With each day that passes, the number of cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut continues to climb. As of March 29, the number of cases confirmed by laboratories reached 1,993. Of those, 404 patients have been hospitalized, and 34 have died. These numbers will get worse until the virus peaks, especially in our hardest-hit towns in the southwestern part of the state.
Understanding how Connecticut is being affected by this pandemic means in part understanding the geography of the outbreak. For the past week I’ve been tracking and mapping the spread of the virus using data provided by the state Department of Public Health. I’ve mapped the number of confirmed cases in each town as well as overall case number and deaths for each county.
Connecticut’s ties to New York City, which is the center of the worst outbreak in the country right now, are fueling the spread of the virus in Fairfield and Litchfield counties. This isn’t the only reason the virus is here in Connecticut, of course, but it’s a significant factor. At the beginning of last week, on March 23, there were eight towns with over 10 confirmed cases – seven were in Fairfield County. As of March 29, there are nine towns with over 50 confirmed cases, and eight are in Fairfield County.
Four Fairfield County towns – Danbury, Westport, Norwalk, and Stamford – have over 100 confirmed cases. Norwalk has 226, the highest in the state. The county as a whole has 1,245 cases, which is the vast majority of Connecticut’s cases so far.
This doesn’t mean the rest of the state is unaffected. Smaller outbreaks, such as the one at a nursing home in Stafford, have happened at different points around the state. Most towns now have at least one case, and other population centers are seeing higher numbers. Hartford has 39 cases, and New Haven has 59.
This suggests that while Fairfield County will continue to be the worst-hit part of the state, the rest of Connecticut could soon see a dramatic rise in cases. For instance, just in terms of its number of cases, greater Hartford is looking a lot like Fairfield County did last Monday.
But a simple map of case numbers by town doesn’t tell the whole story. After a while, that map just starts to look like a population map.
Public health experts are aware of this issue, which is why they tend to talk more about prevalence instead of just raw case numbers. Prevalence is the proportion of the population that has a disease, and it can be reported as a percentage or as the number of cases per a certain standard number of people – such as 10,000.
To give you an idea of how this works, let’s take two of the hardest-hit towns, Stamford and Westport. Both have a similar number of cases, Stamford with 126 and Westport with 114. Just based on a map of cases by town, these towns aren’t that different.
But Stamford has far more people than Westport. In 2018, Stamford had 129,775 people and Westport had only 28,115. To put it another way, Stamford has 9.71 cases per 10,000 people, while Westport has a much, much more concerning 40.55 cases per 10,000 people. In fact, Westport is very much the epicenter of the outbreak in Connecticut.
The map of the prevalence of the disease, or the number of cases per 10,000 people, shows a much greater rate of infection in the western part of the state. Fairfield County is still worst, but there are growing pockets in Litchfield County.
The situation isn’t nearly as bad in the rest of the state as prevalence numbers remain low. Hopefully, orders to stay at home, as well as school and business closures, will help keep the spread there more manageable so our limited resources can help people in Fairfield and Litchfield counties.
In fact, we should be starting to see some real results from Gov. Ned Lamont’s actions soon. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington projects that Connecticut should see peak resource demand on April 10, and that new cases will start to gradually drop after that.
There is a light at the end of this tunnel, after all. We just have to keep doing what we’re doing, stay home, be as safe as we can be, and be patient.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.