Covid Update: 28 July

Another week, more bad news when it comes to Covid-19 in the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Illinois. Last week I wrote about how the slight upticks in new cases in the states were not so slight. This week it’s more of the same, though it would be fair to say that the spread of Covid is beginning to accelerate, although in some states more quickly than others.

To start, the most basic of refreshers. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware are all in the Northeast. Virginia is in the South. Illinois is in the Midwest. At a broad level, Covid is beginning to strike places with low vaccination rates and in particular has been hitting the South and Midwest fairly severely. You might say that Virginia has the northern suburbs of Washington and Illinois has Chicago, but in both states simply head south and west and you’ll very quickly find yourself in an entirely different culture, almost a different state in both. And it is in those parts of the states where the increase is most noticeable.

Conversely, the Northeast has had some of the highest rates of vaccination and the new Delta variant is taking longer to take root. Because, that’s the entire point of the vaccination process. We want to starve the virus of potential host bodies. But we needed to reach much higher than the 50-odd percent of the states to be fully vaccinated. So where are we? Let’s take a look.

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

The recent tails are curving up now and it’s plain to see. Two weeks ago the tails were barely noticeable in most states. You had to really look at the numbers to see the differences. Even last week in Pennsylvania and Delaware the tails were still fairly flat. This week is unmistakable. You may be over the pandemic and done with Covid, but the pandemic isn’t over and it’s not done with us.

In both Virginia and Illinois the seven-day averages for new cases rose by nearly 50% in the last week. Yesterday Illinois reported more than 2,000 new cases, the first single-day report that high since the beginning of May. And in Virginia we had more than 1,000 cases yesterday, again the most in a single day since the end of April.

In the tri-state area we also saw increases over the last week, albeit not as great as in Virginia and Illinois. Though they weren’t off the pace by much. In fact, at this rate, I would not be surprised if next week I write how both Pennsylvania and New Jersey see more than 1,000 cases in a single day. Neither state is there yet, as New Jersey reported 830 yesterday and Pennsylvania only 645—though it reported 986 on Tuesday. Both states’ seven-day averages are also a bit behind Virginia and Illinois, but again, I would not be surprised to see them nearing 1,000 though maybe not surpassing it this time next week.

I cannot overstate this next part, however. The virus is primarily infecting, sickening, and killing the unvaccinated amongst us. If you have not received your vaccine shots yet, please, please do. The vaccines have been proven safe. They have been proven effective. And they are free.

The good news, if we want to find some, is that the death rates largely continued to fall overall.

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

Largely. Keep in mind as I noted above, the deaths are almost all occurring in those who have not been vaccinated. Now in Virginia we are seeing the death rate increase, though not yet dramatically. Last week the seven-day average was three per day. This week we are at four.

But compare that to three of the other four states. (Delaware continued to have almost deaths and its average is zero.) Last week both Pennsylvania and New Jersey had averages of 5 deaths per day and this week they area at 4. And in Illinois the average fell from 7 to 4.

What I will be watching over the next week or two is whether these death rates begin to increase beyond Virginia. I mentioned before how deaths are a lagging indicator and we are beginning to reach the point at which, during earlier waves, where we could begin to see increasing numbers of deaths.

But again, the key is for any and all my readers who are unvaccinated, please make an appointment to get your shots as soon as possible.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Olympic Recap/Retro

Every four years (or so) I have to confess that I think fondly back upon my former job, because I worked with a few wonderful colleagues of mine on some data about the Olympics. And the highlight was that we had a model to try and predict the number of medals won by the host country as we were curious about the idea of a host nation bump. In other words, do host countries witness an increase in their medal count relative to their performance in other Olympiads?

We concluded that host nations do see a slight bump in their total medal count and we then forecast that we expected Team GB (the team for Great Britain and Northern Ireland) to win a total of 65 medals. We reached 64 by the final day and it wasn’t until the women’s pentathlon when, in maybe the last event, Team GB won a silver medal bringing its total to 65, exactly in line with our forecast.

Probably the most Olympics I’ve ever watched.

Of course we also looked at the data for a number of other things, including if GDP per capita correlated to Olympic performance. We also looked at BMI and that did yield some interesting tidbits. But at the end of the day it was the medal forecast that thrilled me in the summer of 2012.

So yeah, today’s a shameless plug for some old work of mine. But I’m still proud of it two olympiads later.

If you’d like to see some of the pieces, I have them in my portfolio.

Credit for the piece is mine.

But Where Are the Spiders?

