Sweet Summer Air of Subway Cars

For those of my readers who live in a city where the subway or underground is a great means of getting around the city, you know you really miss that late Saturday night/early Sunday morning bouquet in the air. Though as this New York Times piece explains, sure it smells bad, but that air is probably safer than you dining indoors at a restaurant or even a child attending class in person.

The piece focuses on New York City subway cars, but they are very similar to the rest of the stock used in the United States. It uses a scrolling reveal to show how the air circulation and filtration systems work. Then it concludes with a model of how a person sneezing appears, both with and without a mask. (Spoiler, wear a mask.)

It’s a really nicely done and informative piece. It compares the rate of air recycled in a subway car to that of several other locations, and the results were a bit surprising to me. Of course, early on in the pandemic before we began to fully understand it, the threat was thought to be from contaminated surfaces—and let’s be honest, there are a lot of contaminated surfaces in a New York City subway car—but we now know the real risk is particles breathed/coughed/sneezed out from one’s mouth and nose. And we can now see just how efficient subways are at cycling and filtering that air.

Credit for the piece goes to Mika Gröndahl, Christina Goldbaum, and Jeremy White.

Covid-19 Update: 9 August

Weekend data means, usually, lower numbers than weekdays. And with the exception of Delaware that’s what we have today. Some drops, like Illinois, are more dramatic than others, like New Jersey. And so we look at the seven-day trend.

And that tells a slightly different story. On the one hand we have states like Virginia and Illinois that appear to be continuing upward. The rise in Illinois has been slow and steady, but the average is approaching nearly 2000 new cases per day. In Virgina, the rise was more abrupt and the question is whether this peak has crested in recent days or if come the middle of next week it will resume rising.

In New Jersey and Delaware we see two states with does declines after some sudden spurts of new cases. Jersey had risen to nearly 500 new cases less than two weeks ago, but that’s now back down to fewer than 350. And in Delaware, while today’s number is greater than yesterday’s, the trend is still downard after being at over 100 new cases per day two weeks ago.

New cases curves for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Illinois.
New cases curves for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Illinois.

Then we have Pennsylvania. At one point doing it had done so well in controlling the outbreak to bend the curve to fewer than 500 new cases per day at one point. Then as the state began to reopen, cases began to rise again in the west and now the east. But over the last week that statewide average began to fall. But in the last two days that fall appears to have potentially bottomed out. So come the middle of next week, the question will be does the downward trend continue or has the state hit a new valley before another rise?

Finally, in terms of new deaths, with the exception of Virgina, we have yet to see any rise in deaths that might correlate with the recent rises in new cases. And so nothing new there. But it’s worth pointing out that New Jersey has now reached the high single digits in terms of daily deaths from Covid-19. That’s remarkable for a state that back in April saw nearly 300 people dying every single day.

New death curves for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Illinois.
New death curves for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Illinois.

Credit for the graphics is mine.

Big Bar Chart Better

Today isn’t a Friday, but I want to take a quick look at something that made me laugh aloud—literally LOL—whilst simultaneously cringe.

Not surprisingly it has to do with Trump and data/facts.

This all stems from an interview Axios’ Jonathan Swan conducted with President Trump on 28 July and that was released yesterday. I haven’t watched the interview in its entirety, but I’ve seen some excerpts. Including this gem.

It’s eerily reminiscent of a British show called The Thick of It written by Armando Iannucci or probably more accurately an interview out of one his earlier works with Chris Morris, On the Hour or The World Today. He later went on to create Veep for American audiences, based loosely or inspired by the Thick of It, but I found it a weak substitute for the original. But I digress.

In that clip, the President talks about how he looks at the number of deaths as a share of cases, the case fatality rate, whilst Swan is discussing deaths as a share of total population, deaths per capita. Now the latter is not a great data point to use, especially in the middle of the pandemic, because we’re not certain what the actual denominator is. I’ve discussed this before in some of my “this is not the flu” posts where the case fatality rate, sometimes more commonly called simply the mortality rate, was in the 3–5% range.

Regardless of whether or not one should use the metric, here is how the President visualised that data.

2+2=5

Four big and beautiful bar charts. The best charts.

The President claims the United States “Look, we’re last. Meaning we’re first. We have the best. Take a look again, it’s cases [it’s actually still the case mortality rate]. And we have cases because of the testing.”

The problem is that one, it’s the wrong metric. Two, the idea that testing creates cases is…insane. Third, the United States is last in that big set of bar charts. Why is every country a different colour? In the same data series, they should all be the same, unless you’re encoding a variable such as, say, region via colour. But with four data points, a bar chart taking up the entirety of a US-letter sized paper is grossly inefficient.

But that’s not even the full picture. Because if you look at a more robust data set, this one from Our World in Data, we get a better sense of where the United States sits.

2+2=4

Still not the highest on the chart, true. But even in this set; Norway (of not a shithole fame), India, South Korea, New Zealand, South Africa, and Congo all rank lower. The United States is far from last. And for those wondering, yes, I took the data from the same date as the interview.

There’s another clip within that clip I linked to earlier that deals with South Korea’s numbers and how the President says we “don’t know that”. And this is the bigger problem. We all know that data can be manipulated. But if we cannot agree that the data is real, we cannot have a framework for a real discourse on how to solve very real problems.

As someone who works with data to communicate information or stories on a near daily basis, this is just frightening. It’s as if you say to me, the sky is a beautiful shade of blue today without a cloud in the sky and I reply, no, I think it’s a foreboding sky with those heavy clouds of green with red polka dots. At that point we cannot even have a discussion about the weather.

And it’s only Tuesday.

Credit for the Trump graphic goes to somebody in the White House I assume.

Credit for the complete graphics goes to Our World in Data.

Covid-19 Update

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?

The Covid-19 curves for PA, NJ, DE, VA, and IL
The Covid-19 death curves for PA, NJ, DE, VA, and IL.

Credit for these graphics is mine.

What Will the Next Recovery Look Like?

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.

What kind of shape will the recovery take?
Who knew typographers loved economics?

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?

Credit for the graphic is mine.

Sunday’s Covid Numbers

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.

Daily cases and their rolling average for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Illinois
Daily new cases
Daily new deaths and their rolling average for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Illinois.
Daily new deaths

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.

Credit for these graphics is mine.

Corona’s Moment in Your Life

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.

Corona in your lifespan
A not so insignificant span of time

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.

So Happy Friday, everyone.

Wednesday’s Covid-19 Data

Here we have the data from Wednesday for Covid-19.

The situation in Pennsylvania
The situation in Pennsylvania

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.

The situation in New Jersey
The situation in New Jersey

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.

The situation in Delaware
The situation in Delaware

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.

The situation in Virginia
The situation in Virginia

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.

The situation in Illinois
The situation in Illinois

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.

Preview(opens in a new tab)

How about those curves?
How about those curves?

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.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Comparing Covid-19 to Influenza

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.

The situation in Pennsylvania
The situation in Pennsylvania

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.

This isn't your grandmother's flu. Or anyone else's flu. Because this isn't the flu.
This isn’t your grandmother’s flu. Or anyone else’s flu. Because this isn’t the flu.

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.)

This is not the flu.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Covid-19 Data from Monday

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.

The situation in Pennsylvania
The situation in Pennsylvania

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.

The situation in New Jersey
The situation in New Jersey

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.

The situation in Delaware
The situation in Delaware

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.

The situation in Virginia
The situation in Virginia

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.

The situation in Illinois
The situation in Illinois

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.

Looking at the curves
Looking at the curves

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.

Credit for the pieces is mine.