May 4, 2020
Wildly Divergent Texas Case and Testing Rates
Show Who's Tried to Contain Virus or Catch Up
The dramatic disparities in coronavirus testing from place to place in Texas have been most evident and astonishing in the state's two hottest spots that are 600 miles apart in the Panhandle and a swath of the Piney Woods on the Louisiana border.
The two Texas spots that flattened the curve first by getting out ahead of it - Parker and Wichita counties - managed to do so with testing efforts as a paramount priority in areas where the COVID-19 appears to have been relatively contained.
The Amarillo area has become the new epicenter of the Texas coronavirus surge with drastically different testing programs in the two counties that it straddles in a part of the state where beef packing plants have been major breeding grounds.
|COVID-19 RURAL COUNTIES
Rates Per 100,000 Population
But the most astounding discrepancies based on a Capitol Inside comparative analysis of confirmed virus case and testing rates can be found in several counties in deep East Texas where an outbreak at a major poultry processing facility caught the region off guard last month.
The hardest of all the shocking statistics to believe in the tracking of the coronavirus across Texas has to be in Panola County where all but one of 136 people who'd been testing for COVID-19 by Monday morning had the disease based on Department of State Health Services data.
But the rates in neighboring Shelby County where the Tyson chicken plant is located in Shelbyville seemed more believable with 117 out of 365 people who'd been tested for the virus there turning out to be positive.
It's been the same basic story on a larger scale in Amarillo that's spread across Potter and Randall counties that rank first and third in the state respectively in the number of per capita coronavirus infections. Potter County has the third highest rate of testing in Texas while Randall is ranked 32nd among the 39 counties with populations of more than 100,000.
Potter has recorded three times as many confirmed coronavirus cases than Randall where about one-third as many tests have been administered according to the state agency running tally. The rates when considered together suggest that the number of cases in Randall County would be considerably higher if testing had been as aggressive testing there as it's been in the sister county.
The alarming numbers in the Panhandle are functions of outbreaks at plants where cattle are slaughtered for consumption across the nation and the world. The vast majority of the assembly line employees who've been infected in the state's northwestern tip are Hispanic.
While elderly people have accounted for most of the virus fatalities across the globe, the correlation between rates of COVID-19 cases and tests in Texas indicates that the disease has spread at a fairly even pace with the same basic chance of exposure in urban and rural areas alike.
The DSHS reported that at least 32,332 people had tested positive for the virus by noon on Monday in Texas where a minimum of 884 had died. That's a rate of nearly 112 people for every 100,000 in a state that had a population of almost 29 million last summer. Almost 391,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Texas - a rate of 1,347 for every 100,000 residens here.
The total number of confirmed cases have been in line in most cases with the Texas county population ratings. While 14 major counties have had higher rates of coronavirus infections than the statewide average, only four have tested more people on a per capita basis than Texas has a whole.
Potter - the state's 38th largest county - has the highest infection rate by far among the counties with 100,000 people or more. Potter ranks eighth in the total number of coronavirus cases that have been confirmed there. Potter and Randall counties when factored together have had 430 cases for every 100,000 residents with a testing rate that would rank 10th in the state if the two had merged.
Moore County north of the Amarillo area has been the runaway leader in coronavirus cases per capita with a rate that's three times higher than Potter. But the testing rate in Moore has been higher than all but one of the state's largest 39 counties since an outbreak last month at the JBS meat plant in the tiny town of Cactus.
The differences between the number of tests that have been taken and the percentage of those that are positive are telling indicators of areas that have been proactive or reactive or simply lagged behind in testing and probably have been hit harder than they realize as a result.
The best gauge on containment for individual counties appears to be the relation between testing and confirmed case levels.
Places with relatively low rankings in coronavirus infections and high rates of testing probably have the best chance of keeping the spread to a minimum. The top 10 Texas counties in that regard among the 39 with at least 100,000 residents have been Parker, Wichita, Tom Green, Gregg, Jefferson, Grayson, Fort Bend, Hays, Johnson and Smith.
Randall crowns the list of the 10 counties here in terms of the size of the gaps between high case and low testing rates. That's a bad sign for the fight against the virus in Amarillo on the road ahead. Brazoria County isn't far behind as the Texas location with the sixth highest rate of cases that have been confirmed and a ranking of 31st in testing.
Bexar, Webb and Cameron counties are ranked in the next three slots on the list of relatively high case rates and low testing levels followed by Guadalupe, Bell, Tarrant, El Paso and Lubbock.
Fort Bend on the outskirts of Houston has been the most aggressive when it comes to testing and arguably the most successful in light of the high odds that it faced at the outset of the outbreak as the state's 10th largest county that's part of a metropolitan area with nearly 7 million people.
Tom Green that's anchored by San Angelo in central West Texas has been relatively successful in coronavirus curtailing as a county that ranks 18th in testing and only 33rd in confirmed cases. The parts of west and east that have suffered the most have played catch-up with testing after the numbers started to soar with big plants as incubators. But that hasn't been the case in Tom Green County where a company that's building a solar generating facility in San Angelo had hundreds of construction workers on its site tested for the coronavirus before they started falling ill.
Parker County on the western edge of the Fort Worth area has been the Texas showcase for innovative and preemptive strategy as the county that has the ninth highest testing rate and ranks dead last among the 39 largest in terms of the infection level.
With Weatherford as the county seat, Parker has sought to get a jump on the contagion by having all of the emergency service personnel there tested in mid-April for antibodies that measure estimated levels of immunity.
Wichita County might have been more ahead of the pack that any other Texas location when officials there decided to make testing the top priority midway through March when people in the state's largest cities were just starting to shelter place. The results have been impressive in the North Texas county that's anchored by Wichita Falls with the fourth highest testing rate in the state where it's 31st in the number of per-capita cases.
And then there are some Texas locations like McLennan, Hidalgo and Nueces counties where coronavirus counts that have appeared to be low are simply functions of testing levels and probably deflated substantially as a result.