As I mentioned last week, I am going to try using my blog here for the weekly update on the five states people have asked me to explore. And for the second week in a row, we are basically seeing numbers down compared to previous days. But given that numbers are generally lower on the weekends, that is not terribly surprising.
The real question is by Friday, will these numbers have rebounded?
Earlier this morning, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released its US 2nd quarter GDP figures and the news…isn’t great. On an annualised basis, we saw -32.9% growth. That’s pretty bad. Like Great Depression level bad. I’ve posted on the social media how bad this current recession is and how nobody in the workforce today worked or didn’t through the Great Depression to really relate to the numbers we are seeing.
But that’s all today. The sun will come out tomorrow. (And scorch the Earth as climate change renders certain parts of the globe uninhabitable to mankind. But we’ll get to those posts in later weeks.) And when it does come out, eventually, what will the recovery look like? I’ve seen a few mentions recently in the media of a V-shaped recovery. What is this mysterious V-shape?
A long time ago, in a galaxy far away. Or during the last recession in Chicago, I worked with some really smart people in some of my professional projects and we covered the exact same question. There are a couple key “shapes” to an economic recovery. And when we say recovery, we mean just to return to pre-recession peak levels of growth. Anything above that is an expansion. That’s what we want to get back to.
The V-shape we hear a lot about is a sharp recovery after the economy bottoms out (the trough). Broadly speaking, if a recession has to last two consecutive quarters (it doesn’t, but that’s a pretty common definition so let’s stick with it), then in a V-shape, we are talking about a recovery one or two quarters later.
Similar to the V is the W-shape, where things start to improve rapidly, but some kind of shock to the economic system and things go back negative once again before finally picking up quickly. It’s not hard to imagine something going horribly wrong with the Covid-19 pandemic to be just that external shock that could push the economy back down again.
Similar still is the U-shape. Here, after hitting rock bottom, growth isn’t quite as quick to pick up as we linger in the depths of the valley of recession. But after a bit of time, we again see a rapid recovery to pre-recession levels of growth.
These are all pretty short term recoveries, the W being a little bit longer because two sharp downturns. But they are nothing compared to what’s also possible.
First we have the L-shape. Here, after hitting bottom, things start to recover quickly. But that recovery is slow and takes a long time. Growth remains slower than average, creeping up to average, and then still takes its time to reach pre-recession levels. Is something like this possible? Well, if vaccines fail and if some countries still can’t get their act together (cough, US, cough), the willingness of consumers to go out, eat, drink, buy things, travel, and generally make merry could be suppressed for a long time. So it’s certainly not out of the question.
And then lastly we have the UUUU-shape. Though you could probably add or subtract a U or two. This features more drawn out stays at the bottom of the valley with quick and sharp upticks in growth. But those growths, never reaching pre-recession levels, also collapse quickly back into declines, though also never really reaching the same depths as earlier. Essentially, the recovery faces multiple setbacks knocking the economy back down as it sputters to life. As with the L-shape, it’s also not hard to imagine a world where a country hasn’t managed to contain its outbreak struggling to get back on its feet.
What do you think? Are we at rock bottom? Did I miss a recovery type?
I do not want this blog to become a permanent Covid-19 data site. So in my push to resume posting last week, I tried to keep to from posting the numbers and instead focused on discussing how the data is displayed.
But I hear from quite a few people via comments, DMs, emails, and text messages that they find the graphics I produce helpful. So on the blog, I’m going to try posting just one set of graphics per week. Will it always be Monday? I don’t know. On the one hand, new week, new data. But on the other, weekend numbers tend to be lower than the rest of the week and could make it seem like, yay, the numbers are starting to go down especially if you only come to my blog and only see this data once a week.
So yeah, we’ll see how this goes. And I’ll try to keep Tuesday–Friday to discussing the world of data visualisation, although in these days, a good chunk of it will likely revolve around Covid.
Earlier this week I was on the social medias when I came across a graphic some people were sharing that was meant to be inspirational. It had a giant circle and then a small black pixel that represented “this moment”. Of course, how you define the moment is entirely subjective.
But it made me wonder, if we looked at the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic as a moment in our lives, how big of a moment is it? Well, I went to the CDC to get a sense of the average life expectancy of an American and then I got the fraction of that lifespan that is the last six months. And, well take a look.
As you can see, the Covid-19 pandemic is more than just a pixel. It’s a significant moment, and of course the pandemic is ongoing. There are new concerns that the 2020 Olympics, now postponed to 2021, may not happen in 2021.
That dot represents graduations, weddings, funerals, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, opportunities for education, career advancement, life goals all delayed or in some cases missed and never to return.
