How Bad Was COVID in Your State? Governor's Party Affiliation Was Key

FRIDAY, March 12, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Could whether your governor is a Democrat or a Republican have influenced how many coronavirus cases and deaths your state has seen during the pandemic?

Yes, claim researchers who discovered a strong link between the two -- by late last summer, the odds of dying from COVID-19 was nearly twice as high in states whose governors were Republicans versus states with Democratic governors.

"Governors' party affiliation may have contributed to a range of policy decisions that, together, influenced the spread of the virus," said study senior author Sara Benjamin-Neelon. She is a professor in the department of health, behavior and society at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, in Baltimore.

"These findings underscore the need for state policy actions that are guided by public health considerations rather than by partisan politics," Benjamin-Neelon said in a Hopkins news release.

For the study, her team analyzed data collected between March 15 and Dec. 15, 2020, on positive COVID-19 tests, COVID-19 diagnoses and COVID-19 deaths in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

After adjusting for factors such as state population density, the researchers found that per-capita rates of new COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 deaths in the first few months of the pandemic were higher in the 25 states with Democrat governors (including Washington, D.C.), but those rates became much higher in the 26 states with Republican governors by mid-summer.

The shift for positive tests occurred on May 30, for COVID-19 diagnoses on June 3, and for COVID-19 deaths on July 4, with the differences between the two groups of states peaking from late June to early August. For example, on Aug. 5 the risk of dying of COVID-19 was 1.8 times higher in GOP-led states, the findings showed.

Both groups of states had similar testing rates until late September, when they began to fall in Republican-led states. The researchers acknowledged that many other factors, including the natural progression of the pandemic from early waves in urban areas to later waves in rural areas, might have contributed to differences in case counts and death rates. Still, they said they attempted to correct for these confounding factors in their analysis.

The findings were published online March 9 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Previous research has found that Republican governors tended to be less strict than Democrat governors when it came to mask-wearing, social distancing and other pandemic-related prevention measures.

Those findings and the new study suggest that political polarization of the pandemic response has contributed to less effective prevention policies in some states, the researchers noted.

"Despite a more coordinated federal response this year, governors still play a key role in the pandemic response," Benjamin-Neelon said. "As we're seeing, several states have lifted mask requirements even though we have yet to make substantial progress in controlling the spread of the virus."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, news release, March 10, 2021

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