America’s hidden hotspots: Contrasting maps reveal rural clusters outside the big cities are being hit hard by the coronavirus

Saturday, April 4, 2020
By Paul Martin

New data from the University of Chicago reveals heartland America is suffering from ‘hidden’ coronavirus hotspots
Georgia, Arkansas and Mississippi have a higher rate of cases per capita than many of the major urban hotspots
The New York–New Jersey–Massachusetts area had a fatality rate of 1.4 percent
Albany, Georgia, had a 7.65 percent fatality rate as of March 29
Cases have spiked in the state with the death toll jumping 12 percent in a day
Many suburban and rural areas are experiencing ‘disaster gentrification’
Wealthy Covid-19 evacuees from hotspot cities flock to relative safety in picturesque towns and less populous states
They are placing increased strain on small town medical facilities

4 April 2020

Shocking new data has revealed hidden coronavirus hotspots in small town America that are among some of the hardest hit areas of the country.

The epicenter in New York and other major outbreaks in Seattle, California and Detroit have filled the headlines but a new map shows that some of the most deadly outbreaks are being experienced in Georgia, Arkansas and Mississippi where aging communities are dying at greater rates and smaller hospitals are struggling to survive.

Many coronavirus maps focus on the total number of cases in each state but when these are narrowed down to a county level and compared to population, the deadly hit to smaller communities becomes more evident.

The county-level map, created by the University of Chicago, shows a worrying trend of quickly escalating cases in smaller towns and cities.

Outbreaks in less populous places such as Albany, Georgia, with a population of 77,000, are impacting communities on a much more severe level than more high-profile hotspots in the likes of San Francisco and Seattle, where deaths per capita are not as high.

‘When you flip from just state-level data to county-level data, you get a lot more information,’ says Marynia Kolak, assistant director of health informatics at the University of Chicago’s Center for Spatial Data Science, told Scientific American.

‘For example, there are a lot of areas in the South where the population is a lot smaller, but the proportion of people who have [COVID-19] is a lot greater. So that can cause potential challenges, because even though there are less people who have the virus, there are also correspondingly fewer hospital beds, [intensive care units] or ventilators.’

The first map looks at hotspots by total cases showing number of positive cases confirmed in each place.

The University of Chicago worked with the University of Wisconsin–Madison to authenticate that information, compiling data on both state and county levels and looking at each area’s confirmed cases, deaths and number of cases weighted by population size.

The second map identifies hotspots based on the number of positive cases per 10,000 people, showing a worrying number of cases emerging in areas such as Salt Lake City, Utah; Jefferson County, Montana; and Idaho City as well as large outbreak centers in Indiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Williamsburg in Virginia.

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