Another lesson from COVID-19: Data and politics can be a dangerous brew.
Take, for example, the political narrative that New York tamed the beast and Gov. Andrew Cuomo was a model of leadership—including praise that New York “got it right” and did a “laudable job ”in managing the spread of the virus.
And then there are the facts, detailed in a new paper by Doug Badger and Norbert Michel for Heritage that concludes New York may be number one, but not in the right way.
In “COVID-19: Still a New York Story,” they document that New York City was the epicenter, accounting for one in four COVID-19-related deaths in the country. Its deaths per million residents is “more than five times that of the rest of the nation.”
And the data also show the highly questionable benefit of months-long government lockdowns in New York and too much of the rest of the country, with political charges that southern states like Florida, Arizona, and Texas ignored “science” in allowing “non-essential” businesses to reopen too soon.
There is “considerable empirical evidence that the relaxation of lockdowns had substantially less effect on public behavior than is widely assumed,” Badger and Michel write. Lockdowns were a miscall leading to an historic and horrific economic calamity.
Understanding the actual data is “critical to formulating effective public health strategies to control COVID-19’s devastation,” they write.
Their paper looks at six cities that have recorded the highest death rates related to the virus. No other city comes close to the 2,196 deaths per million in New York.
“New York City’s death rate is more than triple that of Phoenix and Miami—two cities that have recorded higher rates of infection than New York. It is 4.5 times that of Los Angeles and nearly six times that of Houston,” the paper documents.
That means White House Coronavirus Task Force chief Dr. Deborah Birx could not have been more wrong when she said in July that “what we have right now are essentially three New Yorks,” referring to Florida, Texas, and California.
“But a closer look at the data reveals that when it comes to COVID-19, there is only one New York,” Badger and Michel write. The New York City metropolitan area “has a population-adjusted confirmed case rate that is 65% higher than that of the rest of the nation…
“New York thus suffered from both a lack of information attributable to poor testing and a surfeit of bad information attributable to unreliable models. That combination no doubt contributed to the state’s ineffectual response.”
And don’t get us started on New York’s horrible record involving nursing home deaths, after Gov. Cuomo ordered nursing homes to accept or readmit COVID patients.
“The state’s early decision to require nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients discharged from hospitals may have also driven up infections among those most susceptible to COVID-19-related death,” the authors observe.
Cuomo said in the spring: “They don’t have the right to object. That is the rule, and that is the regulation, and they have to comply with it.”
“The effect of that policy is difficult to assess,” Badger and Michel write, “since the state did not classify the deaths of nursing home residents who died in hospitals as nursing home deaths. However they were classified, it appears that nursing home deaths account for a substantial share of the state’s COVID-19 mortality.”
It’s vital to follow the facts to guide decisions in this and future pandemics. “The intensity and lethality of the pandemic in [the Northeast], especially in New York City and surrounding counties, is unrivaled by anything that has occurred since…New York City MSA remains without rival as a pandemic epicenter,” Badger and Michel conclude after a thorough analysis of the data.
“While the risk of infection is more or less evenly distributed, the risk of hospitalization and death rises exponentially with age. The most effective policies are those aimed at protecting people at greatest risk of severe consequences.
“Widespread lockdown orders, school closures, and the shuttering of ‘nonessential’ businesses appear to have only a marginal effect on behavior,” the paper concludes. “Public health officials should provide the public with solid and accurate information about their risk rather than making apocryphal pronouncements about states replicating the experience of New York.”
(Maybe the authors will analyze the date on the value of masks next…)