Analysis | The red state coronavirus surge resembles what’s happened in Brazil

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In other words, at this point, the pandemic is largely a red-state phenomenon.

(On two occasions, blue states added prior covid-19 related death data in batches, causing two spikes on the above graph. In the graphs below, the latter spike has been removed and replaced with a dashed line.)

The reasons for this divide aren’t entirely obvious, though the overlap with politics probably isn’t entirely a coincidence. Republicans are less likely to express concern about contracting the virus and are less supportive than Democrats of preventative measures such as mask-wearing — though most Republicans still support wearing masks. This idea is complicated by the fact that many of the new cases in red states are occurring in large, blue counties, though, as of last month, most new cases stemmed from red counties in red states.

As a function of population, the nature of the pandemic shifts a bit. Red states make up more of the United States’ cases, though the gap between red and blue states on per-population cases is narrower.

Because blue states saw bigger surges in new cases earlier in the pandemic, as medical experts were learning how best to treat covid-19 and when cases spread more easily in elder-care facilities, the number of deaths in blue states is substantially higher on a per-population basis. The number of total covid-19 deaths in red states, though, has nearly matched the blue-state toll.

You can see the difference in how the number of covid-19 deaths is increasing in the graph at left above. The cumulative number of deaths in blue states is flatter, meaning it’s growing more slowly.

Again, that’s because, as a function of population, new cases and new deaths are mostly centered in red states.

It remains the case that the United States broadly has done a bad job containing the virus. Both red and blue states compare unfavorably with our immediate northern and southern neighbors on new cases, both cumulatively and as a function of population.

That’s probably in part because Mexico probably undercounts its case totals. The number of deaths in Mexico — a harder metric to miss — tracks more closely with the tolls in both blue and red states. The recent increase in deaths in red states has put them on a close track with Mexico’s death toll on a per-population basis.

Since August, and excepting a recent spike in Mexico’s death toll, the number of new deaths per population in red states has tracked closely with Mexico’s.

The red state numbers match the evolution of the pandemic in Brazil even more closely. Brazil and India are two of the hardest-hit countries internationally, though India’s far-larger population means that the effects of the pandemic have been more muted on a per-person basis.

Since the pandemic began, the number of new cases in red states has tracked closely with the totals in Brazil, which is about 14 percent larger.

The number of deaths in Brazil has been higher than in blue states, red states or India — each of which has about an equivalent number of deaths at this point.

The per-population trend in new cases and new deaths in Brazil overlapped with the same data for red states during much of the summer. A recent surge in new cases in red states, however, has meant that Brazil is adding fewer new confirmed cases as a function of population.

Another interesting comparison is with the European Union and United Kingdom. The number of cases in the E.U. has passed the number in blue states, though its much-larger population means that the per-person figure is much lower.

Because both the European Union and blue states saw increases in cases earlier, their death tolls surged in tandem — and at a roughly equivalent per-population rate. Since June, the number of per-population deaths tapered off in Europe, while the equivalent number in blue states continued to increase.

That may change. As a function of population, both the United Kingdom and the European Union are now seeing new case numbers equivalent to what’s happening in red states after a lengthy summer lull that no part of the United States enjoyed. That’s pushing a recent increase in per-population deaths, though those death tolls are still well below where red states are.

These comparisons are useful mostly to highlight the way in which the pandemic has played out differently in the two categories of states. Again, part of this may derive from politics, though it’s unclear how much. Part of the discrepancy also probably stems from the emergence of the pandemic in New York and New Jersey in the spring, where it led to tens of thousands of deaths — and to months of caution born of first-hand experience with a worst-case scenario.

If it’s first-hand experience which has led to lower cases in blue states in recent weeks, that actually bodes poorly for containing the pandemic. If the virus spreads among less susceptible populations and is better able to be controlled, fewer deaths will result, happily. But that may mean less concern about allowing it to spread, leading to continued surges of new cases, over and over, until a vaccine is available.

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