Yesterday I mentioned more about revolutions, well today we’re talking about Mars, a planet that revolves around the Sun. Late last week scientists working with the InSight lander on the Red Planet published their findings. Turns out we need to rethink what we know about Mars.

First, the planet is probably much older than Earth. Mars’ composition also differs from Earth in some significant ways. InSight mapped the interior of Mars by studying the seismic waves (think like sound waves but through the inside of planets) of marsquakes.

The Wall Street Journal published a great article spelling out the findings in detail that is well worth the read. It also included some nice graphics helping to support the piece. The one I wanted to highlight, however, was a brilliant comparison of Mars to Earth.

But how many licks to get to the centre?

Conceptually this is important, because many diagrams and graphics I’ve seen about these findings only detail the interior of Mars. But what makes Mars important is how it differs from Earth, and let’s be honest, how many of us remember our Earth science classes at school and can diagram out the interior of Earth?

And right here the designer compares the smaller—and now older—brother of Earth. Again, read the article for the details, but in short, some of the key findings are that the core is larger, but also lighter, than we thought. Our planet’s core differs because Earth has two parts: a solid and heavy ball of iron and nickel surrounded by a liquid core that spins. That spinning core creates the magnetic fields that protect our planet from the Sun and have kept our atmosphere intact. Mars doesn’t have that. And that’s in part because, given the core is larger than we thought, the mantle is smaller.

A smaller mantle means that certain materials couldn’t form that insulate the Earth’s core. So while Earth’s core has been prevented from cooling and slowing down, Mars was not. And so while it did have a magnetic field at one point, that slowing, cooling core slowly dissipated the magnetic field. That may be why the planet, once rich in water, now is a barren rock exposed to the Sun.

Again, this is a big deal in terms of planetary science. Consider that Earth and Mars are broadly made of the same materials that orbited the Sun billions of years ago. But Mars took those same ingredients and made itself into a very different planet. And now we know quite a good deal more about the Red Planet.

One last point to make about the graphic above. Again, many illustrations will increase the size of the crust to make it more visible. Here the designer chose to keep it more in proportion to the scale of the planets’ interiors. (Even though Mars’ crust is quite a bit thicker than Earth’s.) I think that’s important because it puts us into perspective. We can build monuments like the Pyramids that last thousands of years and dig bore holes miles deep and tunnel out connections through mountain ranges, but that also just scratches the surface of the crust. But that crust is the thinnest of shells over the mantle and cores of these planets.

That life began and took hold on Earth, on that thinnest of shells protected by a magnetic field because of a spinning molten core buried at the centre of the planet…something to think about sometimes.

Credit for the piece goes to Merrill Sherman.

Revolution Number…

Nein?

Last week we ended the week with a Friday post looking at Covid-19 cases. And they are not trending in the right direction, to put it mildly. Now I’m not sure I like the Covid post being on Friday, but it also doesn’t make sense on Mondays any longer given the lack of data updates from Virginia and Illinois at the weekend.

I figured this week we could at least begin with a lighthearted post to balance out last week’s ending. And we have a great piece from Indexed that tackles two of my favourite subjects, astronomy and history. She titled the piece brilliantly, “Regarding both astrophysics and and the popularity of guillotines”.

And hopefully later this week I will address one of those two topics a little more in depth. But for now, begin your week with mirth because I will update you all with the new Covid data later this week. Spoiler: it’s not getting any better.

Credit for the piece goes to Jessica Hagy.

Covid Update: 22 July

I know that I typically post more light-hearted content on Fridays. But after taking a holiday Monday and my internet being down all day yesterday—fun fact, trying to type up a blog post on my mobile is…well suffice it to say I am glad that it is only an emergency backup plan—we are going to enter the weekend with some updates on the spread of Covid-19 in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Illinois.

A little over a week ago I wrote about the emergence of slight upticks in our region of coverage. Nine days hence, those slight upticks are no longer so slight.

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

In all five states we are seeing significant increases in the numbers of new cases. In New Jersey we hit the milestone of 900,000 total cases. Three weeks ago, the Garden State had bottomed out with an average of about 160 new cases per day. Yesterday the moving seven-day average surpassed 500 for the first time since mid-May.

But New Jersey is not alone. In Illinois the seven-day average has doubled since my last post. The state reported just under 2000 new cases yesterday and that brought the seven-day average above 1000 for the first time since late-May. Before the spring surge earlier this year, Illinois had bottomed out with a seven-day average of about 1500 new cases per day. If these numbers continue, I would not be surprised to see the state back at those levels within another week or two.

