Some Hope in Washington

My posts lately may have sounded a bit dire. I want to offer some hope in this one.

Let’s look at the three states with the most cases, WA, CA, and NY. The first picture shows the graphs of cases starting in mid February. The orange line is the one I want to focus on. Ignore the dotted tail on the right, that’s just the cases reported so far in the current day.

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Notice that the lines for WA and CA are a lot less steep than NY. Now, the vertical scales are different, so we have to be careful, but this difference shows up also when the graphs are displayed in logarithmic form. (Those who are interested can look at those graphs on the tracker itself, just click the “log” button at the upper right of the graph. Be sure to select a state in the map first.)

What do these rate differences mean? (Honestly, I don’t know, and what follows is speculative even if it is based on looking at the data.) It’s important to remember that WA was the first state that the virus took hold in, CA was the second, and NY was the third in this group.

One possibility is that NY has simply done more testing and so has found cases more quickly. So now take a look at the second picture, which shows the testing stats for each state. NY has done the most testing, but WA isn’t far behind. CA has only done about half as much, so that may offer some explanation for it’s slower growth, but what explains the difference between NY and WA?

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One possibility is that WA implemented containment and social distancing policies earlier. As the first state to have a large outbreak, it was one of the first to implement such policies. Major employers such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft also took early actions to limit exposure for their employees. Because the outbreak started in the most liberal parts of the state, the community was perhaps more likely to take news of the virus seriously rather than following federal leaders who downplayed its seriousness. If this possibility turns out to be correct, that would be great news. It would show that the measures that are now widespread can be effective in slowing the spread of the virus. It will take some time for that effect to be evident, but we would have something to hope for in the meantime.

Of course we don’t know that this explanation is correct, there are other possibilities. For example, the little orange number in the second picture shows the percent of tests that came back positive in each case. NY’s positive rate is nearly 3 times that of WA. Perhaps NY is better able to target its testing to those most likely to have the virus and that accounts for the difference in the growth rates of reported cases.

Once again, We Dont Know. But there is some reason for hope and continued effort on everyone’s part.

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