For weeks, those regions defined the outbreak. The spread of the virus at a nursing home in Washington led to dozens of deaths, pushing early mortality figures upward. California took strong measures to halt the spread of the virus earlier than other places, including issuing a shelter-in-place order for a number of counties near San Francisco before such orders were commonplace.
But a surge in New York quickly pushed the total number of confirmed cases in that state past both Washington and California.
The number of cases in New York, most of them in New York City, quickly dwarfed the case totals in the other two states. There have been more confirmed cases in New York than anywhere in the world except China, Italy and Spain. (It’s likely that China is underreporting its case totals, as are countries such as Iran.)
If we adjust those figures for population, California’s trend stands out. Over the weekend, Santa Clara County, once a potential hot spot of coronavirus infections, announced that it had gone a day without any covid-19-related deaths.
What’s interesting to consider is how the three states diverged. California consistently saw slower growth than New York or Washington relative to the point at which each state passed the 1-case-per-1-million-residents mark. New York and Washington saw increases at about the same rate for the first week after passing that point — but then diverged.
Why? The New York Times explored Washington’s success Sunday. While the state introduced restrictions on large groups and travel later than New York or California relative to the spread each state had seen, state officials drew attention to the problem relatively quickly and made recommendations for preventing the virus’s spread soon after the first death in the state.
One thing Washington did do was begin testing broadly more quickly. Until less than two weeks ago, Washington was conducting more tests each day than New York state, according to data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project. As a function of population, Washington was completing more tests per million residents than New York as recently as a week ago. Twelve days after each state passed the 1-case-per-million residents mark, Washington was completing 1.7 times as many tests per resident as New York.
These numbers only tell part of the story. New York’s numbers are also a function of the density of the population in New York City. Statewide testing numbers don’t explain how focused testing can guide efforts to limit the spread of the virus. Case confirmation totals, meanwhile, depend on the number of tests conducted, meaning that all of these figures carry an asterisk of uncertainty.
The implications of those differences are significant. As of Monday, New Yorkers with the virus might be cared for at the New York City convention center or in pop-up tents in Central Park. Those in medical distress unrelated to coronavirus might end up being cared for on a naval hospital ship in New York Harbor, part of an effort to reduce strain on the city’s hospitals.
One bit of good news did emerge on Monday, though: Emergency-room visits are trending downward, suggesting that the measures to curb new infections put into place 10 days ago may be having the desired effect. But the number of cases in the state isn’t expected to peak for several weeks.
Explore the data
The tool below allows you to display daily case and death data for a variety of regions and states.
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Red lines indicate faster increases in the metric being displayed; gray and blue lines, slower increases.