Post #752: Today’s uptick in cases

Posted on July 10, 2020

Virginia saw quite an uptick in COVID-19 cases today.  Worst day in more than a month, as you would have to go back early June to find a day with more than 900 new cases reported.

The questions are, is this real, and what does this portend, if anything?

Is this real?

Short answer is:  Unfortunately, yes, this uptick appears to be real, and not just a glitch in the Commonwealth’s data reporting system.

With regard to the first question, there have been spikes in the past that were purely an artifact of data processing.  Each day, we see the count of case reports that the Commonwealth got processed by COB the prior day.  Some days they process them faster than others.  This data processing factor is what makes the thin lines in the second graph jiggle up-and-down in sync.

Sometimes a glitch in that system will put a big “spike” in the case count.  That happened last on June 15, per Post #701. When that happens, it puts a big spike in all the data, all across the state.

But that’s not the issue here.  As you can see from the second graph, this spike was not across-the-board.  The NoVA+ area (NoVA, Richmond, Accomack county) is well within recent historical variation.  The data only really went to new local highs in the rest of the state — circled in red above.

A handful of counties in the “rest of state” area contributed disproportionately.

Source:  Hampton Roads Planning Distric Commission.

First, the Hampton Roads area continues to show high rates of increase in cases.  This includes Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth and the surrounding areas.  This is an ongoing trend, and is reported here.  My best guess, comparing to prior trend, is that the Hampton Roads areas account for about 45% of the total uptick in cases in Virginia.

That ongoing issue has already been attributed to young adults and bars, though it is hard to say whether or not that attribution is fully correct.  Looking solely at yesterday’s uptick, cases seemed to be spread across the age bands more evenly than young-adults-in-bars would suggest.

Second, there is an odd one-off cluster of almost 50 cases in two tiny towns in Westmoreland County, VA:  Kinsale, VA and Hague, VA.  These are in Westmoreland County, on Virginia’s Northern Neck.  Again, relative to trend, these two tiny towns accounted for about 15% of today’s uptick in cases.  If I had to guess, that looks like a cluster that might be associated with some sort of food processing plant or perhaps a church.  There are a lot of seafood processing plants in that area.  As of now, there appears to be no news coverage explaining what’s going on there.

Beyond that, there is no single obvious point source of new cases.  The uptick in Fairfax County made a modest contribution, as did increases in Manassas and Manassas Park here in Norther Virginia.

What does this portend?

That’s far from clear.  The question is, are we seeing the makings of a Florida-type situation in the Hampton Roads area?  So far, the answer is no.  Whereas Arozona and Florida were seeing daily new cases at an annualized rate of 20% (i.e., where if that rate kept up, 20% of the population would be infected within a year), the worst of the Hampton Roads counties saw an annualized increase of around 10% today.  And that’s just for one day.

Certainly, that pink curve above is not what you want to see.  And the attribution to young adults is a scary echo of what has taken place in AZ, FL, TX, and CA.  It’ll definitely bear watching.  And maybe the Governor needs to step in and do whatever it takes to stomp out that little fire, before it can really take hold.