April 16, 2020

Novel Virus Takes Arbitrary Toll Across Texas
with Rates that Blow Holes in Potential Trends

By Mike Hailey

Thousands of college students converged on the tiny Texas island town of Port Aransas a month ago for the annual spring break celebration at the same time that the folks back in the big cities on the mainland were going into isolation in fear of the coronavirus.

That's one of the reasons why it might seem impossible to believe that the numbers are telling the truth about the novel disease in a state where Nueces County hadn't reported a single death from COVID-19 by midnight on Wednesday. From a statistical perspective, the swath of the Gulf Coast that's anchored by Corpus Christi has been the safest place to be in the Lone Star State as far as the 25 largest counties are concerned during the first six weeks of the coronavirus outbreak here.

It didn't take a degree in epidemiology to predict that the parts of the state with the most people would have the most cases and fatalities when the pandemic began to rear its head here at the start of March.

But the coronavirus has proven been a capricious killer in Texas - unleashing its wrath in random fashion in defiance of expert expectations in terms of the odds that people have had for catching the disease and dying from it based on the running tallies in the state's largest 25 counties here.

Harris County as a prime example has been a runaway leader from a pure quantitative standpoint with more than 4,000 people testing positive there by midnight on Wednesday. But Harris ranks third behind Lubbock and Galveston counties in the per-capita rate of confirmed cases with one of every 1,136 residents in the Houston area testing positive based on a Capitol Inside analysis of the virus counts at Johns Hopkins University and the Texas Department of State Health Services.

With almost 2,000 confirmed cases by the time Thursday got under way, Dallas County ranks seventh in the per-capita rate of COVID-19 cases that have been recorded with one in every 1,318 people there testing positive so far. Dallas is the second largest county in Texas and has had the second highest number of people infected with the coronavirus as professionals and most amateurs would expect.

But the folks in neighboring Tarrant County have been statistically safer than they have been in Big D with only one positive test for every 2,075 people there. Tarrant and Bexar counties - the third and fourth largest Texas counties based on 2019 Census estimates - ranked 16th and 17th respectively in the per-capita standings for confirmed caronavirus cases by the time Tuesday ended.

Texas had 16,289 confirmed coronavirus cases and 391 deaths by midnight on Wednesday according to the researchers at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. One in every 1,780 people in Texas had tested positive for the disease while one fatality had been reporting for every 74,158 residents here heading into Thursday. The number of positive tests in Texas had grown to 16,474 by mid-afternoon today with a death toll at 397.

The Montgomery County counts had been the closest to the state averages when total cases and deaths are taken into account. One in every 1,725 residents in the suburban county on the northern outskirts of the Houston area had tested positive for COVID-19 while one in 91,156 had died from it. The per-capita confirmation rates in Tarrant and Bexar counties were both below the state average while the death toll in Harris County on a per-capita basis had been less than it had been statewide as well.

Some of the statistical anomalies seem to be explainable at first blush with educated assumption and guessing. El Paso and Hidalgo counties might have some of the lowest per-capita confirmed case counts and death tolls in border areas where a significant number of people are poor and might be showing up at hospitals or testing sites amid fear of being turned away or even deported in some cases. Some people who are in the country without proper documentation might not realize that the workers in the emergency rooms are not supposed to inquire about nationalities. Or the relatively low number of coronavirus cases in Hidalgo and El Paso stem from a lack of sufficient testing - a problem that's been worse in some areas of the state.

But those theories hit major snags when considering that Webb and Cameron counties on the Texas border with Mexico rank fourth and 12th respectively in the per-capita rate of positive virus tests. The lion's share of the residents in the fast-growing Rio Grande Valley are based in Hidalgo and Cameron counties. Hidalgo, El Paso and Cameron counties are the state's seventh, eighth and 13th largest. About 90 percent of the people who live in the Valley are Hispanic while Latinos account for more than eight of every 10 El Paso residents.

But almost 96 percent of the population in Webb County was Hispanic in the Census estimates that were published last summer. With Laredo as the centerpiece city, Webb County ranks 19th in the total population count in Texas. But Webb County ranks fourth in both per-capita rates of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths.

