In part that’s because many Democratic-voting states in the Northeast had dire outbreaks at the start of the pandemic in early 2020. In part, though, it’s because vaccination rates are consistently lower in Republican-voting states. As I noted Wednesday, there’s a strong correlation between a state’s 2020 vote margin and its vaccination rates, with more-Republican states seeing lower rates of vaccination.
So when officials and media outlets have said that the pandemic is a pandemic of the unvaccinated, they have, to some extent, been saying that it is a pandemic that’s centered in red America.
This is a contentious thing to say, so it deserves both clarification and qualification. One qualification is that the virus spreads even among the vaccinated, as has been shown repeatedly. It’s just less likely to infect someone who’s been vaccinated and much less likely to lead to effects so severe that hospitalization is warranted. It’s also true that state-level data only roughly approximate partisan trends, though there is also an established correlation between politics and vaccination rates at the county level, as well. It is safe to say, though, that most of the unvaccinated are Republicans, given research from the Kaiser Family Foundation published this month showing exactly that. Most of the unvaccinated are Republicans and most hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated and the pandemic is worse in Republican-voting states. All of those things intertwine.
What gets buried in this, though, is the scale of the divergence between the two types of state. If we simply plot four key metrics — the average number of new cases per day, the number of people hospitalized, the number in the ICU and the number of deaths — we can see that the pandemic is much more severe in Republican-voting states. On each metric, the extent to which red states are outpacing blue ones is at or near the largest it’s been since the pandemic began.
At least 3 of every 5 cases, hospitalizations or deaths at this point are in red states. The majority of new cases and hospitalizations have been in red states since June; the majority of deaths have been in red states since mid-July.
You’ll notice that the red and blue lines are starting to bend back toward the middle, meaning that blue states have been making up a greater density of new cases and deaths in the past few weeks. But they should be: For every 100 people living in red states, 135 live in blue ones. If we adjust the daily figures for population, the gap between red and blue states becomes more pronounced.
As of Wednesday, the rate of new infections in red states was twice that of blue states. The rate of hospitalizations was 2.3 times as high. The rate of ICU admissions was 2.6 times as high. And the rate of covid-related deaths was 3.1 times as high. This parallels what we’d expect to see in places with fewer vaccinated residents: more dire effects in the realm of the worst outcomes. It’s not clear, though, that this is what is happening.
What we can say is that on every metric except deaths, the gap between blue and red states on population-adjusted measures is wider now than it has been at any prior point in the pandemic. On the graphs below, each bar represents the population-adjusted difference between red and blue states on a given day. The further the bar extends from the middle, the bigger the divergence between the values in the states.
What the above graphs also show is how deadly the virus was when it first emerged, slamming states in the vicinity of New York City in particular. Since then, we’ve learned a lot about treatment and developed new medicines, vaccines and techniques for treating the virus and slowing its spread.
The problem is that not all of those lessons are being heeded.