Vermont is a safe space
By Scott Sumner
When the pandemic first hit America, the states hardest hit were mostly “blue states” such as Washington, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. With the notable exception of Washington, they remain the hardest hit states in terms of cumulative deaths per capita.
A Yahoo article points out that in recent months the “red states” have been getting hit harder than the blue states. But that could reflect many factors such as behavior, weather, or a lack of previous herd immunity.
I also notice that both within the US and around the world it’s often the case that more densely populated areas have a higher rate of fatalities. This isn’t universally true (Germany has a low fatality rate) but it seems to be a strong tendency. Look at the states with the lowest rates of death per capita—most have relatively low populations:
I’d like to throw out a hypothesis. Perhaps both politics and density matter. Perhaps the safest places are low-density states full of earnest do-gooders who follow public health rules. So I’m going to look at recent Covid deaths in states with fewer than 1.1 million people. Because I’m lazy I’ll take a few shortcuts, such as looking at total deaths, not per capita deaths, but that won’t affect my principle finding to any significant degree. The differences in fatalities are vast, and all these states have between a 550,000 and 1.1 million people.
I’ll first list Covid deaths since the beginning of June, and then deaths over the past two months. States will be listed from most populous to least populous:
South Dakota: 245/154
North Dakota: 327/263
I use recent data because the initial outbreak caught many places unaware, so cultural/policy differences would have had less impact in March and April.
Vermont really jumps out, and even in per capita terms it would be an extreme outlier. This may be random, but it also might reflect the combination of really low density and “liberal” attitudes. Most low-density areas in America are red states, and Vermont might be the only strongly blue state that’s mostly rural. (Even Delaware is pretty urban by comparison.)
If you want to be safe, rent a cabin in Vermont.
This is not necessarily about politics in the normal American sense of the term. New York is left wing, but isn’t full of earnest people who always follow rules. Utah is right wing, but has a high level of civic cooperation. Utah also has a lower than average fatality rate, even relative to states with similar populations.
Germans and East Asians are known for following rules. Latin Americans are not. Notice a pattern?
PS. Let me apologize in advance for the Sumner curse, the tendency for patterns I notice to break down immediately after I post on them. Sorry Vermonters.
PPS. I was originally going to draw the line at 1 million, but Montana seems like a low-density state, despite just over a million people. On the other hand, while places like Nevada have large low-density areas, they also have major cities.