When the pandemic began, COVID-19 death rate soared in Democrat-led liberal states – but the trend reversed sharply by July 4, a new study reveals.
At the widest gap between death rates for Republican- versus Democrat-led states, 1.8-times more Americans were dying in red states than blue ones, according to the new Johns Hopkins University study.
The coronavirus pandemic became one of – if not the – most central issues of the 2020 election, with the both the economy and the physical health of Americans hanging in the balance.
While no political leader or policy is directly responsible for COVID-19 deaths, but that policies favored by Republicans such as waiting to implement mask mandates, and keeping businesses open, may have contributed to the higher death rates seen in red states during the latter half of 2020.
At the widest gap between death rates for Republican- versus Democrat-led states, 1.8-times more Americans were dying in red states than blue ones, according to the new Johns Hopkins University study
To-date, more than 529,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, and by April 14, no state was untouched by coronavirus fatalities.
But the pandemic hit the coasts first.
Washington state was the first to report a coronavirus case, in a man in his 30s who had returned from visiting family in Wuhan, China, where the novel coronavirus emerged. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the case publicly on January 21, 2020.
The first COVID-19 death in the country is now known to have occurred in California in February.
And New York City became the global epicenter of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.
By the April 14 peak of daily fatalities in New York, 16,394 people had died of the COVID-19 – the vast majority in New York City.
Hospitals in the city were on the brink of being overwhelmed and funeral homes and morgues were overflowing.
Every other state’s outbreak paled in comparison, but Democrat-led states saw cases and fatalities rise more quickly early on.
By June 28, states with Republican governors were seeing 1.17 times more daily infections on average, compared to those led by Democrats
Johns Hopkins researchers found that, between March and early June 2020, states with liberal governors had more deaths per capita than those led by Republicans.
But the trend reversed in the summer.
As the weather warmed and outdoor activities allowed people to interact in lower risk environments, infection rates dropped nationwide.
Former President Trump’s 30 days to stop the spread initiative – which called on Americans to practice social distancing and for people who could work from home to do so – was extended two weeks, then expired on April 30.
By then, the country’s COVID-19 death toll had surpassed 60,000 – a benchmark Trump had repeatedly said he was confident the nation would not exceed.
Many states reopened immediately. That decision was particularly common in conservative states led by Republican governors.
The country was in its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and governors were desperate to get their citizens back to work.
For a couple of months, daily case and death rates across the US remained stable, although Dr Anthony Fauci would later say that the country never drove these numbers to a low enough baseline to prevent subsequent surges.
By June, infections and fatalities were starting to tick up with growing speed.
As of July 3, Republican-led states were seeing 1.1-times more cases per capita compared to blue states, the study, which was published as a pre-print in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine ahead of peer review, found.
The gap widened over the coming weeks.
By June 28, states with Republican governors were seeing 1.17 times more daily infections on average, compared to those led by Democrats.
This pattern was repeated for fatalities, but with a lag of a bout a month.
Daily deaths in Republican-led states overtook those in blue states on July 4.
And the gap grew over the following four weeks. By July 28, there were 1.8 times as many deaths in Republican states than in Democrat-led ones.
This disparity persisted through the fall and early winter.
On December 13 – after the post-Thanksgiving surge of case and just before Americans crisscrossed the country for the holidays, taking coronavirus with them – Republican-led states were still seeing 1.2-times as many cases as Democrat-led ones.
During this June-to-December period, the number of tests being performed in Republican states fell as the test-positivity rate rose.
‘The early trends could be explained by high COVID-19 cases and deaths among Democratic-led states that are home to initial ports of entry for the virus in early 2020,’ the study authors wrote.
‘However, the subsequent reversal in trends, particularly with respect to testing, may reflect policy differences that could have facilitated the spread of the virus.
‘Moreover, decisions by Republican governors in spring 2020 to retract policies, such as the lifting of stay-at-home orders on April 28 in Georgia,22 may have contributed to increased cases and deaths.’
Republican governor of South Dakota Kristi Noem, for example, refused to issue a mask mandate, even as her state emerged a top hot spot in the nation for coronavirus cases and deaths.
She insisted that wearing a mask was a ‘personal decision.’
Her neighbor North Dakota, too, became a hotspot, but issued a mask mandate. Cases ultimately fell sharply in both states.
It became the first of a number of examples to call the utility of lockdowns and masking into question.
The latest, perhaps, is the parity of trends in California – which has seen some of the strictest lockdowns in the country – and Florida, where life has proceeded more or less as usual.
Health experts say that eventually Americans simply started complying with health agencies’ recommendations, whether or not these measures were mandated – especially after the horrifying post-holiday surge that saw more than 250,000 cases and up to 4,465 deaths day.
They also say that now, a year into the pandemic, lockdowns are likely not the most practical solution, because people are more likely to defy them, vaccines are available and the U.S. is much closer to herd immunity than it was in the spring or summer (although still only about halfway there).
And timing is of the essence. Those measures may have lost their utility at this particular point, but other research, including a CDC study published last week, has shown that cases and deaths started to decline within 20 days of mask orders, and rose again once restaurants were reopened.
Implementing them earlier on likely spared lives in states that did so. Rejecting restrictions, which was more common in Republican-led states, may have contributed to the loss of life in those locations.
‘Democratic states also had lower test positivity rates from May 30 through December 15, suggesting more rigorous containment strategies in response to the pandemic,’ the study authors wrote.
‘Thus, governors’ political affiliation might function as an upstream progenitor of multifaceted policies that, in unison, impact the spread of the virus. Although there were exceptions in states such as Maryland and Massachusetts, Republican governors were generally less likely to enact policies aligned with public health social distancing recommendations. ‘