As the COVID-19 pandemic rages across the nation, it has killed 378,777 people, a number that has risen by over 4,000 on a single day. One carefully followed medical school forecast puts total deaths as high as 700,000 by April 1. Confirmed cases reached 22,732,280 and increase by over 200,000 most days. The total confirmed case count is about 25% of the global total.
Several common metrics are used to measure the spread of COVID-19. One is the spread by states. Another is cases by county. Yet another is hospitalizations, which currently sit above 125,000 nationwide, another record.
One means to measure the intensity of the spread in a single area is recent cases per 100,000 people calculated by a seven-day average. That defines a hotspot. By this yardstick, Morgan County, Kentucky, ranks first at 852, much higher than in any other county in America. To show how hard the disease has hit the county, contrast that to the county ranked second by the measure, which is Jasper County, Texas, at 394.
Morgan County is east of Lexington and southwest of Cincinnati, in the direction of the West Virginia border. According to the Census Reporter, Morgan County has 13,288 residents spread across 381 miles. That is slightly more than twice the size of Detroit, which has a population of about 700,000 people.
Of Morgan County’s residents, 93% are white, which is much higher than the national average, and 56% are men.
The county is relatively poor, as The median household income is $36,134. The national average is $62,843. Two-thirds of the households in Morgan County have incomes below $50,000. Almost 23% of county residents live below the poverty line. That is over 50% higher than the national average. The median value of a house is $73,100, compared to the national average of $217,500.
Only 76% of adults have a high school degree or better, while the national number is 88%. An exceedingly small 12.5% have a bachelor’s degree or better, in contrast to the national figure of 32.2%. While it is unwise to generalize the health situation in Morgan County, poor regions often have high rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. All these conditions are dangerous for COVID-19 sufferers.
Among the disadvantages Morgan County has is that Kentucky is among the hardest-hit states currently. It ranks 11th among all states as measured by cases per 100,000 people at 87. Fortunately, the state is below most as measured by deaths per 100,000 with a seven-day average of 0.58.
There is no explanation for Morgan County’s remarkably large numbers. Residents can only hope that, as has been true with hotspots before, the tremendous spread of the disease will decline.