The spread of COVID-19 has raced at an accelerating speed across America. Its 25,501,479 confirmed cases are about a quarter of the world’s 99,706,375 total. American coronavirus deaths have hit 425,249, which is nearly 20% of the world’s 2,139,803. Yet, the United States has only slightly more than 4% of the world’s population.
Hospitals in many cities have intensive care unit beds that are nearly full or have reached total capacity. President Joe Biden expects 600,000 American deaths by the spring. In the shadow of the spread, many places have run low on vaccine doses, and production and distribution remain slow. Drug giant Merck recently announced its trials for a vaccine had failed.
While the disease has spread across most of America has slowed in some areas, its effects remain uneven. In some situations, the yardstick for this is total deaths and cases. Another measure is cases and deaths per 100,000, which allows for a direct comparison from county to county and state to state.
America’s COVID-19 hotspots, another measure, are defined as counties with the highest number of recent cases among the population, calculated as a seven-day average. Based on this, Forest County, Pennsylvania, is the worst hotspot in the country by a very wide margin. Cases per 100,000 over the past seven days number 1,021, well ahead of the next county, Dimmit, Texas, where the number is 292.
Forest County is in western Pennsylvania, near the Ohio border. It is southeast of Erie and north of Pittsburgh. Its population is 7,247, based on census data for 2019. That is down 6% in the past decade. About 72% of the county’s population is white, another 21% Black and 7% Hispanic.
Forest County is poor by most measures. The median value of an owner-occupied home is $95,900, well less than 50% of the American average. The median household income for the county is $39,717, barely more than half the national number. The poverty rate is a staggering 26%.
It is notable that the spread of COVID-19 and fatalities have been linked to poverty in some studies.
Forest County will come off the list of COVID-10 hotspots sometime in the next several weeks. No county holds the top spot indefinitely. In the meantime, the devastation there must be unimaginable.