And while the rest of the world shows some signs of improvement, for my American audience, things are going from bad to worse.
Okay, so we’re going to post some more of my work today, but it’s not about cases and deaths. Instead, I took some data produced by my colleagues and thought that it could do for a small transformation from a table into a chart. The original table can be found in their report on consumer payment options during the Covid-19 pandemic.
After setting the kettle on for some tea this morning we started on their Table 1. Thirty minutes later and a cup of Irish Breakfast consumed, I had transformed it into this:
Obviously I changed the language/title a little bit. But the original was too long and didn’t fit. Also this is my blog, so my rules. The visualisation improves upon the table in a number of ways, but tables do have their place. Tables are great for organising information. Find a column header and a row header and you can get any specific data point. But, if you want to make a comparison between two data points or several of them, a chart is the way to go. Now, you may lose some precision. For example, do I know to the decimal point or to the tenths even what one of those dots represents? Nope. But at a glance, can I see which dots are below the overall respondents? Yep. It’s abundantly clear that those earning less than $40,000 per year have a greater availability of debit cards than the other groups shown.
And after all, I couldn’t have made this graphic without that table.
Full disclosure, as alluded to above, I work at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. But I had nothing to do with the data, report, or presentation thereof.
Here we have the data from Wednesday for Covid-19.
Pennsylvania saw continued spread of the virus. Notably, Monroe County in eastern Pennsylvania passed 1000 cases. It was one of the state’s earliest hotspots. That appears to have been because it was advertised as a corona respite for people from New York, not too far to the east and by then in the grips of their own outbreak.
New Jersey grimly passed 5000 deaths Wednesday. And it is on track to pass 100,000 total cases likely Friday or Saturday. Almost 2/3 of these cases are located in North Jersey, with some South Jersey counties still reporting just a few hundred cases and a handful of deaths.
Delaware passed 3000 cases and Kent Co. passed 500. While those don’t read like large numbers, keep in mind the relatively small population of the state.
Virginia has restarted reporting deaths, this time at the county level and not the health district level. What we see is deaths being reported all over the eastern third of the state from DC through Richmond down to Virginia Beach. In the interior counties we are beginning to see the first deaths appear. And in western counties, we still see that the virus has yet to reach some locations, but counties are beginning to report their first cases.
Illinois continues to suffer greatly in the Chicago area, and at levels that dwarf the remainder of the state. However, the downstate counties are beginning to see spikes of their own. Macon and Jefferson Counties each saw increases of 30–40 cases in just 24 hours.
A longer-term look at the states shows how the states diverge in their outbreaks. Pennsylvania looks like it might be forcing the curve downward whereas New Jersey appears to have more plateaued. Earlier I expressed concern about Virginia, which does now appear to have not peaked and continues to see an increasing rate of spread. Then we have Illinois, which may have plateaued, but we need to see if yesterday’s record amount of new cases was a blip or an inflection point. And in Delaware a missing day of records makes it tricker to see what exactly the trend is.
I want to share a small graphic I made yesterday evening. And I am being charitable with the term graphic. Really it is nothing more than a collection of organised factettes. But I have seen the footage of those protesting the lockdowns in various states, including Pennsylvania.
To be clear, people can have different policy prescriptions to solve the pandemic. For example, the governor of Pennsylvania is considering lifting the lockdown piecemeal once the state overall has sufficient testing and tracing capabilities. Look at the state.
He rightly said that Cameron County, one of the little light purple shapes in the upper left, with its one case for the last 25 days is in a different situation than Philadelphia where cases continue to grow, albeit at a slowing rate. And in the future it is possible that Cameron County could open before Philadelphia. That is a different policy prescription than, say, opening the state all at once.
I don’t think most people enjoy lockdown—I haven’t left my building in 38 days and I cannot wait to leave and go do something. But I recognise that spreading outside these walls we have a deadly pandemic for which we have no vaccine. But then I see people protesting—protesting in a manner that contradicts the guidelines put out by the health officials—and claiming that we should open up because this is nothing worse than the flu.
Well, Covid-19 is not the flu. It is much worse.
Now, those numbers will change because the pandemic is ongoing. But, let’s spitball. Let’s assume those numbers hold. The idea of the shutdowns, lockdowns, and quarantines is to prevent the spread of the virus. For the sake of this thought experiment, let’s just assume, however, that it infects 56 million people, the upper end of the range for this most recent influenza season.
Influenza this year killed as many as 62,000 people after infecting 56 million. Hypothetically, with a mortality rate of 5%, Covid-19 would kill 2,800,000 people.
