The other trend is near term: The coronavirus outbreak is most intense in those same urban centers. While epidemiologists are somewhat divided on whether the virus will reach heavily into small-town and rural areas, Deborah Birx, the Trump administration’s outbreak coordinator, said on Meet the Press this week that “every metro area should assume that they could have an outbreak equivalent to New York.”
To understand the effect of these intersecting dynamics, Brookings, at The Atlantic’s request, analyzed the economic impact of the hardest-hit counties. It tracked the incidence of disease by county as of Tuesday morning, according to a database updated several times daily by The New York Times. Then, Brookings used federal Bureau of Economic Analysis data to calculate counties’ contribution to the nation’s total economic output and job pool. The results dramatically underscore how heavily the burden of disease has fallen on the big communities that drive America’s economy.
Read: Red and blue America aren’t experiencing the same pandemic
While there are about 3,100 counties in America, the 15 counties buckling under the largest number of coronavirus cases account for just over 16 percent of the nation’s economic output, and nearly 13 percent of its jobs, or nearly 26 million jobs in all, Brookings found. That list includes New York City and the surrounding suburban counties of Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk in New York State; Bergen in New Jersey; and Fairfield in Connecticut, as well as the counties centered on Chicago, Detroit, Seattle, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Miami. These counties alone generate $3.3 trillion of the nation’s $20 trillion economic output.
The impact grows from there. The 50 counties with the most cases account for 36 percent of the nation’s total output and 30 percent of its jobs—some 60 million positions. That list brings in the counties centered on other major cities—including Boston, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco, and San Diego—as well as Macomb and Oakland Counties, two suburbs of Detroit, and Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley.
The 100 counties facing the most cases generate 51 percent of the nation’s total output and 44 percent of all its jobs—more than 88 million. That longer list includes Washington, D.C., and the counties centered on St. Louis; Salt Lake City; Charlotte, North Carolina; Hartford, Connecticut; and Columbus, Ohio, as well as the suburbs of major cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.
The distribution of the caseload also helps explain the continuing political divergence around the outbreak. The Brookings analysis found that in 2016, Hillary Clinton won more than three-fifths of the vote in the 100 counties facing the most cases. (Those 100 counties accounted for more than three-fourths of all U.S. cases as of Tuesday morning.) That illuminates the continuing partisan divide: Though Americans in all political camps have displayed increasing concern about the coronavirus in public polling, in surveys released over the past few days, self-identified Republicans were still much more likely than Democrats to say that Americans are overreacting to the virus, and less likely to say that it has changed their life in a major way.