Friday, May 1, 2020

Extreme Outliers in Pennsylvania: Beaver and Montour Counties

COVIDcast map for Beaver County

Today Governor Wolf has announced that 24 counties in will have restrictions limited on May 8.  The state uses the COVID-cast analytics tool from Carnegie Mellon University to predict future cases in each county, according to state health secretary Rachel Levine.  Their tool uses doctor visit data and data from Google and Facebook to make this prediction.  One county that is not included in the map at the top is Beaver county which is to the northwest of Pittsburgh.  

Beaver County

According to the health department, Beaver County currently has 426 cases and 67 deaths. This gives is a case mortality rate of 15.73% which is 6% higher than the next highest counties (Susquehanna and Wyoming).  The health department has another table showing that 297 out of 426 cases (69.7%) are located in three nursing homes in the county.  Also 60 out of the 67 deaths (89.6%) in the county are in these nursing homes.  These cases and deaths include staff and residents at these homes.  A report by WTAE states that the Brighton Rehabilitation Facility is one of the homes with a large number of cases.  

The health department's zipcode map shows that 276 of the 426 cases (64.8%) are located in the zip code 15009 which is in Beaver, PA.  It does not state how many deaths are in Beaver.  Brighton rehab center is located in Beaver, PA.  The COVIDcast website predicts that there will be a steady number of future cases.  To date, 2,511 tests have been conducted in the county for a rate of 1.52%.  In County Health Rankings, Beaver County ranked 44th in health outcomes and 56th in health factors in the state in 2019.

Montour County

Included in the Governor's easing of restrictions is Montour County.  It currently has 48 cases and zero deaths.  The statistic that jumps out at me is that 3,006 tests have been conducted there in a county with about 18,240 inhabitants.  This gives a testing rate of 16.5% which is by far the highest in the state (a person can be tested more than once).  All other counties have testing rates less than 3%.  In County Health Rankings, the county ranked 10th in health outcomes and sixth in health factors in the state in 2019.

The county has no cases in nursing homes.  Although it has 11% of Beaver County's population 495 more tests for the virus have been conducted there.  I don't have a good explanation for their testing numbers.  It would be a good question to ask Secretary Rachel Levine.  

The increased testing for the virus does allow authorities to pinpoint where the cases are and better enables them to contain the spread.  The field of epidemiology began with John Snow in London during a cholera outbreak in 1854.  Snow was a physician who was looking at the number of cholera cases.  He found that most of them were coming from those who got their drinking water from a well that was drawing water from a part of the Thames river that was contaminated with raw sewage.  He took the handle off of the well and the outbreak eventually ended while no one know about how germs caused the disease.  We have better methods for tracking the disease now but we still need to place facts over fears.  I have been tracking the cases for Cambria County and other counties for comparison.

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