Covid-19 Update: 13 September

Apologies for the lack of posting last week. I’m on deadline for, well, today. Plus I had some technical difficulties on the server side of the blog. But it’s a Monday, so we’re back with Covid updates for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Illinois.

New cases curves for PA, NJ, DE, VA, & IL

The good news, such that it is during a global pandemic, is that in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Illinois, the seven-day average appears to be lower than this time last week or, especially in Delaware’s situation, about to break. For the First State, I’m looking at those days prior to the weekend below the average line that, in combination with the weekend, will likely begin to push that trend downward, especially if we keep seeing fewer and fewer cases this week.

Unfortunately, some states like Virginia and New Jersey appear to be, not surging, but experiencing low and slow growth. Low and slow, while great for barbecue, is less than ideal during a pandemic. Granted, it’s better than the rapid infections we saw in March, April, and May, but it still means the virus is spreading in those communities.

Death curves in PA, NJ, DE, VA, & IL.

When we look at deaths from Covid-19 in these five states, the news is better. The only real significant level of deaths was in Virginia, but we can see that the latest little surge, which was at peak last week, has now all but abated, almost to a level not seen since the spring.

The other states remain low with, at most, deaths average about 20 per day. Again, not good, but better than hundreds per day.

Credit for the pieces is mine.

Covid-19 Update: 7 September

Yesterday was a holiday in the States, and so let’s begin this shortened week with a look at the Covid situation in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Illinois.

If we compare this morning’s charts of yesterday’s data to last Monday’s, we can see some concerning trends.

New case curves in PA, NJ, DE, VA, & IL.

In Pennsylvania, that includes a rising trend. Anecdotally, that might be tied to the outbreaks in and around universities. We see rising trends in Delaware and Virginia as well, though some of Delaware’s new numbers might be tied to some cases that failed to initially make into the state’s digital database. And so as the state begins to enter them now, it artificially inflates the new case numbers.

Illinois had an enormous spike of cases from a backlog that the state entered, over 5,000 new case in that one day. That’s going to mess with the average trend given the size of the anomaly. So we’ll need to wait until later this week to see where the trend really is.

Then in terms of deaths, the most worrying state was Virginia which last week was mid-peak. But that appears to maybe be trending back down. Though the data we have does include two day’s of weekend numbers and Tuesday’s numbers, instead of the usual “rebound” will be more of the usual weekend depressed numbers.

Death curves in PA, NJ, DE, VA, & IL.

Credit for the pieces is mine.

Pretty Much My Life These Days

It’s another Friday. Which means another work week come and gone. Most of my days now consist of Covid-related work. A couple of months ago, Memorial Day began the surge in Covid-19 cases. Hopefully people take it more seriously now, and everyone masks up and stays distant so that Labour Day does not become a new big inflection point. Consequently, this piece from xkcd feels most appropriate.

For my American audience, since it is a holiday weekend, again, enjoy Labour Day. For my British audience, you already had your summer bank holiday. For everyone, have a good weekend.

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Wear a Mask

It sounds so easy, but too many don’t do it.

Yesterday, Agence France-Presse published an article about a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that examined the efficacy of the coronavirus’ airborne spread potential.

The study centred on a bus trip in eastern China from January, before the widespread adoption of masks as common courtesy let alone mandated safety equipment. Nobody on the bus of 68 travellers wore a mask and the bus’ air conditioning system recycled the air inside the vehicle. (Remember the importance of cycling and filtering air inside subway cars?)

Researchers then mapped the location of patient zero, conveniently from my point of view in the centre of the bus. It should also be noted that patient zero was also asymptomatic at the time of the bus trip. Then researchers mapped the seats of those infected on the bus and this is what they found.

One of the key findings is these conditions, recirculated air amongst people not wearing masks, the virus was able to infect people outside the 2-metre safety radius (6-feet in the non-metric States).

Now from a design standpoint, I really like this graphic. It shows people’s seats and their condition to show the physical spread of the virus from patient zero. (Eerily, people far away were infected whilst one person sitting next to patient zero remained uninfected.) Not only that, but from a chain of transmission standpoint, the designer also included how many people these newly infected victims infected. Some infected nobody further whilst others infected up to four additional people.

