History of COVID-19 cases

All of the raw data presented here was retrieved from this GitHub repository, which, as described there, is maintained by and thanks to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (JHU CSSE), with support by ESRI Living Atlas Team and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab (JHU APL). I will reiterate their disclaimer that these data are strictly for educational purposes… and this post of mine is yet another possibly inaccurate perspective on data that is already derived from multiple and possibly conflicting sources. If you’re looking for medical guidance, look elsewhere.

The following figure shows the progression of COVID-19 over the last seven weeks or so, as measured by cumulative confirmed cases. I restricted attention to the eight countries currently having at least 2000 confirmed cases.

Cumulative confirmed cases vs. time, for each country currently having at least 2000 confirmed cases.

Although it’s interesting to try to interpret this view of past history, I think it’s difficult to use it to predict even the near future. Note how similar is the exponential growth (note the figure is on a logarithmic scale) for, well, pretty much everyone but China and South Korea, who appear to have taken the most drastic-but-apparently-successful measures to contain the virus. Comparing with Italy, which is now struggling with hospital capacity, we here in the United States appear to be on our way to very similar numbers of cases in a matter of 11 days or so, assuming recent growth continues.

Except that this is potentially misleading, for several reasons. On the pessimistic side, this figure only shows confirmed positive tests— the United States might already have (and in my opinion, almost certainly does have) many more people with the virus, given how little testing has been done so far.

On the other hand, the United States is a larger country than Italy, with roughly five times the population. The following figure attempts to account for this, showing the cumulative number of confirmed cases per million in population (population data obtained here).

Cumulative confirmed cases per million in population over time, for each country currently having at least 2000 confirmed cases.

Importantly, this has no effect on the “slope,” i.e., the exponential rate of growth of cases. It merely delays the same end result– this figure suggests that it might take two and a half weeks, instead of a week and a half… but we’re still headed where Italy is now.

I think an actual prediction of this sort is difficult to make confidently, though. Many interesting dials have been turned, even if only in the past few days. Human behavior has changed, with some significant steps taken on both large scales and small. Whether the eventual effects will be no more disastrous than waiting for the next truck to deliver more toilet paper, I’m not sure. The next two weeks or so will be interesting.

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1 Response to History of COVID-19 cases

  1. David says:

    Interesting from an educational perspective but the reliability of official data, the amount of testing, the area and population density of various cities in the countries shown as well as the adherence to social isolation all play a part. It would be interesting to see another graph in a months time with the above taken into account. As there are now nearly 200 countries with confirmed cases the data could be further broken down to compare how first, second and third world countries are managing this pandemic.

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