Data insight

The pandemic across US states

If US states were countries, many of them would be in the Top 50 globally for new cases per capita

Note:  Charts current as of date above; text updated on January 6, 2021.

Comparing US states with 195 countries, a large number of them would be among places with the highest new cases per capita in the world 

At some level, this is an unfair comparison as ideally we would have to include into this comparison also the subnational entities of other (especially larger) countries. After all, we do see as an empirical regularity (while keeping other aspects constant) that outbursts tend to be more intense as we shift from national to subnational levels.

Even so, several states are more populous than most countries on this list. Moreover, the aggregate picture for the US clearly shows the significance of the impact of the outbreaks on the national numbers. 

The chart below visualizes this pattern. It shows for the US as a whole the developments in daily cases and deaths per capita, where the individual bars show the actual daily values and the solid line represents the daily average (a 7-day trailing average).   

How do the recent developments of cases compare with other countries? In the chart below we compare the US with 195 other countries (no more visualization of subnational units) and calculate the newly confirmed cases on a daily basis. Again we take a 7-day trailing average. 

The chart divides the world according to the World Bank’s income classification (high-income, upper-middle-income, lower-middle-income and low-income countries or HICs, UMICs, LMICs and LICs). This helps us control for the level of development, which in turn is a proxy for a host of structural features that may affect infection prevalence and infection fatality risk as well as the intensity and quality of testing which will affect measurement. 

The chart ranks countries with each income group by the value for new cases and also ranks the income groups themselves by the maximum value observed within each group for new cases.  

As of posting, the US stands heads and shoulders above other countries within its group of high-income countries. On top of that, it also contributes the most to the global tally of cases across all countries including those of other income groups. 

This reflects in part the large population size of the US, but there is more…


As the chart below shows, the US as a whole also shows up in the Top 50 for countries on a per capita basis (see the red area that shows the high-income countries). 

Within its high-income peer group, the US features at the upper end. Note that the chart displays only the high-income countries that make it to the global top 50. In our universe of 196 countries, there are a total of 59 high-income countries.

The earlier charts that included the subnational dimension illustrate the sheer diversity of outcomes at the state level, with state averages for new cases per capita fluctuating considerably around the national average. 

It goes without saying that these subnational outbursts present a large risk given the vaccination imbalances that currently exist across states.