Red and Blue Statistics: Where Is the Virus?


American Flags in the Boston Common

American Flags in the Boston Common

Statistics, according to the timeworn adage, can be manipulated to prove anything. In recent weeks, California has been repeatedly listed on charts and maps as the state with the most coronavirus cases. But California is the most populous among the fifty states and, therefore, the most likely to have COVID-19 cases on a proportional basis. Thus, statistics need to answer fair questions about state comparisons rather than being slanted ideologically.

The number of cases raises important questions: Which states have the largest percentage of cases? Which states have the highest death rates due to the virus? Which state has the highest death-rates based on the number of cases (deaths/cases)?

Let’s first address Question 1: Which states have the largest percentage of cases?

 Using population data analyzed by NPR, the incidence of coronavirus in California is 2.067 percent of the population. That being said, there are more than a dozen states with higher rates. The highest is Louisiana, with 3.4 percent of residents having contracted the virus. In fact, the eight states with the highest incidences of COVID-19 all had majorities for Donald Trump in 2016:

  • 3.4 % Louisiana

  • 3.1% Florida

  • 3.0 % Mississippi

  • 2.9% Alabama

  • 2.9% Arizona

  • 2.8% Georgia

  • 2.6 % South Carolina

  • 2.6% Tennessee.

Among the next eight states, half are blue, and half are red:

  • 2.4% Arkansas

  • 2.4% Iowa

  • 2.4% Nevada

  • 2.4% Texas

  • 2.3% New York

  • 2.3% North Dakota

  • 2.2% Rhode Island

  • 2.1% Illinois.

Should the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issue travel warnings for tourists not to go to the eight states? That would be silly.

Some believe that population density accounts for more spreading of cases; however, New Jersey has the highest density and is not on these two lists. Among states with more than 200 persons per square mile, the only one in the top 16 is Florida.

Another view is that cases are more common in cities. Among states with the highest percentage of confirmed cases, only Arizona and Florida (two purple states) have urban populations in the top ten (90 percent of their population). Iowa ranks 11, Texas is 16, and Georgia is 25. California is the most urbanized, Maine the least.

Now Question 2: Do death-rates match incidence rates (deaths/population)? 

The answer appears to be no. 

New Jersey has the highest death-rate at 0.18 percent, followed by New York (0.17%), Connecticut and Massachusetts (0.13%), and by Louisiana (0.11%). The next seventeen states range from Mississippi (0.09%) to California (0.04%). The figures suggest that rates are higher among the earliest states to experience cases. However, there is not enough statistical evidence to support such a conclusion. Milder versions of the virus might explain differing rates, but no figures of that sort have been collected.

And finally, Question 3: Which state has the highest death-rates based on the number of cases (deaths/cases)? 

Blue states are again on top, with more deaths per coronavirus cases. Still, the picture is mixed: Connecticut and New Jersey are almost tied at 8.1 percent. The next highest are New York (7.4%), New Hampshire (5.6%), Michigan (5.5%), Pennsylvania (5.2%), Rhode Island (4.6%), and Vermont (3.4%). The next five, which have a mortality rate of about 3.2%, are Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, and Ohio. Eight states come next, all above California (at 0.19 percent). The percentages might be a measure of their health care capabilities, which were initially quite limited, but more relevant statistics are lacking.

In conclusion, coronavirus remains a problem in California, but also with many other states in the United States. The more populous states have more cases, but percentage-wise the incidence of cases is highest in red states. The death toll peaks in a few blue states yet vary across blue and red states. If California, New Jersey, New York, and other blue states seceded from the United States, a severe public health problem would remain. Red states are definitely not “at a very low level” on a per capita basis.

We are moving towards a point where everyone in the United States will know someone who has contracted the illness. If these statistics show anything, it is that this virus does not discriminate. It affects Republicans and Democrats alike. Moving forward, remember: Decent people treat all cases and deaths with compassion.

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