How Are We Doing with COVID-19 in the U.S. Right Now?

Update: More recent iterations are available:

Thanks to those of you who commented on my post last night on my attempts to better understand what’s happening with Coronavirus and how we’re currently doing here in the U.S. My friend, Raj, suggested I do a cleaner version, so I put the data in this Google Spreadsheet and let technology do its thing:

A reminder: These lines represent normalized (by population) daily new cases in the U.S. (blue), China (red), South Korea (yellow), and Italy (green). I haven’t seen anyone else normalize by population, which helps make more of an apples-by-apples comparison. The closest thing I’ve seen is Our World In Data’s sparklines, which are wonderful. (Hat tip to Phoebe Ayers for the pointer.)

I also made two improvements from my previous version:

  1. The graphs are generated from precise data points rather than my back-of-envelope calculations and sketches. I also made the spreadsheet I used public so that others can double-check or re-use.
  2. I picked a more precise “Day 0” for each country — the first day with zero new cases followed by a bunch of non-zero days. This worked out to February 27 for the U.S., January 22 for China, February 18 for South Korea, and February 20 for Italy.

Unlike my previous version, I’m showing the full Italy curve. (Wow.) Here’s a zoomed-in version that gives us a better sense of what’s happening in the U.S. (and is also pretty close to last night’s rough sketch, which makes me happy):

The graph suggests that we’ve been able to “flatten the curve” so far, and that aggressive measures by local government and businesses are probably working. However, seeing the curve jump like Italy’s is still not out-of-the-question. We still don’t have widespread testing in this country (although there are positive signs), and — as my friend Sheldon Chang observed — we’re unlikely to be able to implement the aggressive, targeted, digital surveillance that they’re able to do in Asia. More aggressive containment is still a possibility, but for now, I feel like I’m able to breathe a bit easier. Stay vigilant, everyone! Keep your physical distance, wash your hands, and take care!

5 replies to “How Are We Doing with COVID-19 in the U.S. Right Now?”

  1. Eugene, yesterday’s post was great, and now this – really informative, thanks for putting this forth in a time of uncertainty! And please stay well.

  2. Wonderful! I was hoping someone would do this normalization thing, and now you did.

    A major uncertainty is how well number of cases is reported by each country. Yesterday a somewhat official estimate for the Netherlands was that number of cases in my country is under reported 600 percent. As many people who get sick are no longer eligible for testing as long as they can stay in self quarantine. It seems we don’t have enough test kits, so these are reserved for very sick people who need to be sent to intensive care.

    I read suggestions that we need to switch to confirmed deaths as a measure of how well we contain spread.At least those numbers are more solid, but there will be a lag of up to a week or so.

    1. Thanks, Erik! And, if you read my third take (I’m currently on my fourth), you’ll see that I backed off the normalization. Would love your thoughts on that:

      I also addressed the underreporting in the above followup post. I agree with the contention that confirmed deaths will give us a better estimate of actual number of cases, although as you point out, the lag is problematic.

      Hope you’re staying safe. Take care!

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