Covid-19, A quick look at the numbers

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on in the U.S., a lot of claims get tossed out with very uncertain evidence to back them up. I saw a screenshot clip from one of my Facebook friends. I couldn’t find the source for that, but a search on the name I saw lead me to a website where I found this claim.

STUDY DISCOVERS THAT STATES WITH FEWER RESTRICTIONS HAD LOWER Covid DEATH RATES – In a rebuke to the “experts,” a study from the Sentinel, a Kansas non-profit, found that the eight states that didn’t fully lock down – North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Utah – witnessed a 75% lower death rate per capita than the 42 states that enacted the strictest lockdowns.

On the face of it, that sounds impressive. Did staying open actually save people’s lives? I had to look into it. For starters, I already knew that meat plants in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa were hard hit by Covid-19 cases. Meat plants in Texas and Pennsylvania were similarly hard hit. So this was no magic protection. But I decided to dig up the current numbers and see if this difference is still holding up. I came up with this table as of July 31, 2020.

State comparison
North Dakota6937111762,0620.0160010.000146910.2934
South Dakota9079136884,6590.014980.0001541026.271
8 states218820288017,495,6910.0131620.0001651250.708
New Mexico213406582,096,8290.0308340.0003141017.727
5 states1,695,34029,404102,700,0930.0173440.0002861650.768
New York182,0003,83519,453,5610.0210710.000197935.5614
other 424,631,180156,120310,743,8320.0337110.0005021490.353
All But NY4,668,000155,165308,785,9620.033240.0005031511.727

So those 8 states, with a combined population of about 17.5 million, had 218,820 cases and 2880 deaths. The population fatality rate was .0165% for those states.

The other 42 states in the U.S. with a combined population of over 310 million had 4,631,180 cases and 156,120 deaths for a population fatality rate of .0502%.

So, as of July 31, that 75% discrepancy was down to 66%.

And for five comparison states that I was interested in (Texas, New Mexico, California, Florida, and Georgia), the population fatality rate was .0286%. So those 8 states are only 42% less than my arbitrary selection of 5 states. And my set is 43% less than the U.S. average.

If fact, the Case Fatality Rate for my set of 5 states with almost 1/3 of the U.S. population is barely half (1.7% vs 3.3%) that of the U.S. as a whole. The 8 state set had a slightly lower CFR (1.3%) and slightly lower rate of cases (1250 per 100K people vs 1650 in my set and 1477 in the U.S. overall.)

So, Louisiana’s experience has been about average for the U.S. and states like Michigan that were hit hard early and have a CFR almost 7% make my set of 5 states look good by comparison.

The Johns Hopkins website has excellent graphics for tracking this disease in the U.S. and around the world. You can check on your state’s progress there. I’m happy to note that Texas, where cases soared by a factor of 6 in June and July after businesses opened up, is starting to get the disease back under control with a combination of mask wearing, social distancing, limiting restaurant capacity to 50% and closing the bars. Those measures have cut the case rate in half over the last 2 weeks or so.

Another factor is that the overall death rate is declining for a few reasons. The hospitals in New York and Michigan that were hit so hard back in March and April have learned how to treat this disease better. Some of it is just managing patients better. And treatments like remdesivir, corticosteroids, and blood thinners are beneficial when used at the right stage in the course of the disease. Also, there is a rise in younger patients in their 20’s and 30’s who still get sick, but are less likely to die from Covid-19.

So, Utah may look safer than Texas with regard to this disease, but I wouldn’t want to get it in either state.