Nor has Virginia been spared and yesterday Old Dominion’s seven-day average rose to just short of 500 new cases per day. That too is a level we haven’t seen since…wait for it…mid-May. The pattern emerging here is fairly clear. Things are beginning to get worse and get worse in a hurry. The average has nearly doubled since my last post about Covid.

We see the same situation in Delaware though it’s increase is on the smaller side. The seven-day average in the First State hit 50 new cases per day earlier this week, though it’s ebbed back slightly and sat at 48 yesterday. You have to go back to early June to find levels that high.

And finally it’s not as if Covid has spared Pennsylvania. Three weeks ago we were nearing 100 new cases per day. At the time of my last post, the seven-day average was just a little over 200 new cases per day. The average is double that number as of yesterday at 438 new cases per day. The Commonwealth has now reported three consecutive days of over 500 new daily cases for the first time since…early June. Surprised at that timing?

The common thread in these states is that the virus, almost certainly the Delta variant, is racing through the unvaccinated populations. And we are beginning to see rises in the numbers of hospitalisations, something that I don’t chart but on which I keep tabs. But what I do track visually are the deaths from Covid.

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

We need to keep in mind again that deaths are a lagging indicator and that it takes a few weeks from someone’s infection to their death, if that person’s case is severe enough.

The good news is that we are not yet seeing a corresponding increase in the numbers of deaths. Though it might still be too early for that, should it occur. Of course lack of death does not preclude one from suffering from long Covid, a debilitating and persistent illness that lasts for months. As for deaths, instead we see the numbers entering something of a holding pattern.

Starting with Pennsylvania, deaths from Covid-19 have halved since this time last month. But we were largely at that point when I last wrote nine days ago. Deaths haven’t fallen significantly since, dropping from 7.3 per day to 5.3 per day.

And that’s a pattern we see elsewhere. In Illinois deaths are also down nearly half from an average of 12 per day last month to just 7 per day. But they were at 9 when I last wrote. In New Jersey deaths were averaging 6 per day last month and now they sit at an average of 4.7. What was the average nine days ago? 4.7. Virginia is also similar, going from an average of 6 deaths per day to 4 and now just 3.

Delaware is the one state where we have some genuinely good news. Deaths had been averaging about 2 per day last month and we are at 0 today. Since the beginning of July we’ve seen only three additional deaths. That’s great news, but Delaware is also one of the smallest states.

The takeaway from this should be please get vaccinated if you’re still not. They are safe. They are effective. And they are free. Especially as this new Delta variant begins ripping through unvaccinated populations, I really hope my unvaccinated readers will take an opportunity this weekend to get their shots. Because remember, except for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you need two shots and you need to wait between those two doses. And then the vaccine takes about two weeks to kick in after that second dose.

Credit for the piece is mine.

The Western Heat Dome(s)

For the last two days Philadelphia and much of the East Coast suffered from a heavy haze of smoke that blanketed the region. This wasn’t just any smoke, however, but smoke from the wildfires on the West Coast. This post isn’t about the wildfires, but rather something that exacerbated them. We are talking about the heat domes that formed earlier this summer. The ones that melted trolley cables in Portland.

This was a nice print graphic in the Guardian Weekly, a magazine to such I subscribe that had several articles about the domes.

Missing that cold, cold Canadian air

It does a nice job of showing the main components of the story and sufficiently simplifying them to make them digestible. One quibble, however, is how in the second map how oddly specific the heat dome is depicted.

The first graphic in particular is more of an abstraction and simplified illustration. But here we have contours and shapes that seem to speak with precision about the location of this heat dome. It also contains shades of red that presumably indicate the severity of the heat.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but it stuck me as odd juxtaposed against the top illustration.

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian Weekly graphics department.

Philadelphia’s Changing Skyline

Yesterday I mentioned how I spent Monday researching some old family properties in Philadelphia. In some cases the homes my family owned still stand. But, in many others the homes have long since been replaced. But that’s the nature of city development.

That got me thinking about an article published earlier this month at Philadelphia YIMBY where the author created an animated .gif detailing the Philadelphia skyline from 1905 through 2020. This screenshot captures the overlay of 2020 atop 1905 from the south of Philadelphia.

Kind of how it’d look from the sports complex.

But the gem of the piece is the animation. Implicit in the graphic but unmentioned is the text, which is understandably centred on the architectural designs of the skyline, is the history of Philadelphia.

In the old days, well before 1905, the city was concentrated along the Delaware River because it was—and still is—a port city. But as those shipping businesses were replaced by banks and financial companies which were replaced by other offices and manufacturing headquarters that were themselves replaced by corporate highrises and so on and so forth, we can see the centre of gravity shift westward.

