The curious case of Florida's pandemic response

Yes, Florida is seeing falling COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. But so is just about everywhere else. And its overall pandemic performance is just about typical. (Some have questioned the veracity of the state’s public COVID-19 data, but I’m assuming for the purposes of this piece that its numbers are accurate.) Florida ranks 27th in deaths per capita, with higher proportional fatalities than Washington, D.C., California, and 22 other states. That’s not a resounding “vindication,” even if Florida’s economic performance blew everybody else’s out of the water.

As far as I can tell, though, it didn’t. At 4.8 percent, its unemployment rate is 18th in the country, and not meaningfully different from that of the median states, South Carolina and Virginia, at 5.3 percent. Real-time data tracking state spending and employment show that Florida is doing, again, no better than average. Compared with January 2020, its consumer spending is down 1 percent, which is right in line with the national average. Its small-business revenue is down about 30 percent—again, almost exactly the national average. These statistics may be missing something. But the national narrative of an exceptionally white-hot Florida economy doesn’t match the statistical record of its performance.

Political tug-of-wars over Governor DeSantis’s record and photos of swimsuit parties are currently guiding the debate over coronavirus policies. But guided by statistics, I would have identified a different pandemic hero. Vermont has the second-lowest COVID-19 death rate in the country (just behind Hawaii) and the third-lowest unemployment rate (after South Dakota and Utah). To the extent that winning a pandemic is possible, Vermont really is winning the pandemic.

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