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.
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.
No change in rate of increase in new cases since July 1st. Simple projections are disturbing.
Yesterday’s (Saturday) release of Covid-19 tracking data by the Governor’s office capped off what is by far the largest addition to total weekly cases of Covid-19 since the first case was documented 141 days ago. The 4580 new cases marked the third week in a row with record numbers of new cases, dwarfing the 1460 new cases for the week beginning June 28. The rate of increase of the 7-Day rolling average of daily cases has been going up at the same rate since July 1st. Graphic projections of daily new cases based either on the absolute numbers of new cases or their 7-Day rolling averages agree. Both predict the same near-future estimates of 1000 new cases per day by August 3; and 2000 new cases by August 18. Based on current data alone, both would have us at 5000 new cases per day by the first week of September. The New York Times this morning rates Kentucky as having one of the most rapidly expanding epidemics in the nation. I would like to wish away such a future, but at this time I am unable to do so.
Below are some of the data visualizations that lead me to these projections and concerns. Updated interactive versions which allow different time-frames to be chosen and which include all my data are available here.
This first graphic shows the 7-Day rolling average of new cases added daily to Kentucky’s announced total. KHPI defines New Cases as the increment in aggregate total cases from the previous day. As described elsewhere, this number is usually a handful of cases fewer than announced from Frankfort or by the national Covid-data aggregators which use Frankfort’s numbers. It is impossible to ignore the abrupt shift towards the vertical beginning around July 4th with 209 cases to yesterday’s 654. With small deviations reflecting weekend delays in reporting, the plot-line is ascending relentlessly.
Yesterday’s (Wednesday) evening Covid-19 update from Frankfort told of 518 new cases but from which there were an unusually high number of 38 removed as duplicates or perhaps for other reasons. KHPI reports new cases as the day-to-day difference in total cases which yields a smaller number of 480 additional new cases. This number, while higher than any new case number earlier than July 7, is less than the several 500s, 646, or 977 counts of the previous 7 days. The rise in the 7-Day average to a new high of 552 was at least temporarily blunted– but it has not begun to fall either. Time will tell us in which direction our case trend is headed. It has only been since July 9 that mandatory mask use was required in Kentucky, but its implementation was challenged in the courts and compliance has been spotty in any event. I suspect it is too early to expect a major effect on spread at this early time. End-of-week Fridays and Saturdays have historically given us higher counts in the past. The monstrously high count of 977 was reported just last Sunday. Three reporting days of the week remain just ahead of us.
[Addendum 7-24-20: Yesterday evening’s data report confirmed ongoing rapid expansion of the epidemic. KHPI noted 607 additions to total cases and 7 new deaths. With two days to go in this calendar week, the number of new cases is already nearly as many as last week. Based on the current rate of increase of the 7-Day average, new cases are doubling by at least every 12-13 days. Hospital and ICU utilization continue to trend upwards. In all this, Kentucky is mirroring the nation overall. We are all in trouble! The full panel of visualizations on-line have been updated.]
[Addendum 7-24 4:30 pm: todays new case reports adds 744 to the total. This is bad news. Even without Saturday’s report tomorrow, the number of new cases has jumped well ahead of last weeks total. At this rate, unless something changes or happens, we will be at 1000 cases per day by August 3d. Deaths in today’s report added 7 new ones. I will elaborate on the weeks finding s tomorrow evening. I place an updated graphic of 7-Day New Cases at the end of this article.]