Letters to the Editor • Opinion
We already know how to prevent pandemics
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in Orlando on Feb. 24. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
4 min

Republicans are killing us.

No, really.

Until now, we’ve known that covid-19 death rates were higher among the unvaccinated, and also higher in counties that went for Donald Trump, whose supporters were more likely to resist vaccinations, masks and other pandemic precautions.

Now that the omicron wave is over, a couple of new analyses of state-by-state data both point to an inescapable conclusion: Living in states run by a Republican governor is dangerous to your health.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, consultant Doug Haddix reported Sunday that since July 1 (when the lifesaving vaccine was widely available), the 14 states with the highest death rates were all run by Republican governors. This included Florida (at about 153 deaths per 100,000 residents), Ohio (142 deaths per 100,000), Arizona (138) and Georgia (134). Contrast that with the deep-blue District of Columbia (only 27 deaths per 100,000) and California (58 per 100,000).

For verification, I checked with health-care analyst Charles Gaba, whose data on covid-19 and voting patterns has been widely cited. He ran the numbers for me using data mostly from Johns Hopkins and found similar results. The 16 states with the highest coronavirus death rates since July 1 were all run by Republicans. The worst was West Virginia (about 204 deaths per 100,000), followed closely by Oklahoma, Tennessee, Wyoming and the aforementioned Florida.

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The states with the lowest death rates, by contrast, were all run by Democrats — or, in the case of Vermont, Maryland and Massachusetts, by moderate Republican governors who had heavily Democratic legislatures and embraced vaccines and masks. The best jurisdictions were D.C., Vermont, Hawaii and California. Looking at data from the period since May 1 (by which time all U.S. adults theoretically could have been vaccinated) produced similar results.

Florida residents were, since vaccines have been widely available, nearly seven times as likely to die from covid-19 as residents of D.C., nearly three times as likely to die as residents of California and 2½ times as likely to die as residents of New York. With Florida’s population of about 22 million, that’s a lot of unnecessary deaths.

This raises a question: How does Ron DeSantis sleep at night? Florida’s Republican governor has been among the most outspoken in raising fears of the coronavirus vaccine (most recently suggesting, falsely, that it could harm women’s fertility), suing to stop vaccine mandates, promoting ineffective cures, blocking rules requiring face masks, scolding mask-wearing kids for “covid theater” and touting misleading statistics.

It’s likely no coincidence that Florida, under DeSantis, has had by far the highest covid-19 death rate among the most-populous states and is in the top five of all states. Other factors, including climate, health-care infrastructure, and the age and underlying health of the population, don’t fully account for it. Maine, with an even older population than Florida’s, had a death rate just over half as high. Also, Florida’s vaccination rate appears to be overstated thanks to vaccine tourism.

In addition to the state rankings, Gaba’s latest county-level data confirms earlier patterns: Since May, people in the most pro-Trump tenth of U.S. counties had a death rate more than three times as high as those in the most anti-Trump tenth. The number of overall cases, however, was only 1.3 times as high, indicating that vaccines were preventing death.

Every week, it seems, brings fresh confirmation of the basic truths about the pandemic that have long been obvious to all except those consuming the disinformation of the Trumpy right: Vaccines work. Masks work. Conspiracy theories don’t.

Last week, a new CDC study confirmed that — shocker — masks prevent illness. A study of Arkansas school districts found that those with full mask requirements had a 23 percent lower incidence of covid-19 among students and staff compared to districts with no mask requirements. Those with partial mask requirements were in between, and those that switched from no mask to masks had reduced illness.

Before that, a pair of studies late last month added evidence to the original belief that the virus emerged in late 2019 in a wet market in Wuhan, China. Though the matter isn’t settled, the findings make the scenario that the virus was spread accidentally or intentionally by a lab in Wuhan — an incendiary accusation recklessly trumpeted by Trump, DeSantis, Fox News and the like — considerably less likely.

“Falsehood flies,” Jonathan Swift wrote, “and truth comes limping after it.” The truth has taken the lead, for those who care. Alas, for some of those who accepted the lies DeSantis and other leaders told about vaccines, masks and cures, it’s too late. They’re already dead.