The short version is, COVID is not going away. The long version is, it’s killing way more people in rural areas than in the cities. Those deaths may have had a deleterious effect on Republican turn-out in the midterms and may have even cost the Republican Party some seats in the House and Senate.
It's their own fault, of course. From DeSantis in Florida to Abbott in Texas, Republican governors were in a hurry to get their states out of lockdown but in no hurry at all to get people vaccinated. In fact, some red states passed laws making mandatory vaccination requirements imposed by county and city governments illegal, and in some Republican states, governors forced school boards to re-open their schools before administrators and local school boards thought it was safe.
Here is the way that’s paying off for them. According to figures published recently by the Pew Research Center, death rates in urban areas during 2020 and early 2021 were nine times higher than those in rural counties. In the waves of the disease that followed – the third wave, after the first vaccine roll-out; the fourth or Delta wave; and the fifth, or Omicron wave – the figures were reversed. Death rates in rural areas went up, while those in urban areas went down.
The pattern began to mimic the way people voted in America. In the early stages of COVID, counties that voted Democratic had much higher death rates than rural Republican counties. By the third wave of the disease in the fall of 2020, “Counties that voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden were suffering substantially more deaths from the coronavirus pandemic than those that voted for Biden over Trump,” according to Pew. As the vaccine roll-out went on, the difference between red and blue counties became more pronounced, even as the total number of deaths in the country began to fall. As the fourth wave of the disease set in, “death rates in the most pro-Trump counties were about four times what they were in the most pro-Biden counties,” according to Pew.
The National Bureau of Economic Research in September published a study of excess death rates in two states, Ohio and Florida, comparing death rates in those states in 2017 before COVID with mortality data from 2018 to 2021, including the first two years of COVID. The study looked at how many more people died after the COVID pandemic hit than those who died in the “normal” year of 2017 before the disease took hold.
By linking death rates to voter registration data in both states, the study was able to determine where the excess death rate was higher on a county-by-county basis. The study found “substantially higher excess death rates for registered Republicans when compared to registered Democrats, with almost all of the difference concentrated in the period after vaccines were widely available.” The overall excess death rate for Republicans was 76 percent higher than the excess death rates for Democrats. But when the study concentrated on rates after vaccines became widely available, the excess death rate for Republicans in both states jumped to 153 percent higher than excess death rate for Democrats.
“The gap in excess death rates between Republicans and Democrats is concentrated in counties with low vaccination rates and only materializes after vaccines became widely available,” according to data from the study. The study’s authors are Jacob Wallace and Jason L. Schwartz, both from the Yale School of Public Health, and Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham of the Yale School of Management.
Pew Research figures echo the study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. “Overall, the COVID-19 death rate in all counties Trump won in 2020 is substantially higher than it is in counties Biden won (as of the end of February 2022, 326 per 100,000 in Trump counties and 258 per 100,000 in Biden counties).”
Jonathan V. Last in The Bulwark screwed the figures from both studies down to the results in the very tight Senate race in Nevada. Last looked up the COVID figures for Nevada and found that between January of 2021 and November of this year, 9,400 people died of COVID. “The data suggests that the majority of these people would have been Republican voters,” Last reported dryly. Adam Laxalt, hand-picked by Trump to run for the Senate in Nevada, lost his race by only 6,000 votes.
It's a fact that if you are vaccinated, you have a far lower risk of dying from COVID. It’s also a fact that rural counties with low vaccination rates had much larger rates of death than counties with high vaccination rates. According to Pew, during the Delta wave of the Pandemic, death rates in counties with vaccination rates lower than 40 percent were six times as high as death rates in counties where 70 percent or more were vaccinated. More recently, over the winter of 2021 and early 2022, when the 7-day average for deaths nationally was between 1,000 and 2,500, death rates in counties with low vaccination rates were twice those of counties where 80 percent or more were vaccinated.
These are grim figures, and they don’t bode well for red America going forward. Right now, today, more than 300 people are dying from COVID every day. According to the New York Times, about 27,000 people in this country are in the hospital with complications from COVID on any given day.
The politicization of COVID has cost an untold number of American lives. Don’t count on recent figures showing that far more Republicans are dying of the disease than Democrats to change anything. The leaders of the party that is suffering the most don’t care, so long as those Republicans still living vote for them.
Researching this story, I was reminded of a day way back in the spring of 2020, when some poor soul at the CDC was asked by a reporter how many people might die from COVID total. The CDC employee, who was in the leadership of the agency as I recall, answered 200,000. That person was sidelined by the Trump White House because at the time, Trump was telling the world COVID was just going to “go away.” The CDC employee was eventually fired. All interviews with CDC personnel from then on had to be approved by the White House.
This year alone, 220,000 American citizens have already died from COVID. The total number of deaths due to the disease in this country is over a million and climbing. It’s not even worth estimating how many fewer deaths there might have been if the Republican Party had not chosen to make shut-downs, masks, and vaccinations a political issue so they could get more votes.
Look where it got them. Trump lost in 2020, and Republicans just suffered the worst midterm results any party has had since the 1950’s. It has apparently been a difficult lesson to learn for Republicans that dead people don’t vote.
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.
Reprinted with permission from Lucian Truscott Newsletter