Historical Covid-19 Data for Kentucky Counties Does Not Suggest a Remission in New Cases.

New cases exploding in smaller and rural counties along with much of the rest of the Midwest.

Readers of this series of Covid-19 articles will have noticed my bewailing of an easily accessible database of case and death numbers at the county level since the beginning of our share of the 2020 pandemic. Frankfort recent made available copies of its individual daily reports since June that include county-specific counts, but these cannot easily be joined together for analysis. As a matter of political policy, the CDC has been standing on the sidelines shifting many of its national responsibilities to the states.

The New York Times filed a freedom of information request to the CDC to get such information, but along with other private entities, has been collecting county-specific case counts the hard way directly from the states. I was able to download the publicly available Times historical database, extracted the numbers for Kentucky, and prepared interactive data visualizations and tables that allow anyone to look specifically at the historical Covid-19 experiences of individual Kentucky counties and the state as a whole. This new panel of visualizations is available here. I make the data supporting these figures available to anyone as an Excel file of some 15,895 rows of data for your own additional analysis.

The following figure shows a typical bar chart of the epidemiolocal curve for Kentucky as a whole. (Click to enlarge these.) The aggregate number of cases in the Times database of 38,546 is more than the 36,945 reported as Total Cases by Frankfort on the evening of August 12. I cannot at this time identify definitively the reason(s) for this discrepancy. They likely result from things like changing CDC requirements for what is required to be reported, different reporting daily time cut-offs, the addition of different definitions of “cases”, different kinds of tests allowed, the inclusion of “probable” cases, multiple tests per unique individual human being, and the like. The national and state data collection and testing structures have been changing if not flawed since the beginning. Nonetheless, the Times data, like that of Johns Hopkins, The Atlantic, or the Covid Tracking Project which emphasize different things are widely used as the best that we have available. I do not see a diminution in the rate of growth of new cases in this chart of Kentucky’s experience as a state.

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New Cases Covid-19 in Kentucky Still at Highest Levels.

A seeming stabilization of case counts this past week at a new high level teased us into thinking we had gotten over the hump of the July surge of new Covid-19 cases. That seems not yet to be the case. The aggregate number of cases increased today by 782 new ones. There were 8 new deaths. The number of patients in ICUs remains at the highest level ever. As we approach the opening of public schools, colleges and universities, college and professional sports, the Kentucky Derby, and other public postponed or Fall activities; it cannot be said that we have our share of the pandemic under adequate control.

Our communities need now to make some hard decisions about where their highest priorities lie– and act as though we believe it! Seems to me that opening public schools physically would rank high on any list if feasible, but there is zero doubt that new cases would emerge in both students and staff that will undermine if not crush the advantages of doing so. (We will still need other than schoolhouse-based ways to provide for the learning and non-pedagogical needs of children and students.) Businesses and their jobs must remain available to the extent they can do so with acceptable safety. There is no zero-risk to anything we do or do not. In my opinion, sporting events and similar large-scale public or non-public events, no matter how much fun to play or attend, do not rise to the same level of necessity to our communities, and in fact are already demonstrating an ability to make things worse. Assuming that all of us as individuals will make the best decisions in the interest of public good is folly.

Below is a bar chart of new cases since March to August 8. The complete series of interactive data visualizations is available on the KHPI Tableau Public website.

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Recent Surge in KY Covid-19 Appears to Moderate.

Presumed effect of masks and closings?

After three months of a slowly rising plateau of new Covid-19 cases in Kentucky, July began with a surge of new cases culminating with a spectacular and frightening peak of 977 new cases on July 19. In response, a mandatory face-covering order was put in place, bars were closed, restaurants were rolled back to smaller capacity, and private groups were limited to 10 people. It is likely that these public health measures blunted the rapid exponential rise, but daily reports of cases since the new maximum varied widely confusing interpretation. Nonetheless, we are not out of the woods yet. Yesterday’s (Aug 6) new cases were 513, but even this number is much higher than any daily count before July 11 (save for the aberrant and non-representative count of 577 on May 5).

Our recent surge is absolutely not the result of increased testing which hasn’t increased much at all since early May in any event. More to the point, there are more Covid-19 patients in the hospital today than at any time in Kentucky’s epidemic, and more in the ICU than any time since its opening days. These new cases are sick people who would have been recognized even if there was minimal testing! It is anticipated that an increase in reported deaths will follow. This latter may already be happening.

The following graphics illustrate our current state of affairs. The full updated panel of interactive data visualizations is available as usual on KHPI’s Public Tableau Website. In addition, I have extracted Kentucky’s historical county-specific Covid-19 data from the New York Times global database. I make an Excel file is available here. I believe this can be helpful in understanding better how our state version of the pandemic unfolded and to understand how to use the data collected by the state at the local level. Please help me explore it. Let me know what you learn. If there is interest, I will update the file more frequently.

The following bar chart shows the number of new cases since the first one in March. Things started to take off as public health measures were relaxed. Lots of things happened in July including major sports events, open bars, and public protests. People were coming out of their caves. I believe that exploring the county-specific historical data can help explain some of the apparent spikes and hope to write about this.

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The coming week’s Covid-19 counts in Kentucky will be of critical importance.

Since the last update in this series on July 26, the number of new weekly Covid-19 cases continued its rise into new territory with almost 4000 new cases. On none of the most recent 7 days was the daily increment fewer than 500, with a maximum of 765 last Saturday July 31. The weekly total was however less than that of the preceding week when the total exceeded 4500 new cases. I do not know if the peak days with 977 and 833 cases on July 19 and 24 included targeted testing initiatives at prisons or long-term residential facilities that would artifactually drive the case count up as it did on May 5th. While there is some hope that the interruption in the current upward climb in the 7-Day average of new cases represents a pause to a new and higher “plateau,” I believe it is too soon to tell. Governor Beshear issued an executive order to require face coverings on July 9. This met with legal and community pushback from some quarters. More recently on July 27, bars were ordered closed for two weeks and restaurant service was dialed back to 25% capacity indoors. It is too soon to determine the effectiveness of these measures as currently complied with.

While a partial report yesterday (Sunday) was lower with 463 announced new cases, this is high for a Sunday. Today (Monday) is also historically a low-count day so It is likely that we will need to see what happens during the catch-up reporting from the public health districts later this week. National reports note that the explosion of new cases in the South and West is now spreading to the Midwest– and that includes us and our neighboring states. I would like to think we will be largely spared, but not if we hide our heads in the sand or pretend it is safe to open stadiums, tracks, schools, or festivals without a demonstrable way to prove that it is safe to do so, or a social apparatus to deal with the inevitable outbreaks that will occur.

I have been updating KHPI’s online Covid-19 Tracker daily with Kentucky’s numbers and will do so again with this evening’s announcements. I invite readers to help me analyze the interactive data visualizations. Below are graphics that are current as of Saturday August 1, but will be updated again this evening.

This first is shows the aggregate cases and deaths since the first case was discovered in Kentucky. With the weight of 30,000 cases behind it, any short-term change in the trajectory of the lines will not jump out at us, but the overall rising rate of new cases since early July is well established.

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