Modelling the Impact of Not Sheltering in Place or Staying at Home

The administration botched the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Only within the last two weeks have states acted to begin enacting dramatic policies aimed at slowing the spread of the virus through their communities. But what policies the federal government has enacted are now threatened by an administration that prioritises the economy and market over the lives of the citizens it leads.  The White House is discussing loosening all the policies of social distancing that health officials and scientists say are necessary to slow the spread of the virus.

This website from CovidActNow.org uses a model to predict the impact state by state of various policies on hospital overcrowding and ultimately deaths. The site opens with a map of the United States showing, broadly, what kind of response each state has followed (understanding things change rapidly these days).

The state of reactions in the United States
The state of reactions in the United States

That also serves as the navigation for a deep dive into those models for that state. Here I have selected my home state of Pennsylvania. It borders New Jersey and New York, two states that revolve, at least in part, around New York City, rapidly becoming the epicentre of the US outbreak, supplanting Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. What would the state face if we allowed things to keep going blithely on? What would happen if we merely socially distance for three months? What if we shelter in place for three months? (Emphasis added by me to show this is a long-term problem.)

Potential outcomes for Pennsylvania
Potential outcomes for Pennsylvania

Turns out that things don’t work out that well if we don’t stay at home, stop travelling, stop socialising. A table below the line charts shows the user how bad things go for the state in a table.

A table of potential outcomes
A table of potential outcomes

As you can see, for Pennsylvania, if we were to continue going on like normal, that would result in the deaths of almost the size of the entire city of Pittsburgh. Imagine if the city of Pittsburgh were suddenly wiped off the state map. That’s the level we are talking about.

Just three months of just social distancing? Well now you’re talking about wiping out just the cities of Allentown and Scranton.

Sheltering in place for three months, statewide? Well, thankfully Pennsylvania has lots of towns around the size of 5000 to choose from. Imagine no more Paoli, or Tyrone. Or maybe a Collegeville or Kutztown. An Oxford or a Media. Pick one of those and wipe it from the map.

Fundamentally the choice comes down to, do you want to restart your economy or do you want to save lives? Saving lives will undoubtedly mean unemployment, shattered 401k plans, bankruptcies, mental health problems, and cities, towns, and industries devastated without a tax base to provide for the necessary services. But, saving those jobs and dollars will means tens if not hundreds of thousands of deaths.

I don’t envy the state executive branches making these decisions.

Pennsylvania has chosen a middle road, if you will. It enacted a stay-at-home policy for seven counties: Allegheny (Pittsburgh); Philadelphia and its suburban counties of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery; and Monroe County. The rest of the state, primarily where the virus has yet to make any real significant appearance or appears to be spreading in the community, is not under the strictest of measures. This site’s model doesn’t account for a partial, statewide stay-at-home, but Pennsylvania’s choice is clearly a far superior one for people who prioritise lives over dollars.

Finally, to the people I have seen from my apartment gathering in parks, partying in outdoor spaces, that I can hear throwing house parties, please stop. If not for you, for the rest of us.

Credit for the piece goes to CovidActNow.org.

The Spread of COVID-19 in Select States

By now we have probably all seen the maps of state coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak. But state level maps only tell part of the story. Not all outbreaks are widespread within states. And so after some requests from family, friends, and colleagues, I’ve been attempting to compile county-level data from the state health departments where those family, friends, and colleagues live. Not surprisingly, most of these states are the Philadelphia and Chicago metro areas, but also Virginia.

These are all images I have posted to Instagram. But the content tells a familiar story. The outbreaks in this early stage are all concentrated in and around the larger, interconnected cities. In Pennsylvania, that means clusters around the large cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg. In New Jersey they stretch along the Northeast Corridor between New York and Trenton (and along into Philadelphia) and then down into Delaware’s New Castle County, home to the city of Wilmington. And then in Virginia, we see small clusters in Northern Virginia in the DC metro area and also around Richmond and the Williamsburg area. Finally in Illinois we have a big cluster in and around Chicago, but also Springfield and the St. Louis area, whose eastern suburbs include Illinois communities like East St. Louis.

19 March county wide spread of COVID-19
19 March county wide spread of COVID-19
19 March county wide spread of COVID-19
19 March county wide spread of COVID-19
19 March county wide spread of COVID-19
19 March county wide spread of COVID-19
19 March county wide spread of COVID-19
19 March county wide spread of COVID-19
19 March county wide spread of COVID-19
19 March county wide spread of COVID-19

I have also been taking a more detailed look at the spread in Pennsylvania, because I live there. And I want to see the rapidity with which the outbreak is growing in each county. And for that I moved from a choropleth to a small multiple matrix of line charts, all with the same fixed scale. And, well, it doesn’t look good for southeastern Pennsylvania.

County levels compared
County levels compared

Then last night I also compared the total number of cases in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Virginia. Most interestingly, Pennsylvania and New Jersey’s outbreaks began just a day apart (at least so far as we know given the limited amount of testing in early March). And those two states have taken dramatically different directions. New Jersey has seen a steep curve doubling less than every two days whereas Pennsylvania has been a bit more gradual, doubling a little less than every three.

State levels since early March
State levels since early March

For those of you who want to continue following along, I will be looking at potential options this coming weekend whilst still recording the data for future graphics.

Credit for the pieces is mine.

The Spread of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania

Over the last several days, along with most of the country, I’ve taken an interest in the spread of the novel coronavirus named COVID-19. Though, to be fair, it’s actually been in the news since early January, though early news reports like this from the Times, simply called it a mysterious new virus.  At the time I thought little of it, because the news out of China was that it did not appear it could spread amongst humans. How did that idea…wait for it…pan out?

Anyway, over the last couple of days I’ve been making some maps for Instagram because people tend to look at a national map and see every nearly state infected when, in reality, there are pockets and clusters within those states. So I started looking at Pennsylvania. And initially, the cluster was along the Delaware River, namely Pennsylvania as well as its upper reaches near the Lehigh Valley and in the far northeast of the state.

But the spread has grown, and fairly quickly, with Montgomery County, a Philadelphia suburb, a hotspot. Consequently, the Pennsylvania governor has shut down all schools across the state and ordered non-essential shops, restaurants, and bars in the counties surrounding Philadelphia—as well as the county containing Pittsburgh—closed.

So 11 days in, here’s where we stand. (To be fair, I looked at including the early numbers out of today, but nothing has really changed, so I’ll wait until the evening figures are released before I update this again.)

Credit is mine. Data is the Pennsylvania Department of Health.