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The Coronavirus Isn’t Just A Blue State Problem

Washington state was the initial epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. And New York is now the hardest-hit part of the country so far, with hospitalizations increasing at rapid rates — more than 37,000 people had been diagnosed with the coronavirus in New York as of late Thursday afternoon.

Because COVID-19 hit blue, coastal states first, and because politics is politics, the response to the pandemic hasn’t exactly been apolitical.

But blue states are hardly alone in what is becoming a nationwide epidemic. Jefferson Parish, Louisiana — which went for Trump by 15 percentage points in 2016 — has a death rate about equal to that of Manhattan. And as terrifying as the hospital situation is in New York City, hospital capacity is also under strain in states such as Michigan and Georgia.

Overall, although the number of detected cases is higher in blue states, the number is increasing at a more rapid rate in red states.1 Moreover, blue states have conducted more tests per capita than red states, so — given that the large majority of coronavirus cases remain undetected — the lower rate of cases in red states may partially be an artifact of less testing.

Here is the data as of late Thursday afternoon, with states sorted by the increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases between Monday (March 23) and Thursday (March 26).2 All data is taken from the invaluable COVID Tracking Project.

Detected COVID-19 cases are on the rise in red states

Known COVID-19 cases as of March 23 and March 26, according to The COVID Tracking Project

March 23 March 26
State Detected cases Per 10k pop. Detected cases Per 10k pop. Change 2016 winner
Texas 352 0.12 1396 0.48 297% Trump
West Virginia 16 0.09 51 0.28 219 Trump
Massachusetts 777 1.12 2417 3.48 211 Clinton
Oklahoma 81 0.2 248 0.63 206 Trump
Alabama 167 0.34 506 1.03 203 Trump
Missouri 183 0.3 502 0.82 174 Trump
Alaska 22 0.3 59 0.81 168 Trump
Pennsylvania 644 0.5 1687 1.32 162 Trump
Idaho 47 0.26 123 0.69 162 Trump
Indiana 259 0.38 645 0.96 149 Trump
Connecticut 415 1.16 1012 2.84 144 Clinton
New Jersey 2844 3.2 6876 7.74 142 Clinton
Arizona 265 0.36 577 0.79 118 Trump
Michigan 1328 1.33 2856 2.86 115 Trump
North Carolina 297 0.28 636 0.61 114 Trump
Vermont 75 1.2 158 2.53 111 Clinton
Montana 34 0.32 71 0.66 109 Trump
Kansas 82 0.28 168 0.58 105 Trump
Wyoming 26 0.45 53 0.92 104 Trump
Maryland 288 0.48 580 0.96 101 Clinton
Florida 1171 0.55 2355 1.1 101 Trump
District of Columbia 116 1.64 231 3.27 99 Clinton
Georgia 772 0.73 1525 1.44 98 Trump
Illinois 1285 1.01 2538 2 98 Clinton
Louisiana 1172 2.52 2305 4.96 97 Trump
Ohio 442 0.38 867 0.74 96 Trump
Mississippi 249 0.84 485 1.63 95 Trump
Arkansas 174 0.58 335 1.11 93 Trump
Delaware 68 0.7 130 1.34 91 Clinton
Kentucky 104 0.23 198 0.44 90 Trump
Colorado 591 1.03 1086 1.89 84 Clinton
Virginia 254 0.3 460 0.54 81 Clinton
New York 20875 10.73 37258 19.15 78 Clinton
New Hampshire 78 0.57 137 1.01 76 Clinton
California 1733 0.44 3006 0.76 73 Clinton
North Dakota 30 0.39 52 0.68 73 Trump
New Mexico 65 0.31 112 0.53 72 Clinton
Nevada 245 0.8 420 1.36 71 Clinton
Oregon 191 0.45 327 0.78 71 Clinton
Iowa 105 0.33 179 0.57 70 Trump
Wisconsin 416 0.71 707 1.21 70 Trump
Hawaii 56 0.4 95 0.67 70 Clinton
South Dakota 28 0.32 46 0.52 64 Trump
Utah 257 0.8 402 1.25 56 Trump
Rhode Island 106 1 165 1.56 56 Clinton
Tennessee 615 0.9 957 1.4 56 Trump
South Carolina 299 0.58 456 0.89 53 Trump
Minnesota 235 0.42 346 0.61 47 Clinton
Nebraska 50 0.26 73 0.38 46 Trump
Maine 107 0.8 155 1.15 45 Clinton
Washington 1996 2.62 2580 3.39 29 Clinton

Sources: The COVID Tracking Project, U.S. Census

Nine of the 10 states that have seen the most rapid increase in coronavirus from Monday to Thursday are states that voted for Trump in 2016, led by Texas, where the number of reported cases increased by 297 percent.

