Fighting Covid? It Just Didn’t Matter

Prior to 2020, I don’t believe it had ever been suggested that a government could “fight” a virus. But in 2020, lots of governments tried–the feds and every state, in one way or another. We saw catastrophically destructive shutdowns, as governments around the world and here in the U.S. claimed that they could fine-tune virus transmission by destroying businesses and ordering citizens to stay home or congregate only in small groups. And we saw mask mandates come and go in most U.S. jurisdictions. These mandates were less destructive but comically ineffective.

What has been the bottom line? This interactive map from the Centers for Disease Control tells the story. Just scroll around from state to state, and you will see that cases per 100,000 residents, to date, are all around the same, regardless of measures that states did or did not take to “fight” the coronavirus. The midpoint is around 10,000 cases per 100,000.

There are a few anomalies. The Pacific Northwest and the extreme Northeast have been hit less hard, so far, than the rest of the country. And I seriously doubt that Vermont and New Hampshire are as different as the CDC data suggest. But generally, there isn’t much difference in cumulative case rates from state to state, regardless of shutdowns or mask mandates.

The second thing we see is that case rates are converging. States that for a while seemed to have lower than average case rates per 100,000, like Michigan and Minnesota, are now catching up. They are the nation’s hot spots. This map shows new cases per 100,000 over the last week:

Even New York City now has only about an average cumulative case rate per 100,000, although its death rate remains very high, presumably because of Andy Cuomo’s nursing home disaster. But New York City is an outlier. In general, I doubt that variations in reported deaths per 100,000 are significant. Most likely they reflect 1) the percentage of population in nursing homes at the beginning of the epidemic, which varies to a surprising degree, and 2) local variations in reporting covid deaths (e.g., whether people who die in car accidents who happened to have tested positive are counted as covid fatalities).

If you spend a little time with CDC’s interactive maps, the conclusion seems blindingly obvious: measures taken by the states to “fight” the Wuhan virus, something that was never deemed possible before last year, imposed enormous costs but have made little or no difference in the end. The smart states were the ones the press hated, that recommended common-sense measures to protect those most at risk, but didn’t impose catastrophic damages on their citizens in a futile effort to stop a virus from spreading through the population.