The Growth of COVID-19 in the U.S., Organized by State Peak Date
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Visualizing the Growth of COVID-19 in the U.S., Organized by State Peak Date

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The exponential nature of viral spread means that pandemics are fast-moving and dynamic.

Combine this with the high interconnectedness of modern life—even when social distancing and lockdowns are applied—and pandemics can evolve quickly. In just a few weeks, previous hotspots can cool down, while new high risk areas can crop up seemingly out of nowhere.

In the United States, like many other places in the world, the virus is hitting regions differently, and this landscape is constantly changing over time.

COVID-19 Growth, by State

Today’s first visualization comes to us from Reddit user bgregory98, and it uses data from the New York Times to plot confirmed active COVID-19 cases by state.

States are organized by the date that weekly average cases peaked, from top to bottom. Data is normalized and is current until June 16th, and states are colored based on regional definitions (i.e. Northeast, Midwest, West, South) as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Visualizing the Growth of COVID-19 in the U.S., Organized by State Peak Date

As you can see, when looking purely at active cases, the situation has evolved considerably from a geographical perspective.

Early on, COVID-19 cases were more concentrated in coastal population centers, especially in the Northeast. New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, the three hardest hit states per capita so far, saw cases peak in April.

However, a look at the bottom half of the visualization shows that generally, states in the South and West are starting to heat up with cases. Recent daily numbers confirm this, with California, Texas, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina all gaining more than 1,000 new cases on June 17th.

Growth by State, Part Deux

The following visualization by Reddit user jawsem17 is designed using a similar concept, and is current as of June 17th.

This version uses the same data set from the New York Times. However, it also includes deaths as a metric, showing a comparison of peak deaths to peak cases for each state.

Visualizing the Growth of COVID-19 by Peak Cases and Peak Deaths

Although one would expect peak deaths to follow peak cases, this is not always the case.

Peak deaths in Nevada, for example, occurred on April 24th, but peak cases have been in the last week. This same peculiar pattern can be seen in a variety of states, from California to Oklahoma.

Mapped: The Evolution of COVID-19 in the U.S.

As the pandemic spreads and the situation has evolved, the mean center of weekly COVID-19 cases has been moving in a southwest direction.

The following map, which also comes from Reddit user bgregory98, averages the center coordinates of all counties weighted by how many new confirmed cases they have had over the past week:

Mean Cases Map

Originating in Ohio, the mean center of cases was initially heavily skewed by cases in the New York metro area. Since then, the mean center of cases has shifted and has now journeyed slightly past the mean center of U.S. population, located in Missouri.

This is partially a regression to the mean, but it is also driven by growing case counts in aforementioned states in the southern and western parts of the country.

Mapped: Peak County Totals

Finally, the progression of COVID-19 within the U.S. can be mapped in another useful way, revealing a geographical perspective to the virus’ spread.

These maps from Winston Saunders show places where current disease levels are below their previous peaks (blue), and where current COVID-19 cases are at highs (red) as of June 18:

Cases Below Previous Peaks

Cases at Peak Levels

This again shows the shift from the Northeast and Midwest parts of the country towards the West and South regions.

As always, the path of the virus’ spread will continue to change and evolve, and the picture could again look quite different in just a few weeks time.

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Science

Visualizing the Relationship Between Cancer and Lifespan

New research links mutation rates and lifespan. We visualize the data supporting this new framework for understanding cancer.

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Cancer and lifespan

A Newfound Link Between Cancer and Aging?

A new study in 2022 reveals a thought-provoking relationship between how long animals live and how quickly their genetic codes mutate.

Cancer is a product of time and mutations, and so researchers investigated its onset and impact within 16 unique mammals. A new perspective on DNA mutation broadens our understanding of aging and cancer development—and how we might be able to control it.

Mutations, Aging, and Cancer: A Primer

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells. It is not a pathogen that infects the body, but a normal body process gone wrong.

Cells divide and multiply in our bodies all the time. Sometimes, during DNA replication, tiny mistakes (called mutations) appear randomly within the genetic code. Our bodies have mechanisms to correct these errors, and for much of our youth we remain strong and healthy as a result of these corrective measures.

However, these protections weaken as we age. Developing cancer becomes more likely as mutations slip past our defenses and continue to multiply. The longer we live, the more mutations we carry, and the likelihood of them manifesting into cancer increases.

A Biological Conundrum

Since mutations can occur randomly, biologists expect larger lifeforms (those with more cells) to have greater chances of developing cancer than smaller lifeforms.

Strangely, no association exists.

It is one of biology’s biggest mysteries as to why massive creatures like whales or elephants rarely seem to experience cancer. This is called Peto’s Paradox. Even stranger: some smaller creatures, like the naked mole rat, are completely resistant to cancer.