On average, states that voted for Trump saw a 119 percent increase in cases over this 3-day period, as compared to an 88 percent increase in states that voted for Hillary Clinton (plus the District of Columbia). Weighted by state populations, the difference is slightly larger: 141 percent in states Trump won and 88 percent in states Clinton won.

For now, states Clinton won do have considerably more total reported cases. As of Thursday, Clinton states had 4.29 positive tests per 10,000 people, as compared to 1.13 per 10,000 people in Trump states. A lot of that difference is attributable to New York; without New York, Clinton states have 1.89 cases per 10,000 people.

But the nature of exponential growth is such that these differences could evaporate in a hurry. If reported cases in Trump states continued to increase at 119 percent every three days (about 30 percent per day) while reported cases in Clinton states increased by 88 percent every three days (about 23 percent per day), then the per capita case count in Trump states would surpass that in Clinton states within about 30 days, or by late April.

Hopefully, the rate of increase will slow in both types of states as we begin to see further effects of social distancing measures in the data. However, these measures were generally enacted earlier and have been more forceful in blue states. That means the rate at which new cases are being diagnosed could slow down faster in blue states than in red states, meaning that red states would catch up earlier.

Blue states have also conducted more testing than red states. In states with reliable estimates of the number of positive and negative tests as of Thursday night,3 Clinton states had conducted 21.8 tests per 10,000 people as compared to 12.5 tests per 10,000 people in Trump states.4

Blue states have done more COVID-19 testing

Tests completed per capita as of March 26, in states with reliable reporting on the number of negative tests

State Tests completed per 10k people* 2016 winner
New York 62.8 Clinton
Louisiana 38.8 Trump
New Mexico 37.2 Clinton
Massachusetts 34.0 Clinton
Vermont 32.2 Clinton
Maine 26.4 Clinton
District of Columbia 26.3 Clinton
Alaska 25.4 Trump
Utah 24.0 Trump
New Jersey 23.1 Clinton
New Hampshire 23.1 Clinton
Minnesota 23.0 Clinton
South Dakota 22.8 Trump
Tennessee 21.8 Trump
Wisconsin 21.1 Trump
Montana 20.6 Trump
Connecticut 18.6 Clinton
Oregon 17.3 Clinton
Nevada 16.6 Clinton
Ohio 14.8 Trump
Rhode Island 14.2 Clinton
Pennsylvania 14.2 Trump
Illinois 13.1 Clinton
Idaho 12.2 Trump
Florida 12.2 Trump
Kansas 10.4 Trump
Michigan 9.4 Trump
Nebraska 8.6 Trump
Georgia 8.4 Trump
Alabama 8.4 Trump
Texas 7.4 Trump
Kentucky 7.4 Trump
Virginia 7.3 Clinton
Arkansas 6.1 Trump
West Virginia 6.0 Trump
California 5.2 Clinton
Oklahoma 3.0 Trump

* Excluding tests that are listed as pending.

Sources: The COVID Tracking Project, U.S. Census

That means the true gap in the number of cases may not be as large as the roughly fourfold difference in reported cases between blue states and red states right now. States such as Louisiana have discovered they have far more cases than they originally realized as they’ve ramped up testing over the past week, and other red states (and blue states) could follow.

COVID-19 has also led to a slightly higher case fatality rate (the number of deaths as a share of the number of known cases) in red states so far. As of Thursday evening, the death rate per case was 1.7 percent in Trump states as compared to 1.3 percent in Clinton states. This could reflect a variety of factors, including potential underreporting of cases in Trump states,5 the age and health of the populations in each set of states, or the efficacy of responses by local health care systems.

However, the higher fatality rate it is a somewhat troubling sign for red states given that many of them are generally at an earlier point in their epidemic curves, meaning that many people who have acquired COVID-19 in those states have done so recently and have not yet developed the most serious symptoms that could lead to long-term hospitalization or death.

Footnotes

  1. Something to keep in mind as we’re comparing cases across states: We’re dealing only with detected cases, and testing regimens — quantity and criteria — have varied from state to state. We can’t say how these numbers are affected by differences in testing rather than the actual infection rate. But this is the data we have. Our hope is that putting states together into big groups of Clinton states and Trump states will mitigate the effects of testing anomalies in any one state.

  2. Picking the right time interval to analyze changes in the number of cases is tricky, as the daily situation can change rapidly, and bottlenecks in reporting results can sometimes result in irregularities in any one day’s numbers. But a three-day timespan has proven to be a reasonably good compromise as I’ve looked at the data in different states and countries.

  3. That is, excluding states that The Covid Tracking Project says do not report complete negative test results from private labs, and states that had not updated their number of negative tests as of The COVID Tracking Project’s Thursday update

  4. Not including results that are reported as “pending”; only tests that were confirmed to be positive or negative.

  5. Since missing more non-severe cases will lead to a higher apparent case fatality rate.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

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