Why are Texas and Florida doing so well for new COVID cases?

(Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP, Pool)

Since everyone loves a good mystery, let’s see if we can’t puzzle this one out. A report from Fox News shows that new COVID cases in both Florida and Texas continue to decline, though Florida’s numbers are still a bit above the national average. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan are currently leading the pack in terms of new cases. Some of that can be attributed to which states are still conducting more aggressive testing regimens, but not all of it. So where is the mystery in all of this? As the report points out, Texas has been fully reopened without a mask mandate for more than six weeks and Florida has been in the same situation for considerably longer. New York, Michigan and Pennsylvania are still under various levels of lockdown protocols with mask mandates in place. So if those policies are as effective as everyone keeps telling us, why aren’t we seeing more of a disparity in the numbers in the opposite direction?

Republican-led states including Texas and Florida are reporting fewer coronavirus cases than Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York — all of which are led by prominent Democrats who refuse to roll back COVID-19 regulations and statewide mask mandates, according to CDC data.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was widely criticized by the left after he completely reversed the state’s mandate on March 10 and fully reopened his state. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was also accused of endangering Florida residents when he allowed businesses to fully reopen in September without a mask mandate in place.

While both states managed to keep case positivity rates down and begin the long road to economic recovery, Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan — who are still bound to ongoing restrictions — have led the daily increase in COVID-19 cases.

The reality of these mandates is beginning to sink in for a lot of people and we’re not just talking about the usual suspects here. Even Joe Scarborough on MSNBC was lecturing the audience this morning about the idiocy of continuing with outdoor mask mandates in particular.

The explanation suggested in the linked report doesn’t really answer all of the questions we should be asking, at least as far as I’m concerned. Simply saying “Republican Governor Good, Democratic Governor Bad” is a rather heavy-handed and unspecific approach. (Even if it works out to be the reality of the situation in the end.) There’s got to be more to the story.

If mask mandates were truly effective, we should be seeing the lowest number of new weekly cases in the states that have them. We’re not seeing that. But if face mask mandates – particularly for outdoor activity – made absolutely no difference, we should be seeing roughly the same number of new cases across the board when taking other factors like population density into consideration. That’s not the situation being observed either. Texas is actually making significantly more progress than Michigan, which is heading back in the wrong direction. And Michigan is one of the most tightly controlled states in the country in these terms.

Could it be possible that some of these government policies have actually been making things worse? Because that’s arguably a much bigger disaster than simply enacting policies that are ineffective.

That’s also too blunt of an assessment, hhowever. There are a lot of factors in play here and it’s not as simple as “masks versus no masks.” Vaccination rates are clearly a factor, but Michigan actually has a higher percentage of the population fully vaccinated than Texas as of this week. Travel rates and levels of public interaction are harder to track accurately, but they should also be factors to consider. And yet Texans are pretty much free to come and go as they please while Michiganders (except for the Governor and her staff) are still facing restrictions on gatherings.

Some day we’re going to be able to look back and harness all of this data and figure out what was going on. All I know is that these numbers don’t add up and they don’t make much sense. A pandemic was always going to be bad news and a lot of people were going to die until we developed effective vaccines and built up a significant level of general immunity. But the more we find out about the transmission and mortality rates, the more it sounds like we missed the boat somewhere along the line.