Every State's COVID Numbers in Context, May 2021

It's "Cleanup on Aisle COVID" as we close the book on this monthly in-depth look at COVID data state by state

I have been looking forward to writing this post since I started doing my monthly summaries.

It was 10 months ago when I realized that the larger media wasn’t doing a very good job of giving context in their state-by-state reporting, preferring to talk about big states or states with clearly high numbers. I wrote the first edition of this post in July 2020 to try to give people a sense of how their own state was doing and to also bolster the assertion that I had been making for months that the appropriate way to view this pandemic was through a regional lens, not a national one.

A few months ago, I decided that, barring some very alarming developments, we would have enough vaccines in arms to say that this monthly post is no longer needed. Looking at the data this month has very much reinforced in my mind that this was the right decision. This is the most beautifully boring set of graphs I’ve put together in a long time.

I decided not to chart COVID vaccinations this months because

  1. the US absolutely clobbered our target of 100 million shots by the end of April. We’re a week or two away from 300 million shots. It’s astounding.

  2. the vaccination data has changed so much over the last few months that I need to re-jigger my entire data management app to output more helpful information

Vaccinations continue apace, faster in some states and slower in others. I have no strong opinions about any of them at the moment, those thoughts are still percolating.

Every State’s COVID Numbers, April 2021

For comparison to previous months:

Here is what is going on with COVID this month:

  • Midwest (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin)

  • Mountain States (Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming)

  • Northeast States (Connecticut, DC, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania)

  • Southern Border (Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas)

  • Mid-South (Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia)

  • Plain States (Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota)

  • West Coast (Washington, Oregon, California)

  • Upper Northeast + Alaska & Hawaii (Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Alaska, Hawaii)

  • Summary

Midwest

Michigan’s COVID surge has come and gone. It was shorter than most surges (including the surges this last summer) and has had substantially fewer deaths. My own intuition is that this is entirely due to vaccinations.

We saw smaller surges in Minnesota and Illinois and very small bumps in most other midwestern states. I’m not sure why this is but I’m hopeful that future “surges” will look more like Wisconsin’s “surge” where we would have to be paying very close attention to the data to even know it was happening.

Mountain States

Colorado had a short Minnesota-like “surge” that has calmed down. It’s hard to tell if that surge even resulted in an up-tick in deaths or if that bump from last week is just noise in the data. It looks, however, like the mountain states are in the clear and, given the seasonality patterns, I wouldn’t expect much to happen until the fall.

Northeast

I have never understood why the Northeast has had such variation in COVID rates and such trouble keeping COVID cases down. What is interesting (in a very horrible way) is that the March-April surge was along much the same timeline as the disastrous introduction of COVID this time last year. Seasonality really does rein supreme when looking at COVID patterns.

However, it’s incredibly encouraging to note that, though there was a bump in positives, there does not seem to be a surge in deaths. Again, I blame the rapid vaccination of the elderly and high-risk for this pattern.

Southern Border

Florida’s surge looks a lot like the surge in the northeast, from it’s shallow nature to the flat death rate. That’s great news.

There’s not much else to say about the Southern Border states. The bumps we see in Alabama are almost certainly one time case dumps or cleaning through a backlog. Things seem to be calming down.

Note: My pessimistic nature says that seasonality will probably rear its head in this region in the next month or two. I may revisit this region simply to ask if we can see substantial differences in COVID patterns between Mississippi (where 43% of the adult population is vaccinated) and Florida (where 58% of the adult population is vaccinated). Will a 15% difference in population vaccine status change the nature of COVID surges? This will likely be our first look at what levels of vaccination tip the herd immunity scales.

Mid South

The states in the mid south are similarly boring. The three spikes you see here are the result of various states doing audits and moving deaths from the last three months from “unconfirmed” to “probable” COVID deaths. New cases are incredibly low and new deaths are similarly low.

This might tick up in the summer, but it’s good to remember that the mid South didn’t have as much seasonality as the southern border states, so we would expect any surge to be minimal.

Plains States

Again, not much to report in the Plains states. Last month in Oklahoma there was a huge dump of deaths in early April but the Johns Hopkins team has taken the time since then to back-date those deaths to the appropriate dates instead of lumping them all in one place. (Confession: I am going to kind of miss watching the data being put together in real time, that has been one of the more interesting parts of this crisis for me.)

Otherwise, the slow decline of cases and deaths continues apace.

West Coast

Washington and Oregon are over their early spring bump in cases and, again, it looks like this has largely happened without a surge in deaths. I expect a quiet summer for the west coast. They’ve certainly earned it.

Upper Northeast + HI / AK

The upper northeast saw the same low surge that the northeast saw and the same lack of death surges. Given the high rates of vaccination in these states, I’m optimistic that this is the tail end of COVID in these states.

Summary

Even going state-by-state, the data is unambiguously good. Positives are low, deaths are low, and for the first time, we’re seeing identifiable case surges that are not accompanied with surges in deaths.

To be fair, May was the time last year when things were calming down in the northeast and just about to heat up in the south. I keep saying this, but I expect seasonality to rear its head again, possibly as soon as the next few weeks. That will tell us a lot about vaccines and herd immunity and our job at that point is not to blame or attack or sneer but to learn.

There is currently a lot of sneering going on because people literally cannot help themselves. They are instinctually inclined against grace and toward hating states that they see as avatars of their hated political foes. If there are summer surges, they will be used as evidence of dumb Trump supporters who hate vaccines. They will act as if having 65% of adults vaccinated in May makes one state morally superior to another state that reaches 65% of adults vaccinated in June. They will act like a 5-10% difference in vaccination separates the blue sheep from the red goats.

Our task is no longer to convince. After a year of this, all those who can be convinced already have been and anyone who still believes that political alignment protects people against disease is ignorant of the data or in stubborn denial of it. We simply need to ignore them and move on with our own lives.

Looney Tunes: Elmer’s Candid Camera

Before Elmer took up hunting he was a shutterbug, shooting rabbits with his camera instead of his gun. Elmer and Bugs are both developing in this short. Bugs’ voice is deeper and the sharp Brooklyn accent has not yet been incorporated. Bugs is also more of a simple trickster, poking at Elmer even when Elmer isn’t pursuing him.

It’s a little funny to watch Elmer go so crazy over what is (with the benefit of hindsight) a meager amount of abuse. This is only the beginning of a long history of punishment for the character.