Despite a recent falloff in the speed with which COVID-19 has spread across America, there is no end in sight for what will certainly be tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of more deaths from the disease in the first half of this year. Vaccination distribution has been slow, and mutations of the disease have spread to the United States from the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa. These variants may not be more deadly, but they almost certainly spread faster, and current vaccinations may not treat them. The jury remains out on these questions.
The traditional metrics for measurement of the COVID-19 spread remain primarily increases in confirmed and fatal cases by day. Confirmed cases number 29,000,070 in the United States and continue to rise by over 70,000 most days. Fatalities are at 521,504 and continue to jump by more than 2,000 on many days. In terms of confirmed cases, some experts believe the figure may be closer to 70 million because of poor testing.
Aside from a press for people to wear masks, social distance and wash hands, the largest defense against the disease is vaccines, which were introduced in December. The first two approved were from Pfizer and Moderna. At the end of December, the Trump administration said that in the early part of 2021, tens of millions of people would be vaccinated. That did not come true. Today, less than 16% of adult Americans have received at least one dose. Only about 8% have received two doses. President Biden said that his administration will have enough vaccines for all adult Americans by the end of May.
One widely used measure for the spread of COVID-19 is cases or deaths per 100,000 people. The advantage of this yardstick is that it allows for a comparison from place to place, regardless of how large or small a state or county is. By this measure, some regions are much safer than others and some more dangerous or deadly.
Four American counties have been very hard hit by COVID-19, with cumulative death rates of more than seven per 100,000 on average over the past 14 days.
The worst off is Arthur County, Nebraska. Its rate is 17.06, almost twice the next county on the list. It is in the western part of the state, northeast of the Colorado border.
Arthur County’s population is only 463, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and over 94% of them are white. The county is relatively poor. The median household income is $42,813, which is over $20,000 below the national average, and the poverty rate is 13.6%, well above the national number.
Next on the list of deadliest counties, McMullen, Texas, comes in at 10.79. It is in the southern part of the state, which is an area where the disease has spread aggressively over the past several weeks. It has a population of 662 people.
The third county on the deadliest counties list is Grant, Nebraska, at 9.95. Its population is 718. Taliaferro County, Georgia, follows, at 8.58 and with a population of 1,665.
These data show two things. The first is how hard America’s small counties by population have been hit. The other is how widespread the locations of these counties are.