(UPDATE: Idaho's COVID-19 cases have now jumped from none on Thursday to five as of Sunday morning.)
The United States is a big place, and when we look at national problems that nonetheless touch down locally, we often miss what we might observe at closer range. So: What does the COVID-19 outbreak look like at ground level?
In the Northwest, Idaho has but two reported cases (one reported Friday at Ada County and a second reported Saturday in Blaine), not enough to draw many conclusions; but Washington (a major center for the illness) has reported 568 positive diagnoses, and Oregon 30, enough to draw some general outlines. They are of course preliminary at this point, since the numbers are sure to grow in time to come, and a week or month from now the picture could look different. (I'll try to revisit this if it does.) But present, as of the Friday reports on their state health websites, here's what the states of Washington and Oregon are saying about the who and where of coronavirus.
By way of location, 67 of Washington's 568 cases are "unassigned" (and it's a little hard to know what that means). Those located by counties aren't distributed evenly. Of the other 501 cases, the state reports 328 in King County (Seattle area) and 133 in Snohomish County (the Everett area, just to the north), and another 19 in Pierce County (the Tacoma area, just south of Seattle). That means a small geographic area, albeit thickly populated, accounts for 480 of the 501 assigned locations. A dozen other counties scattered around the state report cases, all listing from one to three instances.
Oregon's situation provides a slightly warped mirror of that. Of the 30 reported cases, exactly a third come from Washington County, the populous suburban area west of Portland. Eight of the rest come from Linn County,the area anchored by Albany but also including Lebanon, which is the site of a veterans home where nearly all of that county's cases are reported. After that the numbers drop greatly; the nine other Oregon counties reporting cases list either one or two each. (Multnomah County, home of Portland, lists only one case.)
This suggests, for now, that COVID-19 doesn't travel that easily far afield and blooms bigger in specific locations, which account for the great bulk of its instances, such as the contained health facilities in the Puget Sound and the Albany care facility where contagion spread quickly. Or so it looks for now; we'll see if the trend holds up in coming weeks.
Washington does not indicate how many cases result in hospitalization, but Oregon does: 11 cases out of 30 resulted in hospitalization so far. On the other hand, Oregon did not break down the deaths to date, but Washington did: 37 out of 568 confirmed cases, which if it holds up may indicate a higher death rate than most officials have suggested so far.
Washington also reported more women than men with confirmed cases (55% to 42%, with the remaining 3% "unknown"). And it reported an odd pattern according to age: The number of cases (cases, not severity) so far has increased with age. It said 21% of cases involved people 80 years or older, 18% in their seventies, 15% in their sixties, 14% in their fifties, and down to 2% for those under 20. Does that indicate something about how the disease spreads?
While testing has been limited in the Northwest as elsewhere, most of the tests have gone to people who either have been exposed, or might have been, to someone with the virus, or exhibit what they think might be symptoms. Of the Oregon test results in so far, 337 reported negative and 30 positive. The ratio has been similar in Washington: 6,001 reporting negative and 568 positive.
We're still early in this. But getting a little more specific information, something we can assess at ground level, may help us put some parameters on what often has felt like a vague, albeit quite real, problem.