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Every State's COVID Numbers in Context, January
The surge breaks and vaccines will soon change the game
This is both my favorite and least favorite post to do. I love doing nothing but showing data and thinking about what it means. At the same time, it takes forever to get the data, make the graphs, and write everything up. If this is helpful to you and you are not yet a paid subscriber, I encourage you to take that leap and help support this effort.
The big exciting addition this month is that I’m charting each state’s vaccination progress every month. I am damn proud of the work that has gone into gathering and charting daily state-by-state vaccination data as well as the time I’ve spent trying to think through the best way to present it.
My conclusion was to add a line to each vaccination chart showing the projected rate of vaccinations we will need in order to hit President Biden’s 100 million doses by the 100th day. That way we can see if the various states are lagging, meeting, or exceeding that target. In truth, the details of this decision are fairly complicated (everything in this crisis has been complicated) but I plan to write about it for Friday’s newsletter. If you’re interested in those kinds of nitty-gritty technical details, please subscribe.
Feel free to skim through previous months and we can jump right in.
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)
It has been an incredibly hard winter for the midwest but it looks like we are well on the downside of this awful winter surge. Every state has hit their peak in both cases and deaths and are on the downslope in both. We can tell from the Iowa spike in early December that there was some kind of audit or review that retroactively added many deaths to the official count, otherwise the status in the midwest has been “bad, but finally getting better.
The bounce that we see in late December corresponds nearly perfect to the a country-wide pattern that I’m mostly interpreting as “testing and reporting dropped during the Christmas holiday and then picked back up”. For myself, I’m mostly ignoring that dip and surge as a data and reporting artefact.
Everyone is on the downturn and I’m hopeful that the introduction of vaccines to the mix will serve to drive the numbers even further down.
It’s odd to do the midwest first here because so many states in the midwest are ramping up on fairly slowly in comparison to other parts of the country. As a region, it’s almost in line with the 100 million vaccine target but we should hope to see them pick things up by the time we return to this next month.
Utah continues to mystify. If you compared Utah to Idaho or Colorado, you would expect their death rate to be much much higher than it is. Despite large waves of positive COVID cases, handily exceeding either ID or CO, their death rate has remained low and stable.
I almost regret adding Wyoming to this set. Their data is sporadic because they have such a small population which means 3 deaths in one day can massively spike the chart and then 0 deaths for 4 days will cause a sudden downward spike. This makes things messy and hard to read.
The core takeaway is that the mountain states are recovering from a rough winter and both positive rates and deaths are simmering down, hopefully for good.
I honestly would have expected Utah to do better at vaccine administration, but it’s right on the same path as Wyoming and Colorado. Better than average, but not spectacular. I’m hoping Idaho and Nevada will pick up the pace soon, their rates are solidly below the needed target. Keep in mind, however, that this is not even 3 weeks of data and things can turn accelerate quickly. Let’s hope for a pleasant surprise next month when we’ll have a better idea of how states are adjusting to the demands being placed on them.
I grew up in New York and I have so many friends in the northeast, I really feel bad for how exhausting this pandemic must be for them. They went through the nightmare of being ground-zero a year ago, then they went through the summer thinking that they had things under control, and now they’re fighting their way through another rough wave. No other region has had to fight through so much and that breaks my heart.
As with most regions, it looks like the northeast is trending down in both cases and deaths. Rhode Island has had a hell of a time, but is hopefully trending down for good. DC (which is young) and Maryland (which seems well managed) are doing the best in the region. The other states are struggling along, trying to keep cases low with what I would describe as half-success. I do think things are trending down and I’m eager to get to February and tell you that things are looking good for this region.
It’s interesting to see how far ahead Connecticut and DC have pulled in the vaccine race. I recognize that my core audience leans to the right side of the political spectrum so I’ve been trying to take the opportunity to point out that New York is doing pretty well on vaccine administration. They get a lot of bad press for policy choices that people dislike and every time a vaccine dose expires in New York, you’ll hear about it on the news. But going by the raw numbers, New York is right on track.
This has been a weird region b/c of New Mexico. New Mexico was the exception to the rule for this region, keeping cases extremely low while the pandemic surges all around it. Then it became the exception to the rule with a massive spike while all states around it saw more modest COVID increases.
Now New Mexico has descended back to having the best case numbers, but the region as a whole seems to be on the downturn in cases. I suspect deaths will plateau for a month or so and then decrease as it responds to both the case decreases and the vaccine rollout.
It’s a delight to see New Mexico excel in vaccine distribution. It’s part of an interesting pattern I’ve seen where states with smaller communities who kept the virus at bay through the first wave and through the summer seem to be getting vaccines out quite effectively and with a fascinating speed.
It’s also encouraging to see that the high-population states (Florida and Texas) seem to be doing well in vaccine administration. That will make a very big difference as we move toward the end-game of high vaccination rates in the most populous and vulnerable regions.
