Despite the recent coronavirus alleged surge in southern states, three states—New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts—account for about 42 percent of COVID-19 deaths in America. Why?
In a recent article in The Atlantic, Thomas Chatterton Williams decried America’s handling of the coronavirus.
The words “utter disaster” are used, and Williams, an expatriate, contrasts America’s response to that of France, where he currently lives.
“As Donald Trump’s America continues to shatter records for daily infections, France, like most other developed nations and even some undeveloped ones, seems to have beat back the virus,” Williams writes.
To be sure, the US response to the coronavirus was far from perfect (more on that later). But the article shows one of the challenges with this pandemic: even as more data is acquired, the picture doesn’t always get clearer.
In some ways, COVID-19 data are like a Rorschach blot from which writers, politicians, and experts can glean whatever conclusions they wish to find. Take Sweden, where daily COVID-19 deaths recently reached zero.
According to Newsweek editorial director Hank Gilman, Sweden’s “lighter touch” approach was a failure because seven times as many people died there than in neighboring Scandnavian countries such as Finland and Norway. He is not alone in the assessment.
On the other hand, Sweden suffered far fewer deaths per capita than several European neighbors that instituted strict lockdowns—including Belgium, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom—and has avoided some of the economic fallout other nations have endured. Unlike other countries, its currency is growing stronger.
Indeed, Sweden’s death rate is remarkably close to that of France, which Williams praised as a model in contrast to the “utter disaster” in the US. However, the US actually has a lower per capita death rate than both Sweden and France—at least for now. (While it’s true COVID cases are on the rise again in the US, deaths recently reached three-month lows.)
This raises questions about how we measure success in the age of COVID-19. While most attention is being paid to rising case numbers, death tolls would seem to be the most important metric. While US deaths per capita (401/1M) put the country among the ten highest in the world—ahead of France and Sweden, but just below the Netherlands—those numbers also don’t tell the entire story.
Few may have noticed that 42 percent of all COVID deaths in the US come from just three states—New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. These three states account for nearly 56,000 of the nearly 133,000 deaths in the US, even though they represent just 10 percent of the population. If these three states are excluded, the US suddenly finds itself somewhere in between nations such as Luxembourg (176/1M) and Macedonia (166/1M), where some of the better fatality numbers in Europe are found.
Why have New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts suffered so much more than other US states? We don’t yet know the answer to that question, but evidence suggests it could be policy related.