With a 4% rate that drops to 2,240,000
With a 3% rate that drops to 1,680,000
With a 2% rate that drops to 1,120,000
With a a 1% rate that drops to 560,000
With a 0.5% rate that drops to 280,000
And even at 0.5% that is still far greater than the flu. And so that is why it is so important to keep the number of people infected as low as possible. (And I won’t even get into the surge problems overwhelming hospitals that acts as a force multiplier and is the proximate reason for the lockdowns.)
Monday’s Covid-19 data for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Illinois provided a glimmer of good news, most notably in Pennsylvania. That, however, occurred on the same day as a protest in Harrisburg that could set the state back days if not weeks. More on that below.
Pennsylvania saw fewer than 1000 new cases for the first time since 1 April. The curve here may be doing more than flattening, but it might actually be falling. That is to say the infection rate is decreasing rather than stabilising and holding steady, as it appears to be doing in New Jersey. That said, new cases are appearing sporadically in the rural and less dense areas of the state. Problematically, protestors arrived in Harrisburg to let it be known they are unhappy with the quarantine. Because the rest of us are.
The problem is that it appears a significant percentage of those infected with the virus are asymptomatic carrier, i.e. they are sick, but do not show any symptoms like fever, coughing, difficulty breathing. Critically, they may not appear sick, but they can spread the sickness. And so a gathering of several hundred people in close quarters? Not ideal.
Compare that to a Christian cultish church in Daegu, South Korea. There, an infected parishioner did not heed government calls to isolate and instead attended a church service. The average infected person spreads this virus to two or three people. This congregant? They infected 43 people who then went on to infect other people.
It is quite possible that someone in that Harrisburg protest was an asymptomatic carrier. And given the lack of social distancing, the lack of masks, and the general reckless behaviour, it is quite possible that the rally could be a super-spreading event. But we won’t know for 5–10 days, the apparent incubation period of the virus. Hopefully we dodge the proverbial bullet. But it is quite easy to see how these kinds of protests could lead to surges in infections. And those surges would then force the government to extend its quarantine by weeks thereby defeating the entire point of the protestors.
We get it. Quarantine sucks. But we all have to suck it up.
Moving on to New Jersey, where we see continuing evidence of the plateauing of cases. The bulk of the cases remain in the north in the New York suburban counties with the fewest numbers in the counties in South Jersey. However, averages of nearly 3500 new cases daily remains quite high and the death toll of 4377 is likely to continue to climb higher, even if Monday’s 175 new deaths was lower than most days in recent weeks.
Delaware is back to reporting its figures. And in that release, we had Sussex County in the south climb above 1000 total cases. The levels or curves chart at the end will also show how the state might be flattening and stabilising its infection rate, but we will need several days of uninterrupted reporting to make that determination.
Virginia might be worrying. Or it might not be. Cases continue to increase in the big metropolitan counties like Fairfax and Henrico. But, there are still several counties out in the west that remain unaffected. And the curves chart at the end shows how there has not yet been any sort of even a near-exponential growth curve. Instead we just see a steady, slow increase in the number of cases. That in its own way makes it more difficult to see when the curve flattens, because it was already a relatively flat curve.
Illinois continues to be the tale of two states: Chicago vs. everywhere else. The combined Chicago and Cook County have over 20,000 total cases and the surrounding counties add a few thousand more, which gets you over 2/3 of the state’s 31,000 cases. That said, new cases and new fatalities are beginning to pop up in downstate counties.
Lastly a look at the curves. As I noted above when talking about Pennsylvania, you can clearly see the downward slope of the state’s new cases curve. Compare that to the plateau-like shape of New Jersey. Delaware and Illinois might be approaching a New Jersey-like curves. But I would want to see more data and in Delaware less volatility. But like I said, Virginia is a tricky one to read.
Here is a look at the data from Sunday’s releases on the COVID-19 outbreak in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, and Illinois. I’ve omitted Delaware because they paused reporting on Sunday to move to a noontime release instead of their previous end-of-day.
I’m not exactly certain what that means for the data on Delaware and reporting time series. But, my guess is that will be more like a hole in the time series. I need to spend some time looking at that. But, anyways, on to the states for which we did have data on Sunday.
Pennsylvania continues to see growth in cases, but as we’ll get to with the levels, that appears to at least be stabilising. But in the spread of the outbreak, we are beginning to see the T of the state, that more rural and less densely populated area, beginning to fill in with cases. These are of course the areas of concern, the areas with shuttered rural hospitals, lack of comparatively developed infrastructure, where the impacts could be proportionately more severe than in the bigger cities. In terms of deaths, they have now spread almost across the state from east to west. I am still waiting until two adjacent counties connect before I make that final pronouncement.
