We’re still struggling with the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic — and what was done to get through it. To cite just one effect, one of my favorite restaurants, the Katella Grill in Anaheim, had a rough time through the total lockdown: tented dining, then trying to reopen indoors, finally closing a year ago after 30 years serving the county’s best liver and onions. I recently drove by there and in the entrance slept a homeless man.
On the global picture, we’re now getting some good national studies. They compare the states, which not only are federalist “crucibles of democracy,” but the crucibles of COVID response.
Let’s look at two areas, mortality and education.
On March 6 arrived “Associations between mortality from COVID-19 and other causes: A state-level analysis,” by Annaliese N. Luck, et al. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, the high death toll from COVID-19 was accompanied by a rise in mortality from other causes of death,” it found. The study compared “spatial variation in these relationships across US states.”
The “other causes” is important because lockdowns increased other pathologies, such as an drug use and overdoses.
In the March 2019 to February 2020 year, immediately pre-COVID, California’s All-Cause mortality was 521.4 per 100,000. In the first COVID year, March 2020-February 2021, that rose to 659.3, an increase of 137.9. Which was a mortality increase of 26%. COVID deaths alone were 110.9, or 80% of the total increase.
As the pandemic dug in, on March 18, 2020, U.S. News ran a story, “10 States With the Most Aggressive Response to COVID-19.” Aggressive meaning heavier lockdowns, mask mandates and school closures. “Washington and northeastern states, which have implemented lockdowns and bans, score best in a new report evaluating states’ efforts to control the virus.” The top 10, in order: Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Washington, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Minnesota, Vermont and District of Columbia.
The story also listed “the 10 states with the least aggressive responses to the virus.” In order: Wyoming, Mississippi, Texas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Missouri, Hawaii, Kansas, Tennessee and Indiana.
I combined the two data sets and found: For the 10 “most aggressive” COVID responses, all cause mortality increased 20%. For the 10 “least aggressive,” it was 19%. Lower, but not by much. Moreover, the “least aggressive” group was heavily influenced by Hawaii’s increase of just 2%.
The “most aggressive” states all were Democratic, while the “least aggressive” were Republican, except for Nevada (21%) and the exemplary Hawaii. “Most aggressive” also was made worse by the District of Columbia, an almost entirely Democratic demographic, with a 26% increase in deaths. This is the nation’s capital that tells the rest of us what to do.
On education, last October’s release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed sharp declines from 2019 to 2020 in all categories. For 4th-grade math, California students dropped 4 points from 2019 to 2020. That led Gov. Gavin Newsom to boast in a press release, “California Outperforms Most States in Minimizing Learning Loss in National Student Assessment, with Record Investments to Improve Education.” How’s that for spin?
The worst state was President Biden’s home of Delaware, dropping 14 points to 226.Sticking with math for 4th graders, let’s look at how the states we used above have fared. The average of the 10 “most aggressive” states was -7.6 points. For the “least aggressive” states, it was -4.8. Definitely a correlation there. Keeping the kids out of school, especially as they were the least likely to die from the plague, was a big mistake.
There are caveats. The “most aggressive” category again was weighed down by D.C., with -12 points, second worst, and Biden’s current residence. And Hawaii, again exemplary, was one of the states with “no significant score change in 2022.”
As seemingly always, D.C., which orders the whole country around on COVID, education and everything, was a terrible example. Washington, heal thyself.
We’re just at the start of understanding the implications of what happened during COVID, both from the medical and policy perspectives.
John Seiler is on the SCNG editorial board.