May 6, 2020 - Health

Where the virus is spreading fastest

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, U.S. Census Bureau. Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

In addition to keeping an eye on the tragic, and climbing, numbers of total coronavirus cases and deaths across the U.S., it's important to watch how those trends are playing out over time at the state level.

Why it matters: Rising, or falling, numbers of cases is one of the key metrics for determining where mitigation efforts are working and when the economy can begin to reopen.

The Trump administration's reopening guidelines detail that in order to start lifting restrictions and reopening the economy, a state needs to report 14-day trends of fewer cases or fewer positive tests (though local officials do get some leeway in adjusting the metrics).

  • Not a lot of states meet that criteria.

Our chart compares each state's seven-day average of new cases from Monday and the seven-day average from a week prior, April 27. Comparing the averages of two dates helps smooth out a lot of the noise in how states sometimes inconsistently conduct and report tests.

  • By this metric, Minnesota, Nebraska and Puerto Rico have the most worrisome trends, while Arkansas and Wyoming have the most positive trends. Twelve states are moving in the right direction.
  • But more than a third of the nation still has growing numbers of cases. And that includes states such as Texas and Virginia, where Republican and Democratic governors are beginning to unveil re-opening plans.

Yes, but: These trends only tell us so much.

  • Some states may see their case counts rise not necessarily because their outbreaks are getting dramatically worse, but because their testing is getting better, so they're catching more cases.
  • That's why health officials are also pulling in other metrics — including the number of deaths, the number of hospitalizations and the percentage of tested patients who test positive. A higher percentage means you're probably missing people.
  • Still, public-health guidance calls for a steady decrease in cases before opening up, and few states have achieved that.

The bottom line: The virus isn't just some other states' problem. It's everyone's problem.

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