For New Jersey, I have removed the orange outlines around each county. The initial idea was to show where deaths had occurred. But now that they have been reported in every county, they don’t seem to be as helpful as the small number I provide in the graphic. Regardless, 4200 deaths is a lot. But the approximately 200 new deaths is the lowest number reported in several days.
Virginia is a weird state. When we see the levels chart below, you will see how its uptick has been far more gradual, and to this point it does not yet appear to have peaked or begun to stabilise. Most of the reported cases continue to be in and around the state’s big cities, notably the DC metro area, but also Richmond.
Illinois has now seen cases from north at the Wisconsin border all the way south to Cairo. Most cases remain, however, concentrated in the Chicago metropolitan area, with lesser scale outbreaks occurring in the Quad Cities area and the suburban counties of Illinois this side of the Mississippi. Deaths continue to rise, and while most area again in the Chicago area, they are appearing increasingly at low levels in downstate counties.
But what about those curves? Excepting Delaware, which hasn’t reported new data, we can see that some states like Virginia continue to see increasing rates of infection. Others like New Jersey and Pennsylvania clearly have flattened and have entered a new phase. In New Jersey’s case it appears to be more of a stabilised plateau. In Pennsylvania, there was some evidence it was entering a declining rate phase, but that may now have begun to become more of a steady rate of infection like in New Jersey. Illinois is tough to read because of the variability of its data. It might be more of a pause in the rate of increase, or it may have begun to stabilise. We need more data.
The data from Monday provided yet more evidence that the outbreak is flattening in several states. However, in some, the outbreak continues to pick up steam. Does this runs contrary to the idea that as a country is flattening? Not necessarily, but it is important to remember that a country that spans a continent and holds 330 million people will experience the pandemic differently at different times. So some states like Washington will be first, and others will be last.
Our five states cover the range of worsening to stabilising. We hope that those stabilising states soon enter the improving phase. Though to beat the dead horse, I would add that just because a state is improving doesn’t mean we can all go back to life like we knew it two months ago. That would likely result in us being right back here shortly thereafter.
Pennsylvania continues to be a state where the pandemic is spreading within the denser metropolitan areas of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, leaving the central T to see fewer cases that spread more slowly.
Delaware might be approaching an inflection point, given that its most populous county, New Castle, is about to reach 1000 cases. (By the end of today it likely will if its new case trend holds.) We know that deaths lag new cases, and so the worry is that the number of deaths will begin to increase rapidly. The hope is that the slow initial growth of the outbreak will have left hospitals able to better cope over the longer time frame than if everyone had gotten sick all at once.
Virginia is a state that we will contrast to New Jersey, which I will write about last. Because Virginia is a state where it appears the outbreak is beginning to pick up steam and accelerate, rather than flatten. There was the significant drop in cases on Sunday, but that was due to the state’s enhancement of reporting data. (Their website now includes many new statistics.) But just like that the Monday data showed over 450 new cases on Monday. The question will be whether or not over the remainder of the week those new case numbers fall from over 450 to less than 400 to show that the state can flatten the curve before the outbreak becomes especially severe.
Illinois has shown a lot of variability in its day-to-day numbers, hence the advantage of the rolling average. But even that has appeared a wee bit jagged. It’s tough to see the curve flattening just yet, but if we receive updates today and over the next few days that cases are consistently lower, than we might just be able to say the curve is flattening.
And of course in New Jersey we have a state where the curve really and truly has flattened. We have yet to see sustained evidence of a decline in the number of new daily cases. As I said before, this might be more a situation where the outbreak has stabilised and roughly the same number of new cases is being reported daily. Of course the hope is that whatever that rate is falls below the excess capacity threshold of the state’s hospitals.
But I also want to take a look at the state of New Jersey with a degree of granularity. Because, as I noted with Virginia above, not all states are at the same point in their outbreak. And the same can hold true within states. We know that the outbreak in New Jersey began in the north and was very late in reaching some parts of South Jersey. So the same metrics we run for the state, we can run for the counties—though the data I have been collecting from the states only goes back as far as St. Patrick’s Day.
The northern counties, where the state has been hardest hit, have clearly begun to see the curve bend. But in the south the story is a bit more mixed. Some, like Burlington and Ocean, have seen the curve noticeably flatten. But in Camden and Mercer Counties, home to Camden and Trenton, respectively, the evidence is not quite there. Instead, in these populous counties there exists the very real possibility that the outbreak will continue accelerating for hopefully a very short while.