The mass of buildings by 1905 has shifted away from the Delaware River and is concentrated to the east of City Hall, the tallest building until the 1980s. But you can see the highest and largest buildings moving more to the left in every frame. Though in the latest you can see some new largely residential highrises built along the Delaware waterfront.

It’s a great piece.

Credit for the piece goes to Thomas Koloski.

Substandard Housing in Philadelphia

I took a holiday yesterday and headed down the street to the Philadelphia City Archives, which houses some of the oldest documents dating back to the founding of the colony. But I was there primarily to try and find deeds and property information for my ancestors as part of my genealogy work.

When I walked into the building—the archives moved a few years ago from an older building in University City into this new facility—an interactive exhibit confronted me immediately. Now I did not take the time to really investigate the exhibit, because I anticipated spending the entire day there and wanted to maximise my time.

But there was this one graphic that felt appropriate to share here on Coffeespoons.

Philadelphia’s population crested in the 1950 census, it would decline continually until the 2010 census.

Like a lot of statistical graphics from the mid-20th century we have a single-colour piece because colour printing costs money. It makes use of a stacked bar chart to highlight the share of housing in the city that can be classified as substandard, i.e. dilapidated or without access to a private bath.

The designer chose to separate the nonwhite from the white population on different sides of the date labels, though the scale remains the same. I wonder what would have happened if the nonwhite bars sat immediately below the white bars within each year. That would allow for a more direct comparison of the absolute numbers of housing units.

That would then free up space for a smaller chart dedicated to a comparison of the percentages that are otherwise written as small labels. Because both the absolutes and percentages are important parts of the story here.

The white housing stock increased and the number of substandard units decreased in an absolute sense, leading to a strong decline in percentages.

But with nonwhite housing, the number of substandard units slightly increased, but with larger growth in the sheer number of nonwhite housing units overall, that shrank the overall percentage.

Put it all together and you have significant improvements in white housing, though in an absolute sense there still remain more substandard units for whites than nonwhites. Conversely, we don’t see the same improvements in housing for nonwhites. Rather the improvement from 45% to 35% is due more from the increase in housing units overall. You could therefore argue that nonwhite housing did not improve nearly as much as white housing between 1940 and 1950. Though we need to underline that and say there was indeed improvement.

Anyway, I then went inside and spent several hours looking through deed abstracts. Not sure if those will make it into a post here, but I did have an idea for one over a pint at lunch afterwards.

Credit for the datagraphic goes to some graphics person for some government department.

Credit for the exhibit goes to Talia Greene.

Greenland Uber Alles

Happy Friday, all. Whether we’re talking melting ice sheets or attempted purchases by the Trump administration, the island of Greenland has often been in the news the last few years.

So here’s an appropriate map from xkcd comparing the size of Greenland to the rest of the world.

Some prime beachfront property in the north Atlantic looks pretty good to me…

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Bodies Buried Under Spring Garden

Okay, technically not Spring Garden Street, but a strip mall along one of Philadelphia’s main arterial city streets. Luckily these aren’t some victims of a serial murderer, but rather the result of Philadelphia being an old city (for the United States). As this article from the Philadelphia Inquirer explains, the bodies were discovered during excavations for new construction at the site.

The reason I shared this today was that this past weekend, I had a pint with a colleague of mine at Yards Brewery located at 5th and Spring Garden. We sat at an outside table along Spring Garden and at some point I recall pointing out that Spring Garden hadn’t always been a street. Originally it only existed west of Broad.

Little did I know that the construction site across the street on that sultry Sunday afternoon was home to an archaeological excavation of an old, long since demolished city church cemetery.

Of course I still want a tram/trolley or light rail line to run down the length of Spring Garden like it did in years past.

You can use the slider in the article to compare the layout of the intersection in 2021 to that of 1860. I love these old timey maps, especially when working on genealogy. Because while we know the cities where we live today, they didn’t look like we know them 150 years ago. And in lieu of photography, it’s otherwise difficult to try and make sense of our ancestors’ world.

Just a few doors south of the Methodist church we had a bakery and a small alley called Brussels Place. And facing the alley we had what look like a number of small homes or perhaps stables. Larger presumably rowhomes lined the main streets of the intersection.

At the right of the screen, I also remember my colleague and I discussing some of the old-looking rowhomes. They may very well be the same ones depicted on this 1860 map. They are the few survivors as most of the area, as the article points out, was eventually turned into a petrol station that later became the strip mall today fenced off to be turned into flats.

Credit for the piece goes to John Duchneskie.