UPDATED April 1, 2020

Among the 53 metro areas with a million or more population:

  • New York, New Orleans, Detroit, Seattle and Boston have the highest incidence of pandemic among large metros.
  • Seattle’s rate of new cases has declined to the lowest level among large metro areas; Boston’s cases per 100,000 are nearly equal to Seattle
  • Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami and Indianapolis have higher than average incidence, and are experiencing faster than average growth in cases
  • New York had the highest level of reported cases per 100,000:  436
  • The typical (median) large metropolitan area had a rate of about 28 cases per 100,000
  • Half of all metropolitan areas had between 18 and 46 cases per 100,000.
  • The number of cases in the typical (median) metro area has increased by about 19 percent per day in the past week.
  • The typical metro is only about 1-2 weeks behind leading cities in the progression of the virus.
  • For more information on how to interpret these charts, read our explainer.

City Observatory presents here its estimates of the prevalence and recent growth of reported Covid-19 cases in large US metropolitan areas.  We update this page regularly with the most recent available data.  The data on this page was last updated with data on counts of cases through March 31, 2020.  Caution should be used in interpreting these figures.  Case data can vary from the actual incidence of Corona virus infections due to differences in testing regimes and availability across jurisdictions, as well as other factors.  We believe that metro area levels and trends may be a useful geography for understanding the spread and intensity of the pandemic:   most published data are available at only the state or county level.  States are too large to accurately capture the the incidence of the pandemic; and counties are often too variable and too small.  Metro areas capture labor markets and commuting sheds, and are defined consistently, making them more appropriate geographic units for judging the spread of the virus.  As is our common practice at City Observatory, our focus is on metro areas with populations of 1 million or more.

Metro areas ranked by reported Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population

The following chart shows the number of reported cases of Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population is US metropolitan areas with a population of 1 million or more as of March 31, 2020.  Metropolitan data are computed by aggregating county level data available from USAFacts.org.  Metropolitan areas are ranked highest to lowest according to the number of reported cases per capita.

The progression of the pandemic in March. Our bar chart that shows the growth in the prevalence of reported Covid-19 cases in each metropolitan area since March 1. The controls in the upper left hand corner of the chart allow you to play, stop and examine the animation.

New York, New Orleans, Seattle and Detroit have the highest number of cases per capita of US metro areas.  New York’s rate is currently 436 cases per 100,000.  New Orleans (282), and Detroit (146) have the next highest rates of reported cases. Seattle, which in mid-March had the highest rate of reported cases is fourth (102), and Boston’s rate is now nearly as high (99). The median large metropolitan area has about 28 cases per 100,000 population.

Map of metro areas, reported Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population

The following map illustrates the relative number of reported Covid-19 cases per capita among large US metropolitan areas.  Darker red colors indicate metro areas with the highest reported incidence of cases.  Numbers on each metro area represent cases per 100,000 on March 30.


Growth rates in the number of cases

The key strategy in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic is reducing social distancing to slow the rate of transmission of the virus.  A key indicator of whether we are “flattening the curve” is whether the growth rate of the number of cases is increasing or decreasing.  The following chart shows the growth in the number of cases for selected metropolitan areas from March 13 through March 31.

The growth rates of the four cities with the highest rates of reported cases per capita paint divergent and interesting patterns of the pandemic.  For a time, Seattle had the highest rate of cases per capita of any US city.  That has changed in the past two weeks.  New York, New Orleans, and Detroit have surpassed Seattle.  On March 19, Seattle, New York and New Orleans all had nearly the same number of reported cases per 100,000 (about 30 per capita).  Since then, their growth paths have diverged:  New York has grown most rapidly, followed by New Orleans; Seattle’s growth has been subdued.  Meanwhile, over that same period of time, the growth of cases in Detroit has increased sharply:  On March 18, Detroit had just 1.4 reported cases per 100,000 population, essentially the same as the median of all large metro areas.  By March 29, that had increased to 108 cases per 100,000; the third highest rate among large US metro areas.

To put the spread of the pandemic in context, it is worth noting on March 16, no large US metro had a prevalence of reported Covid-19 cases of more than 15 per 100,000 population (Seattle was 12.2).  Today, roughly five-sixths (44 of 53) of the nation’s largest metro areas have a reported prevalence of more than 15 cases per 100,000.  Over the past few weeks,  it appears that there’s about two weeks difference between the worst afflicted metro, and the typical large metro.  Whether that continues to be the case depends on the efficacy of social distancing and other measures.

Prevalence versus Growth

Slowing or stopping the spread of the virus depends on steadily decreasing the growth rate in the number of cases.  This is especially important as the prevalence of the virus becomes more widespread.  Here we’ve plotted the current prevalence of reported cases in each metropolitan area (shown on the horizontal axis) against the growth rate of reported cases in the past week in that metropolitan area (on the vertical axis).  The number of cases in each metropolitan area is proportional to the size of the circle representing each metro area.  You can mouse-over individual circles on the chart to fully identify each metro area, and see the underlying data for numbers of cases, cases per 100,000 and the growth rate in cases over the last week.

We’ve used the means of the two variables (growth rate (19% daily) and number of cases per 100,000 (47), to divide the chart into four quadrants. These quadrants help sort out which metro areas are experiencing the crisis to a greater or lesser degree.  Metro areas in the upper right hand quadrant are clearly most afflicted:  they have both higher than average rates of cases per capita and are growing faster than the average metro area (in the past week).  The lower right hand quadrant identifies metro areas with relatively higher rtes of cases per capita, but slower rates of increase.  Ideally, one wants to be in the lower left hand quadrant (low number of cases per capita, low growth rate).  The upper left hand quadrant is uncertain, but with cause for concern:  these cities (so far) have lower rates of cases per capita, but are seeing the virus spread faster than in the average metro area.  Over time, the strategy of flattening the curve should lead individual metropolitan areas to progress from the upper left hand quadrant (low rates and fast growth) to the lower right hand quadrant (higher rates but a slower rate of growth).

To make this picture a bit clearer, we’ve shortened the horizontal scale to exclude the three cities–New York, New Orleans and Detroit–with the highest numbers of cases per capita.   This chart makes it clearer which cities are in which quadrants.

The table and map rely on published data from state health departments, aggregated by USAFActs.org. Please use caution in interpreting these data. It is likely that in some areas, the number of cases is under-reported due to the lack of available testing capacity, or pressing medical conditions.  There are widespread differences in the number of tests administered relative to the size of the population in each state, and tests are not given randomly, and may be restricted solely to persons with symptoms, likely exposure or high risk in some states.  As a result, the ratio of reported to unreported, undiagnosed cases may vary across geography.  Moreover, changes in reported numbers of cases from day to day or week to week may reflect changes in the availability or application of testing over time, rather than the true rate of growth in the number of persons affected.

Notes and revisions

This post updates and supersedes our earlier posts with data through March 31. In addition, we’ve corrected our aggregation of county-level data to fully include outlying counties in some metropolitan areas. Our earlier data omitted some counties and cities in Virginia which caused us to under-estimate the number of reported cases in Washington DC and Virginia Beach. Readers should use the figures in this report.