This phenomenon motivates researchers to look into the genetics of naked mole rats and whales. And while we’ve discovered that special genetic bonuses (like extra tumor-suppressing genes) benefit these creatures, a pattern for cancer rates across all other species is still poorly understood.

Cancer May Be Closely Associated with Lifespan

Researchers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute report the first study to look at how mutation rates compare with animal lifespans.

Mutation rates are simply the speed at which species beget mutations. Mammals with shorter lifespans have average mutation rates that are very fast. A mouse undergoes nearly 800 mutations in each of its four short years on Earth. Mammals with longer lifespans have average mutation rates that are much slower. In humans (average lifespan of roughly 84 years), it comes to fewer than 50 mutations per year.

The study also compares the number of mutations at time of death with other traits, like body mass and lifespan. For example, a giraffe has roughly 40,000 times more cells than a mouse. Or a human lives 90 times longer than a mouse. What surprised researchers was that the number of mutations at time of death differed only by a factor of three.

Such small differentiation suggests there may be a total number of mutations a species can collect before it dies. Since the mammals reached this number at different speeds, finding ways to control the rate of mutations may help stall cancer development, set back aging, and prolong life.

The Future of Cancer Research

The findings in this study ignite new questions for understanding cancer.

Confirming that mutation rate and lifespan are strongly correlated needs comparison to lifeforms beyond mammals, like fishes, birds, and even plants.

It will also be necessary to understand what factors control mutation rates. The answer to this likely lies within the complexities of DNA. Geneticists and oncologists are continuing to investigate genetic curiosities like tumor-suppressing genes and how they might impact mutation rates.

Aging is likely to be a confluence of many issues, like epigenetic changes or telomere shortening, but if mutations are involved then there may be hopes of slowing genetic damage—or even reversing it.

While just a first step, linking mutation rates to lifespan is a reframing of our understanding of cancer development, and it may open doors to new strategies and therapies for treating cancer or taming the number of health-related concerns that come with aging.

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Misc

Explainer: What to Know About Monkeypox

What is monkeypox, and what risk does it pose to the public? This infographic breaks down the symptoms, transmission, and more.

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Explainer: What to Know About Monkeypox

The COVID-19 pandemic is still fresh in the minds of the people around the world, so it comes as no surprise that recent outbreaks of another virus are grabbing headlines.

Monkeypox outbreaks have now been reported in multiple countries, and it has scientists paying close attention. For everyone else, numerous questions come to the surface:

  • How serious is this virus?
  • How contagious is it?
  • Could monkeypox develop into a new pandemic?

Below, we answer these questions and more.

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a virus in the Orthopoxvirus genus which also includes the variola virus (which causes smallpox) and the cowpox virus. The primary symptoms include fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a distinctive bumpy rash.

There are two major strains of the virus that pose very different risks:

  • Congo Basin strain: 1 in 10 people infected with this strain have died
  • West African strain: Approximately 1 in 100 people infected with this strain died

At the moment, health authorities in the UK have indicated they’re seeing the milder strain in patients there.

Where did Monkeypox Originate From?

The virus was originally discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in monkeys kept for research purposes (hence the name). Eventually, the virus made the jump to humans more than a decade after its discovery in 1958.

It is widely assumed that vaccination against another similar virus, smallpox, helped keep monkeypox outbreaks from occurring in human populations. Ironically, the successful eradication of smallpox, and eventual winding down of that vaccine program, has opened the door to a new viral threat. There is now a growing population of people who no longer have immunity against the virus.

Now that travel restrictions are lifting in many parts of the world, viruses are now able to hop between nations again. As of the publishing of this article, a handful of cases have now been reported in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and a number of European countries.

On the upside, contact tracing has helped authorities piece together the transmission of the virus. While cases are rare in Europe and North America, it is considered endemic in parts of West Africa. For example, the World Health Organization reports that Nigeria has experienced over 550 reported monkeypox cases from 2017 to today. The current UK outbreak originated from an individual who returned from a trip to Nigeria.

Could Monkeypox become a new pandemic?

Monkeypox, which primarily spreads through animal-to-human interaction, is not known to spread easily between humans. Most individuals infected with monkeypox pass the virus to between zero and one person, so outbreaks typically fizzle out. For this reason, the fact that outbreaks are occurring in several countries simultaneously is concerning for health authorities and organizations that monitor viral transmission. Experts are entertaining the possibility that the virus’ rate of transmission has increased.

Images of people covered in monkeypox lesions are shocking, and people are understandably concerned by this virus, but the good news is that members of the general public have little to fear at this stage.

I think the risk to the general public at this point, from the information we have, is very, very low.
–Tom Inglesby, Director, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

» For up-to-date information on monkeypox cases, check out Global.Health’s tracking spreadsheet

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