Which states best handled the pandemic? There's no clear answer

A bigger factor might have been the enormous political pressure on governors and mayors to end bar, restaurant, salon, and gym closures. While there was significant divergence in state policies in the early months of the pandemic, by the summer even leaders who surely knew better were allowing these businesses to open back up, fearing a fiscal and budgetary apocalypse that never materialized. Once open, it became much more difficult to shut back down during the winter surge. Practically speaking, that means in spite of all the shouting and outrage, most states were doing roughly the same things, and so it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that they ended up with similar death rates and unemployment levels.

Another interesting observation is that none of the states that have already ordered public K-12 schools open, including Iowa and Arkansas, crack the top 10 in per capita COVID-19 fatalities. This is certainly not to say that schools can’t be super-spreader sites — particularly if teachers and students are forced back to the classroom without adequate investments in prevention measures — but rather more evidence that outcomes may not have depended exclusively on any of the lighting-rod decisions that so consumed public discourse.