The biggest surprise to me this month is Tennessee. Given the enormous spike in cases in Tennessee in December, I would have expected that much higher deaths would inevitably follow, but Tennessee, Arkansas, West Virginia have all followed a very similar pandemic path.
The rest of the south hasn’t exactly had an easy time of things, but (along with most of the country) things seem to be on the downturn for cases. My gut says that deaths may plateau at a tragicaly high rate as the high case rate catches up over the next month, but we may get lucky.
The really interesting story here is that of West Virginia, the star of the vaccine show. West Virginia was the only state to decline a federal partnership program with CVS and Walgreens, betting that it could effectively distribute vaccines to their communities on their own terms. That bet has paid off as West Virginia has (astonishingly) logged over 100% of first dose vaccine administration due to their policy for squeezing an extra dose out of vaccine vials.
The remainder of the southern region is moving at about an average pace for the country, which means they will likely do their part to hit the 100M vaccine dose target.
Thank God that the COVID surge in the plains states seems to have subsided. Having seen the largest spikes in cases and deaths since the beginning of this crisis, the plains states have crested the peak and cases and deaths have fallen substantially.
Kansas and Oklahoma seem to still be struggling to pull things back under control but the rest of the region is well on the other side of the pandemic curve. And the vaccine administration is showing us encouraging numbers.
The plains states are were we start asking questions about if maybe mass vaccination is easier when dealing with smaller communities of people. Every state except Kansas is handily exceeding their vaccination targets, showing some of the best per capita numbers in the country.
I still don’t think we’ll really see the effects of the vaccine in the infection and death n numbers until about March, but when we start seeing those curves impacted, it will likely be in this region.
I’m honestly not sure what happened to California this winter. Despite having severe lockdown strategies in place and despite the fact that their fellow west-coast states didn’t see nearly so alarming a surge, California saw COVID cases and deaths spike enormously in late December. This was followed (somewhat inevitable) by a surge in deaths that is ongoing.
Despite this, Washington and Oregon have remained fairly low in both cases and deaths. These are the two most populous continental states that have not seen an alarming COVID increase. It may be due to policy or culture but Washington and Oregon are right on the edge of making it through this crisis without experiencing the kinds of surges that almost every other state has seen.
Despite their success with suppressing COVID cases and deaths, Washington and Oregon are only doing OK with vaccine administration. I’m a little bit anxious with California’s lagging numbers simply because California is such an enormous state. Still, this is early in the game and we have every reason to hope that the decentralization and ingenuity that seems so prevalent on the west coast will be able to accelerate this all-important task.
Upper Northeast + Alaska & Hawaii
This is another case in which we get a glimpse behind the curtain of how COVID impacts communities. Alaska has clearly had the worst surge of all states in this group. Yet, Alaska’s death rate in this time lags behind both New Hampshire and Maine.
My inclination is to almost entirely blame age for this. Alaska is the second youngest state in the union and Maine is the oldest one. Alaska is better able to survive a COVID surge simply because the younger population is able to fight the disease off more effectively.
It is, of course, worth pointing out that Hawaii has largely weathered this crisis with a combination of close monitoring and very aggressive border control. They remain the state with the lowest infection and death numbers in the country.
As of this moment, Alaska is the vaccine capitol of the country. The funny thing is that these numbers don’t even capture the full reality of Alaska’s vaccine situation since Indian Health Services has been aggressively vaccinating the tribal population in Alaska while the Department of Defense has been vaccinating soldiers and their families. Neither of these vaccine batches are included in the state numbers, so Alaska is actually doing even better than this chart suggests.
The national numbers have not been encouraging lately. We’re still reeling from the effects of the devastating winter surge, losing 3000-4000 people a day to this awful disease.
But we are on the down-turn. Vaccines are going into arms, helping the most vulnerable citizens first. By the time I write the February summary, we will have substantially more immunity through vaccination than we have had through infection.
The dawn is breaking, though that is often hard to see in the moment. I think 2021 will deliver more pleasant surprises as we trudge our way through it.
Looney Tunes: Rabbit Punch
I’m afraid that many of the Looney Tunes I select will reflect an old 2 hours Beta tape of cartoons comprised of the volumes of Looney Tunes my dad recorded off TV and tape rentals in the 80’s. My siblings and I must have watched that tape a hundred times a this short was the first one to pop up whenever we would rewind back to the beginning. So I have a certain irrational affinity for it.
Similar to the Bugs Bunny baseball short, this one starts out with a large and powerful character ruthlessly humiliating his opponent. When Bugs takes umbrage to this unsportsmanlike behavior he finds himself in the ring and must use brains over brawn to one-up the champ.
The entire thing is so delightfully ridiculous. One boxing gag after another in an escalating manner for 7 full minutes and 118 rounds until we get a deus ex machina at the end to save Bugs’ hide. It’s an excellent example of the sort of rapid-fire cartooning that Disney so despised but that audiences quite enjoyed.