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Rural Nebraska seeing rapid increase of COVID-19 cases

COVID-19 Analysis
Published: Oct. 15, 2020 at 6:24 PM CDT
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HASTINGS, Neb. (KSNB) - Nebraska has surpassed 50,000 cases of COVID-19, ranking 35th in the United States as of October 15. By population, however, Nebraska is 16th on the list. Comparing case count to population gives a more even view of spread, and can be beneficial. Since Nebraska is a very rural state, here we will explore how cases vary between low and high populations.

This map shows all of the counties with respect to 10,000 residents. There are 67 counties with fewer than 10,000, and 26 with more. These are centered around large cities and urban areas, many of which have been centers for large outbreaks of COVID-19.

There are 26 counties with more than 10,000 residents in the state, but COVID-19 is beginning to accelerate in rural counties.
There are 26 counties with more than 10,000 residents in the state, but COVID-19 is beginning to accelerate in rural counties.(Kit Cloninger)

Now, take the raw count of cases each county has reported, and divide that by the county population. This gives a per capita representation of the rate of infection. Below is a graph combining similar counties together in these two categories, and I have multiplied by 10,000 to get a “cases-per-10k-population” view of the pandemic so far.

Smaller population counties, when combined together, exhibit a rapidly increasing rate of  recent cases reported in the previous 14 days.
Smaller population counties, when combined together, exhibit a rapidly increasing rate of recent cases reported in the previous 14 days.(Kit Cloninger)

Each point on this line is a sum of the last 14 days of daily case reports, for each category of county population greater or less than 10,000 residents. In early May, the larger counties had a rate of 30.84 cases per 10,000 people, far more than the rural area. If you look closely, the red line does show a rise in cases, though not as dramatic. Into late August, the increase of cases was relatively the same, though still fewer in the rural counties.

As of October 7, though, the rural counties have outpaced the urban, showing that there is much more widespread activity when accounting for population differences. Also notice how the curve is sloping up faster as it goes, which is the nature of an exponential curve. Exponential growth is increasing. Think of your speed as you hit the accelerator; if you keep flooring it, you’ll keep getting faster and faster. The only way to slow down is ease back, or apply the brake.

The point is, you have to change things to interrupt a runaway growth. This is why mask requirements help slow the spread, why restricting crowds helps slow the spread, and why it is important for the vast majority of the population to participate in these measures.

Nebraska has seen over 50,000 cases in the months since the pandemic began
Nebraska has seen over 50,000 cases in the months since the pandemic began(Kit Cloninger)

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