Known coronavirus cases 3 times more likely per capita in Ohio’s biggest counties than the smallest

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Coronavirus cases reported by the state are nearly three times more likely per capita to be from Ohio’s six big counties than from the dozens of small counties of under 50,000 people.



a tall building in a city: Ohio's urban centers such as Cleveland, left, and Columbus, right, have had far more reported coronavirus cases per capita than the smallest counties.


© Rich Exner, cleveland.com/Rich Exner, cleveland.com/cleveland.com/TNS
Ohio’s urban centers such as Cleveland, left, and Columbus, right, have had far more reported coronavirus cases per capita than the smallest counties.

There have been 158.9 cases reported per 100,000 people in the six large counties combined, and just 56.4 cases per 100,000 in the 39 counties with populations ranging from 13,085 to 48,590, cleveland.com research found.

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In calculating these totals, cleveland.com removed cases for state prison inmates, which have caused unusually high overall case counts in Marion and Pickaway counties, and to a lesser extent in Belmont and Franklin counties.

This trend follows what has occurred in some larger urban areas elsewhere, with notable high numbers for places such as New York City and the Detroit metro area.

Ohio’s six largest counties – ranging in population from 428,000 to 1.3 million – are Franklin (Columbus), Cuyahoga (Cleveland), Hamilton (Cincinnati), Summit (Akron), Montgomery (Dayton) and Lucas (Toledo).

These counties account for 55% of Ohio’s cases (7,740 of 14,102, excluding prisoners) through Thursday’s updates, though they represent just 42% of Ohio’s population.

The rates per 100,000 in the six large counties ranged from 53.4 in Montgomery County – an outlier among these – to 289 in Lucas County.

Franklin (172.5) and Cuyahoga (171.7) were next among these in cases per 100,000. Hamilton (149) and Summit (112.4) were a little lower.

As with most COVID-19 case data, however, there are caveats.

Many more people likely have had coronavirus than are known, state officials say. Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, has said for weeks that testing has been limited and selective.

The large urban hospitals were among the first to offer wide-scale testing, plus the the large areas are home to the biggest share of the health care workforce. Testing has been concentrated on health care workers, the sickest patients, and recently the prisons.

But there are other factors that could come into play for the urban areas.

People live closer together in the largest areas. Vinton County, Ohio’s least populated county, was the last of Ohio’s 88 counties with reported cases. Just 31 people per square mile live there in comparison to 2,700 people per square mile in Cuyahoga County, the most densely populated county in Ohio.

The biggest counties also play host to more large-scale events from concerts and sporting events to conventions and festivals (or at least they did before bans on mass gatherings were imposed). And thousands of people take public transportation to get to work and around town in Ohio’s largest cities.

There are exceptions, of course. For example, Darke, Putnam and Washington counties – all under 60,000 people – are well above the statewide average for cases per capita. But overall, the trend is steady. There have been:

* 56.4 cases per 100,000 people in the 39 counties of 13,000 to 50,000 in population. (722 cases and 1,280,023 people)

* 81.0 in the 22 counties of 50,000 to 100,000. (1,222 cases and 1,509,572 people)

* 105.1 in the 13 counties of 100,000 to 200,000. (1,952 cases and 1,856,544 people)

* 113.5 in the eight counties of 200,000 to 400,000. (2,466 cases and 2,172,612 people)

* 158.9 in the six counties of at least 400,000. (7,740 cases and 4,870,349 people)

Overall, excluding the case for the state prison inmates, Ohio has had 120.6 cases per capita.

Rich Exner, data analysis editor for cleveland.com, writes about numbers on a variety of topics. Follow on Twitter @RichExner. See other data-related stories at cleveland.com/datacentral.

County details

Notes: The 2019 population estimates shown above from the U.S. Census Bureau include inmates, which according to the state mid-March totaled about 48,000, or 0.4% of Ohio’s total population of 11.7 million. The Ohio Department of Health releases statewide totals at 2 p.m. daily that may not include all of the prison cases in the corrections department report released at about 5 p.m. the same day.

Read related coverage

See coronavirus cases by day for each Ohio county

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With the coronavirus now in all 88 Ohio counties, why was Vinton County the last?

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