Seven charts showing how the Bay Area is a coronavirus bubble

A region apart

Thanks for joining me for the 24th issue of the Golden Stats Warrior, a newsletter for data-based insights about the Bay Area. If this is your first time reading, welcome! You can sign up here. I am grateful for your support.


This week I want to try something different. Fewer words, more charts. Would love your feedback.

As Covid-19 surges across the US, it can seem like the Bay Area is a region apart. That’s because, in many ways, it is. Let’s chart our way through some of the ways Covid-19 has hit the Bay Area differently.

The fundamental distinction between the Bay Area and other parts of the US is that there have just been a lot fewer cases here. The chart below shows newly reported cases per 100,000 people for each day since February for San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose compared to the other ten largest cities in the US. Only Seattle has rivaled Bay Area cities in staying so consistently low. Cases have been rising over the last several weeks, but remain well under most other major cities.

Among the many reasons that the Bay has been able to keep transmission rates down is the incredibly high share of people in the region who simply stay home all day.

The company SafeGraph uses mobile phone data to track which counties have the largest share of people who never leave the house on a given day (this means not even for a walk). The top five counties by this metric are in the Bay. Before the pandemic, the share of Bay Area residents staying at home all day was close to the national average.

The most likely explanation for the Bay’s high stay-at-home-all-day rate is that so many people in the region can work from home. According to data collected by the US Census, the San Francisco metro area has the highest share of households where an adult was able to switch to working from home during the pandemic. (Another possible explanation for the high stay-at-home rates is that the strong gig economy infrastructure in the region makes it easier to get things delivered, so people make fewer trips.)

Although Covid-19 numbers have stayed low, the region’s job market has been ravaged. San Francisco lost more than 20% of its jobs according to data from the Opportunity Insights data tracker, making it the hardest-hit large city in the US. Oakland and San Jose have lost about 10% of their jobs, also on the high end for a large city.

The Bay Area workers who have been hit the hardest are those without degrees. As I examined in a previous newsletter, people without undergraduate and master’s degrees were much more likely to lose their job.

It’s also been hard for those workers to find something new. In San Francisco, the number of job postings for positions requiring “minimal” education has plummeted 71% since January, according to jobs site Burning Glass (“minimal” means that the job doesn’t necessarily require a high school degree).

The low rates of Covid-19 and the tough job market are not unrelated. In the long run, the key to getting the economy back to normal is controlling the virus. But in the short run, the strong measures taken by the government and the willingness of individuals to stay home is tough on the economy because people spend less money locally. People avoiding restaurants, movie theaters, and offices means many fewer jobs for the region’s service sector workers. It’s why the government needs to continue to support workers who are unemployed and pass a new stimulus bill.

The Bay Area’s housing market has also been unusual during the pandemic. The average rental price for an apartment in the San Francisco-Oakland metro area fell by about 4% since January, according to data from Zillow. Only New York’s rents have gone down more. (Reminder! Please don’t cite Zumper’s terrible data on rents, which suggest rents went down more.)

The rental price drop is a consequence of the Bay Area’s weakened economy; as well as the willingness of many Bay Area companies to allow their workers to work remotely into the foreseeable future. In some other parts of the country, like Atlanta, rents have continued to rise.

Finally, the Bay Area is also special when it comes to attitudes toward the coming vaccine 🤞. A recent survey from the Public Policy Institute of California shows that 67% of Bay Area residents say they would take a vaccine if it was available now. Although we don’t have national comparisons, this is much higher than in other parts of the state. Hopefully, this means the region will be able to put the virus behind it quickly.


Bay Area media recommendations of the week

The murderous history of Vallejo’s police department is brilliantly detailed in the New Yorker this week by Shane Bauer. It’s a harrowing but necessary read. Bauer shows how the Vallejo police union captured the city’s government, gaining impunity for bad conduct. They were also able to command astronomical salaries that contributed to bankrupting the city.

The article makes the important point that while larger cities are making some progress in reducing police killings, in smaller cities like Vallejo, police killings are increasing. (These same issues are also covered in the terrific podcast Open Vallejo, which I strongly recommend.)

(If you read or listened to something great about the Bay Area this week, please send it to me!)

Dan’s favorite things

Every year, I pick up The Best American Essays series and take it on a vacation. This year, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the first essay in the collection was a profound and playful meditation on life in San Francisco in the 1980s by the writer Rabih Alameddine called “How to Bartend.” Alameddine is a gay man from Lebanon, and the essay recounts his experiences of living in the city during the AIDS epidemic. His story is heartbreaking but also extremely funny. I particularly loved reading about Alameddine’s hazy memories of five Irish customers he bonded with over soccer.


Thanks for your time, and see you in a couple of weeks.

If you think a friend might enjoy this newsletter, please forward it along. You can follow me on Twitter at @dkopf or email me at dan.kopf@gmail.com. The Golden Stats Warrior logo was made by the great Jared Joiner, the best friend a newsletter writer could have. Follow him @jnjoiner. Also, thanks to the wonderful Patton Christofides for copy editing this week.