak in and around New York in April. The spread of the virus in the Midwest and parts of the South in May and June, which was partly a function of spreads in hot spots such as prisons and meatpacking plants. And then the new surge, heavily located in the South and West, particularly California.
Again, that’s the other significant part of what Fauci said. Not only are we knee-deep, we’re knee-deep in the virus’s first emergence. We never left the water.