WASHINGTON — For the first time in months, COVID-19 was not the dominant story in America this week. But the coronavirus pandemic continues to carve an uneven path across the country, hitting some areas harder as it recedes in others.
At the most basic, 30,000-foot view, the numbers for the virus look better this weekend than they did a week ago. Comparing the new cases of the virus and the deaths associated with it from the week that ended this Friday to the previous Friday, there were declines.
There were about 22,000 fewer new COVID-19 cases this past week than there were the week before according to an NBC News tally of the data. And the number of new deaths was also down this week, by about 1,900.
To be clear there were still new cases and deaths this week, but fewer than there were the previous week. And it’s too soon to declare victory in the reopening efforts of many states. The virus takes weeks to incubate, so any post-reopen bump likely wouldn’t be visible in the data yet.
Still, the number of new cases and deaths is declining nationally and that is good news.
Some states have seen especially big declines.
New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, Texas and Illinois all saw their number of new cases decline by more than 1,000 over the last week — and the drops in New Jersey and Massachusetts were especially steep. The number of new deaths dropped sharply in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Illinois. In all those states the new death number declined by 130 or more.
Those are some of the positive stories where the pandemic is concerned, but not all the news is good. There were also states where the number of new infections and deaths climbed in the past week, in some cases fairly steeply.
In California, Virginia, Alabama, Wisconsin and Tennessee, the number of new cases last week climbed by more than 450. And the number of new deaths was up in a small set of states as well, led by Virginia, Rhode Island, Mississippi, Tennessee and Minnesota.
To be clear some of those increases were not especially large, but the rises suggest those states are not out of the danger yet.
And at the county level, there are continuing signs that the virus is reaching beyond urban communities and pushing deeper into the countryside.
The biggest percentage increase in new cases came in a collection of predominantly white rural counties generally far away from metropolitan areas. The top 10 counties for new case growth ranged from the forests of West Virginia to the farms of Iowa to the mountains of Oregon.
Some of the one-week jumps were substantial when compared to the population of the communities. In Randolph County, West Virginia (population 28,600) there were 108 new cases in the last week, according to the numbers from USA Facts. In Taylor County, Iowa (population 6,100) there were 44 new cases. In Crane County, Texas (population 4,800) there were 19.
These are not numbers that suggest those communities are emerging from the worst parts of the pandemic. And as the Data Download has noted in the past, rural communities may be the least well-equipped to deal with potential outbreaks.
When you put all the data points together, they draw a very uneven picture.
At the highest level, the news around COVID-19 seems to be good. Things seem to be improving. But that story is far from uniform. And as the country’s reopening plans progress, there already seem to be some troubled spots.
All of which is to say, the COVID-19 story has not gone away. And as the summer unfolds, it’s going to be crucial to keep an eye on the numbers that have come to define 2020.