Story at a glance

  • Data compiled by Oxford University suggests that states that have lax public health protocols in place to combat COVID-19 transmission are experiencing intense outbreaks.
  • These states include South and North Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa, Kansas, Indiana, Arizona, South Carolina, and Oklahoma, among others.

New COVID-19 cases are increasing across nearly every state and territory in the U.S., but some are more severe, widespread outbreaks than others.

An obvious theory as to why some states are getting hit with the virus worse than others during the fall and winter season comes down to regulations. New data suggest that current COVID-19 outbreaks are more prominent and severe in states that had weaker containment measures. 

The index measuring a state government’s response to the pandemic is scaled from 0 to 100, with zero representing limited preventative measures in place while 100 represents the maximum amount of mitigation protocols. 


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This number can fluctuate, with some states enacting high preventative measures at the spring onset of the pandemic and loosening them when cases showed signs of abating. As the pandemic continued, a relationship emerged between the strictness of public health protocols and the severity of an outbreak.

“States that have kept more control policies in a more consistent way — New England states, for example — have avoided a summer surge and are now having a smaller fall surge, as opposed to states that rolled them back very quickly like Florida or Texas,” Thomas Hale, an associate professor of global public policy at the Blavatnik School of Government and head of the Oxford tracking effort told The New York Times. “I think timing really matters for the decisions.”

Some of these states that saw the loosest control measures are the ones experiencing high outbreaks now: South and North Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa, Kansas, Indiana, Arizona, South Carolina, and Oklahoma, among others.

States that enacted strict lockdown measurements earlier, like New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Hawaii, and Rhode Island, have notably observed smaller rates of infection, although many are still experiencing an uptick in cases.

“The question is — and I’m sure that’s the conversation now happening in the halls of power — what do we do next? Clearly you don’t want to wait too long because that’s the mistake we made last time, when things spun out of control. So there’s a need to make decisions and be decisive,” said Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiologist at Columbia University. “Once you start thinking about acting, it probably is the time to act.”

Currently, the U.S. reports more than 11.6 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, the most in any country in the world. 


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Published on Nov 19, 2020