Two-thirds of the people who reside on the southeast Texas coast in Nueces County are Hispanic and the average person there is more educated and less likely to live in poverty than the people who live in the Valley and El Paso. But Nueces has only reported one positive test for every 4,352 residents - the lowest per-capita case rate among the 25 largest Texas counties.

Could there be something in the salty coastal air that makes people less vulnerable to the coronavirus? That can't be true when considering that Galveston County has been one of the hardest hit parts of the state where it ranks second in the per-capita case rate and third in deaths behind Lubbock and Brazos counties.

Lubbock leads the state in both categories in per-capita counts with one of every 832 people there testing positive and one out of every 12,209 who caught the disease no longer alive. Lubbock and Galveston are nearly 600 miles apart.

The disparities in death rates appear in some cases to be functions of outbreaks in nursing homes that weren't as prepared for the pandemic's potential devastation with proactive measures to protect the most vulnerable segment of society from the rapid spread.

more to come

 
COVID-19 MAJOR COUNTY RATES
Population Divided by Cases & Deaths
Ranked by Per-Capita Deaths April 15 Midnight
  COUNTY Pop Cases Rate Deaths Rate
  Texas   16289 1,780 391 74,158
1 Lubbock 18 367 832 25 12,209
2 Brazos 23 151 1,476 13 17,140
3 Galveston 17 301 1,113 13 25,772
4 Webb 19 239 1,150 10 27,479
5 Jefferson 20 140 1,831 6 42,716
6 Fort Bend 10 627 1,220 15 50,989
7 Bexar 4 890 2,201 37 52,934
8 Ellis 25 76 2,284 3 57,873
9 Denton 9 547 1,529 14 59,729
10 Dallas 2 1,986 1,318 43 60,887
11 McLennan 21 74 3,395 4 62,814
12 Tarrant 3 990 2,075 30 68,483
13 Travis 5 977 1,256 17 72,159
14 Harris 1 4,097 1,136 58 80,224
15 Montgomery 11 331 1,725 6 91,156
16 Collin 6 494 1,963 10 96,960
17 Smith 22 108 2,109 2 113,864
18 Bell 16 110 3,162 3 115,944
19 Brazoria 14 272 1,333 3 120,849
20 Williamson 12 128 4,278 4 136,886
21 El Paso 8 393 2,138 6 140,068
22 Cameron 13 239 1,773 3 141,242
23 Hays 24 109 1,968 1 214,485
24 Hidalgo 7 225 3,825 2 430,331
25 Nueces 15 83 4,352 0 NA

 

COVID-19 MAJOR COUNTY RATES

Population Divided by Cases & Deaths
Ranked by Per-Capita Cases April 15
Midnight
  COUNTY Pop Cases Rate Deaths Rate
  Texas   16289 1,780 391 74,158
1 Lubbock 18 367 832 25 12,209
2 Galveston 17 301 1,113 13 25,772
3 Harris 1 4,097 1,136 58 80,224
4 Webb 19 239 1,150 10 27,479
5 Fort Bend 10 627 1,220 15 50,989
6 Travis 5 977 1,256 17 72,159
7 Dallas 2 1,986 1,318 43 60,887
8 Brazoria 14 272 1,333 3 120,849
9 Brazos 23 151 1,476 13 17,140
10 Denton 9 547 1,529 14 59,729
11 Montgomery 11 331 1,725 6 91,156
12 Cameron 13 239 1,773 3 141,242
13 Jefferson 20 140 1,831 6 42,716
14 Collin 6 494 1,963 10 96,960
15 Hays 24 109 1,968 1 214,485
16 Tarrant 3 990 2,075 30 68,483
17 Bexar 4 890 2,201 37 52,934
18 Smith 22 108 2,109 2 113,864
19 Ellis 25 76 2,284 3 57,873
20 El Paso 8 393 2,138 6 140,068
21 Bell 16 110 3,162 3 115,944
22 McLennan 21 74 3,395 4 62,814
23 Hidalgo 7 225 3,825 2 430,331
24 Williamson 12 128 4,278 4 136,886
25 Nueces 15 83 4,352 0 NA

 

 

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