From the spring of 2020 until last March or so, I kept weekly data on the COVID situation, focusing on weekly deaths from COVID--the only reliable measurement, it seemed to me, of how serious it was. Then I ran into some software problems, and in the midst of them deaths began to drop, and vaccines became available. Just yesterday I finished collecting data for the last two weeks, and that allows me to make clear--clearer than the news usually does--what is happening right now. It's quite a story.
The epidemic was peaking last January, and the nation as a whole registered 71 deaths per million--23,616 recorded deaths total--from COVID in the week ending January 27. The situation was most serious in Alabama (181 deaths per million in the previous week), Arizona (153), Tennessee (111), Montana and Arkansas (100 each.) But Pennsylvania, Mississippi, California and New Mexico ranged from 94 to 90; Nevada, Texas, Georgia and South Dakota from 88 to 81; Wyoming, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Connecticut from 79 to 70, and New York and Massachusetts at 69. Doing the best were Minnesota, Maine, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and Alaska, with 26 to 11 deaths per million that week. Things are very different right now.
The death total for the week ending last Friday was 7,659, about one third of what it was last January for a week--23 deaths per million compared to 71. Daily deaths in the US have tripled from 290 in July, the bottom, to more than 900, but they are still quite low. Yet four states--Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Florida--registered from 86 to 67 deaths per million last week, numbers that would have ranked them 10th to 13th in the country last January at the height of the epidemic. Next come Alabama, Nevada, Kansas, Texas, and South Carolina, from 48 to 34. 17 states last week were in single digits for deaths per million, including Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New York, Wisconsin, North Dakota, New Jersey, Nebraska, DC, South Dakota, Connecticut, Ohio, Minnesota, Iowa, Massachusetts(5), and New Hampshire (1). As you may recall, the US epidemic really started in the Northeast and particularly around New York city, and states in that region led the field for several months. Now, thanks to vaccination, they are at the bottom. It can be done.
It has not been done in some of the red states, particularly in the old confederacy, which have always had the worst public services in the country. The anti-vaccine and anti-mask feelings are strong there. Texas's and Florida's ballooning death rates, if they continue, might actually turn the state blue, it seems to me, if enough Texans and Floridians realize that the increasingly extreme Republican policies will cost thousands of lives. If Texas had the same death rate as New York, it would have saved 812 lives last week; Florida with New York's death rate would have saved 1239. So polarized are these states, however, that even that evidence might not convince them that they have been poorly governed.
COVID has been hard to predict. In the late summer of 2020 I was saying that death rates would not return to the highs of the spring, but they surpassed them by a wide margin during the winter. We are at a much lower point now than we were a year ago but we are trending sharply upward. Given the rarity of deaths among vaccinated people, however, it seems very unlikely that this winter could be as severe as last, unless a far more dangerous variant emerges. Fatal COVID seems to be a disease of the unvaccinated, and thus, is pretty much confined to those states that have turned their backs on the western tradition of public health.