The Slatest

The Coronavirus Hot Spots Are Shifting to the South and Midwest

The largest numbers are still in the big cities and on the coasts, but this is where cases of the virus are growing.

The Chicago skyline.
The Chicago skyline, seen on Tuesday. Chicago has emerged as one of the nation’s biggest coronavirus hot spots.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

The conversation around the coronavirus is slowly beginning to broaden beyond New York. The city is still the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., but it’s also managed to keep its reported case rate declining since mid-April. Other large coastal cities, such as Los Angeles, continue to report the largest numbers, but there is little to no growth in cases in many of those cities, either. Now, as some of these larger metropolitan areas stabilize, the new coronavirus hot spots are popping up more and more in the country’s interior, even as their states are moving to lift social distancing measures.

Western states still have less to worry about. Utah, North Dakota, and Wyoming were never in much danger of being overcome by a large outbreak, given their sparse populations. Rural swaths of Montana have virtually no cases. Many protesters in red states have often pointed out that their situation is different from New York’s, and it’s true—though epidemiologists and public health experts have warned of the folly of trusting that this good fortune would continue should states drop their measures.

But that doesn’t mean these states can’t have smaller outbreaks. According to data tracked by the New York Times, Pennington County, South Dakota (the second-most populous county in the state), is currently something of a hot spot, with cases doubling every 5½ days. Washington County, Utah, has cases doubling every 10 days, and Otero County, New Mexico (where a federal detention facility has an outbreak), has cases doubling every three.

The densely populated coasts undeniably remain the hardest hit, but if you look at the numbers in terms of recent growth, the Midwest and Southeast begin to look worrying. Several of the small but urgent outbreaks have been connected to meatpacking plants, which are often located in those regions, and have not closed during the shutdown. Cases have bloomed across Minnesota and East Texas. The western edge of Iowa, the northwestern bit of North Carolina, and the border between Arkansas and Tennessee have their own clusters as well.

If we’re looking just at larger metropolitan areas, we can reasonably turn our attention to Chicago, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Dallas and Fort Worth, El Paso, Phoenix, and Minneapolis—each of these cities has a relatively high rate of growth in cases. Other cities that stand out include Savannah, Georgia; Montgomery, Alabama; Corpus Christi, Texas; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

It’s still worth considering that if we’re looking at sheer numbers, the virus is still most intense in the Northeast, around New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, with clusters around Chicago, D.C., Boston, Detroit, and New Orleans. But of these large hubs, only Chicago is still experiencing continued growth.

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