It is really easy to go down the statistical rabbit hole with Covid-19. One reason for that is general skepticism about the seriousness of the disease, as proclaimed regularly on Fox News and any number of well-outside-the-mainstream media outlets. Another reason is more practical: Statistics determine where counties fall on the state’s color-coded reopening plan, meaning those ever-changing numbers can result in loosening or tightening of daily activities.
Unfortunately, this incessant focus on “reopening” at all cost has led to some statistical gamesmanship at both the state and local levels. Exhibit A in Lake County is the underreported outbreak in a skilled nursing facility in Lakeport, and a newer one at a Clearlake facility. Rural counties apparently have won their bid to exclude nursing home outbreaks from calculations that would shift counties from “red” to “purple” status and back again. As little as two weeks ago, it seemed clear that Lake County would land on the purple tier because of rising fatalities. Now, with little explanation as to why, Lake remains in the red tier. The goal posts have moved.
So, without reinventing the statistical wheel or waxing poetic about age and “co-morbidities” of victims, I thought I’d do a quick survey of Lake and neighboring counties to see where they’re at in terms of cases and deaths per capita. Population estimates for 2019 by U.S. Census.
This snapshot is no substitute for drill-down analysis by an epidemiologist, but it does illustrate one thing: While Lake County may have the lowest case rate by population in the six-county region, it does not have the lowest death rate. Glenn County has 11 fewer deaths with virtually the same number of cases. Lake County’s nursing-home outbreak is very significant even if it hasn’t (yet) triggered state action.