During the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 when bodies of the dead in our major cities were being stacked into freezer trucks and hospital ships were sailing into the harbors of New York and Los Angeles, forecasts by some experts that the virus could claim more than one million lives in the United States seemed to be in the nature of a doomsday prediction.
Yet here we are, more than three years later, and deaths attributed to COVID-19 now exceed 1.1 million Americans, and are still increasing by about 1,000 per week.
What brought the pandemic’s toll to mind was a recent map that showed the death rate per population for every county throughout the United States.
We had expected that the map would have indicated that the highest death rates would be in the major cities along the coasts.
But after more than three years of the virus hitting our shores, we were surprised to see that the places with the highest death rates, by a substantial margin, were not along the coasts or in the major cities that suffered so terribly in those first few months, but rather throughout the South and the country’s heartland.
The places where there were strong mask mandates, adherence to social distancing, extended business and school closures, and vaccine uptake — New England, the mid-Atantic, and the West Coast — have significantly outperformed states where there was opposition, both at the grass roots level and by government officials, to all of the measures that appear to have proven effective at reducing the spread of the virus.
The top 11 states for deaths per million of population are Arizona, West Virginia, Mississippi, New Mexico, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Michigan, Florida, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.
We realize that a lot of research still needs to be done in order to figure out whether other factors were involved in the significantly higher death toll in the south and midwest, such as age of the population, obesity, and lack of access to quality health care, all of which are determinative of the outcome from a COVID-19 infection.
But the reason we are pointing out these statistics is that there are “revisionists” who are trying to rewrite the history of the COVID-19 pandemic for what are obvious political reasons. Governors of some of these southern and midwestern states who are suggesting that they handled the crisis better than their counterparts on the coasts simply are ignoring the facts — namely, that their states had far-higher death rates than the states that had stronger public health mandates.
To be sure, everyone has a right to live their lives as they see fit, but in a public health emergency, sometimes our personal choices have to give way to what is necessary to fight a threat — and public officials need to be honest with their constituents, rather than pandering to a vocal minority.
For our part, it was heartening to see that we live in a part of the country where COVID-19 was taken seriously and where the sacrifices made by ourselves and others at the height of the pandemic appear to have made a real difference.
Or to put it another way, and to paraphrase the slogan on New Hampshire’s license plate, we’re glad we do not live in a place where people want to Live Free AND Die.