1 in 5 Congressional Districts Are a Hotspot, 7 in 10 Have Accelerated Spread
What is the COVID-19 Risk Level in your congressional district? What action will be needed in the weeks and months ahead?
To inform Congressional leaders, public health officials and the people they serve, particularly during the biggest public health crisis of a century, the Brown University School of Public Health and Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard, in collaboration with Microsoft AI for Health, are launching new data and a map presenting COVID-19 Risk Levels by congressional district.
“Translating the COVID-19 Risk Levels to congressional districts illustrates for our Congressional leaders and other officials within these districts, as well as the people they serve, the extent of community-based COVID-19 transmission in their districts. It shows the continued unmitigated spread of the virus across the nation and highlights the urgent need to suppress COVID-19”, says Dr. Thomas Tsai, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Edmond J. Safra Center fellow.
The new data provide a striking insight: When we calculate Risk Levels at a county level, more than 50 counties in the U.S. are green, meaning they have less than 1 new case per day per 100,000 people (7 day moving average).
However, when we calculate Risk Levels at a congressional district level, none of the districts are green. In fact, 1 in 5 districts are current hotspots (red), and 7 out of 10 districts are at an accelerated spread level (orange).
*data as of 10/21/2020
“What this shows is that you can have pockets of good policy that can make a difference, but no one is an island”, says Dr. Ashish K. Jha, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “When you have poor outbreak control in many parts of the country, essentially everyone is at risk.”
Note that counties are a way of looking at cases by geography — we use our methodology to reflect the risk level even if there are only 3,000 people in a specific county. Congressional districts, on the other hand, are drawn by population and each represent roughly 711,000 people. When we look at congressional districts, we see the spread of COVID-19 per each 711,000 people, as grouped into congressional districts.
“As we have heard from members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, a more detailed view of the disease’s spread in their districts is needed. As part of our partnership with the experts at Brown and Harvard, we have updated our COVID-19 data visualizations to include risk levels by Congressional district and state. We hope this enables data-driven decisions that can help with policies to create safer communities,” says John Kahan, VP, Chief Data Analytics Officer and global AI for Health lead at Microsoft.
“The pandemic is a national crisis that hits at a local level. It requires a coordinated effort by federal, state and local agencies. Congressional leadership matters a lot: Congress can make appropriate funding available, push for transparency and provide oversight of federal agencies”, says Danielle Allen, Director of the Harvard Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. “Showing congressional district level data of daily new cases, deaths and other key metrics in this pandemic provides people with the information they need to engage their representatives and others in conversations about response measures and a way forward.”
“Congressional districts are the geography that matters for democracy”, says Dr. Tsai. “The district level is where everyone’s voice can be heard.”
“We are seeing large outbreaks across much of the country, and it is still early in the fall”, says Dr. Jha. “We have seen this before, and it is clear that there will be little chance of things turning around without more coordinated national and local action. For example, Congress must act quickly to approve needed funds for states and cities to be able to increase testing and to support efforts to regain control of the virus.”
The COVID-19 Risk Levels were developed by a group of epidemiologists, public health experts, political scientists, data analysts, economists and other experts. More than 5.5 million Americans have accessed the COVID-19 Risk Levels Map since it was launched on July 1, 2020. Companies and policy makers alike have used it to inform their decision making in the pandemic. We hope the congressional district levels map will be similarly useful.