My only real quibble here is with the colours used for the status of the infected. I think the light grey works well for those who were not diagnosed with Covid-19. But the green, yellow, blue, and red don’t quite work for me here. The value of the yellow is too close to the grey and consequently almost the mildly symptomatic people fall almost into the background. Compare that to the asymptomatic victims in green, who appear far more prominently.

I understand the desire to progress from mild to moderate vs. asymptomatic. So I wonder if those with mild symptoms were given a light blue and those with moderate a dark blue to contrast with the asymptomatic green. Of course, we still run into the red-green issue, but the dotted circle around patient zero mitigates that concern.

Remember, this was all among people not wearing masks. This piece strongly shows how important it is to wear a mask—not just to reduce the risk of receiving the virus, but to reduce your risk of spreading the virus if you are an asymptomatic case. (To be fair to the people on the bus, we knew very little about the virus in January and who knows what they knew as China was still attempting to downplay the virus.)

The point? Wear a mask.

Credit for the piece goes to John Saeki.

Covid-19 Update: 30 August

After dealing with hurricane forecast plots last Monday, we’re back to the nature-made, man-intensified disaster of Covid-19 in the United States. So in the five states we review, where are we with the pandemic?

Compared to the charts from two weeks, looking at daily new cases, in some places we are in a better spot, and in others not much has changed. In fact Illinois is the only place worse off with its seven-day average higher than it was two weeks ago, but not by dramatically much.

New cases curve in PA, NJ, DE, VA, & IL.

In fact we see in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware that the average number of daily new cases is lower than it was two weeks ago. Virginia dipped lower, but has recently returned to approximately the same level and in that sense is in no different a place. Of course the key factor is how those trends all change over the coming week.

But what about in terms of deaths?

Deaths curve in PA, NJ, DE, VA, & IL.

Well here there is bad news in Virginia. Two weeks ago a spike in deaths there had largely subsided. Two weeks hence? We are in the middle of a third spike of deaths, reaching nearly 20 deaths per day.

Fortunately, the other four states remain largely the same, and that means few deaths per day. Indeed, for Pennsylvania and New Jersey that means deaths in the low double-digits or often in the single digits. Delaware has not reported a new death in four days. And Illinois, while up a little bit, is in the low single-digits, but generally just a few more deaths per day than Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Is Covid-19 Surging in New Zealand?

Yesterday, President Trump claimed that Covid-19 was “surging” in New Zealand, a country widely lauded as having successfully contained and suppressed their outbreak. That has allowed Wellington to reopen large swathes of their economy without incident.

Until this surge.

And by surge we mean something like 30 cases in 3 days. So, let’s compare that surge to the numbers of new cases in the United States.

Now, to be fair, New Zealand has a population of nearly 5 million, the United States has nearly 335 million. So a direct number-to-number comparison of the number of new cases per day isn’t fair.

So let’s look at the number of new cases per million people, which equalises the data for population.

So yeah, New Zealand is not “surging”. The data shows that even with the more limited testing per capita conducted in the United States, we are nowhere near the point of bending the curve anywhere close to zero.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Covid-19 Update: 16 August

So here are the charts from the last week of Covid data in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Illinois.

When we compare last week’s update to today’s, we can see that Pennsylvania did indeed bottom out and is back on the rise and the same can probably be said for Delaware. Although a fair amount of the one-day spikes in those numbers we see today are from an outbreak in a correctional system.

Whilst Virginia did go up, by week’s end, it had settled back down to a point not dissimilar to last week. So nothing really changed and time stood still in Virginia. The same can also be loosely said for New Jersey, where it was more about fluctuations than determined rises or falls.

In Illinois, however, we finally saw a plateauing of the new cases numbers and with the slightest of declines .

New cases in PA, NJ, DE, VA, and IL.
New cases curve in PA, NJ, DE, VA, and IL.

Then in deaths we have not much to say as they remain low in New Jersey and Delaware and stable and moderate in Illinois.

Virginia’s recent spike appears to have subsided, as it’s back to nearly 10 deaths per day from the virus.

But most concerning is Pennsylvania. Here, while the numbers are still relatively low, they are on a slow and gradual rise. At this point the seven-day average is beginning to rise above 20 deaths per day.

Deaths in PA, NJ, DE, VA, and IL
Death curve in PA, NJ, DE, VA, and IL

Credit for the piece is mine.

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.