That may sound like a rather depressing headline, but since we’re constantly told that we need to follow the science and dig through the data, you have to take the good with the bad. The New York Post published the results of a rather interesting study yesterday that compares and contrasts the results being seen in two of our larger states and how they’ve approached battling the pandemic. Each state saw a significant surge in COVID cases at the beginning of January. One is California, under the leadership of Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom. Newsom issued some of the more severe lockdown orders in the nation from December 3 through January 25. He banned or heavily limited outdoor dining, religious services, gym attendance and a host of other things.
Contrast that with Florida, where Republican Governor Ron DeSantis took an almost completely opposite approach. He took multiple actions to ensure businesses remained open. He signed orders preventing municipalities from forcing bars and restaurants to operate at less than half capacity. He protected businesses from facing fines as a result of defying COVID-related restrictions. So how did the two states fare over the first six weeks of this year? If all you look at are the numbers, you’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart.
But despite the two states’ varying approaches this winter, they have yielded similar results.
Both states grappled with a surge in cases around Jan. 1, with the number of infections trending downwards a few weeks later.
They’re now both seeing an average of between 200 and 400 cases per million people, and have each reported declines over the last several days, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Similarly with hospitalizations, the two states have also seen improvement.
The hospitalization numbers pair up in a similar fashion. in the first week of January, California was seeing 56 hospitalizations per 100,000 people while Florida had 35. This week California is at 24 while Florida is at 22. The total caseload numbers are nearly as close when adjusted for population. California comes in at 8,822 per 100,000 and the Sunshine State is at 8,508.
What does all of this mean? It seems premature to flatly declare that nothing anyone did made any difference based on such a small dataset. But at the same time, if DeSantis was doing it all “wrong” as compared to Newsom, why aren’t Florida’s numbers much higher?
You can look at this chart of the current caseloads across the states and see a similar story. There are several red states with few restrictions, including North Dakota and Oklahoma, up in the top 10. But so are Rhode Island and Wisconsin. The same goes for the middle of the pack and the lowest section of the chart. And yes, California and Florida are only four spots apart on the chart, separated by three-tenths of a percent.
This may wind up coming down to something we’ve been discussing here since last spring. It’s predictable that politicians never want to be caught with their pants down during a crisis and give the impression that they’re not doing anything to protect the public. But there’s a big difference between just doing something to make sure everyone knows you’re doing something and actually doing something productive. We jumped into this pandemic response without a lot of information to go on. And some of the things we thought we knew turned out to be different with the novel coronavirus than previous diseases we’ve battled.
There’s been a learning curve. I’m pretty sure most of us could agree on that point. But now we’ve been at it for a while. We shouldn’t lose sight of the goal, no matter how badly the media and politicians want to spin this situation. We need to fully reopen the economy and get life back to normal. Right now Florida is a lot closer to both of those goals than many other states. Rather than casting stones, other elected leaders should observe and be willing to learn from these examples.